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Lighten Up: How to Wear Light Wash Denim Jeans

Recently light wash denim – and not, keep in mind, pure white jeans – have been a menswear must-have – a casual wardrobe cornerstone. But how, when and with what do you wear them? We look at the trend and four tips on wearing light wash denim jeans.

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Denim Jeans at Work: Casual Evolution

Not all jeans are the same. Especially today, with choices ranging from dark and slim to ultra-skinny, bleached, and covered in rips, that’s pretty much an understatement. Yet, it’s also a sign of the times. Whereas, 20-sum years ago, “no jeans” was de rigueur for dress codes, those smart-casual rules let them in, to an extent.

It’s the type of denim, though, that’s the token into these formal-to-a-fault environments. It shouldn’t ever be too baggy – but too slim shows off way too much to be considered professional.

The wash, as well, needs to head into the dark side – as deep of an indigo as you can get, or solid black, without any signs of wear. On the subject of wear, whiskering, fading, even when unintentional, and worn-away hems are out. Your denim, in this case, ought to be as crisp as any white button-up.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

Light Wash Jeans as the New Off-Work Denim

So, what happens when you leave the office? Although these slim, solid indigo, unembellished digs go well with polos and tees, you’ve got choices – lots and lots of choices. However, among the full spectrum, the light wash jean conveys effortless off-the-job, thank-goodness-it’s-Friday relaxation.

There’s a hint of wear in them, even if you just bought them off the rack. The faded nature hints at all the places you’ve been, and all the washes your jeans have been though. To sum it up, it’s denim with a lengthy story, even if you’re starting to break them in.

Since 2018, light wash denim – and not, keep in mind, pure white jeans – have been a menswear must-have – a casual wardrobe cornerstone, of sorts. So, before you pick up a pair, think about the following points:

Light Wash Denim Jeans

4 Tips on Wearing Light Wash Denim with Style

1. Accentuate the Lived-in, Relaxed Character of Light Washed Jeans

Wash, above all variables, transforms the look of a pair of jeans. Let’s think, for a moment, about black jeans versus acid wash. Even if the cut stays the same, the former conveys a mod rocker to a more polished character, while the latter is retro all the way.

Where does light wash fit into all this? Not quite in the middle. To start, lighter washes are more often found within warmer weather wardrobes. They convey a particular SoCal cool – as cliché as that sounds – of days in the sun at Venice, walking up the craggy Northern coast, or kickin’ it in La Jolla.

On the other end (and coast), you picture them over at the Jersey Shore, moseying along the Boardwalk, without any peacocking embellishments.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

Beyond the location, this wash implies you’ve lived in these jeans. Specifically, you appear as if you’ve been on vacation, keeping the same pants on day after day. There’s something sun-bleached and salt-washed about them – as if you dunked them in the ocean before hanging them up to dry.

Added to this, lighter washes – likely to do with the lived-in look – seem almost timeless. You could picture someone decades ago wearing them, and can just as easily envision a modern man donning them with tees and an unbuttoned double-breasted blazer.

Whether you’re going vintage or thinking about the latest streetwear trends, you’ll always find a place for it.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

2. Find the Right Fit: Slim to Bootcut but Never Super-Skinny

As with many darker-colored garments, black and deep indigo jeans flatter a wider range of body types. Light jeans, like wearing white, highlight everything – every bulge and unflattering curve.

Poor fits with light color, too, come off as dumpy, as if you couldn’t bother to find what works for your body. For these reasons, it’s best to aim for a middle ground: Not too loose, definitely not slim, and with no bagging around the ankles.

To sum it all up, lean toward slim to a tapered or bootcut silhouette, and make sure it hits at the hips, and accents your form without clinging to it. Just as you want to avoid anything super-skinny, now’s not the time to try out a wider-cut streetwear fit.

As well, unless you’re intending to be ironic, the lighter wash stretches the boundaries of dad jean territory.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

3. Avoid Looking Like It's Laundry Day: How to Style Your Light Wash Jeans

Behind wash, fading, embellishments, and distressing add to the denim’s character, giving it more personality. Because light denim is already faded all over, you generally want to keep these accents to a minimum.

A bit of extra fading, for instance, emphasizes its worn-to-the-point-of-comfort character, but beyond this, the denim may start to seem threadbare or tattered.

Pretty much, they become the jeans you’ve worn way too many times, and can’t let go of. They’re fine for the apartment or the yard, but in public? You’ll leave everyone thinking, “I guess it’s laundry day.”

Light Wash Denim Jeans

Keep the same attitude with rips and distressing. As we’ve gone over before, these elements go a long way with denim, and unless you’re intentionally coming off as “extra,” you’ve got to be selective.

Opt for a hint of whiskering on the upper leg, or a couple of clean rips around the knees. Blow-outs are off limits, as are rows of tears up and down each leg.

And, any type of embellishment – including studs, patches, and embroidery – also pushes things overboard. For a subtle hint, look for pairs with light contrast stitching – for instance, a lighter wash with dark blue or black stitched outseams.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

4. What to Wear With Light Wash Denim Jeans 

Ultimately, versatility gives lighter washes an edge within your wardrobe. You’ll wear them as flat-out classic jeans. Yet, because of the more tapered cut and even wash, you can substitute them for chinos.

Within this spectrum, lighter wash denim always has a place. You can, for starters, kick it high-school style, albeit from a grown-up perspective, with a band T-shirt, a bomber jacket, and a pair of solid-color sneakers.

On a more casual note, the chino-like adaptability gives them a preppy edge. Thus, in today’s menswear climate, they’re practically ripe for a polo or rugby shirt. Color wise, in all cases, keep things cool – blues and greens – or sit in darker neutral territory with black and navy for a clear contrast.

Light Wash Denim Jeans

As well, assuming you keep them neat, you’ve got a new pair of “going out” pants. Lighter washes, especially with a tapered fit and rolled cuffs, don’t always read properly as denim.

As we just mentioned, they give off clear yet modest chino vibes. And, once you’ve matched them with a patterned camp collar shirt and an unstructured blazer, plus a pair of Chelsea boots, they create a solid foundation for everything else. 

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Light Wash Denim Jeans

Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born menswear fashion blogger and copywriter. When not writing about men's style he's also an EDM and synthpop enthusiast.