When it comes to jeans, light-wash denim goes fully in a casual direction. We associate the sun-bleached hue with days at the beach, be it surfing or just bumming around the sands and boardwalk.
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There’s also a strong sense you’ve left your jeans to go in the dryer for far too long, or kept them out on the clothesline for too many sun-drenched days.
The result isn’t just pale – almost white, you might say – in color but has a softer, more worn broken-in feel.
What is Light-Wash Denim?
The deeper, all-over hue with no distressing projects an even, authoritative appearance and, at the same time, lets prints and bright colors shine.
With light-wash denim, you get summer vibes, and that’s exactly the point.
Beyond this denim dichotomy, light-wash denim falls into two basic types. There’s faded and washed to the point the indigo is almost gone, save for small traces.
Then, there’s bleached, another technique that’s ebbed and flowed since acid wash’s popularity in the ‘80s.
Today, rather than that crackled appearance, bleached denim stands out with large patches of white against a mid-wash indigo.
In between these two, a medium, faded stonewash evokes ‘90s dad denim, be it from the middle-of-the-road character or the can’t-get-rid-of-these-jeans impression.
Fashion, in general, took a more casual turn over the Covid-19 pandemic. Athleisure and hanging out in sweats are the cliches, but with many of us no longer going into the office, we’ve gotten used to a work-from-home business casual.
Light-denim fits into this predictably: They’re jeans no one has to see, and they pair well with just about everything in your closet: printed camp collars to darker button-fronts.
How to Style Light-Wash Denim Plus Our Top Picks
An Alternative to Chinos
In recent years, chinos have taken on a dusty, relaxed, casual vibe. Shake things up by replacing their slim fit and light-tan hue with heavily faded yet not visibly distressed denim.
This is how you do bleached jeans. Here, an all-over, lightened rather than crisp white effect gives this pair more of an aged appearance, as if they’ve already been lived in for a number of years.
60-percent organic cotton fabrication makes them more environmentally friendly than the typical five-pocket style.
These jeans offer a solid throwback interpretation, thanks to a stonewashed effect with uneven wear and a straight fit.
Talk about subtle and unpredictable. Generally, we perceive light-wash denim as faded indigo.
Instead, this pair from Hugo Boss offers a color-based interpretation with tan in front and barely there pink on the reverse without disrupting the vibe.
Get a precise fit with this tapered slim jean from Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label.
Although it sports a traditionally casual silhouette, unwashed Japanese twill gives it a more substantial feel. Made-to-order construction reflects increasing demand for bespoke garments.
We’re seeing lots of double denim these days. So, for a casual, paired-off combination, mix your light-wash denim with a corresponding jean jacket, or select a button-front denim shirt in a contrasting wash.
While you want a degree of coordination, be sure to partially break up your top and bottom halves to avoid monotony.
Our Top Picks
Do the Canadian tuxedo with deliberate, quality style. This denim jacket elevates a staple piece with 12.75 oz. Japanese denim, a 1950s-inspired silhouette with defined fading, and visible stitching.
An even, light wash and a classic trucker silhouette make this an easygoing everyday jacket that contrasts against your tee or button-front and also complements a similarly faded pair of jeans.
Although fading and bleaching are clear distressing techniques, you can go further, especially in this day and age.
Experiment with rips, from scraped material to full-on slashes, as well as patches, patchwork, and stitching elements that up the DIY appeal.
Our Top Picks
A slimmer, non-stretch pair takes a DIY-like route with a mix of rips and whiskering, plus repair details with contrast fabric underneath.
Rips and distressing on both sides create an asymmetrical appearance on medium-wash denim that’s given a more flexible fit.
12 oz. premium denim gives this distressed medium-wash jean a bit more substance.
That doesn’t result in a restrictive feeling, however. Instead, this pair sports clear rips and visible wear on both sides, and a touch of stretch for a more flexible, comfortable fit.
Reference the ‘90s
Light-wash denim goes full-on ‘90s, especially with a stone- or mid-wash appearance still displaying some of the indigo.
Get inspired by dad fashion and opt for a higher waist, or try a Y2K-angled approach with a wider, pipe-style leg.
Our Top Picks
While made with Italian denim, this tapered pair featuring an all-over medium wash and light distressing offers a less-ironic upgrade to the dad jean.
A washed, faded appearance with a tapered fit and Gap’s premium 1969 denim give this pair a broken-in look and feel from the get-go.
How to Wear Light-Wash Denim?
Beyond the styles themselves:
- Light-wash denim goes with everything. It has a calming, chill effect in combination with neutrals, serves as a grounding base to bright colors and prints, and adds an airy quality to deeper hues.
- Avoid the statement trap. Light-wash jeans are meant to be a staple pair. Excluding distressing elements, avoid high-contrast washes or a heavily bleached effect. Otherwise, the style can come across as forced.
- Look for a straight-to-skinny fit. Lighter colors make baggier silhouettes resemble a sheet and envelope your form. A cut with more angles or with a clear shape is less likely to look bulky.