Blue jeans in the office: Debunking the dilemma and navigating workplace attire

Blue jeans in the office: Debunking the dilemma and navigating workplace attire

Q. You’ve written a few times in recent weeks about blue jeans as if they are an acceptable choice in the office. It’s fine to work in your yard with them or in a “blue collar job,” but I would never wear them to the office and am horrified how many men do. Please do not tell me you now find this acceptable?

A. Well, I have a few thoughts in terms of your question/comments:

First, I’ve written about a number of varieties of jeans recently (stretch blue jeans, white jeans, as well as traditional blue and black jeans), and in no cases was I discussing frayed, worn, or (worst of all) intentionally torn jeans.

Second, the term “office and business wear” has definitely changed in the last few decades, adding Friday wear, casual-work dress, and remote-work clothing. Even if you are not ready to accept these changes, I certainly have to address them.

Third, I still do think if I meet with a banker or a lawyer, and he is wearing jeans and a polo, and it is not a weekend, he is not appropriately dressed.
So, while it is far from universally accepted, let me provide you with my scale of casual-to-more- formality of jeans, as well as when I believe they are, and are not, appropriate.

  • Torn/patched jeans – You can wear these to change the oil in your car..
  • Clean, crisp white jeans – As I wrote a few weeks back, these are, oddly, a year-round look that style-conscious men occasionally wear even when other white and/or cotton pants would not be considered in season.
  • Standard faded blue jeans are useful for many weekend/casual-social occasions where you might wear a polo shirt, a flannel shirt, a Tee, or a dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves. I find these to be most appropriate for younger dressers.
  • Well-pressed (or, at least, not wrinkled), well-cut dark blue jeans worn with a wool tweed sport jacket or a simple navy blazer will take you to many social events and even perhaps to the office, if your office is not overly conservative.

Now, all the above said, I would never question a man’s right to decide that jeans are not part of his style; he, therefore, might not have a single pair of jeans in his closet. Without a dress code to wear a specific item (such as a tie), a man should only wear what he feels comfortable in. I would hope, that with adjustments, even those dressing within a dress code can be comfortable. And, for those who do not like or are not comfortable in jeans, cargo pants and shorts can replace the yardwork-casual jeans choice and khakis can substitute in any more business (albeit still business-casual) settings.

While it ultimately depends on a company’s specific dress code policy, in many workplaces, blue jeans are deemed acceptable as long as they are clean, without any distressing, and paired with a nicely pressed shirt, along with shoes that are not too casual. I agree with you and am not really a great fan of jeans for business wear. Men need to be observant. Unless they are absolutely sure that jeans are welcomed in their specific business environment (and by that I mean that they may have seen the boss wearing them at least once), I would suggest that men err on the side of a step more formal. While chinos and khakis may on occasion be too informal for some business settings, they are not ever likely to get you into trouble in the same way that jeans might.

If a man wears jeans, they should fit perfectly. They should not be too tight or too loose in the seat or have the baggy look of jeans that some men wear for hiking. Jeans that are too long and bunch around your shoes look sloppy. If a more mature man wears jeans, they should be dark, straight-fit jeans with a clean finish. These are classic, timeless, and you can dress them up or down, making them incredibly versatile. Sometimes, older men do not have the body that suits jeans, especially across the seat. If this is true, skipping jeans altogether is often a good choice.

Finally, for those thinking jeans can run long or short and it just doesn’t matter…it does. Wearing jeans does not give you permission to throw out the rules of dressing well. Treat jeans as you do your other pants, if they do not come in exactly your length have them hemmed!

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