How to Dress Up Jeans: Six Outfit Ideas for Every Silhouette
Whether you prefer flared white jeans or skinny dark-wash jeans, we have an outfit you should try.
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There are few styles more widely beloved than jeans. As a teenager, I was entranced by the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books and the idea that a really great (potentially magical) pair of pants could open up a new world of self-discovery, confidence, and maybe even summer romance. I have yet to discover a garment with those specific powers, but M.M.LaFleur’s Better Than Denim jeans come pretty close.
Made from a Turkish two-way stretch cotton, these jeans offer all the best things about denim (durability, structure, a classic look) without the annoying things that Ann Brashare’s characters never had to deal with (stiffness and too-tight waistbands). They’re available in every silhouette from skinny to wide-leg, and a broad range of colors that give you plenty of styling possibilities.
For this month’s edition of our Power Casual Report series, I decided to tackle a topic our stylists are asked about regularly: how to dress up jeans. Read on for our top tips, plus six different outfit ideas featuring jeans of all cuts and colors.
How to Dress Up Jeans
1. Consider Color and Cut
Before you style an outfit around a pair of jeans, take a moment to think about the jeans themselves. Light wash styles tend to read as more casual than dark-wash styles, so you’ll need to up the formality of your pairings for lighter-colored jeans. At the same time, you’ll want to consider the silhouette you’re working with and pick your pairings accordingly.
2. Introduce Pattern and Structure
When your outfit includes a variety of textures and patterns, it takes on a more dynamic and intentional—and therefore, more dressed-up—feeling. Try experimenting with different fabrics and prints to take your jeans outfit to the next level. Pieces that feature sharp lines and suiting-style design details, like blazers and vests, also help add structure to your look.
3. Add Accessories
It probably goes without saying, but the right accessories can be the difference between an outfit that’s “just jeans and a T-shirt” and a super-chic Power Casual look. You might be surprised by how different your jeans look with sneakers versus heels. Don’t let accessories be an afterthought, and you’ll find that styling becomes so much easier.
Six Dressed-Up Jean Outfits to Try
Of all the pairs of jeans I own, I turn to straight-leg styles like the Daria most often. Not only are they versatile, they’re also comfortable, timeless, and easy to style with pretty much any type of top. (Fun fact: Our founder and CEO, Sarah LaFleur, is a huge fan of the Daria jeans and recently wore them almost daily on her trip to Japan.) Adding a pair of heels like the Ella sandals will go a long way toward making your jeans feel more dressed-up. The silk Lisey cami, paired with the Avelyn top worn as a jacket, adds structure and pattern, and the gold Marcy earrings lend shine. Try this look out at the office, then wear it straight to your date night.
For a simple but impactful outfit, wear a pair of dark-wash jeans, such as the Hockley in ink, with a jewel-tone top like the Antoinette in mineral blue. Thanks to gathering at the shoulders and a faux-wrap construction, this top does most of the styling work for you. Plus, dark-wash jeans already tend to look more formal than light-wash or distressed jeans, so you don’t need a jacket to achieve a dressed-up look (although you could certainly add one if you’d like). Make the look feel complete by accessorizing with playful earrings and heels.
High rise + wide legs is a recipe for looking extra tall—and if that appeals to you, you’ll love the Milo jeans. Make them look even more sophisticated by tucking in the sleek Axam turtleneck, then add the wine-hued Moreland jacket to introduce some color to your palette. A leather belt, pumps, and earrings tie it all together. Bonus: When it’s too hot for long sleeves, substitute the turtleneck with a lightweight, short-sleeved style like the Antonia top.
I like wearing white jeans all year round, but they’re in especially heavy rotation during the summer. This outfit is a great example of how easy it can be to dress up a pair of jeans. Just add a structured top like the Roo vest, which gives your look a tailored suiting vibe without actually being a suit. Snakeskin-print shoes and bold gold earrings make the whole outfit feel fresh and fun. Once the weather cools down, you can keep wearing this outfit by layering on the matching Hyo jacket, or wearing the Axam turtleneck underneath the Roo vest.
I’ll always love pairing my black jeans with a graphic tee, but there are times that call for something a bit more elevated. Try wearing a sleek skinny jean like the Sammataro with the silk jersey Elizabeth turtleneck and a cropped vegan leather jacket. The combination of black, brown, and beige reads as super sophisticated, and the variety of textures adds visual interest. The pointy-toed Lana boots are the perfect way to pull this fall look together. (Want more? Check out our complete guide to the best shoes to wear with pants.)
Classic blue jeans have an inherently casual look. But add a silk-jersey top, a plaid blazer, and some pointy-toe flats, and you have a polished, preppy outfit with college-library energy. With this outfit, you’ll be able to wear jeans pretty much anywhere without looking out of place—and that’s exactly what makes it Power Casual. For an even more dressed-up look, add the silk charmeuse Tatum top over the Shani top, half-buttoned and tucked into your jeans.
Pop Quiz: When did women start wearing pants? (The answer may surprise you.)