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How to dress denim up or down

Seeking clothing that can take you through the epic journey that is your week? A pair of jeans in a dark, uniform-colored wash with no whiskering or aging is the most versatile item in your denim wardrobe.

Kristen Stewart and Fearne Cotton wearing dark jeans

Dark and sexy

Go with what you already know: Skinny and straight leg jeans in a dark hue are flattering on just about all of us, provided they are worn with the correct top. The curvier your hips, the longer your tunic needs to be. One unfortunate muffin top will be a scary reminder!

Make sure that the hem of your shirt hits at a flattering spot. Skinny jeans can be cuffed or scrunched to wear with fun flat sandals or cute ballets. Pair with a fabulous flowy top for a chic, bohemian vibe, or dress them up for evening with a silky top and high, strappy metallic sandals. It’s a foolproof look for all but the dressiest nights out.

Find the style that works for you

If you’re not comfortable with straight jeans, go for one of the new modified boot-cut styles, or choose a trouser style, which features the details and tailoring of a dress pant, but in denim. Trouser jeans are the most suitable for the workplace — perfect for casual Fridays. Keep the rest of the look professional with a tailored top and stylish pumps.

“Dressing denim up or down sometimes can be as simple as how casual your top is, but a lot of times it depends on other factors, such as the color. Darker styles create a more formal appearance since they’re sleek and subtle, while lighter or distressed washes often emulate the opposite. Also, your shoes make a big impact. Flip flops or sandals will almost always dress down denim while a pump dresses it up,” says Natasha Fussell, Online Stylist at

Share the sexy

“Denim jeans are a must for every woman…any age…any shape. I think (and many men will agree) there is nothing sexier than a woman in jeans and a tee shirt,” says Jill Martin, fashion correspondent for The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood and author of NY Times bestseller, I Have Nothing to Wear!, “With that said, there are certain tricks and keys to finding the right pair for you… and for that matter learning how to wear jeans the right way depending on the occasion. I do not encourage women to buy too many pairs of jeans because I think too many choices leads to confusion. If you are going to pick one pair to have in your wardrobe, go with a dark denim bootleg pant. The flare at the bottom of your jeans will help streamline your figure thereby making you look thinner (who doesn’t want that!).”

Switch to casual

Try to pair lighter denim jeans with a tee and cardigan paired with ballet flats on the more casual days. This is a classic look that can take you from shopping, to lunch, to playtime with your kids.

It’s all in the shoes

The shoe has a lot to do with dressing denim up or down, reminds Lizanne Crotty, Regional General Manager for Denim Habit. Slip on a pair of heals for a dressier evening look, or go with the flip flop or converse for a more casual look. Also, look to the color of the denim when going for a dressier or more casual look. Darker washes create a dressier look, while distressed or lighter washes are most casual. Pair dark denim with a drapey silk top for a sexier look or a blazer and button down for a more business casual look.

More fashion how tos

How to find the best pants for your body type
How to accessorize your skinny jeans
How to find the right pants length for heels

Photo credits: Daniel Deme/, Craig Harris/

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