Men’s Jeans Decoded for Business Casual Standards

Leigh Hanlon

A guy can get away with wearing jeans just about any place these days. Home and social events — all embrace or at least tolerate America’s fashion contribution to the world. Worn right, men's jeans have even found a place in the ever-confusing world of “business casual” wear.

Jeans might seem to have always been a part of the fashion scene, but the iconic indigo-dyed pants didn’t burst onto the scene until Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented the first pair in 1873. Since then, denim has conquered the world and found its way into the workplace.

That conquest wasn’t always easy. Not too long ago, schools considered jeans to be the gateway to juvenile delinquency and banned them entirely. Show up in Levi’s and you’d be labeled a “hood” and sent home to change. But social norms have changed.

Men’s Jeans in the Workplace

“The world is a very different place now,” says Amy Leverton, senior denim editor at Stylesight, whose background includes denim design and product development. “What is considered appropriate dress has become much more casual. Now it is even appropriate to wear jeans to work (depending on your job) and to smart restaurants. Denim is closely associated with ‘cool’ and we live in an age where cool is as highly regarded an aesthetic as what ‘smart’ or ‘respectful’ used to be.”

Levis Jeans 501 Original Straight Leg

No wonder that in some department stores, there can be more than 700 brands, styles and colors of jeans. There’s essentially a jean for every occasion.

Levi’s still has the lion’s share of denim jeans — at one major retailer, the brand accounts for nearly 250 choices in the men’s department alone. But designers everywhere are working in denim, and no matter what a guy’s taste and budget, denim’s got him covered.

Although a fairly recent arrival on the fashion scenes, “designer jeans” have scored a lot of consumer attention.

“The designer jeans market is a relatively new invention, going back, say, 25 to 30 years,” Leverton explains, and have become more prominently in the past 10 years. “It means a jean that uses premium quality fabrics, cut and manufacturing processes and/or is made by a designer name or label.”

And when it comes to jeans, you do get what you pay for. When you select a jean to wear to work, you never want to skimp on quality.

“There is a big difference, mainly in manufacturing,” Leverton says. “I’ve seen some factories in Los Angeles using state of the art equipment, (under) great working conditions and (producing) hand-finished work. Generally, there are more steps in the cut and sew of an expensive jean. Maybe the jean requires 15 to 20 stages to make rather than, say, six. This means the jean is more durable, better fitting and more likely to stand the test of time.”

Levis Jeans 569 Loose Straight Black

Choosing Men’s Jeans for Work

When selecting jeans for work, you’ll want to keep several things in mind:

Wash: Jeans come in a variety of washes. Typically lighter denim is considered more casual, so you’ll want to choose a dark wash to keep your outfit looking professional.

Cut: While you may prefer skinnier legged or even baggier jeans for the weekend, the workplace calls for straight-legged jeans. It’s the most professional cut for office attire.

Length: Make sure that your jeans are the proper length. The hem of the jean should lie nicely on the top of your shoe. If your jeans are dragging on the ground, they’ll be more likely to become frayed and look unprofessional.

Style: Save distressed jeans for the weekend. Jeans worn to the office should be darker denim, without any kind of distracting style (designs down the leg, designs on the back pockets, or the distressed look).

When in doubt, look and see what jeans your boss wears to work on casual days. The age-old advice to dress like your boss is usually helpful in determining what level of “dressed up” your jeans need to be in the workplace.