Five Ways to Wear Dark Blue Denim Jeans

by Beau Hayhoe  |  in Smart Casual

It’s no secret to most guys (like readers of this site, particularly) that dark blue denim is a true style essential.

If you had to buy one pair of pants outside of a suit or trousers to take you a variety of different places, dark wash denim could be that pair.

It goes with a multitude of different outfits and looks. And in the right fit, dark jeans provide a uniform look, crisp silhouette, and most importantly, versatility.

There’s certainly something to be said for owning things like chinos and cords in multiple shades, but some of those don’t have the ability to be worn in virtually all seasons.

And even if you do own jeans, it can be tough to transition a wardrobe from, say, pairs of baggier straight leg or boot-cut jeans to the right kind of denim.

denim pants laid on top of each other in a diagonal row

Finding the Right Pair of Dark Blue Jeans


As much as we love light wash denim, especially in the warmer months, you can’t beat the versatility of a great pair of dark jeans. In this case, versatility means that they can be dressed up as easily as they can be dressed down.

So what makes a pair of jeans versatile? First off, choosing a pair in a dark blue indigo wash with no pre-fading and no unnecessary details, rips, or tears.


The silhouette is also something to keep in mind. A bootcut jean, overly skinny jean, or unnecessarily baggy styles should be left out of your search. A good choice would be a slim and straight cut.

Let’s use the Levi’s brand as an example.

Depending on your body type, “slim straight cut” could mean:

  • The 511 model if you’re on the skinner side
  • 514 if you’re more average
  • The 501 or 505 if you have more muscular legs

That’s because there is no one universal “slim straight” fit for every man, because every man has a different body shape and proportions! You simply have to try on a few pairs and find the best slim straight cut for you.

Barron prefers the Levi’s 541, an Athletic Taper cut, for his build. This model has a slightly higher rise with room in the hip and thigh area, and a taper towards the ankle.

man in navy jacket, white shirt, dark blue jeans, and brown loafers
Barron wearing the Levi’s 541 in a smart casual / business casual outfit

He says, “I have bigger legs, but my waist size is relatively small, so the 541 works best for me. While I normally buy a 32×30 in pants, in the Levi’s 541, I buy a 31×30, or sometimes a 30×30.”

All this to say, one silhouette can look vastly different depending on who’s wearing it. So try lots of pairs in different silhouettes and sizes (go one size up and one size down than your typical size to help you zero in on the best fit) before landing on one.

Stretch or No Stretch?

Ah yes, the big debate among denim purists and aficionados around the world: Should denim pants have stretch or no stretch?

If you ask a purist, they would say NO, absolutely not. Dark denim should be 100% cotton with no stretch.

Personally, I’m much more pragmatic, and frankly, I value comfort. And if you’re a dude that likes to look good, but is also practical, you probably feel the same way.

I like all my pants with a bit of stretch in them. Typically, brands add a bit of elastane to their denim. Elastane is a stretchy synthetic fiber, and when blended with cotton to make denim fabric (anywhere from 97-99% cotton, 1-3% elastane blend), you get… stretch denim.

Denim with a bit of stretch is SO much more comfortable as you’re moving around during the day. They also hold shape much better and bounce back from long periods of wear.

So if you ask us here at Effortless Gent, we say YES to denim with stretch. Stick to that ratio range of 99% / 1% – 97% / 3% and you’ll thank us.

Want our dark denim recommendations?

Check out this article: Dark Wash Jeans for Men: Top 6 Options from Cheap to Investment-Worthy

Caring for Dark Wash Denim Fabric

Dark denim should be washed as little as possible. This helps prevent the indigo dye from bleeding off, which then gives your jeans a faded, worn appearance… no longer the dark blue wash we were going for originally. This especially holds true for more expensive types of denim, like raw or selvedge denim.

Contrary to popular practice, you don’t have to wash your clothing after every wear, only if it smells, is overly soaked in sweat, or is visibly dirty.

Most of the time, your garments only need to be aired out. A spritz of fabric freshener like Febreze can also help, or a low-heat tumble dry with a scented Bounce dryer sheet. And for small stains, a simple spot cleaning by hand is just fine.

When it comes to a dark wash jean (again, assuming it doesn’t smell, isn’t soaked in sweat, isn’t visibly dirty), simply hang it on a hook (or trying the methods mentioned above) after you’re done wearing it so it airs out.

The Art of Manliness has a great article on general clothing care tips (i.e. how to wash your clothes), and if you’re hardcore about your dark raw denim, check out Heddel’s guide to washing your jeans.

What To Wear With Dark Blue Jeans

Now that you have a great pair of dark blue jeans in the perfect fit for your body type, you’ll need some outfit ideas to put together! Here are five easy looks.

1. Winter Business Casual


Mixing up textures and more diverse shades for the fall and winter is a seasonally appropriate match for the cold weather that hits the country a lot this time of year.

The elbow-patch cardigan is a more bold move than a v-neck sweater. It’s a nice nod to on-trend “grandpa style” without going too overboard, as the outfit is anchored by solid denim.

If you’re going for a staple piece like a cardigan, spring for cashmere when you can. A thicker merino or lambswool is another great option. The toothy texture of the chambray shirt is in line with the outfit’s casual feel. It’s in a slightly different shade from the denim which works well, and is a bit more unique than your classic Oxford-cloth button-down.

In sticking with the outfit’s more rugged-casual feel, a braided belt plays off the different textures and pairs more naturally with wingtip boots than a shinier dress leather belt. Even though this can be classified as business casual in most overly-casual offices, feel free to skip the tie.

2. Cold-Weather Casual


At first glance, this outfit might not seem too different from outfit #1 because most pieces are very similar—versatility, right?—but this number is decidedly more casual.

More than that, it practically screams rugged style. In colder parts of the country, thicker knits are going to be your friend when it gets cold. In fact, with a thick sweater, a cardigan and a scarf might do the trick if you’re trying to stay warm.

And yes, that combo definitely works. Just ask this guy.

In fact, the cardigan-and-henley combo provides some nice textural touches. The henley’s button placket is different from a crewneck T-shirt, and the wingtip boots and braided belt pair well because their textures jump a bit more than a standard pair of boots and a regular belt.

Heck, if you’re feeling adventurous, the cardigan could even be layered with a vest (like Daniel Craig a la Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Need a good occasion for this outfit? A casual night out with friends or afternoon errands, for starters.

3. Minus The Jacket


That’s right, no jacket in this outfit. That might be a bit different for some, but when the shirt fits well and has a unique color compared to your typical oxford cloth shirt, the pairing works well.

Roll up those sleeves, too, and throw on a watch with a standout canvas strap (say, navy), and the casual pairing up top is complete.

If you’re wearing this during the colder months, a wool tie would be a seasonally appropriate choice. If you want something that works year round, going with a grenadine or knit tie in a somber color is perfect. A tie bar is the perfect accessory to top off your look and keep your tie held down. Just make sure it’s a bit shorter in length than the tie itself.

Because we’re sans jacket, the shoes can be more casual, too. That’s where the suede desert boots come in. And in this case, don’t worry about matching the leather to the suede of the boot. Brown and tan work perfectly well together.

4. Blue on Blue… on Blue?


Contrary to popular belief, different shades of blue can be worn at the same time. The trick is to make sure the shades are contrasted so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to match them up.

In this instance, the oxford-cloth button down is lighter than the sweater , and the sweater is a different shade of blue than the jeans. A royal blue V-neck could work quite well here, too. It’s the same idea as wearing a navy blazer with dark jeans, but this outfit is more errand-ready and doesn’t need a blazer.

Blue is certainly a more forgiving color, and dark blue is considered a menswear neutral, so this is a good time to experiment with colorful accessories like bracelets or maybe a vibrant watch band.

As a shoe option, double monk strap shoes show you have a bit of attitude and style. A straightforward option would be brown wingtip boots or the classic brown desert boot.

5. Warm Weather Style


The popover shirt here is light and airy, easily wearable in a variety of different situations. Even in cold weather, you can easily layer to stay warm if necessary.

Stylistically, it’s different than a standard polo or an OCBD, making it a choice that’s more eye-catching (but, of course, it’s always good to have one or both of those on-hand).

Just because it’s hotter out in the spring and summer, doesn’t mean that you can’t wear dark denim. It’s probably not a good bet to wear all the time, as it does tend to get hot enough in shorts or chinos, but for some occasions, it can work just fine.

That same braided leather belt that worked in the cold weather works in the warm weather too. It’s a more casual option and is visually less “heavy” than a standard leather belt. And because it’ll most likely be warmer out when you choose this outfit, it’s the perfect time to go sockless.

Cuff those jeans, show off some ankle, and soak up some much-needed rays.

Which outfit is your favorite?

The above outfits are but a handful of options you can use to mix and match pieces with dark denim. It’s versatility (clean silhouette, dark wash, no distressing, perfect fit) makes it the perfect canvas for a variety of looks. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This article was originally published 1/23/2014. updated 1/4/2018, 7/16/2021.