What to Wear With Light Wash Denim

What to Wear With Light Wash Denim


Erin Gray

Erin Gray (Pronoun: she/her) is a Portland, OR based writer with an affinity for working behind the scenes with companies that offer something unique to their market. When she’s not writing, she likes to roam around mossy hiking trails, wear leather hats, and build stuff. You can find her on instagram @rawhidelaces or email her by clicking on the little envelope below:

Let’s face it - your denim rainbow just isn’t complete without light wash colors.

Light wash denim has become on-trend again (as it does at some point in every decade).

But in truth, it never really left.

Despite being such a classic, it can be a bit daunting to put together a light wash look.

Luckily there are plenty of good reasons why light wash denim belongs in your closet, and you can pull it off without landing somewhere in between country music singer and a strong “somebody’s dad” vibe (not that either of those things can’t be sexy in their own way).

You’ll hear a lot of style advice about sticking with dark wash denim - how it has a “slimming” effect, and it goes with everything (that part is true).

But when it comes to clothing that flatters your frame, experience teaches that it’s really the fit that makes the difference - not the color.

People of all sizes shouldn’t be afraid to wear great fitting clothing in light colors (even though finding it can be a bit of a challenge sometimes - we know, the struggle is real).

There is no doubt that dark denim is a staple - it’s like the charcoal suit of jeans (the one you should have if you only have one).

But where’s the fun in having only one?

There’s a whole denim color spectrum out there, and incorporating colors on the lighter end brings out a whole different side to your wardrobe.

Image Source: Macys

Lighter washes let you create looks that are equal parts fresh, playful, and flattering.

They also perform way better under the summer sun - keeping you cooler by reflecting away light and heat.

Plus you don’t have to worry about color fading because that ship has already sailed.

But before we get into examples of what to wear with light wash denim, let’s talk best practices:

Don’t be afraid to pair light with light.

When putting together a look, especially with denim, a lot of people aim to mix it up with dark on top and light on bottom or vice versa.

This follows the standard advice to avoid being all “matchy matchy”.

The thing is, matching shades can actually work in your favor.

When you pair light with light (or dark with dark), you avoid creating a line in the middle of your outfit (at your waist) where the contrasting shades meet.

Therefore, the visual line of your outfit is longer and your perceived height increases as a result.

Image Source: Ellen Degeneres via Instagram

This alone is a reason to invest in some lighter pants to go with the lighter shirts you already have in your wardrobe.

After all, a little height boost (even if it is an optical illusion) never hurt anyone.

Remember: Keeping everything the same shade doesn’t necessarily mean the same color. An outfit full of similarly light neutral shades can still have plenty of different colors.

If any skin shows through, don’t try to dress them up.

Light wash denim has a more casual vibe than dark denim, but there is still a way to dress it up a bit - as long as you’ve got a pair with no holes, a tailored fit, and not much color variation overall (fading is fine as long as it stays close to the original shade).

You can swap a pair like that into any look that you’d normally wear with chinos.

Just don’t try this with a pair that is all beaten up.

If your light wash jeans have holes or a lot of color variation, they should stick to ultra casual situations only.

Not to worry though - a beat up, well-loved pair of jeans will still go great with a t-shirt and more utilitarian layers with a workwear or military heritage (think: bomber jackets or hoodies).

Now let’s get into some examples of light wash looks...

First, a stripped down classic:

This look is all about keeping it simple and nailing every detail (easy to do - there aren’t many).

A pristine white t-shirt and light wash denim were practically made for each other. This look radiates classic summer style.

Suede chelsea boots elevate the style quotient without taking it too far into dressy territory.

If you do want to make it more presentable while still remaining super chill and comfortable, you can throw a blazer on top.

For a great example of this variation in action, look no further than Abby Wambach:

Image Source: Getty Images

For folks who want something a little more muted than bright white, t-shirts and pullovers in other light neutrals are a great option:

Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to kick things up a notch.

Light washes provide a perfect opportunity for the denim-on-denim moment of your dreams:

The slight shade variance between the denim in this outfit gives it nice color dimension but not enough to spoil the the streamlined, height-boosting effect.

Combined with a bright white base layer and sneakers to match, and you’ve got a look that is effortlessly crisp and clean.

The visible white cuff of the roll-up henley sleeves is a next level dapper touch.

This variation is perfect for summer, but in the fall you could max out the denim layering even further with a light wash trucker jacket. Triple denim isn’t to be feared.

BTW, wanna copy this exact look?

Top Layer: Faded Blue Denim Button-up

Base Layer: Essential White Henley

Bottoms: Blue Fade Stretch Jeans

Shoes: Any all-white sneaker

So far we’ve been kicking it in neutral land, but that’s about to change because light wash denim has another super power:

Light wash denim helps balance bright colors.

Image Source: Topman

Once again, the trick here is a less dramatic contrast.

This also works when you pair light wash denim with a button-up that features a bright and loud pattern. 

The loudness gets muted to a more tolerable level than it would be when paired with dark denim.

Before we wrap up, let’s talk a bit more about shoe pairings...

We’ve touched on how a light colored chelsea boot can elevate super casual faded blue denim, and how you also can’t go wrong with super clean all-white sneakers.

But with all the talk about matching light with light, we wouldn’t want to skim over the fact that contrast can be a good thing, especially when it comes to footwear.

If you’ve got a favorite pair of darker colored shoes or boots, pairing them with a lighter outfit is one way to really show them off.

A non-traditional denim color like tan is especially well suited to pair with brown or black shoes.

You could go for the standard lace-up options like those shown above, or for a summery twist you can go sockless and throw on boat shoes, loafers, or even oxfords.

Add in a button-up on top and you’ve got a sharp look that is also appropriately laid-back for warmer weather.

Look no further than Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski for inspiration on how to rock black loafers with faded blue light wash denim (plus a super laissez-faire french tuck that would make Tan France proud):

Image Source: Looktastic

What do you like to wear with light wash denim?

Let us know in the comments!


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