Spring Style Suggestion: Lightwash Denim

Now that it’s officially March on our collective #menswear calendars, it’s high time to at least start thinking about spring (if you haven’t already been following trends and early pieces of collections). While runway looks can, of course, get a little dicey to follow at times, there are some pretty simple spring-ready looks the rest of us can take on to freshen up our wardrobes and inject a sense of warmer-weather style into outfits.

A Trip to Florida — Spring Style

Lightwash denim in the Florida sun. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Henley by Mossimo. Desert boots by Steve Madden. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.
Lightwash denim in the Florida sun. Jeans by J. Crew (484 fit). Henley by Mossimo. Desert boots by Steve Madden. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Case in point — this can be done fairly easily below the waist. Although classic, slim dark denim gets a lot of play on this site and many others (here’s an Effortless Gent post on the topic by yours truly), warmer months call for a change (most of the time) in what we wear on our legs. That’s not to say that a pair of crisp blue denim won’t work across all seasons — because it certainly will — but spring and summer can be an ideal time to shake up the denim spectrum. This can be done in a few different ways, but reaching for a slimmer pair of lightwash jeans is a great way to get the ball rolling. The key here, as with all denim, is to look for a pair that fits well, not baggy (on a personal note, J. Crew’s 484 jean as pictured above fits almost exactly like a slim-straight jean from Levi’s). And keep in mind these aren’t the stonewashed varieties of years past — with a lower rise and slimmer, edgier fit, they’re entirely modern.

Lightwash jeans work perfectly in the sunnier months of the year simply because their color, fit and feel are light, airy and relaxed — all the ideal trends and feelings of the warmer parts of the year. Whereas inky black denim and a sharp pair of black boots could become standard uniform in the severe cold of Michigan, a nicer pair of lighter-wash jeans practically scream spring and summer fun once it warms up.

On vacation time. Watch by Invicta Pro Diver.
On vacation time. Watch by Invicta Pro Diver.

And just because dark denim is practically the king of versatility among anything outside a suit doesn’t mean lightwash denim can’t be worn in just as many ways. Eschewing many of the top-heavy layers of winter, however, is the first step to making these jeans work for you. Several stores sell nice variations on the piece, from J. Crew (as pictured above) to a slightly slouchier fit by Gap to a straight-fit lighter wash by Old Navy. Another place that’s certainly worth checking out both for price point and versatility of looks is 20jeans. An addition to the market earlier last year, the company has jeans available in slim, skinny and straight fits. They’re also offering about three or four skinny and slim washes of light denim for $35, definitely a great price point for most us. Without personal experience, it’s tough to note quality, but others have told me very good things. As always, be sure to peruse the digital (or brick-and-mortar) shelves of Levi’s for a nice pair of 511’s or 513’s at a nice, low price if you’re so inclined.

Putting together outfits with light denim is inherently less complicated than dressing for the fall and winter, too. That’s because the first step (starting with a base denim) isn’t followed with piling on four different top layers to brave the Midwestern chill. Because lightwash jeans exude a more casual, lived-in vibe, simple things like a white henley (as seen above) or a crewneck t-shirt can work for running errands or even hopping down the hallway to a class. A mean-cut pair of desert boots (like the Steve Madden boots shown above) anchor the outfit in a more rugged way than a simple pair of sneakers might — however, some slim canvas kicks work well too, as we also see below.

It’s important to note, too, that accessories will go a long way in making the outfit summer-appropriate. Siblings With Style will have more on sunglasses later, but in the interim, look for a crisp, classic, relatively inexpensive pair of aviators (like the ones above from Ralph Lauren) or some Wayfarers (another relatively fail-safe classic that’s also decidedly on-trend). Because of the casual nature of many of these outfits, many types of watches will work, everything from a canvas Timex Weekender to a sleeker, decently priced dive watch.

A slightly more unique take on light denim. Floral shirt by Express. Jeans by J. Crew. (484 fit). Canvas sneakers by Urban Outfitters.
A slightly more unique take on light denim. Floral shirt by Express. Jeans by J. Crew. (484 fit). Canvas sneakers by Urban Outfitters.

And when the situation calls for something slightly more dressier, lightwash jeans work just as well with a collared shirt while leaving wiggle-room for experimentation Some are against short-sleeve shirts, but there are a few keys to follow. These short sleeve shirts (a variation of which is worn above) aren’t the ill-fitting Hawaiian prints of days gone by. Short sleeve shirts now have leaner, meaner fits and more eye-catching patterns (the brand The Critical Slide Society sells some eye-catching short-sleeve shirts with patterns through online retailer ASOS). In the outfit pictured above, a less obvious version of hi-lo styling comes into play with the canvas sneakers and slightly cuffed jeans. Another alternative revolves around the popover shirt, a retro classic that’s making another well-deserved turn (in both short-sleeve and long-sleeve variations) in the spotlight. The best seem to be sold at J. Crew right now in a variety of soft washes and stripes for summer. Consider it a more eye-catching update to the polo, and don’t think twice about wearing it with lightwash jeans.

Now, dressing up lightwash denim is a little more difficult, especially since it’s worn primarily casually to begin with, but it can be done (look at the photo under the ‘Adopt A Personal Uniform’ section for how to do up some distressed denim here) The key with trying to spruce up lightwash jeans would be to start with smaller pieces in combos (like a lighter-weight striped sweater or long-sleeve shirt over an OCBD) and then move on to bigger pieces like v-neck sweaters in appropriate colors.

Use a dive watch and floral shirt to contrast with the more casual nature of the lightwash jeans and sneakers.  Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.
Use a dive watch and floral shirt to contrast with the more casual nature of the lightwash jeans and sneakers. Sunglasses by Ralph Lauren.

Footwear is the cap on any outfit, especially one with lightwash denim. A slick pair of desert boots could work with a more casual henley or crewneck tee, whereas a slim, low-profile pair of canvas kicks could create a hi-lo vibe between a popover or collared short-sleeve shirt. The same follows vice versa, too. This pair of sneakers from Urban Outfitters, while inexpensive, could be perfect for kicking around town with a pair of slightly cuffed lightwash jeans. And because it’s going to be spring (followed by summer), leave the darker denim, heavier layers and socks at home, at least for a while. One pair of good lightwash jeans could work wonders for injecting some fresh spring and summer style into your wardrobe.

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