Denim can be many things – timelessly cool, perennially useful – but smart isn’t generally one of them. Denim stands for the outdoors, freedom, rebellion: the antithesis of what we need to look smart for. This is not just me projecting, either. Look at denim – feel it: the very texture is weathered and rugged, like sunshine and showers. A fine wool-mix, by contrast, feels homogeneous and smooth, like air-conditioning. That’s why people wear jeans to the office on Fridays: it sends the message that you’re a free spirit, about to ride off into the sunset to pursue your dreams. Which, on a Friday, you sort of are, even if you’re just riding home on your bike to order a takeaway.
But, this season, denim is looking uncharacteristically establishment. This started on the Burberry catwalk, where denim jackets came smartly waisted, nipped into the hourglass shape of classic haute couture tailoring, and were worn with sequined skirts. Context is everything, and this particular catwalk moment was an image that subtly recalibrated the meaning of denim. While jeans were domesticated and harnessed to the yoke of designer fashion long ago, the denim jacket has until now been a symbol of youthful rebellion.
What this means is quite simple: denim can be Monday morning as well as Saturdays. Denim will always read as a more individual, more adventurous choice, so you can use it to add edge to “straight” outfits: a denim shirt under a double-breasted navy blazer, for instance, or a pencil skirt in denim, instead of wool. You can take Burberry catwalk cues and make denim work as outerwear: if your denim shirt is cut relatively neat, not too short and baggy, try it open over a fine-knit polo neck.
You can, of course, wear jeans. The key to making jeans look non-slobby is not a smart jean but a statement jean. Worn with a good-quality white shirt and a classic heel, a pair of slouchy, ripped-and-patched jeans look more dressed up, not less, than your go-to mid-blue, straight-leg jeans. Simple jeans don’t cut it right now, so if you can’t do rips and patches, opt for flares. Or wait until Saturday, and then you’re free to wear denim any way you like.
Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair and makeup: Sharon Ive at Carol Hayes Management.