When it comes to casual collared shirts, the denim shirt is an option few men consider. Why? Most men aren’t sure how to wear and style a denim shirt.
But you can confidently and stylishly rock a denim shirt if you follow a few basic rules. In this article, we'll show you how to wear men's denim shirts.
In this article, you'll find:
- What are denim shirts?
- When to wear a denim shirt?
- How to gauge the formality of denim shirts?
- How to wear men's denim shirts
- How to choose the right color denim shirt?
- Rules for wearing a denim shirt
- 5 ways to style a denim shirt
What Are Denim Shirts?
What do we mean when we say “denim shirt?”
A denim shirt is made from – you guessed it – denim; a sturdy twilled cotton fabric.
There’s a reason that denim is traditionally associated with outdoor work. Denim is an exceptionally tough fabric. While it has been worn for centuries by laborers and cowboys, denim’s popularity skyrocketed following World War II as urban Americans brought denim home from road trips to the West.
Today, denim is one of the most commonly worn fabrics in the world.
While jeans are ubiquitous, you won’t see denim shirts quite as often. That’s a shame because as we’ll see, the denim shirt is one of the most versatile casual shirts a man can own.
Chambray vs. Denim
Many men confuse denim and chambray shirts. That’s understandable because, at first glance, they can look very similar. Both are made from cotton, have workwear origins, and are typically blue.
Here’s how you can tell denim and chambray apart:
Denim feels heavy and rough, while chambray feels light and soft.
Chambray is made with a plain weave, while denim is created from a twill weave.
Unlike denim, chambray fabric has a sheen to it.
You might be wondering, “Should I wear a chambray or denim shirt?” While the answer will largely depend on your personal preference, as a general rule, chambray is more lightweight and is going to be better at wicking moisture than denim. This makes wearing a chambray shirt a good choice in hot weather.
When Can Men Wear A Denim Shirt?
Denim shirts are great for everyday casual wear. In general, any time you’d be comfortable wearing a button-down shirt you could choose to wear a denim shirt instead.
From chopping firewood to digging a hole, a denim shirt can also be worn for outdoor jobs and activities for which you’d wear work boots.
Just be sure to wear the right denim shirt for the occasion (see #3).
When to avoid wearing a denim shirt
If you work in an office with a strict dress code, you probably shouldn’t wear a denim shirt to work. Likewise, if the occasion calls for anything more formal than the lower end of business casual, you shouldn’t wear a denim shirt. Instead, opt for a well-fitting dress shirt and consider throwing on a sports jacket.
How To Gauge The Formality Of Denim Shirts For Men
Due to their rough texture and outdoor workwear origins, denim shirts are always casual. However, you’ll find that some denim shirts are more formal than others.
One of the easiest ways to tell how formal a denim shirt is is by examining the collar. Shirts with floppy collars (often with buttons) are more casual than collars with structure.
Another way to gauge how casual a denim shirt is is to notice the weight of the fabric. Does the fabric feel thick and heavy, or thin and light? In general, the heavier and thicker the fabric, the more informal the shirt.
When determining formality, the last thing to check is the shirt’s wash. Light washes, distressed washes, and washes in colors other than blue, are going to be more casual.
How To Wear Men's Denim Shirts
Western denim shirts
Western denim shirts often have two breast pockets that button shut. These shirts will often have other details like decorative stitching on the shoulder or contrasting buttons. This style was specifically designed for ranchers and other people that work outdoors.
Denim shirt jackets (overshirts)
Some denim shirts are specifically made to be overshirts. These will be made out of a very thick material and will often have breast pockets. A denim overshirt occupies the middle ground between denim shirts and denim jackets.
Modern denim shirt
This broad category of denim shirts is made with the casual urban man in mind. It includes many styles that don't fit cleanly into any of the other categories. Modern denim shirts can have one, two, or no breast pockets. They come in a wide array of washes and colors.
Short sleeve denim shirt
Short sleeve options can make a great summer shirt for men. You can find a short-sleeved version of all of the types of denim shirts we’ve discussed so far.
Smart casual denim shirt
As we’ve discussed, some denim shirts better lend themselves to being “dressed up” than others. A “smart casual” denim shirt will be made of thinner fabric, have a well-defined collar, and a trim fit.
How To Wear Men's Denim Shirts (Choosing The Right Color)
Denim shirts come in a wide variety of colors.
As you might imagine, blue is by far the most common denim color. However, there are many other options to consider.
A dark blue denim shirt is a fantastic choice for your first denim shirt. Just like dark blue jeans, this color denim shirt can be dressed up or dressed down. Dark blue denim also hides stains well and will develop a unique wear pattern over time.
Medium blue denim is a classic choice for farmers and ranchers. If you plan on buying a denim shirt to wear for outdoor work, medium blue is a good option to consider.
Light blue denim shirts are a good choice for smart-casual denim shirts, because with a light-colored shirt it will be easy to see that you are being intentional about your choice to dress up denim and that you aren’t wearing a stained work shirt.
Like blue, gray is another common denim shirt color. If you like to wear dark, monochromatic looks, consider gray. A gray denim shirt is also a good choice if you’re going to be doing manual labor because gray tends to hide stains well.
It takes confidence to style a black denim shirt because wearing a black shirt can be hard to pull off.
This is because black can be overpowering. If you have a light skin tone, a black shirt is going to make your head stand out. A black shirt will look best on men with black hair and medium to dark skin.
Denim shirts are available in almost any color you could imagine.
Wondering what to wear with a different colored denim shirt? Check out our guide on combining colors.
How To Wear Men's Denim Shirts (Six Rules)
Rule 1: wear the right denim shirt for the occasion.
As we’ve already discussed, not all denim shirts are alike. Some are more formal than others.
Look for denim as a casual men's shirt option when building a casual outfit and more formal denim shirts with more formal outfits.
Rule 2: Avoid the “Canadian tuxedo”
Ah— the infamous Canadian tuxedo. You’ve probably seen men who wear jeans with a matching denim shirt. It’s not a good look.
The issue isn’t necessarily that they are wearing double denim, but that they are wearing the same color of denim on the top and bottom halves of their body.
If you wear “double denim,” make sure to wear different colors of denim, or at least a noticeably different shade of the same color.
Rule 3: Don’t wear a denim shirt for formal occasions
A denim shirt can be worn with a suit and tie if it has a well-structured collar and is made from smooth, thin fabric. However, you shouldn’t wear a denim shirt when a dress shirt would work better. In practice, this means choosing a dress shirt for semi-formal or formal occasions.
Rule 4: Keep accessories casual
If you wear a watch with a denim shirt, wear a men's dive watch for a casual look.
If you wear a tie with a denim shirt, go for a casual knit wool, or cotton tie, over a more formal grenadine silk tie.
The same principle applies to other accessories such as shoes, belts, and hats.
Rule 5: Know when to tuck in your shirt
To tuck or not to tuck. Often it is up to personal preference, however there are a few general rules you should know.
An untucked shirt should come to about mid fly. Any longer and it will look like you are wearing a dress, any shorter and your midriff will show if you raise your hands. If the hem of your denim shirt goes past mid fly and is steeply curved, you should always tuck it in. If it is shorter than mid fly, you need to get a new shirt that’s longer.
If you are wearing a sports jacket, blazer, or suit jacket, always tuck in your shirt. If you don’t you’ll look sloppy.
If you're sporting a short sleeve denim shirt, keep it untucked because short sleeve shirts are by nature more casual than their long-sleeved counterparts.
Rule 6: Wear the right colored pants
Wondering what colored pants to wear with a denim shirt?
Tan, olive green, or gray pants are all good choices because they are neutral colors. Neutral colors are great for those new to color matching because they go with almost anything.
To avoid looking like you’ve made a mistake getting dressed in the morning, you’ll want to avoid wearing pants that closely, but don’t exactly match the color of your shirt.
How To Wear Denim Shirts For Men 5 Different Ways
#1 As outdoor workwear
If you want to wear a denim shirt for doing outdoor work (or if you want to look like you might do outdoor work) choose a denim shirt that is thick and rugged over one made from a thinner fabric that will wear out easily.
Consider wearing a field watch with a nylon strap. Add classic work boots and a matching belt to complete the look.
#2 With black jeans
Black jeans with a rich indigo denim shirt is a great look.
This is a case where you can throw the old idea that you should never wear blue with black out the window. That’s because the contrast between the indigo blue denim shirt and the black jeans looks intentional.
Make sure that the jeans are well-fitted and clean of any lint.
Throw on some gray leather sneakers or a pair of suede chukkas and you’re all set for a night on the town.
#3 Double denim done right
While in the last example we chose denim of a different color than the shirt, now we’ll show you how to wear denim of the same color but different washes.
Again, to avoid the “Canadian tuxedo” look, pair different denim washes rather than matching exactly.
If you’re wearing dark blue jeans, choose a light blue denim shirt, or vice versa.
Wearing a (non-denim) jacket on top is another great choice to “tone down” the look. Which brings us to our next option…
#4 Layered under a casual jacket
A denim shirt will look good layered under almost any style of casual jacket.
Considering opting for an olive-colored field jacket for a rugged, outdoorsy vibe.
For a more urban feel, throw on a leather moto jacket. Depending on your own personal taste, you could choose a classic black jacket, a rich brown jacket, or, to be even more bold, a jacket in another color like oxblood.
You could also wear a denim shirt under a Harrington jacket. A natural (khaki) colored Harrington pairs particularly well with denim. You could also choose navy for a monochromatic look.
#5 With a sports jacket
A denim shirt can be worn with a sports jacket. This is about as far up the spectrum of formality you can go with a denim shirt.
A denim shirt will work well with sports jackets made with fabrics with a lot of texture. Think tweed or flannel.
Swapping a blue OCBD for a denim shirt is a great (and subtle) way to switch things up.
Summary: How To Wear Men's Denim Shirts
As long as you have a little bit of knowledge and follow a few simple rules you can wear a denim shirt with style.
Few other pieces of clothing are as versatile as the denim shirt which makes it a great addition to any man’s closet.
Check out our complete guide to an interchangeable wardrobe.