Q&A: How to Dress Up Jeans for Work

March 10th, 2008

Q:  I work in a super chilly office, and I have to dress somewhere between business casual and business. Everyone has instructed me to wear jeans (since I wear skirts all the time).  What is the proper way to dress up jeans?

Feeling the love for this outfit?  Here’s more information about it.

The key to surviving the cold in a chilly office environment is layering, layering, layering.  Because while your cube may be freezing, the conference room with southern exposure (and floor to ceiling windows) may be an oven.  Layering your clothes allows you to add and remove layers as the temperature around you shifts.

It sounds like your personal style falls on the dressier side, since you’re big on skirts.  Like skirts, dark jeans are the way to go for a dressier look.  The darker the jean, the dressier the look it creates. 

Here’s three basic fashion formulas to get you started:
(1) Blazer + Sweater + Tee + Jeans.
(2) Cardigan + Button-down Shirt + Tee +  Jeans.
(3) Jacket + Sweater + Blouse + Jeans.

Finish the look off with a pair of low heels (or boots) and a killer bag.

P.S. If it’s unbearably chilly, you may also want to go hunting for the thermostat or call facilities to adjust the temperature.  In a pinch, you can also cover up an air vent that’s blowing directly at you with a plastic trash bag and duct tape.

Have a great tip about how to wear jeans to work? Share it with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: Q&A,Ready Made Outfits,Women,Women's

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stephanie  |  March 11th, 2008 at 8:49 am

    I’m a software engineer in a very laid-back city, and other people in my office frequently wear to work outfits I might consider wearing to paint my bedroom. Jeans are part of my daily uniform – and don’t get me wrong – I love it.

    Trisha’s fashion formulas are definitely wonderful (and the outfit is so chic!). I also find that wearing scarves can really add polish to my outfits. I own a lot of scarves, wraps, and pashminas in different shapes and colors and tie them all different ways around my neck. It’s a really easy way to dress up the simplest of outfits, it adds variety, and I get a ton of compliments.

  • 2. jennifer in sf  |  March 11th, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Well I think I’d look pretty chic if I spent $2000+ on an outfit as well. Any chance of some more realistic options?
    The formulas are great, but please add some more affordable outfits!

  • 3. Trisha  |  March 11th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Great tip, Stephanie–we were thinking of doing a Scarf article, and you’ve inspired us to actually write it :)

    Jennifer–you bring up a really good point. In our reader survey, we heard that readers wanted inspirational looks–not stuff to buy, but fashion formulas from which to glean inspiration. (Hence the designer clothes in this Ready Made Outfit–the detailing makes it easier to illustrate the beauty of this simple fashion formula.) Point well taken though–we’ll make a point to feature more affordable options. I’m also working on a more affordable version of this outfit, switching out the designer bag, shoes, and jacket–so stay tuned!

  • 4. The Devil Wears Marc Jacobs  |  March 11th, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I wish I could wear jeans to work, but I have a very strict dress code, even on Fridays! But if I could wear jeans, I think I would wear a dark denim wide leg trouser, bordering on sailor pant–I love this trend. I would pair the wide leg jean with a sleek trench coat, a structued bag and a wonderful scarf.

    On the other hand I still love my skinnies, so I would pair my black or dark blue skinnies with a high stacked black boot, a nice shirt and a cozy car coat over it.

    The great thing about jeans, is if they are not tattered or torn, jeans can look unbelievable polished when worn with the right pieces and accesories.

  • 5. Mimi  |  March 11th, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I love that zebra print coat.
    I’m also a big fan of scarves. They can change the look of any outfit. My two shopping mottos are “wear it with jeans” and “wear a scarf with it.”

    As for pricing- I shop of the discount stores like TJ Maxx. (Oh yeah, my other motto is “never pay full price!”) These “style vignettes” are a great way for me to get ideas.

  • 6. Trisha  |  March 12th, 2008 at 1:34 am

    Here’s a link to the more affordable version of this outfit:


  • 7. John  |  March 12th, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    For the guys, a word of caution: “business casual” does NOT mean jeans. “Casual friday” doesn’t either. You might see some guys in jeans, but don’t follow their lead. Instead, try a pair of nice chinos or slimmer wool slacks, with a buttondown and maybe a sweater or blazer. You can wear loafers if you want.

    The big difference is the tie, or in this case, the lack thereof. Even if you decided to wear a tie on “casual friday,” don’t worry.

    Remember, the guy that is overdressed feels like a fool, but the guy that is underdressed IS a fool.

  • 8. Kate  |  March 13th, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    “Business casual” in my industry DEFINITELY does not go as far down as jeans. Sorry, you need to be wearing actual pants. Jeans are just casual. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what your job is like, but business casual to business to me suggests that you should be dressing up a lot more than wearing jeans except on the occasional Friday.

  • 9. jennifer in sf  |  March 13th, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for the more affordable options. I can totally see how the other version is inspirational, but it’s nice to have it paired with more realistic options too.

  • 10. Trisha  |  March 14th, 2008 at 9:07 am

    You’re welcome, Jennifer! Thanks for your feedback.

  • 11. learner  |  November 21st, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Would check trousers (say black and white in thick fabric) look okay in office?

  • 12. Trisha  |  November 21st, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    @Learner – Yes, checked trousers would look perfectly fine in an office. Try pairing them with a plain white blouse so that they can take center stage.

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