Denim-on-Denim 101: How to Avoid Awkward Pairings

Spring is already here, and fashion trends show that denim-on-denim is showing no signs of slowing down. If you still haven’t dipped your fingers into this trend, we’ve got the perfect guide to get you started:

1. Most of the time, a darker wash at the bottom works out better than vice-versa.

This is not to say that you should completely avoid wearing a lighter washed bottom. However, for denim-on-denim beginners, there is a certain sensitivity to hues that one needs to develop in order to avoid awkward denim wash pairings.

Our examples on Ashley Greene and Rihanna look great as it is, but if you invert the hues, the outfit may be harder to pull off. Heidi Klum, on the other hand, looks good in pretty much anything that she wears, including the outfit below, but her outfit choice is not for everyone. For fail-proof denim-on-denim pairings, go for the darker bottoms and start to experiment from there.

Denim on Denim dark wash bottom 2Ashley Greene and boyfriend Paul Khoury out and about in Manhattan on June 11, 2014; Heidi Klum and Seal watch their kids play soccer in Brentwood on February 7, 2015; Rihanna leaving her hotel in Manhattan on March 12, 2012

2. Same denim washes are not always foolproof.

Figuring out which washes go well with each other can be tricky, so it may seem like a good idea to go with a consistent hue all through the outfit to avoid making mistakes. This method is not necessarily foolproof, however, as the wrong fit and proportions can quickly ruin your denim-on-denim look.  It is important to still pay attention to balance in terms of torso-leg proportions as well as looseness-tightness. We usually like to mix it up with an oversized top tucked into skinny jeans, and accessorize the outfit to our heart’s content.

You can also go the skintight route a la Kylie Minogue, but we would strongly advise against Ellie Goulding’s loose pairing, which is not flattering at all even with her brusque Doc Martens trying to pull the outfit together. We are also not fans of Kourtney Kardashian’s tucked-out-but-still-too-short top which clashes horribly with her ill-fitting jeans, taking the attention away from her gorgeous boots.

Denim on Denim One Wash 2Ellie Goulding arrives at Dublin Airport on September 13, 2014; Kylie Minogue appearing on the entertainment news show ‘Extra’ in Los Angeles, California on November 13, 2012; Kourtney Kardashian takes her daughter Penelope to First Class in Beverly Hills on October 23, 2013

3. Breaking up isn’t always the answer.

Of denim, that is. If you decide to break up your denim-on-denim look by donning a tee and leaving your denim top unbuttoned, it is important to still be mindful of how you mix the elements together. A few of the things to look at are the usual suspects – wash pairing, fit, proportions.

Joanna Krupa shows us a lovely example of picking out items that fit perfectly (not too loose, not too tight). Kate Bosworth, on the other hand, focuses more on being playful by donning an ombré chambray top, which she paired with dark skinnies and brown boots. Katie Holmes, however, left us unenthusiastic with her oversized jacket, jeans that flared awkwardly the ankles, and her combination of a bright blue and gray denim.

Denim on Denim Break It Up 2Joanna Krupa out and about in Beverly Hills, California on January 24, 2012; Katie Holmes on set for a commercial in New York City on September 18, 2014; Kate Bosworth leaving the Screen Actor’s Guild offices in Los Angeles, California on March 14, 2012

4. Let silhouette be your saving grace.

Sometimes, a wonderfully executed outfit silhouette can carry a denim-on-denim look. Play around with waist cinching, rolling up of sleeves, cuffing of jeans, as well as putting on the right accessories to help accentuate your natural assets.

Case in point, Rita Ora’s choice of dark blue and gray denims actually work because of her genius balance of fit – she created symmetry by lowering her neckline to echo her skirt slit, cinched the outfit beautifully at the waist, wore rounded sunglasses to soften the corners in her look, and finally added a pop of color and texture with her pointed toe pumps. Then we have Katie Holmes in an almost identical set of denim-on-denim outfits, except one fits her impeccably while the other has us raising our eyebrows.

Denim on Denim Silhouettes 2Katie Holmes and daughter Suri Cruise enjoy a day at Brooklyn Bridge park on September 3, 2012; Katie Holmes and daughter Suri Cruise out and about in Manhattan on March 3, 2012; Rita Ora pictured in London on May 15, 2014

5. Use patterns strategically.

The typical error with denim-on-denim outfits is not knowing how to gracefully break up the look so you don’t look like you’re drowning in denim. One way of adding variety is by inserting patterns for texture which, again, won’t work automatically just by randomly piling on the next leopard or floral piece you see.

Case in point, Sarah Jessica Parker’s horrible floral trench paired with clumsily cuffed jeans creates an illusion of her body being 50-50, which is not the way you want to go, especially if you’re looking to lengthen the appearance of your legs. We love how Cara Delevingne and Myleene Klass played around with layers and colors to insert patterns without disrupting the entire jean look.

Denim on Denim Pattern 2Cara Delevingne filming for Pepe Jeans advertising campaign in Notting Hill April 10, 2013; Sarah Jessica Parker takes her children to school in the West Village on April 26, 2013; Myleene Klass at Global House in London on March 27, 2015

6. Leave the cowgirl elements to the Westerns.

We’re always fans of pairing boots with jeans but when you’re going full-on denim, it might be advisable to leave the studded leather footwear to the cowgirls. We’re not saying to abolish the denim-on-denim-with-boots look completely, but rather to be more picky with the kind of footwear you choose.

Choose plain leather ones like Reese Witherspoon instead of studded scalloped ones like Demi Lovato’s. Also, you can go a little younger with the look and opt  for high cut sneakers instead. You can get away with studs on them, too.

Denim on Denim Western 2Reese Witherspoon picks up cold refreshments and frozen slushies after out shopping at a furniture store in Brentwood on March 12, 2010; Demi Lovato leaving the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia on June 18, 2013; Emmy Rossum out for a morning coffee run in Los Angeles on August 28, 2013

7. When in extreme doubt, black (or fairly close to it) denim is the answer.

Black is the best base for any color, and so we thank the denim gods for the existence of black denims. Black denims will work with pretty much all washes of denim and chambray, will look good when mixed with a tee or worn directly with a denim top, and will basically pull off any of your footwear choices. Just be careful not to disregard the fit and proportions, and you’ve pretty much created a tireless denim-on-denim look.

We especially love how Selena Gomez’s dark hair compliments her jeans, or how Hilary Duff balances her blonde hair with a pair of brown suede boots and belt. The look works well for men, too – take it from our favorite golden boy Zac Efron, who looks stellar in a denim-on-denim number as his airport outfit of choice.

Denim on Denim Black JeansHilary Duff leaving a gym in California on January 29, 2015; Selena Gomez eats lunch at Kabuki Japanese Restaurant in Woodland Hills with friends on March 14, 2014; Zac Efron and his mother arriving at LAX airport to catch a flight on April 24, 2009

Credit: YNF/TNYF/oohsnap/Cousart/JFXimages/Ryan/Hugh Dillon/Will Alexander/WENN

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