Sartorial Love/Hate: Pale Denim


“Oh, this would suit you”, “Grey is NOT your colour” and “this is a classic lifestyle look” are the typical phrases the companion chirrups but on this occasion, I happened to overhear a far less generic remark. “Ok jeans. Now, you need new jeans” to which the ‘ringed bull’ nodded obediently as he surveyed the mass of denim on the racks “but NOT these pale jeans, okay? NEVER buy pale denim ever. Urgh. Awful.”

There was something so assured about this remark, so confident; something which suggested that such an opinion was widely received. Considering the fact that I was wearing a pair of pale (very washed) denim jeans, and that I myself was particularly fond of them, I realised that this was another case of sartorial love/hate.

Other ‘haters’ describe them as chavvy, unattractively eighties and entirely lacking in sophistication; the general opinion from these objectors is that dark denim is in a completely different category – casual but far smarter, less showy and more adaptable. Lovers of pale denim tend to be individualists who find dark denim commonplace and dull, although some of them are simply Eighties nostalgics who pair them with Wayfarers, penny loafers and Duran Duran leather jackets. One interesting respondent informed me that pale denim is not only unusual, but also “the perfect tone for spring and summer.”

Personally, I am a fan of pale denim. I also wear darker denim, and have no aesthetic preference, but consider that the lighter denim I own is simply more appropriate for certain ensembles. I believe the prejudice towards pale denim is part of a general dislike of lighter-toned trousers; you’d be hard pushed to find someone who is comfortable wearing white trousers of any material. The belief is that lighter trousers are  fattening, revealing and generally less flattering as they reflect light better than darker trousers which has the effect of making everything (calf, thigh and all else besides) appear ‘chunkier.’  While true, I believe this has been exaggerated.

If you have no hang ups about this or are of such a slight frame that you consider your spindle-like legs could do with a little ‘fattening’, I find that light denim looks, though Eurotrash and distasteful to some, are quite fetching; wear with a navy blazer, white shirt, a red cotton pocket square, and brown suede Cheaney loafers for a Middle-England-cum-Milanese modern classic.


  1. Jan said:

    You can’t lump all pale denims together; in fact the three pictures you have chosen have two different types of pale denim, which have very different aesthetics. I believe denim works best either dark or very pale. Of course, texture plays a big part as well, but the middle ground suggests an 80s look which not only feels very dated now, but is hard to match with other colours, or to dress up with suit jackets and shoes.

    February 6, 2011
  2. David V said:

    Pale denim is great if when you first bought it it was dark denim.

    February 6, 2011
  3. Harry said:

    I think I agree with Winston 100% – but then again, I don’t mind the 80s look as much as some!

    Also, grey jeans is not the same as pale jeans. The ultimate pair of pale jeans are white, not grey…

    February 7, 2011
  4. Chris said:

    I agree with Jan, there’s a big difference between a pair of dad jeans like Clooney’s and a pair of light bleached indigo from Nudie. Dad jeans have that moderate stone wash with almost no character that goes with almost nothing, but when you get an actual light jean like picture 3 it looks great with a huge palette of light colors and can hold its own with anything from waistcoats to t-shirts.

    February 7, 2011
  5. Barima said:

    This seems to be less about lumping all pale denim together than responding to the mindset that generalises pale denim as a visual emetic. Naturally, one is supposed to make up their own mind; this is just a starting point for the defence

    And Chris, the wearer of the light jeans is Winston

    February 7, 2011
  6. Derrik Ollar said:

    I think it is all a matter of proportions. Light jeans with a light shirt will not make your bottom half look large, however, light jeans with a dark shirt certainly will if you have a muscular (or chubby) lower half. Of course, the cut comes into play here too, but that is another subject altogether.

    February 7, 2011

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