Denim has come a long way on the fashion scene

Kristyn Schiavone
Tribune Content Agency

Whenever I wear denim on denim, I get a ton of compliments on my outfit.

The irony is I’m usually wearing this combination on a day when I rolled out of bed 15 minutes late and did my makeup on the bus. It’s my easy out when I can’t be bothered to put together the perfect ensemble.

I’m always surprised by the fact that my choice is seen as novel. I think it’s because the all-denim outfit was ruined by strategically-placed rips (”distressed denim”) or jeans with perfectly matched jean jackets. Not wearing denim with denim has been a fashion rule for so long — like no white after Labor Day or no black with dark blue — that no one dares break it anymore.

Well, as we all know, rules are meant to be broken, in fashion and in life. Here’s how to create the perfect denim-on-denim outfit:

Finding the perfect chambray shirt

When you’re buying a “denim” shirt, you don’t want it to be stiff like jeans. That’s why the fabric has a different name: chambray. It looks very similar to denim, but has a lighter texture. Finding the perfect one is the first step to successfully pairing denim with denim. You don’t need to spend a ton of money. Look for solid stitching, simple buttons, a shade appropriate for all seasons, and a good fit. It should be fitted in the shoulders but “boyfriend” shape in the torso (not tapered in at the waist).

I own two chambray shirts — one sleeveless for the summer and to layer under things, and one standard oxford shirt shape.

One last distinction that’s small but makes a difference: A lot of denim shirts have sleeves meant to stay rolled up. There’s a little hook at the elbow, and when rolled down, they don’t really look like normal sleeves. Although the sleeves of your denim shirt will usually be rolled up anyway, you don’t want it to look forced.

Pairing your top with pants and jackets

Given that denim’s reputation was built on farmers’ overalls and girls in cutoffs, you may not see it as part of “fancy” outfit. You can wear your chambray untucked, with dark skinny jeans and flats, or tucked into darker, rolled jean shorts with sandals or Sperrys for the weekend (no cutoffs allowed for this look, because then it does get into hoedown territory). However, you can also dress things up for work. That’s the part most people struggle with.

My favorite way to wear a chambray shirt is tucked in, with dark jeans and heels. For extra flair, add a printed belt and patent or colored heels, or keep it simple with a leather belt and matching wedges, heels or boots.

The piece de resistance — the final touch most people don’t think to try — is to wear a chambray shirt under a darker denim jacket or blazer with white or colored pants. I have a denim blazer with white Swiss dots that I throw over my sleeveless chambray shirt, untucked, with white jeans for cooler summer days.