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Your comprehensive guide to denim washes

Your comprehensive  guide to denim washes

We probably don’t need to convince you of the benefits of denim – it’s one of the best-loved and most versatile fabrics in most guy’s wardrobes. It’s hard-wearing, it goes with everything, you can wear it for almost any occasion – we could go on, and we’re sure you could too. You can’t go wrong, right? Unfortunately, you can, and most denim errors involve choosing the wrong denim wash.

You might think styling denim is a one-size-fits-all approach, but different washes require different considerations. Washing processes are what give denim its signature faded finish, helping to strengthen and colour the fabric, and leaving each wash with its unique texture. From denim jackets to shirts to jeans, the colours and washes you choose can vary greatly, but don’t feel discombobulated. Consider this your foolproof guide to understanding and styling denim washes.

Dark wash

Denim that has been unwashed, and is therefore darker in colour, is known as dark wash or ‘raw denim’. It’s untreated and often stiffer, meaning it’s best suited to straight-leg jeans and boxy-cut jackets. It has a true workwear feel which lends itself to colder weather but, as with most denim styles, it’s an easy year-round staple. And good news if you’re a guy with bigger thighs – darker washes have a slimming effect on the leg.

How to wear it

As stiffer denim sits away from the body, it’s best paired with other loose-fitting pieces like chunky boots and overshirts. Darker washes have a smarter feel, making them easier to dress up than lighter shades. For an impactful finish, pair them with bright colours which will stand out best against darker backdrops.


Photographed: Arket LOOSE Jeans (£79)

Medium wash

Medium-wash denim is a shade or so lighter than dark wash denim, as it has been washed and dried more times. It’s a great all-rounder that suits most people, goes with anything, and is easy to dress up or down. The mid-tone blue, made an eternal classic by vintage Levi’s 501s, is easy to pair with a variety of colours and textures, making it a casual wardrobe must-have.

How to wear it

Medium wash goes with just about any look except for double-denim, as the general rule of keeping each denim item two wash-tones apart is harder to achieve with medium washes. Instead, stick to simple styling like a plain white t-shirt and Converse, and introduce textures if you want an extra point of interest.


Light wash

Light-wash denim is usually pale blue that’s a few shades darker than bleached denim, but a couple of shades lighter than medium wash. Light-wash denim is casual and summery, making it a popular choice for denim jackets and shirts as well as jeans.

How to wear it

Light wash denim wanes in and out of fashion more often than darker shades, but thanks to the comeback of the '90s trend it’s officially in for 2020. Think frayed hems and loose cuts paired with hoodies for a nod to skater style, or pared-back slim-fits with basic tees for an easier everyday look.

When it comes to colour matching, pair light-wash denim with darker shades for contrast, and if you’re feeling daring, you could even double-up a light denim jacket with dark wash or black denim jeans.


White denim

White denim is often considered to be a look reserved for bold dressers, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re not ready to dive straight in with white jeans – known by the team at Ralph Lauren as a “good taste colour” – then a white denim jacket is a cool and versatile layer for warm weather. 

How to wear it

White denim doesn’t have to be bright white. Off-white, cream, and ecru can be easier to pull off, more flattering for a range of body types and skin tones, and easier to keep clean. Pair with other light or neutral shades, and resist the urge to over-wash your white denim as it will dull the colour. Instead, patch-clean any stains immediately and try to wait at least five wears between machine washes.


Photographed: Arket REGULAR Jeans (£69)

Black denim

Rather than a ‘wash’, black denim is dyed to varying tones, meaning it’s liable to fade if over-laundered. Black denim is low risk as it’s never out of style, and there’s almost nothing it won’t go with. Black denim jeans work for all styles from wide-leg to skinny, but to avoid looking like an emo teenager, it’s usually best to stick to straight-legs.

How to wear it

Black jeans are a wardrobe essential. They might not be your go-to choice in summer, but they’ll never look out of place, and can even be dressed up for smarter occasions. Pair black denim with other dark colours if you’re going formal, use it as a base to highlight brighter colours, or contrast it with whites and neutrals to make a statement – whatever pairing you pick, black denim is bound to work.


Words: Ella White
Styling: Yasmine Kennedy