Reader Request: Modernizing the Denim Skirt

modernizing the denim skirt

Reader Courtney had this request:

For years, jeans skirts have been a wardrobe staple for me, always just above the knee, dark and pencil shaped. I have a pretty casual work environment, so they have been a 4 season staple. I wear them with t-shirts and flip-flops, with nice sweaters and heeled boots, and everything in between. My most recent one was due to be replaced a few months ago, and as I began looking for one I realized not only could I not find what I was looking for, no one is wearing them anymore! Most of my favorite fashion bloggers don’t wear them, nor do any of the stylish ladies I see on the street, and the only stores that carry them are frumpy looking to my eye. So I’m guessing that my wardrobe staple has fallen out of style. What do you recommend I replace it with, and how can I be more aware in the future of when a staple-for-me is becoming dowdy?

Several years ago I listed a denim jacket as one of my wardrobe staples and many readers raised eyebrows. But I stuck to my guns. Denim jackets have risen, fallen, and risen in popularity since back then and I’m sure they’ll continue to ride that roller coaster more or less forever. But I love them and will wear them throughout.

Denim skirts may not be trendy right now, but the kind that Courtney is describing – an unembellished, dark wash, pencil-style denim skirt – is something I think of as a “fluctuating staple.” The magazines aren’t touting it as the next big thing and that means it may not be readily available in mall stores everywhere, but it has classic design and versatility going for it. And that means it’s also got staying power. It will fall back into favor, and out of favor, and back in. I hope you’ll feel freeĀ to wear it throughout, if you love it and it suits your style.

I own the a-line denim skirt shown above – a Nic + Zoe skirt that is now sold out – and it took me an age to find it. Many full and a-line denim skirts are stiff, overly embellished, or costume-y so they are much harder to find in a classic dark wash and a cut that works with a variety of outfits instead of just casual/Western ones. Other denim skirts that don’t have classic design and versatility going for them? Denim maxis, distressed or heavily sanded, micro minis, and super light washes. If, like Courtney, you want a denim skirt that will look modern and classy for years to come, a dark wash pencil is the perfect choice. Dark wash a-line runs a close second.

Where can I buy a great denim skirt?

A few denim-focused mall brands like Gap will stock them in spring and summer, but they’ll be a little trickier to find in fall and winter. Here’s where I’d look right now:

  • Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ) – Definitely my top pick, as their skirts are high quality, classic in design, and available in a few petite and plus sizes. Also check for this brand at Macy’s, Zappos, and 6pm.
  • Boden – Nearly always in stock in a few styles, and virtually always classic, dark-wash.
  • Nordstrom – There will be an awful lot of very short, distressed, juniors-focused options, but some great classics, too. Nordstrom stocks denim skirts almost year-round.
  • Zappos and 6pm – A great resource as you’ll have a shot at past-season skirts from various brands.

What should I wear with it?

Naturally, the answer this question will vary depending on your personal style, figure flattery priorities, lifestyle, work and workplace, and place of residence. So consider these merely loose guidelines to be used as they best apply to you as an individual.

To dress up a dark wash denim skirt, try cardigans and pullover sweaters, printed blouses and button-front shirts, and knit tops. Super structured and traditionally conservative tops like blazers and solid button-fronts may clash somewhat with the laid-back vibe of a denim skirt. You can also go for edgy accents like leather jackets, chunky jewelry, or graphic tees. Anything that leans in a super Western direction – a chambray shirt or jacket, snap-front shirts, and even some ditsy florals – may edge you over into the costume-y direction if you don’t actually live out West. Which definitely can be fun, but won’t feel classic in most cases.

If your top is long, try tucking and belting. Shorter tops will look great untucked and may feel more natural with a denim skirt. If you’re doing a cardigan, try tucking and belting your inner layer. In terms of top shape, base your decisions on your skirt’s shape: A denim pencil skirt is just like any other pencil skirt – slim-fitting – which means you can do a looser top and still create balance within your outfit. A-lines have more natural volume, so a more fitted top will help show your figure’s true shape.

How about shoes?

Again, this will vary quite a bit depending on YOU, but aside from monster snowboots and gym shoes nearly anything can work. Heels can make a denim skirt feel sexy, low-top fashion sneaks (think Chuck Taylors) will look cool and funky, ballet flats will be classic, sandals will be wonderfully summery. Tall boots can be a bit tricky – especially cowgirl-style boots if you want to keep your look neutral – but they can work, too, especially in rich browns. Pick a shoe that works with your style and activity level.

Anyone else out there a fan of denim skirts? Do you favor pencil style, a-line, mini, something else altogether? How do you style yours? Any other tips you’d share with Courtney and the rest of us?

Images courtesy Zappos

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Originally posted 2014-09-22 06:30:06.

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18 Responses to “Reader Request: Modernizing the Denim Skirt”

  1. Anamarie

    Nordstrom’s Halogen brand has had denim pencil skirts the last few years, usually in the spring. I don’t see them on their site now. I have a dark denim (side zip) skirt, which I have worn with t-shirts and Birkenstocks to black/white graphic blouse, black blazer and black patent pumps for a casual office look. I prefer a dressier denim skirt (dark pencil) because it seems more versatile. I also don’t like the front zip on traditional denim skirts. I have also worn the skirt with sweaters and boots in the fall. I hope to find a another one next spring!

  2. Jocelyn

    I am wearing a denim skirt today at work. It’s a dark wash pencil skirt with a kick pleat in the back. I am wearing it with a navy lace blouse and tan cardigan along with some faux pearl strands and navy/white gingham wedges. I have also noticed that denim skirts have been hard to come by lately as I also have needed to replace my workhorse ones recently. I wear my skirts year-round.
    Zulily tends to have some on their site a couple days a week. The quality can be a little iffy sometimes, but the price is usually low enough that you won’t feel bad if it doesn’t last forever.

    I say that if you like something – wear it as much as you want. Just like you, Sal, I’ve also worn out many denim jackets through the years even though they weren’t “in.”

  3. Monica H

    Gap has a great dark wash denim pencil skirt, as well as a light casual wash, both on sale for $40 right now. I stalk their site at times looking for one as I love their style and quality.

    I agree with Sally’s take that this is a perennial staple – it may rise and fall but will never be totally out and you can bet it will be back.

    Since I live in AZ, where it is still basically summer according to most, a denim pencil skirt is part of my default Friday outfit – a print button down shirt with rolled up sleeves (likely from Gap knowing me), brown belt, and brown sandals. It’s perfect for casual Friday at the office when it’s 100+ degrees and jeans are out of the question.

  4. Meg

    Having, literally, just had to face this exact question this month, I can tell you that if you need a denim skirt RIGHT NOW, your options are fairly limited. Boden is currently out of all but the largest and smallest sizes of both their regular and mini denims skirts (which come in long sizes, so the mini in long is basically the same length as the regular only it’s cheaper. Wha?). I just ordered this skirt from Land’s End last night: . I’m not a regular Land’s End shopper but they were the only place I could find something appropriate on short-ish notice, even after scouring all my local thrift, closeout, and mall stores and doing a pretty thorough internet search.

  5. Lisa Wong

    I think denim skirts are due for a comeback; another blogger and I were commenting on the lack of denim skirts a couple weeks ago!

  6. Ginger

    I haven’t had a problem finding denim skirts. You just need to look for them.
    The Gap and Old Navy almost always have one in their line-up. If you check the web site of most retailers you should find one. They are more likely to be available in the Spring than the Fall.
    As Angie and my namesake Ginger note, this looks to be a good season to refresh what you’ve got.

  7. crtfly

    I don’t care if it is in style or not. I like my dark wash maxi a-line denim skirt in the fall and winter. it’s heavy, warm, and allows me to open my office window even on the coldest days. i wear it with one of several sweaters. tights, and boots or a button-front shirt tucked in and a blazer. I’m perfectly happy and comfortable in these outfits. being stylish is not a priority where I work. If an employee is presentable, that’s good enough.


  8. Michelle...

    I’m with crtfly….I don’t care if it’s “in style” or not. My workplace is super casual (some people turn up in sweats and running shoes) and denim skirts make a nice alternative to my usual jeans.
    In winter I wear mine (both are a dark wash) with boots, tights and cardigan. In summer, ballet flats and a button-front or tee-shirt.

  9. Carol Norris

    I have a regular wash a-line and was looking for a dark wash pencil so the timing on this is great for me. Here is hoping I will find one that is knee length which is my preference. Thanks Sally! We got our first nip of cool air tonight so it is time to get out the cardigans and booties and get that denim skirt to go with them.

  10. wonkyone15

    For the cheapest version, I noticed that KMart has dark wash denim pencil skirts right now. (At least they do in the plus size section!)

  11. LeeK

    Maybe a day late, and perhaps no one will benefit, but I googled Sally’s Nic & Zoe skirt, and it is available on their official website. Just thought I’d chime in, cause that is a unique shape for a denim skirt. Cheers.

  12. marshacwp

    Christopher and Banks almost always has denim skirts, although some may put these in the “frumpy” category. On their website right now, I see three different styles in dark wash denim in sizes 4-16.

    Also, if you’ve got a well-loved denim skirt that is faded or a lighter wash, trying dyeing it navy blue.

  13. Hailz

    I just bought my first denim jacket.. on a whim really.. and I LOVE it! You are so right!

  14. SarahC

    I have a dark wash a-line denim skirt that I love so much I have to force myself to wear it less than 2 or 3 times a week in the summer. it’s perfect for travel also. I would love a denim pencil skirt but I always have a problem of the skirt creeping up over the course of the day and while I walk around. I think the relative stiffness and heaviness of denim contributes to the problem – I don’t experience this with pencil skirts in lighter, more supple fabrics.