Every Denim Wash Has Its Ideal Color Pairings - Here Are All The Palettes

When it comes to casual attire, denim has reigned supreme since it became accessible to the average American in the 1950s. Soon, jeans were being showcased in popular films like "Rebel without a Cause," and mainstream fashion never looked back. Depending on how casual your lifestyle is, you might find yourself reaching for a pair of jeans nearly every day. Since jeans are so popular and often worn by the masses, it's important for a variety of colors and styles to exist within the genre.


As for the color of denim, the particular shade of indigo is determined by the applied wash. In other words, dark, medium, and light washes produce dark, medium, and light blue jeans. Distressed washes, like stone and acid wash, create the appearance of well-worn, decoratively lived-in, or edgy-looking jeans. Each wash pairs well with a particular color palette, which we've compiled into a convenient guide. 

Dark wash

The rich darkness of a pair of dark-wash jeans creates the perfect opportunity for dazzling contrast. This is the wash to pair with bright primary colors and jewel tones like true red, mustard, and emerald. If you're married to the idea of keeping your wardrobe neutral, a crisp white can offer a stark contrast as well. Dark wash jeans are also widely considered the most formal of the denims.


If you're planning to wear dark wash jeans to a semi-formal event, consider pairing them with a neutral blazer and a brightly-colored top or vice versa. A black blazer over a red top or a red blazer over a black top, for instance, would instantly pop with dark-wash jeans. For those who are aversed to bright colors, white can again save the day. Try pairing a black blazer over a white top or a white blazer over a black top to maximize the contrast dark wash jeans can offer.

Medium wash

Medium-wash denim is what most people think of when they envision a pair of classic blue jeans. The color is a true mid-tone indigo blue, which is now (thanks to the popularity of denim) considered an honorary neutral. The fact that medium-wash denim can be worn with basically anything, however, doesn't mean there aren't certain colors that can really make it pop.


Dark blues and all shades of green look particularly appealing with medium-wash jeans. While dark blue lends its own hue to bring out the true blue of the jeans, green serves as a complementary color, as its neighbor on the color wheel. Since medium jeans typically feature some level of fading, they are considered more of a casual staple than a darker wash. Therefore, you can pair a high-quality navy blue T-shirt with a green cardigan to really make your medium-wash jeans the star of the show. As with a dark wash, white can serve as an excellent stand-in, especially if green and blue together feel too colorful for you.

Light wash

The pale, cool-toned blue shade of light wash denim basically begs to contrast with a dark, brooding color. Dark, warm shades of burgundy, wine, and chocolatey brown can create a sharp contrast that is incredibly satisfying to the eye. Light wash jeans, like a medium wash, are considered a rather casual wardrobe choice. To round out the look, try a chunky sweater or even a plush hoodie in the suggested colors.


For those looking to keep it neutral, skip the white with light-wash jeans. The denim is so light that a white top will only wash the color out further. Instead, opt for black, charcoal, or a dark camel to help the colors of your light jeans stand out rather than fade away. Layering colors, neutrals, or mixtures of the two is always a fun way to experiment as well. Try a black and burgundy flannel over a camel cami, for example.

Distressed wash

When acid or stone wash is applied to denim, it creates an intentionally distressed appearance. For example, stone wash results in softer, thinner, faded, worn, and sometimes even ripped jeans — thanks to the stone wash process, which includes tumbling the jeans with actual stones. Acid-washed jeans are distressed using acid, meaning that the fabric isn't physically worn the way stone-washed jeans are. This creates an effect that is less subtle and can show up as a speckled or marbled look.


Distressed wash jeans can be a trendier version of casual washes like light and medium wash. Since a distressed wash features a lot of fading, a single pair of jeans can showcase a range of denim colors from dark to light. This makes them prime for pairing with either crisp white or black. A black or white graphic tee, oversized sweater, or solid turtleneck will add the cool girl aesthetic you're looking for to your distressed wash jeans.