6 Inspired Ways To Wear Denim To The Office

Despite what some office dress codes will tell you, the sole purpose of jeans is to wear them to work. That was the case for farmers and miners circa denim's debut in the 1800s, at least, and we'll argue that only some (but not much) has changed today. Denim remains a workplace staple — even especially for some of the coolest current-day career pioneers we know. Dressed in denim of all styles from AG, we explored the closet mainstay's chameleon qualities with three of the most creative, forward-thinking entrepreneurs in their fields: NYC boutique owner Kai Avent-deLeon, fashion consultant Aziza Azim, and baking whiz Erin McKenna. What’s more, they’re all their own bosses (and dress like it, too). Think you know what a power suit looks like? Their unique yet polished approaches to denim may change your mind.
Shoes, Kai's own.
Kai Avent-deLeon, owner of Sincerely, Tommy
Sincerely, Tommy might still be shy of its one-year anniversary, but the roots of this Bed-Stuy boutique run deep. And it’s all due to its owner, Kai Avent-deLeon. Much like her shop, this impressive style star is also a Bed-Stuy native, and she’s made it her mission to not only introduce new, unknown artists and designers to her customers, but to do so while supporting the neighborhood and community she knows best.

What's the best part about being the owner and buyer of your own boutique?

“The exciting part is just finding undiscovered [designers and artists] that are so talented and giving them a platform to showcase their work. Also, I, personally — and everyone on the team I have working with me — really pride myself on working with the people in the neighborhood and trying to make positive changes and influences in the community. I know that’s something that not all businesses can do because they don’t have space, and it’s usually not the goal of clothing stores. We want to continue to thrive as a brand that represents these new artists and the community.”

Since your job is so multifaceted, how do your clothes need to perform in order to keep up?

“I’m always on the go. It’s about comfort but also looking the part because you don’t know what will come up throughout the day. I like to wear things that can easily transition into any situation. I think that classic denim in general is a staple. When I’m shopping for it, I look for silhouettes that are really flattering. These jeans are high-waisted, which is my favorite kind of jean to tuck a top into. There’s usually nothing they don’t go with — you don’t find that with all types of pants. “I definitely dress the way I buy. [My style is] very classic and easy and feminine, but at the same time it's a little bit masculine. I think adding a little masculinity to any outfit just gives you a bit of extra confidence.”
Shoes, Kai's own.
Interesting. How so?
“For me, the inspiration for taking on a more masculine style at times comes from watching a lot of Woody Allen movies really young and being enamored by the women wearing high-waisted, loose trousers but looking very feminine at the same time. I think I was also influenced by my mother and grandmother, who are powerhouse women, having a bit of masculine edge in their style.” Denim is definitely a way to add in a more masculine element, but it's also been translated to more feminine pieces, like A-line skirts and pinafore dresses. What iterations do you gravitate toward?
“It’s interesting to see the trends of denim in the last five years alone — going from skinny to cuffed, and now everyone is doing that ripped look at the bottom. I followed that transition. [I’ll wear those] and a classic button-up with a flared sleeve; that’s basically my everyday uniform. It’s so easy to wear with sneakers or flats during the day or out at night with a higher mule.

“I also love this dress. It really reminds me of a '50s/'60s mod look with the flare at the bottom. I think the silhouette is really flattering for my body type because I don’t have a lot of curves and it accentuates them.”
Aziza Azim, founder of GPA2 Consulting and editor of Space Matters
If Aziza Azim was ever given advice about not mixing business and pleasure, she didn’t listen to it. And that’s a very good thing. As the founder of GPA2 Consulting, Azim is constantly traveling, discovering new designers to collaborate with, and helping to expand their audiences. The first step, however, is building a friendship and establishing trust, she tells us. With emerging talents such as Sandy Liang and Assel already tied to Azim, we have a feeling that there's so much more to come from this insider, editor, and street style star, who's all-around one of the best friends a budding fashion designer can have.

You wear a few different hats for your job. What does the day-to-day of a fashion consultant and editor look like?
“I have conference calls all over the world. I travel — whether it’s for a lookbook shoot or a meeting with one of my clients — approximately every two weeks. And for the time being, I’m currently operating all over the world because we don’t have an office.”

What most excites you about working with a talent that’s still a bit under the radar?
“It's their passion for their work, above anything else. I scout for designers who have a story — cultural stories to their roots, their land, their home. I started off when I met one graduate, Sandy Liang, from [Parsons] who was starting out as a designer, and we went to do a collection in Paris. It did well...she was picked up for a showroom, and I realized I could do the same thing for emerging designers from all over the world. [My business] is basically an incubator for a brand, where we suggest the direction and consult on the business.”
Shoes, Aziza's own.
Since your job allows you to be super creative — not to mention, surrounded by some truly amazing designers — has the environment influenced your everyday work wardrobe?
“I actually like to keep things very low maintenance, so I don’t have another thing to think about. The more you work, you realize you always have to be on the go and you can't think too much about these things. When I wake up, the first thing I do is put on my jeans — they’re loose, so they’re very comfortable to move in. In the evening, to go out, I can just throw on a jacket and put a scarf on. I have basics that I wear all the time.” How else do your denim pieces work double-duty?
“With a denim skirt, I can go to a dinner in the outfit I wore to work, or even to a party. It embodies my philosophy of getting dressed in the morning and not having to change all day.” Are there any styling pieces that you can't live without?
“I love striped T-shirts — black and white, red and white, thicker, thinner, etc. And it’s important to have a blazer because even if you have a very casual outfit, if you put on a blazer, it’s appropriate to go into meetings.”
Erin McKenna, founder of Erin McKenna's Bakery
“In the beginning, it all started from my love of baking,” Erin McKenna begins. And 10 years later, the driving force behind one of the most famous and beloved gluten-free, vegan bakeries in New York (and beyond) hasn’t waned at all. In fact, Erin McKenna’s Bakery, formerly known as BabyCakes NYC, is constantly churning out inventive and sinfully delicious treats for those intolerant of gluten, dairy, etc. (Or those just sympathetic.) Though this badass boss has certainly seen major changes — yes, including the name — within her still-evolving company, she's landed on the perfect recipe for a functional, fun approach to workplace style. It's super impressive to hit the 10-year mark for a business you started from the ground up. What do you believe really sets you apart?
“I had no experience in the kitchen or managing the business. Everything came together in a very organic way — the business plan and the way we decorated the store. Also, the unconventional ways that I develop recipes is something that I’m proud of. I’m a big meditator, and I give that practice a lot of credit for things. Even with creating recipes, my mind is so clear of worry and overthinking, and then I just start messing around and great things happen.”

Your business has always been known for its strong sense of style. For instance, you’ve collaborated with designers like Built By Wendy and In God We Trust to create uniforms. Why has the collaboration of baking and fashion been important?

“Everything that was involved in the creation of the bakery was just a small extension of me. I was in fashion before I opened the bakery. What the bakers and bakery girls were wearing was important to me, and I wanted it to be cohesive…there’s harmony in seeing a bunch of women in the same uniform. Not only does it make you feel like you’re being taken care of, but in larger numbers it has a powerful effect.”
Since your bakery first opened, your career has really evolved — you’ve released several books, done tons of promotion, and opened more locations. What do you look for in terms of style that can keep up with your demanding role?
“It has to be something super comfortable that I can throw on; I have two kids, and I really don’t have time to worry about my wardrobe like I used to. I like things that are comfortable and stylish but that still have unique charm to them. It's important for me to wear stuff that I can run to a meeting in or throw an apron over to do some dishes. I lived in downtown Manhattan for 12 years, so that’s kind of my style — it’s not super fancy.” In general, women's relationships with denim can be complicated. What's been your experience?
“It’s the trickiest thing in anyone’s closet...it can make you feel good or it can be really distracting. I have a pair of jeans that I’ve worn since my first daughter was born, and they just fit so good. They were the first pair of jeans I felt great in. Besides them having a lot of power, jeans are just one of those things you can make fancy or dress down. They're universal.” What else do you look for that makes a great piece of denim stand out?
“The thing I love about these flares is that they look worn in a way that is authentic, like your mom’s jeans from the '70s. I never thought I would be able to wear a shirt tucked into jeans, especially after having kids, but they're flattering and comfortable — it's almost like wearing yoga pants.”

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