The very welcome return of “jeans and a nice top”

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Having lost popularity in the noughties, the failsafe outfit combo is back. And it’s making going out a hell of a lot easier, says Radhika Sanghani

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By Radhika Sanghani on

When it comes to fashion, I know exactly what I like. After several fashion disasters over the years (crop tops I couldn’t pull off, bad-fitting boyfriend jeans and, worst of all, peplums), I’ve started to learn what clothes suit me, my personality and my lifestyle: oversized Cos shirts, high-waisted Whistles jeans and absolutely anything electric blue.

But the one thing I can’t seem to figure out is how to buy “jeans and a nice top”.

This combination is well known by women across the country. It’s the fail-safe outfit to turn to when you aren’t sure what to wear on a night out/first date/work do. With its mixture of understated comfort (jeans) and casual glamour (nice top), it ticks every box.

Yet, for too long, trying to find the perfect nice top has been an exercise in compromise. You either end up with short sparkly tops that don’t work with your non-high-waisted jeans, or billowy wide-sleeved tops you can’t wear with your favourite wide-legs.

It wasn’t like this in the 90s and early noughties, when jeans and a nice top were at the height of their popularity. Back then, Christina Aguilera and J-Lo wore their hipster jeans with midriff-skimming tight tops and Kate Moss inspired a generation in her skinny jeans, black vest tops and ballet pumps. Keira Knightley even chose jeans and a top for red-carpet appearances, rather than the traditional designer dress normally favoured by celebs.

In what’s undoubtedly the best fashion news we’ve had all year, designers are embracing the potential of the jeans-and-nice-top combo and they gave it top billing on the catwalks

But in the mid-noughties, the look slowly dropped off the fashion scene. Largely thanks to Sienna Miller, boho chic became the style du jour, with long skirts, off-the-shoulder tops and those low-slung belts. There was no place for the tried-and-tested jeans-and-a-nice-top combo. Instead, Herve Leger’s bandage dress was copied all over the high street, while the 80s revival, championed by the likes of Balmain and Gucci, meant sequins and full-on glamour took centre stage. There were so many options for going-out-wear that no one thought twice about jeans and a nice top.

Until now, that is. This spring’s fashion weeks suggested that things are changing. In what’s undoubtedly the best fashion news we’ve had all year, designers are embracing the potential of the jeans-and-nice-top combo, and they gave it top billing on the catwalks.

At Balenciaga, for example, there were jeans covered in pockets worn with printed tops, big earrings and heels, while Versace’s women were super glam in their straight-leg jeans, vest tops, strappy sandals and gold accessories. Isa Arfen’s models also wore straight jeans decorated with checked patches and country-inspired shirts, while Dior gave its models wide-leg jeans with slogan Breton tops. Unusually for fashion weeks, all of these outfits would look completely acceptable on a night out down the local pub.

But it’s not just high fashion that’s finally recognising the importance of jeans and a nice top – the high street is also following suit. Oasis has an entire section on its website dedicated to “jeans & a nice top”, because “the classic combo is back and better than ever". Its collection focuses on well-fitting skinny jeans and jazzy T-shirts – think floral, glitter and metallics.

Simply Be has a similar section that includes embroidered jeans, bell-sleeve blouses and simple tees. For the younger millennials, Missguided, too, has embraced the trend with a collection that fully embraces the glitter, gauze and long-sleeved crop tops of the 90s.

It is the first time in years that designers and brands are giving the look the attention it deserves and it couldn’t be more welcome. I’ve spent more than 15 years struggling to nail this combination, as well as achieve the ultimate goal: finding a nice top that goes with every single pair of jeans I own.

Now that designers are getting on board, I actually have options. There are silk shirts from Whistles, which can be tucked into high-waisted jeans or worn loose over skinnier fits, or a vast (and brilliant) selection of blouses from & Other Stories. Zara has a great range of simple, asymmetric tops for under £20, all of which are modelled on the brand’s website with jeans and would be great for a night out, while Finery has some lovely shirts with interesting details.

When it comes to buying the jeans, Levi’s and Gap are always safe bets, with straight, high-waisted and skinny versions. For more trend-led options, Mango has a dark embroidered pair, while Marks & Spencer has great culottes – both for under £50. It looks like the jeans-and-a-nice-top dilemma is officially over.

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fashion honestly
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