Neutral colors sometimes get a bad rap. Neutral decor? Boring. Neutral wardrobe. Yawn. Having worked with both for a number of years as an interior decorator and a self-proclaimed neutral clothing lover, I know that neutral colors chosen for a color palette are anything but boring and ordinary if you know what to do with them.
So we’ll be taking a closer look at how to wear neutral clothing colors, including how they are defined, some simple strategies to add interest and style to a neutral outfit, and some examples of how to use neutral colors to put outfits together.
If you love the concept of a capsule wardrobe, putting a collection of neutral colors together can be interesting, exciting, and always in style.
How to Wear Neutral Clothing Colors: The Specifics
1 | How are Neutral Colors Defined?
Technically, neutral means ‘without color’, but the neutrals we’re discussing here actually do have color, although for the most part it is subtle tones of white, beige, tan, brown, gray, taupe, and black.
You won’t find neutral colors on the color wheel, but that doesn’t stop them from offering a wonderful foundation to design in both our wardrobes and in our homes.
Neutral colors are created in two ways:
- They are achromatic (the absence of color) as in black, white, and gray
- They are a combination of a number of colors mixed together until there isn’t any distinguishable rainbow color left, as in brown, sand, beige, camel, etc.
Neutral colors won’t necessarily catch your eye, but they will blend well, and on our midlife bodies the right combination of neutral tones can give us a classy, classic, flattering look.
WARM NEUTRAL COLORS:
Shades of browns, tans, golds, beige, and black
COOL NEUTRAL COLORS:
Shades of white, cream, ivory, gray, and silver
Let’s dive deeper and consider some of the many (like…lots!) of shades that are derived from a few basic neutral colors:
- White: ivory, champagne, eggshell
- Cream: vanilla, nude, camel, caramel
- Beige: tan, sand, taupe, mocha, coffee, latte
- Khaki: olive, army, seaweed, deep khaki
- Gray: dove, steel, ash, stone
- Black: lead, charcoal
- Denim, Navy
2 | Wearing Neutral Colors is an Iconic Look
Style and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn is a wonderful example of creating a wardrobe and a style that has been recreated by thousands of women over the last seventy years, and will probably continue to be copied for many more. What do you think of when the term, little black dress, is mentioned? Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, of course!
Ms. Hepburn was flawless in her ability to take neutral clothing colors – usually black, beige, and white – and create a stylish, timeless look. Of course, she was tall, slim, and stunning, but still, her approach to style and creating neutral outfit combinations is something we can apply to our own sense of style.
Coco Chanel, a pioneer in the design field is another icon to consider in our journey learning about styling outfits with neutral colors. Remember the little black dress mentioned above? Ms. Chanel originated that design in 1926 when it appeared as an illustration in American Vogue.
She was instrumental in the introduction of trousers for women as a fashion choice, choosing jersey fabric for her designs (which had been used primarily for men’s underwear), and wearing costume jewelry including faux pearls.
3 | Does Skin Tone Matter When Choosing Neutral Style Outfits?
Yes, your skin tone does make a difference in the neutral colors you choose to wear. Refer to the color chart and definitions in the section above to understand how to select the shades of neutrals mentioned here.
- Cool Undertone Skin: you have cool skin undertones if the veins on the inside of your wrist appear more blue than green, if you look better in silver-toned jewelry than gold, if your skin burns easily and turns pink
- Warm Undertone Skin: you have warm skin undertones if the veins on the inside of your wrist appear more green than blue, if you look better in gold-toned jewelry than silver, if you tan fairly easily and don’t burn quickly.
For those with cool skin undertones, neutral colors with tones in pink, blue, and peach work well.
If warm skin undertones describe you, choose gray, navy, and khaki neutrals.
Dark Skin? Silver, black, white, or dark brown neutrals will be good choices.
How about hair color? Our hair factors into our color choices when it comes to style and how to wear neutral colors.
- Brown, caramel, or golden hair tones will usually look better with shades of blue, olive, and mustard.
- Platinum, blonde, red, or gold hair tones usually wear jewel tone and pastel shade neutrals best.
When I switched from my auburn hair color to my natural gray/white/dark brown color, it was amazing how the colors that looked better on me changed!
4 | Neutral Fabrics, Textures, & Patterns
The colors, shades, and tones may be subtle, but by bringing in texture and some pattern to your choices, you’ll be anything but boring. And we don’t want that!
Consider materials that have texture, such as tweed, sherpa, fleece, corduroy, suede, and leather, cable knits, popcorn weave, etc.
When considering how to wear neutral colors, remember that you don’t have to stick with just solid fabrics.
Think about using an animal print like leopard or snake, muted stripes, hounds tooth, camo print, or even a subtle floral.
5 | Wearing Neutral Colors with Casual Outfits
Let’s take what we’ve learned about how to wear neutral clothing colors and see them in action, with several examples that you can see, ponder, and purchase for yourself if you like. While not every item of clothing or accessory may be the perfect choice for you personally, these visuals can be an immensely helpful starting point, especially if you’re the type of person who struggles with putting separates together. You are not alone, girlfriend!
This is a casual daytime look that can easily take you out and about. If leggings aren’t your thing, a classic ankle-length pant will serve you just as well. Just keep the overall look of the pant slim. A hint of pink tones in the accessories and bag softens the look.
If your skin tones and hair color look best in the brown and gold neutrals, here is a classic yet fun look with neutral colors, with a muted plaid long blazer, two-tone slip-ons with chunky gold trim, and statement jewelry that follows the theme.
Black-on-black with an asymmetrical cardigan in light gray swings to a different level with faux snakeskin booties and silver accents. This is a black and white neutral color look that can be incredibly flexible. Just change out the shoes, jewelry and handbag to dress it up or down.
A bit of whimsy and a variety of textures take this classic neutral color outfit to a different level of interest and fun! We have cute little bunnies on the Kate Spade scarf, and small 3-dimensional bunny earrings to make a tiny statement of their own. The alligator look shoes and faux leather weave tote add interest while maintaining the neutral overall look of the outfit.
Of course, we can’t talk about casual neutral colors without including jeans. At least I can’t. Jeans are still a staple of my wardrobe, and these ‘jeggings’ from Nordstrom offer style and comfort with an updated jeans look.
Texture is used to create the uniqueness with this outfit, and in particular the weaved, fringed crossbody bag. How much fun is that? An iconic penny loafer completes the look.
Your personal style may not include a closet full of neutral clothing colors, but there are times when it may be the right choice. So keep this post handy and you’ll always look fresh, stylish, and never, ever boring!
Resources used in the creation of this post:
- 3 Ways to Look Like Audrey Hepburn – wikiHow
- Neutrals – What Are They And How To Wear Them (insideoutstyleblog.com)
- Building a Neutral Wardrobe: A Complete Guide & 7 Easy Steps
- 5 ways to tell if your skin has ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ undertones (goodhousekeeping.com)
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