Color isn’t Cool

Wearing color – loads of it, in big pile-on style outfits – used to be one of my greatest joys in life. And whenever the Trend Dictators declared that this season it would be JEWEL TONES! Or NEONS! Or SATURATED 70’s SHADES! I was thrilled.

And never surprised when very, very few folks actually indulged in these color gluts. Style bloggers may hop on the Technicolor train quite cheerfully, but the rest of the clothed world typically remains standing on the platform.

Because black? Black is eternally cool. Neutrals are perpetually chic. And most women want to as look cool and chic as possible as many days as possible. Neutrals are also a palette unto themselves and generally look fabulous worn in virtually any combination. They’re not only cool and chic, they’re relatively easy to work with.

I mean look at these women swathed in their carefully-crafted all-neutral ensembles. They’re so cool that your eyes are getting frostbitten just looking at ’em, am I right?

If I – or even someone with more money and better taste than I – were to re-create these outfits using similar shapes and fabrics, but swapping in rich reds and bold blues, or warm yellows and majestic purples for all the black, tan, and gray, the result might look interesting or fun or quirky. But it wouldn’t look quite as cool.

A “pop of color” here or there is definitely permissible. In fact, some of the best neutral ensembles throw in a dash of  color for contrast and interest. But the foundation must remain neutral to maintain that classic, eternal, enviable vibe of coolness.

Years ago, bold, energetic, fun, and even on-trend nearly always meant more to me than cool and chic. And most days, I was fine with that. I figured since I’d been 15 flavors of dorky my entire life, why attempt to achieve coolness this late in the game? Especially when wearing color lifted my spirits AND the spirits of those around me.

Yet sometimes I looked at my tights-encased, Muppet-colored legs or caught a glimpse of my bright-on-bright-with-a-side-order-of-bright outfit in a reflective surface and though, “Whoa, Momma.” Bright is bold, color is attention-grabbing, and wearing tone-on-tone takes more chutzpah than wearing neutral-on-neutral. Or even tone-on-neutral. Which means that color pairing is relatively tricky, as dressing practices go, and therefore more likely to fail. Some of my most peacock-reminiscent outfits ended up being my least favorite in retrospect, and I occasionally wondered if I should tone it down a bit.

And I did. I got older, my preferences changed, and I shifted my palette accordingly. I feel happier now, and more like myself. And I do feel cooler … most of the time. Though I also recognize that while stripping color from my closet added perceived coolness, it also may have removed perceived creativity or boldness. Color may not be cool, but it is brave and celebratory and statement-making. I’m happy to be making fewer statements with my clothes these days … but I still enjoy watching others do so from the sidelines.

All images via Facehunter.

Originally posted 2011-05-24 06:15:58.

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87 Responses to “Color isn’t Cool”

  1. Roisin

    I definitely think it’s easier to look chic in neutrals and blacks. I know that I look more chic in my little black pencil dress than I do in the same dress in red or blue (because I am also 15 shades of dorky and own multiples of various dresses) I don’t know about cool, though because I think cool is an attitude. I think you always look cool as well as stylish because you look like a woman who owns her style, and that attitude is cool.

    I don’t know in terms of style icons – I mean, I can think of lots of bloggers and suchlike, I don’t know about public figures. I think that Katy Perry always looks cool – fun and quirky – but not often chic.

    I think they’re different, but related, concepts. I’m away to think about this a bit more now!

  2. Pam @over50feeling40

    I confess I could live quite happily with just a neutral focused wardrobe…I do find it to be classy and chic. But I also love color (just can’t go on without purple and green!!) , so I believe it is important to have a wardrobe reflecting both. I do think since becoming a 50+ woman, I am drawn more toward a neutral focus and saturated colors (not so much pastels).

  3. chiara

    I don’t think I can agree with you here.
    For me chic and cool means wearing something that makes me feel at ease. Only few colors make me feel like myself when I wear them (namely, red and violet). How can I be cool if I don’t feel like myself?

    I adore black and feel cool in it. beige comes as a close second.
    I remember your challenge of some months ago, of not wearing black for some time (don’t remember how long). I was considering participating, then decided against it because not wearing black would be forcing me to be someone else. Which is very different than inviting me to get out of my comfort zone.

    So, I ask you, would YOU, Sally, feel cool and chic in black and beige?
    I really doubt you’d feel chic in something that isn’t you.

    Because, I think, what makes these in the pictures look that chic and cool, is the ease they show, and the feeling you get is they are wearing something that is so perfectly representative of them, it couldn’t be any other way!

    You look chic and cool in color, because you look happy. You look just like you!
    (Hope I wasn’t too confusing…)

    • Sal

      Oddly enough, I DO tend to feel cooler when I’m wearing neutrals. Which is probably due to the fact that I don’t self-identify as cool, so when I’m wearing something that’s a little less “me” than normal, I can access that feeling more easily. Does that make sense?

  4. Mar

    That’s a fabulous post, Sally! You articulated a lot of things I have been thinking about recently as I have been including new items in my wardrobe. I also tend to naturally gravitate towards bold colors and prints (bright patterned pants, anyone?), and it does make me happy – when I sit at my computer and marvel of the deep bright color staring back at me from my lap, or my happy-color sleeves that are always in my view of vision, or the spirit-lifting bundle of color I see in the mirror when I walk by. And I completely agree with you that I describe these outfits are quirky and fun, but not cool – and for that, yes, I would reach for the neutrals, and I sometimes do when I suddenly get so overwhelmed by the feeling of “being on display” because of all the color I wear. I do somehow though feel that the overall craftmanship of the clothes will show more if they are black/white/neutral without the distraction of color, and so will the texture. That’s maybe one of the reasons for the associations I have between chic/cool and neutral ensembles – it allows for more refined and subtle play.

  5. Lili @ Relatable Style

    Huh, good question! I usually struggle with my neutrals and feel like no outfit is complete without a dash of color in it. I’ve recently managed to wear an outfit solely consisting of denim and various shades of tan, beige and cream. And I felt pretty good in it. Elegant. Sophisticated even. The cool, I have to admit, was there too, but it didn’t come from the neutrals but from the flare pants (they were the denim part) and high heels 🙂 And if I had to put together the coolest outfit imagineable, I think it would at least have dashes of color. And probably one of my pleather jackets, because what is cooler than that? I think I’d probably go for rock chick/festival flair and wear flare pants, high heels, a tee in a neutral base color with a colorful print, one the aforementioned jackets and colorful accessories. Maybe my new hat, if it fits the outfit (probably not ^^). Yeah, that sounds about right.

  6. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    I am a neutrals kind of woman but I don’t think of myself as cool! I feel most comfortable in ivory, grey, black and navy with a splash of color. But that’s my taste, my vibration. You, on the other hand, vibrate in colors and you are a shining star. : >

    In fashion magazines, my eye is always drawn to photos like the ones you posted. The fourth photo is esp. *gorgeous* to my taste. Do you look first at the most colorful ones Sal?

    • Sal

      I do! The neutral looks always interest me, but the colorful ones excite me.

  7. Stephanie

    I’m pretty sure I’ve never been cool anyways. I’d so rather just wear what I like. I do think neutrals are safer and easier though and I’m not sure I think safe is cool but perhaps that’s just 90s me coming though.

  8. B

    These women in the photos above look cool, yes, they do. But do they look happy, joyful? Not really. They don’t have they same look you do in your clothes, Sal. Color is a wonderful thing to wear. It makes a person look youthful and brightens them and others outlook on them as well. The greatest compliment I received on an outfit was just yesterday, someone said I looked just like “Spring.” How lovely, and all because of color!

  9. giedre

    Yikes, I am COMPLETELY one of those black on black on black obsessed people. Because you’re right – it’s always in style and it’s always so…welll…EASY. :/ I know I need more color in my life. I desperately do. But I find it so hard to actually find colorful clothing! I’ll start looking harder, though, I really will.
    ps. all those black and cool outfits: I was hoping you’d add a extremely bright one in the end for inspiration! 😀

  10. anne

    Neutrals may be cool, but they’re what I wear when I’m depressed. Give me COLOR!
    ps: I want the first girl’s haircut

  11. Cynthia

    OK, disclaimer: total dork here. I do not know if I’m ever cool. And if I have to ask I’m probably not.

    Like you my wardrobe is overloaded with bright deep colors. Lately, it seems like all I have wanted to buy is cream, grey, cool blues or dusty purple, and white. I joked about shifting to an all-neutral wardrobe a while back, but I think there was more seriousness there than I admitted. I’m way more drawn to the “white out” looks that are “cool” this summer than I am to color blocking. I was really drawn to the layered, lacy neutral ensembles I saw all over the shops in Denmark. I don’t know if I would say it’s because I think they’re “cooler” than my colorful clothes, though. I may just be finally adapting my tastes properly to the reality of where I live. In my 20s and 30s, I based a lot of my wardrobe on black, but I simply can’t do that where I currently live. All black isn’t “cool” here and it isn’t cool, either. By March if I’m wearing black pants with any synthetic content I feel like I want to die when the sun hits me. Dark colors aren’t much better.

  12. Peta

    This is something I’ve actually been thinking about lately. So often the outfits I admire on others are simple, minimalist and neutral, which make me and my brightly coloured vintage frocks feel slightly ridiculous in comparison. But whenever I try out something similar I look frumpy and boring. Or more to the point, I FEEL frumpy and boring in them. So I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me personally, feeling happy and inspired by my wardrobe trumps feeling chic and cool. (Not to imply that other people don’t get the same kind of thrill out of their neutral wardrobes – but it doesn’t work for me).

  13. Anat

    Let me be entirely dorky and state the obvious, that my color style icon is definitely you!

    I feel the “cool” definition is a bit fuzzy to me, so I find it hard to answer your question directly. I do feel safer wearing toned down colors, and wearing bright colors does take more guts – though I am continuously pushing the envelope myself. But I don’t think I judge other women as cool or not based on clothes colors.

    I just think that lots of black is quite a safe selection and often unimaginative or unexciting – kind of a cop-out. So I would rarely turn my head after a black-clad lady.

    • Eleanorjane

      Me too! All black can be cool, but more often it’s a cop-out. Also, black near the face doesn’t suit as many people as they think it does (I’m talking to you, blondie!) and there are different blacks that don’t necessarily go well together.

      In New Zealand in winter, the streets are a sea of black and charcoal. The one in a hundred who is wearing colour is the one who looks cool i.e. a gorgeous mauve wool coat or fushia leather gloves etc.

      Also, folk desperately need to be careful about a black bottom and white top. Again, white near the face doesn’t suit everyone and unless it’s done very well it just screams ‘Waitress!’.

      (In my humble opinion…)

  14. coffeeaddict

    Yes, beige may be chic and black may be cool, but I believe it’s about the personality of the people wearing these colours that ultimately sets the tone of the outfit. I firmly believe a cheery, energetic and outgoing person like you, looks far better in a colourful ensemble of whimsical prints, textures and accessories. There is something restrained and unapproachable about the women in the photos that is a bit off putting to me. I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anyone one. But for me fashion is about having fun and being playful. Though, I do wear a lot of black for formal occasions and I do have a few grownups outfits in my closet ;-P

  15. coffeeaddict

    Oh, and an über cool style icon that wears colour: Tilda Swinton. She can rock a mustard shade like nobody’s bussines!

  16. Katharine

    I wear neutrals because I don’t really feel happy in colour, myself. I tried it, and it’s just not me. But I don’t think that neutrals are necessarily “cooler” than colour — not even the much-lauded all-black rocker-chic chick. I know (in the hippie/funkster/hipster side of my acquaintanceship) lots of people who wear beautifully combined thrifted and vintage wear in rainbow colours, and I think they look totally cool — but it’s a different kind of cool. Very much of this particular time, I think — but definitely cool. I envy them, and wish I could emulate them.

    I’m trying to think of cool people who wear a ton of colour, and all the ones coming to mind are older. Vivienne Westwood. Betsy Johnson. Anna Piaggi. The glorious gentlemen in pastels and vivid suits who sometimes make an appearance on Advanced Style. I think it takes guts and confidence to present yourself in colour rather than monochrome, and I think that even if you might be feeling a twinge of envy of the people on the grayscale side, you, Sal, are still very definitely cool.

  17. Sara

    I get what you’re saying, from a culture standpoint and the fact that black (and neutrals in general) are obviously the most popular choice, especially in NYC where I live. In fact, in the winter here nearly the entire city is a sea of black puffer coats.

    To my eye, though, BLACK isn’t cool, especially head-to-toe black. It looks unimaginative and boring, like a cop-out. If someone relies on black, I tend to feel (fairly or unfairly) that they don’t know how to do anything else, and they’re afraid to try. Also, most people won’t admit it, but very few people look good with black or stark white near their face.

    Personally I gave up black entirely more than a year ago, and I feel I look better for it. I’ve certainly become more creative in my dressing, though I’m no where near as brightly colorful as you! I doubt I will ever go back, though I packed away a few pieces just in case, because tastes do change.

    I loved the idea of your blackout last year (even though it didn’t apply to me, ha) and I wish more people would try branching out once in awhile. I definitely feel that color has an effect on mood, even if you don’t realize it, and I think the world would benefit!

    Sidenote: Audi’s post on wearing black intentionally was fascinating to me; I loved her description of the usual “black pants and colored top” uniform as creating the image of a floating torso.

      • Sara

        GAH, how did I miss that?! I love your example-by-example posts; they’re THE most helpful of any blog! I’m a visual person so seeing it broken down that way is perfect. Thanks!!!

        • Sal

          Of course, lady! Thank YOU for the kudos. My gosh, I’m thrilled to hear my tutorials are so helpful!

    • Dee

      Sara, I am with you on the head to toe black outfit being boring, and so forth. I love color but I do it with a splash of color in a jacket, belt, or top/sweater and accessories. I do wear lots of black – usually pants and a black tank but then add a colorful print to the outfit. Black is the best neutral for my coloring. I think a person’s skin coloring will dictate if they can wear lots of black, white, beige or brown. Personnally I look terrible,( and then feel frumpy, and not cool) in beige and brown. I have noticed that the spring color palate for clothing currently is mostly muted neutrals — soft greens, blues, mauves — all not flattering on me — only good thing about that I am not buying much this spring. Any body else notice that??

  18. Loren

    I’ve never considered myself ‘cool’ either. I do not like the way I look in all black. But, I know some women that can really rock it. Personally I think that mixing neutrals (like in the second photo with the amazing two toned hair and the brown pants) isn’t easy or a safe choice. I do enjoy mixing my neutrals but my closet is pretty saturated with color. I was ‘color blocking’ before I realized it was called ‘color blocking’.
    Although I do tend to wear more neutrals when I am ‘going out’ and therefore TRYING to look cool. I have a really fantastic grey dress that I think I look ‘chic’ in. Which is not a word I would use to describe 90% of my clothes. Color naturally reads as ‘busier’ to the eye, I think being chic is the exact opposite of looking busy.
    But you can totally look cool and confident in a colorful outfit, I think it might just be easier when you have less color competing for attention.

  19. Kristen

    I think I wear a lot of neutrals….but of the tan, white, cream, or brown variety. I love pops of color — and love love LOVE yellow, which is why I have on yellow shoes today. My daughter has already discovered a love of color and dresses in bright shades (with a pair of her own yellow shoes, too!)

  20. Bubu

    I do feel more cool (or maybe grown-up?) in neutrals, but also a bit boring, so I tend to do more neutral one day, balanced by more playful and colorful the next… I like accessing different parts of my personality through clothes. That’s why somedays skirts and girly looks, other days layered tees and jeans for a more tomboy-ish feel… But I immediately thought of one style icon who rocks color: Alicia Keys. I’ve always loved her cool, very urban look, and she can work in color and and texture, funky accessories (hello hats! – I think she was the first to rock the fedora, before it became a trend)and more, like no one else.

  21. Wendy McLaren

    For me, there’s a difference between chic and cool. Neutrals, especially as illustrated in those photos, are very chic and very stylish. But cool, cool is its own brand of being comfortable in one’s skin. And Sally, you, muppet-color legs and all, fit the label ‘cool’.

    If I wore one of those outfits, I would look 15 flavors of dorky. That’s not me. I’m cool. But in colors or jeans and a graphic Tee, I’m me. I’m cool.

    As I tell my kids, I drive a minivan because I need to. It doesn’t make me any less cool.

  22. Nancy

    I have to laugh. I was thinking about this topic this weekend as I was pawing through my fabric stash. It’s a color explosion! I have a ton of red, fuschia, purples, blues etc. I was wondering if I was making a mistake, but I love the colors.

    I do love the neutral look though. Carolyn Kennedy had the look nailed down. Black, white, camel with a rare and occasional splash of color in a coat or pants. Had she lived longer, she would have become a style icon.

  23. Courteney @ Not a "Diet" Blog

    I was raised with the mantra that neutrals, especially black are slimming. And for many years I lived by this rule. Then, one day, I decided that I wasn’t going to live as if I was going to a perpetual funeral. I wanted some sunshine in my life. I love to wear color, even if no one else is wearing it, it makes me individual and allows me to express my bubbly personality who gives a horses hoof if others think its outrageous, as long as you feel comfortable and confident enough to wear it.

  24. Laurie

    I’m a neutral girl myself….my closet is a sea of black, grey, cream, brown, navy and white. I do have a lot of color too but I never feel quite as chic as I do wearing color than when I am wearing neutrals. I wear more color in the warmer months, when I want to look cute, not chic, I suppose.

    I never wear all one color though….there has to be a pop of something else to make the outfit interesting. I agree with those above me….all black is a cop out. Its uninspired. Only good for a funeral.

    • Wendy McLaren

      I have to smile at the “only for a funeral” comments. This Spring, I went to my mother’s funeral. I chose leopard-print shoes over black, and wrapped a bright blue scarf around my shoulders over my black dress, pinned together with an amethyst brooch. Why? Because Mom would have loved it. We shared a love of bright colors and funky shoes.

  25. JennyDC

    Since entering my 40s, I’ve actually been shying away from black and neutrals (full disclosure – camel looks like ass on me). I still love a good gray + brown combo, but I also love pairing colors in unexpected ways – and getting compliments! It’s also a fun exercise to try to see what colors that you never thought would go together actually DO go together. Today I am wearing a skirt that has light purple flowers in white circles on a deeper purple background. The center of the flowers is bright lime green. I had thought I’d put a gray top with the skirt, but found a lime green sweater in my closet that actually looks FABULOUS with the skirt. I feel pretty, cheerful, and in some ways, cool, in my colorful outfit.

    I’m afraid I also have to agree with the people who think black + black + black is a bit of a cop-out. Unfair, perhaps, but I do. I think all black outfits can be done very chic-ly (is that a word?) but in my world it is usually done in a rather sloppy, I-don’t-care-sort of way, as if the wearer had heard that black is stylish, ergo, an ill-fitting black sweater with pills + ill-fitting black pants + ill-fitting clunky black shoes = stylin’.

    This may come across as rather catty and I try not to judge people by their appearance, but the all black and sloppy thing at the office just sort of bugs me.

  26. Hearthrose

    I noticed a “uh oh, everything I own is turquoise or green” thing last year when I started working on a more thoughtfully created wardrobe. I’ve been treating myself to more neutral pieces, and even though I’m not particularly excited when it comes to sewing up another ivory (or denim) skirt, I’m *so* much more pleased when I look at myself in the mirror. And it’s a lot easier to put outfits together when you have limited closet space.

    That said, I’m never going to be the cool fashionista type – I accessorize with bright colors in quantity, and often wear red/peach/pink with blue/green/turquoise.

    Neutrals give me a good jumping off place – and of course there *are* days when you just want to look “cool”. 🙂

  27. angie

    Nice post!

    I absolutely think that colour can be as cool as neutrals, *if* the wearer makes it so. In the same way, neutrals can fall flat – if the wearer makes it so.

    Personally, I love neutrals (black and white), just as much as bright colours. If I had to pick out “a cool” outfit right now – it would be neutral with a bright handbag or top/coat. I MUST have a happy pop of colour in my outfit to ultimately feel my coolest 🙂

  28. jcb

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so I had to comment on this one. It’s also a big difference between the styles you’ll see on the street in the States and in Europe, particularly France. I knew a French girl whose entire wardrobe must have been composed of different shades of grey – and she looked put-together and chic every day, as did most neutrals-sporting women you see in the streets of Paris. I did notice that it created a certain monotonous conformity after a while – everyone looked great, but everyone looked mostly the same. I think you have less of that here, which is partly a result of the bold (and yes, at times tacky) color combinations that people aren’t afraid to wear.

    It seems like there are three main reasons that people really gravitate toward neutrals, and I have to admit I agree with them, even though I am a color-lover as well. The first is that they tend to look more expensive – perhaps because the colors are associated with natural materials, like leather, fur, cotton, etc. Imperfections in construction and stitching are not as apparent in a black garment as they would be in a bright yellow one, for example. The second is that you really can’t look tacky in neutrals, save some unfortunate combinations of black/navy, which is really less tacky than it is uncoordinated. The third, and perhaps the most important, I think, is that there is an unspoken confidence in her looks exuded by a woman who can wear an all-black or all-muted ensemble – it’s almost as if she’s asking people to pay more attention to her face and to the shape of her body than to her clothing. I think this is why people suspect Angelina Jolie appears so often in black – with such striking facial features, it would be unfortunate for her to let her clothes do most of the talking.

    • Sal

      Oooh, very well said, jcb. Your three final points really resonate with me.

    • tiny junco

      hmm. i’ve worn newts since my teens because 99% of clothing in ‘colors’ are tremendously unflattering to my skintone, and i don’t have the energy or inclination to dye all my clothing. newts look better with my coloring. steph

  29. Evelynne

    Honestly, Sal, although I can intellectually appreciate the cut, creativity, and high quality of these outfits — and they really are exceptional — they just bore me to tears. I’m not sure I would even have taken a second look at these ensembles if you hadn’t drawn my attention to them. I’m usually on the Technicolor train myself and nothing is more exciting than when I see other people (like you!) making an effort to put together stylish, interesting ensembles that use color.

    I agree with the above commenters who said that black is often lazy. People use it because it’s easy and always appropriate. I guess I’m looking for a little more effort. 😛 I am, however, sympathetic to the fact that it’s very difficult to find interesting, fashionable clothing that’s NOT black. I can’t tell you how many times I fell in love with the fabric and cut of a dress but rejected it because it was only available in black.

    If color isn’t cool, I wonder if that is a fairly recent phenomenon. Women hardly ever wear black or camel on “Mad Men” (I can’t remember ever seeing anyone in it except Don’s mistresses, though admittedly I could have blocked it out) but they can certainly pull off colorful AND cool.

  30. Elly

    Awesome post Sally! I love neutrals but being pale and ginger-haired they don’t always love me unless I play dress up: all in black for a 90s grunge-goth, all in warm cream and beige for 70s hostess, etc. Plus when I do wear neutrals I tend to wear tone-on-tone rather than one flat shade.

    But agree with the idea that some neutrals (like dark brown, navy or beige) don’t automatically look stylish: the essence with neutrals, I think, is not just the colour but the cut. Each one of the photographed outfits has a clean or interesting cut and play in proportions of volume. With colour added this would be ‘too much’ but with neutrals I think it’s essential. Othewise it looks frumpy or plain old dull.

    My ‘coolest’ outfit would always be: tight jeans, white tshirt, high heels, don’t care attitude. Maybe that’s it really – cool is in the attitude, not the clothes?

  31. alice

    While it’s true a lot of people wear neutrals by default, a lot of the time it’s not done particularly well and can easily end up looking frumpy. Fit and shape of the garments really become important in all neutral ensembles and I think people often don’t realize that for some reason. Perhaps it’s because people think neutrals all match and then just stop there.

    I like neutrals myself because it allows me to keep a very pared down wardrobe – since I don’t have to buy a lot of clothes to generate outfits, I can spend more money on the things I do buy. I can easily imagine how this wouldn’t work for everyone, but it really works for me and makes me happy. Where I do indulge in color though, is my nails and shoes since I almost never wear jewelry. I’ve never felt boring in minimalist attire; rather, I feel confident and yes, cool…

  32. Melanee Dahl

    I love color. My family still comments that anything with a bright color is so “Melanee.” But alas, I have been succumbing to the neutrals. I gained a bunch of weight lately and in an effort to hide, blend, and look smaller I have embraced the neutral, and I always feel drab when I where it.

    Recently I was shopping and found the most delightfully bright silk shirt. It’s mainly yellow but has brown, orange, red, and green all over it. It is loud. And it was cheap. So I bought it. I loved it. I knew it would make me stand out more and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but every time I where that shirt I get compliments and I feel oh so good. I feel like me again.

    I have since bought a bright pink dress as well as a bright green one. And I feel fabulous in them. So even though I don’t have the money to re-do my entire wardrobe right now, I think it’s time to say “screw the norm.” I only feel like myself when I’m in bright colors, a bit overweight or not.

    Thanks for sharing this today. I’m glad I’m not the only one that adores color and feels best walking down the street in full bloom. And I just love this blog in general, for the record.

  33. Peggy

    I like the very last picture best. I don’t really like the covered-up black look from head to toe. The pop of white in the dress breaks it all up for me.

    When one goes looking for dresses, shoes, trousers, you name it.. more than half of the styles are in black. I think some of it is a mindset that wearing black makes a person look “thinner.” True, black is easy to mix and match with.. but as others have said, I agree, sometimes it’s a copout~ one of which I have been guilty of myself.

  34. Jane W.

    Most of my wardrobe is neutral, and it’s not out of laziness or a lack of effort– more out of a desire to have a fewer things of good quality, and ultimately fewer things to store/maintain.

    I think that it’s definitely possible to wear color and look chic–E. of academichic is a great example. She’s a master combiner of proportion, form, and hue.

  35. Liz

    While I absolutely admire people like you, Sal, who rock loads of color and look amazing doing so, I am a neutral lover through and through. I definitely don’t think neutrals are more “cool” than colors, though. Maybe a technicolor outfit has less of that timeless feel, but it can absolutely still be cool. You’ve just gotta rock it with confidence, which you definitely do and which I never ever do when I’m wearing a colorful outfit.

    After reading the comments, though, it seems like I’m in the minority here in my belief that wearing head-to-toe black is neither evil nor a faux pas. I mean, around the holidays I went out for the day with my mom wearing an all-black outfit (of the silk dress-blazer-hose-heeled ankle boots variety) and got you’re-really-cool stares all day. When I look at pictures of myself wearing a black blazer vs. a light-colored blazer I just look SO MUCH BETTER in the ones where I’m wearing black. I think it’s cause I have fair skin and golden-blonde hair, and since there is no way I am ever going to look more tan (hello SPF 55 sunscreen even when it’s raining out) I might as well wear black and play up the paleness. And leave an awesome canvas for BRIGHT RED LIPSTICK!

  36. Me

    I’m a dyed-in-the-wool neutral lover simply because it means getting dressed is easier in the mornings. In fact, I went through an all-black phase in my young twenties but recently had to add some basic tans and browns to my wardrobe because I wanted to match them with some lighter (more colourful) items my mother handed-down to me — my mother only ever wears colours, usually three or four colours at once. I can get away with accent colours usually, but they require more thinking and I have to re-balance my entire outfit to accommodate them. I think reading blogs has made me more adventurous though.

  37. FutureLint

    I totally get what you are saying… I will always be quirky and fun looking, but I don’t exude cool chicness the way some girls outfits can. I’ve often felt great running around in blue tights and then I see someone looking impossibly chic and cool and think, I am a child. It doesn’t last long, and I will continue to rock the brights just because I COULDN’T do neutrals and blacks every day, but just SOMETIMES… I wish I did. Same thing with my hair, I love my curls, but I will never have a chic angular haircut or sharp bob… it will always be a funky mess, which I’m okay with, but sometimes I think it would be fun to be the girl with edgy hair…

  38. Bella Q

    What a fantastically COOL post, Sal! Like you I LOVE color (ok, I go through phases- color and lots of it, or black/black and white) but you’re right- it’s the neutrals that give a look the cool appeal. But as much as I love all black ensembles, I refuse to stick to a limited palette- it just feels to good to explode with pops and washes of saturated color. In fact, I just may change from my black dress and socks into something a bit more colorful. Cool is cool, but color is hot.

  39. rb

    This is exactly how I dress. I have a wardrobe full of neutrals, heavy on the black, but I add color through accessories. Right now I’m wearing a black long sweater jacket, a black/white tweed skirt, black slingbacks and wearing pearl and gold jewelry. But my handbag is a bright orangey-red.

    My only color exceptions tend to be in the blue/green family, and those are usually weekend duds. If I want to feel cool or chic, I reach for the neutrals every time.

  40. Monica

    Thanks for the great post, Sal. As a fellow bike commuter, I actually leave most of my “dress” clothes at work and often end up with an outfit of neutrals at the office. I match, but it gets a bit boring. I’m trying to branch out, inspired by you!
    Just saw this article which highlights the color=bold, neutral=sleek idea: Also Michelle Obama is certainly an elegant woman who loves color!

  41. Rad

    Great post, Sal! This perfectly expresses why I gravitate towards neutrals, although reading style blogs has encouraged me towards more navy, grey, white, and dark denim as key neutrals, in addition to black (although I do love how I look in black). Perhaps they are a bit boring, and I often don’t have the “guts” to go too colorful. With the exception of a couple bags, brights don’t exist very often in my wardrobe palate and I feel more “me” in neutrals. For me, neutrals are easy and simple. Even splashes of color are an effort on my part. But instead of fighting it (there was a thrifting period in which I picked up a lot of color, and later donated them), I’ve learned to accept and love it. I look good in neutrals, and black, and I’m trying to be less boring by mixing up textures, adding more color away from my face (my shoes), and working on a happier outlook, regardless of what I wear.

  42. Francesca

    In theory, black & neutrals exude a bit more “cool” or “standoffish” vibe than brights, but that’s not the style statement I’m going for. Personally, when I wear it, it just looks plain Jane & depressing. Maybe it’s because I live in the South and neutrals & black feel out of place amidst the warm sunlight (like it would in Hawaii or the tropics, yet look right in cooler Northern climates).

    I prefer a more vibrant & adventurous color mix. Coolness to me can be expressed in accessories & shoes in addition to color choices.

  43. Jessica

    I love colors in home decorating and the like, but I honestly don’t think I look good in many colors. I have very subdued coloring and the vast majority of colors “wear me.” I feel like they make me look frumpy and old. With neutrals = especially gray, brown and cream my face and eyes pop. You see me and not the color. The few colors I wear tend to be very grayed down.

  44. masha

    Wearing all black or neutrals is not instant cool (see goth). Neutrals are more reserved, colors more extroverted. It is hard to get past the inherent outgoingness of a cheerfully bright outfit and make it read “cool.” The way to do so would probably be to style it aggressive: military, metals, hard edges, hip hop, athletic, street style or punk rock. Brightly colored sneakers are cool. Cyndi Lauper is cool. Rihanna is uber cool.

  45. Audi

    Overall I agree with you Sal, although I have sported a few color-soaked outfits that I would describe as cool or chic. I think it often depends upon the pieces themselves, and I think it’s frequently the case that when a clothing designer opts to use eye-catching colors, they are more likely to design clothing that is playful and quirky, rather than using more sophisticated shapes and lines. I’ll use All Saints as an example; I would describe pretty much all of their styles as cool. Would they look just as cool in bright fuchsia or emerald green? Sure they would, but walk into an All Saints store and you’ll be hard pressed to find even one or two items that aren’t a classic neutral, or a very neutralized version of a color (slate blue or dusty purple, for instance). So is it the colors that aren’t cool or the designers that are using them?

  46. candice

    I am drawn to color and I often end up buying bright, happy shades when I go shopping. But when I look at the clothes in my closet each morning, I inevitably reach for the darker jackets and sweaters, the muted denim and the white, tan or navy shirts. My go-to shoes are brown Sketchers and even my undergarments are mostly basic black and white.

    I often end up grabbing one of my bright scarves, swiping on some coral lipstick or slipping into a bright fuschia sheath dress, only to hang the clothes back up and wash the lipstick off before I leave the house. I’m honestly not sure why this is, although this post really got me thinking about it.

    My guess is that deep down, I feel like color is a brush stroke too far outside the lines in my life; it’s a form of rebellion too scary for me to pursue. It sounds pretty silly, but leaving the scarf on or wearing my bright lipstick almost seems to say, “I love this body and I’m not afraid to dress it accordingly.” While I wish I truly felt this way, faking it would take a kind of courage and resolve that I don’t have on a day to day basis.

    Sal, I admire you for your bright, colorful fashion choices and I hope you will continue to dress in the way that makes you happiest. This was a very inspiring post, thank you.

  47. jesse.anne.o

    I do subscribe to the idea that (for me) neutrals will always be more chic, more polished and more versatile. I really like wearing them with a spark of color here and there and, it’s true, I feel like a soccer mom in excessive amounts of color. And also, neutrals are just seen as more professional (so I can get away with a shorter charcoal skirt than I can a shorter red skirt!).

    I have been trying to push the envelope with either accessories or cuts since I wear mostly neutrals — that’s an area I’m much more interested in than loading on the color.

    However, there are a lot of folks on Hel Looks who are able to do both the cut and color thing successfully! I wouldn’t personally do it but I like looking through their street style photos.

  48. Heidi/The Closet Coach

    I don’t know that it’s easier to look cool when wearing neutrals; I just think it’s easier to find and coordinate clothing in neutrals. Says the woman with the gray/black/beige wardrobe.

    But I’ve started to branch out into more colors lately, something I never felt comfortable with before. Maybe it’s from turning 40 and becoming more sure of myself? 🙂 (I wrote about my newfound love of color here:

    Whatever it is, when I had the honor of another blogger picking me to feature in a weekly “what’s in your closet” column, I opened my closet full of black and picked … my new red dress. So I say color IS cool! 🙂

  49. Stacy

    “Muppet-colored legs”…hahahaha! Well, count me in the color camp. Black is the only neutral I really wear. And I do love it, but to be honest, it’s my fall-back color when I’m feeling too lazy to put together a more creative outfit!

  50. LauraB

    When I was little my mother wouldn’t let me wear white, grey or black (colors she deemed to harsh for my fair skin). My grandmother however, had these amazing black taffeta gowns from the 50s that I would play dress-up in. When I wore those black dresses, I knew I was chic in a way I couldn’t be in brown or ivory (neutrals that were mom approved).

  51. Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    I adore that first look. I am hopeless at neutrals because I am definitely a “pile it on” girl and I love colour. When I try to do this, it tends to look bland, not cool. Which makes me respect and admire those who can do it. It all looks deceptively simple but it really isn’t.

  52. tiny junco

    Debbie Harry, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana….i’d vote for Audi and Angie as well! echoing the sentiment expressed here by many, it’s the clothes not the color IMO. how many people do i see a block from here slobbing around in newtral colored bagged out or super tight sweats and tees? oh, wait, i take it back – the supermarket uniforms are an extremely cool black and beige combo (okay, that was just snarky of me).

    hmm, i haven’t thought about ‘what is my coolest piece of clothing’ since high school! and back then, angel flite jeans were the ultimate in ice-cold. i think i’ll take a pass. steph

  53. Luna

    Sal, I too love color, preferably vivid, but my personal aesthetics and body porportions have me wearing darkish neutrals for the most part, but not exclusively. I’ve resolved the conundrum via another love: of scarves and cardies. Having said that, there are neutrals that I cannot possibly wear: beige, oatmeal, most browns.
    Which leads me to the comment I wanted to make: whether it is neutrals or colors, the important thing is to wear colors that suit one’s coloring — colors that repeat and complement one’s own coloring (same goes for make-up colors). Two favorite reads on this subject:
    1) David Zyla’s book “The Color of Style”, on how to figure out our body colors, and thus figure out our best neutrals, best red, blue, etc.
    2) This website, which discusses finding our best colors by figuring out seasonal type (out of 12 different seasonal types):
    Happy coloring! — Luna

  54. Kate

    I have always leaned towards the neutrals, but not because they are “cool”, but because that I what I like. I am very big on darker blues, blacks, and whites, and always feel most comfortable in outfits of that base. Of course, I do like to try and throw a splash of color here and there, whether it is through a belt, scarf, shoes or earrings. For me, when I wear an outfit that is mostly based in the rainbow, I feel extremely self-conscious, because colors are very attention grabbing, and I am not one who enjoys being in the limelight. That being said, I do think bright colors work wonderfully for some, such as yourself.

    Also, I never cared much for what was “cool”. I went with what felt comfortable and made me feel good about myself.

  55. L. of Academichic

    Sal, I totally know what you’re saying about feeling a little too colorful every once in a while and perhaps lowering my “cool factor” in the process. However, I like what you wrote about just being you, and by golly if “being me” means wearing magenta tights and a turquoise top then I’m ok with it. I also tend to dress in brighter colors to try and combat the weather or my own fatigue. I know what you mean about feeling cool in neutrals though – very sophisticated and ‘grown up’ is how I’d describe it. Oh well, if color is a bit dorky, then I’m a huge nerd and I’m loving every rainbow minute of it!

  56. Nadine

    I know I’m not cool and I’m not INTERESTED in trying to be cool. I have to have colour!

    • ABCD for Michelle

      I love Michelle Obama’s bright colored clothing! But yeah, I can’t think of anybody “cool” who wore super colorful clothes. All I can picture is Angelina Jolie in her endless blacks, tans, taupes, whites, etc.

  57. Anne

    Well the topic might be exhausted by now, but I thought I’d throw my two sense in as well. As I read through everyone’s comments, I kept flipping back to the pictures. What really strikes me about them is not the fact that they’re neutral, they are all ,save the gal in all black, thoughtful. Attention has been paid to proportion, the interplay of texture, and editing. My hunch is that the reason we view black as cool is because we associate it with the young and the urban. . I think to really pull off the neutral thing you have to pay attention to the details:quality,cut, textures and accessories. Those are the things that make an outfit chic. I adore a really beautifully designed LBD as much as the next person but what I see on many women are sack like things with absolutely no style or shape.

    I am reminded of a post in Maggie Berry’s blog: the dresses you remember from the Oscars are Nicole Kidman’s Chartruese Cheongsam , Kate Blanchett’s pale yellow gown and Gyneth’s pink number, not the endless see of black.

  58. aubrey

    I think Audi always looks cool but I wouldn’t say it’s an effortless sort of cool…her outfits certainly look like they require thought and effort which is something I appreciate and want for my own style. I think what makes her colorful outfits “cool” is often a BADASS quality- something I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s just an inherent quality. You both are inspirations!

  59. Lydia

    I think, for many people — the idea of ‘cool’ is to blend in, yet ‘stand out’ at the same time — cue neturals. By wearing neutrals many feel ‘cool’ because they can blend, yet worn advantageously, they can rise above the crowd. If we all wear a uniform, suposedly the focus shifts on the face/ other features (I don’t necessarily agree with this) What if we all wore colour, and neutrals stood out? Just a thought.

    I personally, think looking / feeling ‘cool’ can exist wheather wearing colour or neutrals. However, just like in high school, I recall that the so called ‘cool’ kids dressed too look like they ‘fit in’ (same brands, looks), rather than stand out —

    I love colour, and I think people who are not afraid to wear it, rock — I also have respect for neutral lovers who can rock thier wardrobes as well– it is only colour– after all how harmful can it be?– I do notice however, that society often judges colour as more frivolous and less professional, which is rather absurd. Having said this, I do realize that in many professions, people want the focus to be on their performance rather than their clothes.

  60. Gracey at Fashion for Giants

    I love color like nobody’s business, but I know exactly what you mean by feeling ‘cooler’ in neutrals. I am not a very cool girl but sometimes I want to be. And on those days I want to feel cool or even elegant or classic, I resort to neutrals. The rest of the time I pile on the color and am happy to do so.

  61. sarah

    hm. I am actually super suspicious of “cool” as something we are working to attain. I think “cool” happens when you aren’t looking for it – and that baiting women with the promise of cool (I’m thinking fashion mags here and those promises their covers are riddled with) is just a way to sell something.

    That said, I find these outfits so incredibly predictable that they bore me. I think I admire originality too much to find a cookie-cutter look “cool.” Me, I like Penelope Cruz’s wardrobe in Volver – all these bright colours, the textures, the fit. Gorgeous. I’m totally drawn to colour, like you.

    So, of these four, the first one stands out to me – but it’s her haircut that screams “cool,” and the fact that that little sparkle in her eyes tells me she didn’t get this haircut because someone told her it would be cool. She seems comfortable and happy with this cut, and that’s what draws me in.

    I own a lot of neutrals myself. I live in the NW, and like many people here, I have a lot of soft blues and dove greys in my wardrobe (it’s my theory that we subtly gravitate toward wardrobes that reflect our surroundings), but I noticed that when I first moved back to Seattle, it was my cherry-red wool coat (it was a year or two before the red coat was proclaimed a staple – I didn’t see another red coat but once every few months) that attracted LOADS of attention and admiring comments wherever I went. Cool is always an accident with me, and it seems to have very little to do with colour and more to do with attitude and the way certain pieces fit or set off my complextion/shape *just right.* For me, there could never be any universal rules for cool. Too many different kinds of people out there – what is cool on each one must be different, right?

  62. joann, sidewalk chic

    Honestly, I think it all has to do with attitude. If the same woman can pull off neutrals and jewel tones with the same elan, then it’s probably more to do with her comfort level of her own style. However, I’m a pretty big fan of colors, so I feel best in those. 🙂

  63. Katharine

    Now I feel the need to make a small button pin, maybe in neon red, saying “I REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT THIS OUTFIT YOU KNOW!” to pin on myself when I’m wearing head to toe black.

  64. Me

    I have to add that the women in the pictures are mostly low-constrast, muted coloring although two might be “deep autumns” with higher contrast coloring. Low contrast colouring (when one’s hair and skin don’t have much contrast) might be why some people shy away from colour. I know that I tend to look sick when I’m wearing fuschia, for example… and red is difficult for me to wear because it makes my skin look orange. But you, Sally, appear to be a “clear winter” or “clear spring” so you can pull of lots of deep, cool-toned brights and still look great. You wouldn’t, for example, wear too much salmon-beige near your face but it’s a colour that really makes certain skin tones look alive. So maybe colour is “cool” after all — OK, bad pun.

  65. Luna

    I couldn’t resist — I also think Sal is a Clear. I happen to be a Clear Spring (Neutral/Warm colors) and tend to think she is a Clear Spring rather than a Clear Winter (Neutral/cool colors), but she could be either really. Sal always looks gorgeous, but I tend to think vivid colors suit her much better than muted colors or low contrast effects. — Luna.

  66. Susan Tiner

    I don’t think of it as cool vs uncool. All that matters is what makes you happy. It is obvious colors make you happy so you should wear lots of them!

    For me, a dash of color here or there works best. Anything more and it feels too busy, even a little stressful. I prefer the black and neutral palettes shown at the top of your post.

  67. LV

    Wanted: that black bag in the first photo. Does anyone know what brand it is?

  68. Lizz

    I don’t know that neutrals are inherently “cool,” at least when it comes to clothes. This might be because my subcultural view. I’m a Goth. But I never once have had a negative comment from my clothing as an adult. (I vacillate somewhere between Victorian/40’s-50’s/Corporate Goth looks.) Instead I frequently get compliments. I don’t think this is because I hardly ever wear color. I do think it is because, as another commenter said, of attitude. I am comfortable in my ridiculously poofy skirts, my retro dresses, and button up blouses, and it apparently shows.

    I think it also depends quite a bit on cut, rather than color. If the cut of a piece is off for your body it won’t look flattering when you wear it. Or if it is ill fitting the item may be uncomfortable, and that can show, also making it an unflattering look. Even if you’re wearing a neutral this happens, it won’t hide a bad fit. So black, gray, white, navy, brown, and cream might be the touted “everyone looks good in these” colors, but it can often turn out to be untrue based on tailoring. So make friends with a tailor and stop worrying about the color!