I’ve begun updating some of my greatest hits posts so they’re more current. This is one of them!
At this point, my palette is ALL neutrals with splashes of navy, burgundy, and olive here and there, so this is a topic that’s close to my heart. There’s something so chic, elegant, and relaxed about mixed neutrals and I find that combination of traits irresistible.
When I set out to create a wash of neutrals, here are my personal rules of thumb:
THREE OR MORE TO A BATCH
An outfit comprised entirely of neutrals will look sophisticated and intentional if you include at least three distinct colors. In the outfit above, I have on a brown leather jacket and boots, gray top, and olive pants. I might be able to add one more neutral as an accent – the grayish-blue of the tote kinda fills that role – but any more than that might tip the scales into neutral overload.
This is a very loose guideline, since many outfits with only two neutrals look very chic. The key with two is to repeat at least one of them somewhere within the outfit. Like so:
Black jacket, gray tunic, black leggings, gray bag. The repetition makes the look unified and the choices seem intentional.
If you’re mainly interested in mixing just black and brown, the easiest shortcut is to pick ONE shade of brown (either chocolate or tan, not both) and utilize it at least twice within the context of your outfit. Or if brown is the base color, utilize black at least twice within the context of your outfit. Again, that repetition creates intentionality. This formula constitutes a great way to practice mixing neutrals and train your eye to accept shades of brown and black as complementary.
Cool grays and warm cognac browns can definitely be mixed, but I find it easier to pair warm with warm and cool with cool. Look at the neutral garments hanging in your closet. You should be able to tell which ones have cool undertones (whites, blues, and greens in their color mixes) and which ones have warm undertones (reds, yellows, and ivories in their color mixes). Pair like with like and you can’t go wrong.
Since neutrals are soft and easy on the eyes, all-neutral ensembles can read a bit bland. A great way to spice ’em up is to add a variety of textures: Leather, wool, slippery silk, nubby tweed, rough linen, smooth cotton. Pieces with embroidery, pick-stitching, and other 3D detailing also add textural interest.
One of the things I like best about my all-neutral wardrobe is that everything goes with everything else. Shapes may not be complementary and the occasional warm- or cool-undertone gray stirs up trouble, but overall I can wear everything together and it works. Neutrals have a reputation for being dull, but they needn’t be. Mixing them skillfully is easy to do, and can create some seriously chic looks.