Reader Request: Crafting Monochrome Looks

How to wear monochrome

Reader Cat e-mailed me this question:

Mixing different reds: can one? Should one? How does one approach it?

I love red, and as a paleish brunette there are a few shades that suit me. But then the subject of accessories comes up and I’m left wondering if I need belts, bags, heels and flats in cherry, poppy, wine, geranium etc (not that I mind the idea of building such a collection, but I think my bank manager might object if I try to acquire it too quickly!) or whether they can be safely mixed. I was always taught not to, but I can’t help wondering if this is one of those rules that can be broken.

Although Cat’s query is red-specific, I think her question can be applied to any monochrome look. People have always felt free to do black from top to tail … maybe mix a little gray in there for fun. But non-black monochrome outfits were relatively rare for quite a while. Now, however, old color matching “rules” are out the window and one-color looks are touted as a way to flatter the female figure with a long, unbroken line.

Any color you love – and that loves you back – works marvelously for monochromes. But let’s go back to Cat’s red example for a point of reference. Here are some quick and easy ways to work up a stylish look based on mixed reds.

  1. Throw all your red items in a pile on the bed. Start pulling out ones that complement each other, especially in shade. Some reds have more blue or yellow in them, and you’ll see right away which ones will fight and which will play nicely together. You’ll also see that many of the reds you have are just more or less saturated versions of the SAME red. Those will look marvelous worn together.
  2. Consider putting some pink in the mix. If you’ve got raspberry shades, hot pink, magenta, or fuchsia available, they can really pull the mix together.
  3. I think red accessories are always a worthwhile investment, as red mixes well with all neutrals. BUT! If you aren’t in a position to run out and buy a red belt, bag, and shoes, never fear. Brown is gorgeous with red mixes, as is gray. If you’ve got either on hand, try those out for now.
  4. If you do┬ádecide to get some red accessories, don’t worry about covering the gamut of reds. A bright blue-red (like a fire engine) is probably the most versatile in accessories. You can build red outfits around those, but they’ll also look amazing with brown, black, gray, navy, animal prints …
  5. When you are getting closer to nailing your first red monochrome outfit, consider this: More than three shades of red is probably overkill. Get another color or a neutral in there, too.

I realize that the color red scares the pants off many women, but you can tailor these tips to any color you fancy. Collect all of your items in said shade, consider adding a lighter colored cousin to the mix, explore which neutrals work best with your shade, and limit yourself to three color variations within an outfit. If you’re going for blue, I’d suggest navy accessories as opposed to cobalt, olive green rather than kelly … but it’s really a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, bright red looks vibrant and sassy, while other brights can look like overkill … but not everyone feels that way. Use your judgment and trust your taste, friends.

Originally posted 2010-04-27 05:53:00.

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27 Responses to “Reader Request: Crafting Monochrome Looks”

  1. La Historiadora de Moda

    Well, fine, if you won't let me count black. ­čśŤ I've done monochromatic purple and monochromatic blue in the past. Maybe I'll recreate one of these looks for the blog in the next week.

  2. Kat

    I have a plaid skirt that is many shades of blue on white I like to build blue outfits around. Royal blue sweater, cornflower tights, multihued blue scarf. Black jacket and shoes because 1) I don't have blue and 2) I don't want to look too smurfish!

    I also think mixing brown and tan/beige looks very nice–so dark brown shirt, light brown skirt, brown heathered tights, dark brown boots, beige dangle earrings… and a complementary mop of brown hair.

  3. Nanne

    I like wearing for instance grey or ink/navy blue monochrome looks.

  4. Jordie

    I don't usually like seeing people wear red, but you just rock this like its valentine's day all over again! haha x

  5. K.Line

    I've done monochrome navy, fuchsia, apple green – I do like the monochrome look!

  6. futurelint

    I guess I've done all blue before… perhaps I'll try a monochromatic look one day this week, it looks great on you!

  7. Charlotte

    My two favorite colors are violet and green (either soft sage or a brighter yellow/green). Both of those are tough to do top-to-toe without looking like you're in costume, but sometimes I'll try it with a gray or brown skirt peeking out. Just that narrow band of neutral beneath the hem of a long sweater or tunic top–before the violet or green tights begin!–is enough to reassure me that no, today we are not going to the circus.

  8. Melanie

    Lovely post! I'm totally afraid of a monochromatic look that doesn't involve black. Maybe I'd go with green? Or blue? Or purple?

    Unravelled Threads
    Don't forget to enter my custom elastic waistband skirt giveaway!

  9. Kelley

    love these tips! I would totally do a monochromatic purple look

  10. Vix

    The pink/red you're wearing is a great look, but it does feel very visible somehow…though given how arresting an all-black outfit can be, I clearly just have issues around color!

    After doing my closet analysis for spring/summer I actually started forcing myself to create tone-on-tone looks just to prove to myself that I wouldn't explode if I wore only color-color.

    And that my smaller wardrobe had a lot more flexibility than I thought.

    So far I've done peeeenk and pink/purple looks, plus an all-blue one…and am currently working my way through more Blue Lagoon "capsulette" outfits.

    No head explosions or fainting yet, but I will say that despite how easy you make it look, I'm definitely more at ease in neutrals + color.

    [I actually did a series of black/white/grey as well and found it *too* colorless without sun around — so I guess I'm making progress, ha.]

    Oh — I'm finding patterns that "read" primarily as Color X definitely help offset the grape ape/smurf thing. Too bad I've have been a pattern-phobe as well as a colorphobe until recently.

  11. Cat

    Thank you so much again for this awesome answer. I confess I've yet to try a monochromatic red look, but that's mostly because my red skirts are a tad more summery than the British weather is so far. Different shades of red accessory, though? Oh yes!

  12. Anna

    I love a bright green. In my wardrobe, it's practically a neutral. Now I can't wait to try a green monochrome look!

  13. Pelusa

    You look absolutely terrific in this look… and I don't even have ONE completely red garment!!!
    I like to make monochromatic looks in blue shades…

  14. maralenenok

    I'm not fond of head to toe monochrome. I'll throw in at least one neutral piece if I'm wearing a lot of one color. For example, when I've worn a teal top and a teal skirt and teal pumps, I played it down it with black or grey tights. Or, the other day I wore a dark pink long sleeved tee with bright pink tights with a light grey skirt and black pumps even though I could have put on hot pink pumps.

    I do love doing blue on blue on blue, but it's such a versatile, mild color. I've done blue jeans with a blue t-shirt, a bright blue cardigan, and a powder blue raincoat. Shoes were black or red, though.

  15. Tina Z

    I have always loved a white monochromatic look. For the top: in the winter, a white turtle or cowl neck sweater and in spring/summer, a crisp button down or v-neck t-shirt. For the bottom: slim twill trousers, boot-cut trousers, or jeans. A thick tan leather belt breaks it up a little. It exudes classic American style, very Ralph Lauren-like.

  16. Emily

    I'd have to say blue or grey. Grey is a tough one, I'm always wanting to throw in some black…or color!

  17. Lynne

    Blues are easy — I've probably done that heaps of times without thinking about it. I have done monochrome grey, but it's really a bit too neutral for my comfort zone. Dark purples with pinker purples? Yep, that's my home territory. Would love to do greens, but don't really have much green. I have done almost red — subdued red granny floral skirt with burgundy top.

  18. WendyB

    My monochromatic outfits are ALWAYS black. I'm a New Yorker…what can I say?

  19. Valerie - MN

    I usually will pair 2 of the almost exact shade and then a 3rd item with that color mixed in it or else a complement to that main color. For example, I might wear a dark chocolate top with a chocolate pant almost 1 shade off and a light metallic sand jacket that happens to have maroon, dark pink, and mid purple flowers on it or a striped khaki jacket that has chocolate in the stripes. The shoes will be dark brown and maybe I will wear smoky quartz, champagne quartz, citrine, or garnet with the chocolate brown look. Also, rose gold looks amazing with brown. So, I usually use the jacket and accessories to break up any color's monochrome or to accentuate it. Oh, glad this was a post about red, my favorite color (smile).

  20. All Women Stalker

    Oh I love doing this! With black and gray mostly. I don't look good in red, that's why.

  21. Strange Attractor

    I have done monochrome looks with dark green. By mixing two or more shades and using metalics as neutrals instead of brown, you can avoid the whole Robin Hood look.

    It's my favorite color and I get a lot of compliments on it.

  22. Audi

    Usually when I do monochrome looks I'll throw at least one pattern in there, but then I'm a pattern kinda gal. I love the look of mixed shades of red together, and also mixed purples and blues.

  23. Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    Great advice. Interestingly in Australia fire-engine red is actually a yellow-red, I was surprised when I visited LA last year when I saw that fire-engines were a blue-red there!

  24. Stel

    Love the idea of monochrome – the only time I really do this is with black, but this encourages me to try other colours too!