Reader Request: How to Do Neon Now

how to wear neon

Reader Jessica submitted this request in a comment:

Do you have a post on how to wear neon without looking ridiculous? If not, I’d love to see one!

I remember neon. I lived through the 80s. I never in a million years thought I’d don these blaring brights again but here we are in the 21st century, and I’m just as smitten with neon as I was back in 1983. I know that it’s not a color family that holds universal appeal, but if you’re curious about how to wear neon now and make it look fresh, here are my pointers:

Dabble in near-neons

Cop-out? Maybe. Great way to dip your toes into the highlighter-colored waters? Yup. Bright, light colors like this near-neon yellow and bold brights that appear to vibrate a bit in full light are great options for those who can’t quite handle true neons. Citron is a great option – a hybrid of neon yellow and a more citrusy one. Search for the color as you shop online and see if any options catch your fancy.

Create a modern color mix

Back in the day, neon was worn with black. I mean, if my feeble memory serves it was neon on black and that was just about it. These days, neons are thrust into all sorts of color mixes – with primaries, with neutrals, with pastels and muted tones. If puzzling that out feels daunting, start with gray. Modern neons pair beautifully with gray, and gray creates a softer mix than stark black.

Try accessories

This is another gateway to neon: If dresses and sweaters feel too overwhelming, try a bracelet, a pair of flats, a scarf. Something small that will serve as a chic neon accent, but won’t drown you in vibrant brights. Throw your neon tidbit into a mix of muted tones and watch it perk them right up.

Play with pattern

Neons are bold and bright, so throwing them into a mix that includes patterns might seem like a recipe for an Outfit Headache. But subtle, subdued, or colorless patterns can do amazing things to neons. Black and white patterns with some irregularity to them work well – zebra print, abstracts, and the like – whereas bold, regular black and whites may seem overbearing. Any pattern that has a color verging on neon can be amped up when paired with true neon, as is the case with the scarf in the outfit at the top of this post. Play around with patterns and see how they transform your neons.

Originally posted 2012-08-21 06:15:57.

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34 Responses to “Reader Request: How to Do Neon Now”

  1. LK

    I know you’ve posted their work a bunch of times but if someone is looking for classy neon Desigual makes the coolest stuff! Although their sizing is bizarre. Took me an hour to find something that fit at Mall of America and I’m a size 4. One would fit in a small, another in a large. Very strange. But I did get one with really awesome neon green and pink!

    • Sal

      Ooooh, will have to keep an eye out, LK! I haven’t seen their fall line yet …

      • LK

        The fall line is really amazing looking but the fabrics are very stiff. It made fit difficult because the sleeves don’t stretch. So it will fit in the body and not in the shoulders/arms. A lot of velour too. Very pretty though.

  2. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Great suggestions, Sally. I tend to dabble with only a scarf, bangle or ring, but I really, really love the bright flats too.

    Thanks again for featuring my post yesterday, your generosity is much appreciated!

  3. Anat

    So what actually qualifies as “neon”? Is there a difference between bright yellow and neon yellow? I think neon originally signified colors with “glow in the dark” properties, but this time around it just seems like very bright yellow, orange and pink.

  4. Cee

    I know you’ve used it before for a few examples, but I just LOVE that pink dress/ yellow shirt combo on you. It’s beautiful colours, beautiful fit and just lovely.

    Luckily, I’m too young to have been faced with 80’s neon. But as someone with olive skin, I’m not sure neon colours are really for me. Which, after reading this post, seems like a shame!

  5. Anna

    They’re all lovely — but best of all is the first photo, neon mixed with that brilliant blue!

  6. Allie

    I love love love the blue and yellow outfit. Also neon. I love neon. I’m wearing green flats right now.

  7. Rocquelle

    All of your neon suggestions are so great!! I hope they are just what the reader needed because you look fabulous!!

  8. Laurel

    I’m wearing a neon pink Under Armour hoodie today! My tip for wearing neon is to pair it with a non-neon iteration of the same color. Like today, I’m wearing the neon pink hoodie with a light pink tank top. I really like how the saturations play off each other.

  9. Annie

    I love the red skirt/yellow sweater combo! As someone with a similar frame, I wonder how you prevent bunching (or if this is even a problem for you — it certainly is for me!)

    Do we (somewhat more) curvaceous gals have to live a life of constant adjusting and pulling down of sweaters or is there a trick?

    When I wear sweaters and shirts that have some stretch to them, they like to slip up my hips and even, sometimes, my breasts, so they settle somewhat unattractively in my waist area and also my armpit/collarbone zone. Do you ever deal with this? If so, do you have any tips apart from cinching a belt so tightly that you can no longer breathe??

    • Sal

      Oh gosh, Annie, I’m not sure. That yellow sweater is quite snug, but since it was tucked into the skirt, I may have tucked it into my tights to secure it in place. 😉 So long as the top isn’t too bulky, that works well for me.

      Untucked tops migrate a bit on me, too. My only real solution is to try to remember to tug them back into place whenever I stand up. (Scrunching usually occurs when I sit.)

      If you’re wearing slippery layers, that may cause more migration. Wool, cashmere, cotton, and linen generally stick to each other more than rayon, knits with lots of stretch, silk, and other smooth, slide-y fibers. Not terribly helpful to you, I’d wager, but a tip to keep in your back pocket perhaps.

  10. Catherine @ Not Dressed As Lamb

    Funny that you should feature neon today, Sal – I’m wearing my fave neon satchel in my new post today! I love how you’ve paired yellow with red and black – that’s a gorgeous combination and not one I’ve thought of before. Plus the shirt looks soooo good with the purple maxi and oh!!! Those heels!!

    Great tips, thank you for the new ideas!

    Catherine x

    • Sal

      Sure, it’s by Cynthia Steffe. I bought it a couple of years ago at a local designer outlet called Opitz.

  11. Erica

    I really like the outfit with the maxi and the one with the red skirt. Today’s my first time reading your blog. I think I’m hooked!

  12. Jasmine

    Love this post! You pull it off so well in every look, but my favorite is the purple and yellow! I don’t know what it is but I’m obsessed with that color combo!

    Thanks for the tips!

  13. Megan Mae

    I love neon – the modern super saturated versions. My favorite is acid green to lime greens, but I’ve dabbled in some other shades as well. I think making it as modern as possible is the best course of action.

  14. Chris


    No doubt that these colors look wonderful on you and some other folks. However, neons don’t appeal to me as regular clothes. I do like these colors for safety clothes where it is vital to be seen. I’m talking about hiking and bicycling vests and jackets; road workers uniforms; parachutes.


  15. Jenny

    I’m wearing neon yellow in pants and shirts though not at the same time of course! However, I’m not sure that I don’t look a wee bit ridiculous, but it’s fun so who cares.

  16. shebolt

    I’m old enough to have experienced the 80s in all its glory, including neon. It was actually the only trend where I was ahead of the curve. I visited my sister in CA when I was 15, and neon was big there but hadn’t yet hit in PA. I brought some items home and was wearing them at the start of the trend in PA. It still didn’t make the cool kids like me, however. 🙂

    Your suggestions on how to work it into a modern wardrobe are spot on. I also have

  17. shebolt

    (continued, hit enter too soon): I also have worked it into my gym wardrobe with a neon orange tech t-shirt and sport bra.

  18. Angela

    Thank you for the inspiration! I bought a neon pink skinny belt this spring, intent on injecting a little “pop” of this trend into my wardrobe, but I’ll confess that the tags are still on it. When I’ve put on the things I could wear the belt with (like a black shirtdress, for example), I’ve passed it over every time! Perhaps I need to think harder about what other things I could wear it with.

  19. sigourney

    Late to this post but I also feel neon colours look great with white – wonderful summer combo.

  20. Amber

    I was born in the 80s, so I didn’t get to relish fully the clothing styles of that decade. I love neon and relish the chance to look like a neon rainbow threw up all over me. My favorite pieces of neon clothing this season have been my neon yellow/gray striped dress, my neon yellow tennis shoes (not worn with the dress, but they are the exact same color), my neon blue watch, and my neon pink and blue tennis shoes.

    After seeing the first picture in this post, I *need* a pair of neon pants. That first look has me drooling.

  21. Bubu

    Ok, I’m obsessing on red suede pumps today, and I think I saw this post earlier and it just locked in my sub-conscious — could you tell us where you got those? I realize I have a lot of black stuff, and those shoes would really help kick them up a notch. Thanks!

    • Sal

      Ooooh, those are past-season Tsubo Dufays, I’m afraid. At least three years old. Sorry, Bubu! Should I do a sale picks post on red suede pumps?

      • bubu

        yes, please, that would be great!!! I’m hoping to find in the 2″ or so and under realm, I’ve seen a lot of platform kinds, which are not really my thing. thank you!

  22. Irene E

    I’ve been wondering this myself, after picking up a trio of Ann Taylor v-neck tees in bright orange, turquoise, and purple. And I *did* live through the 80’s. 😉 So far, I’ve mainly worn the turquoise with white capris, tho I got brave yesterday and wore them with charcoal grey jeans. The orange has been worn with either brown or khaki. The purple has been worn with blue denim, and once with pale pink capris, but that seemed a little wimpy in comparison. I don’t have any brightly colored bottom pieces right now, so I haven’t been able to do the color on color idea yet. (And I’m not quite sure I’m ready to, honestly!)