Reader Request: Incorporating Neutrals

Neutral-wearing advice for people who LOVE color

Reader Beth e-mailed me this question:

Sometimes–other than a collection of black pants—I feel like I buy too MUCH color. I just don’t feel drawn to neutrals. I am not afraid to mix color, but sometimes I think I’d like more neutrals in my wardrobe but they don’t appeal to me. I know I would it would make many more outfit options available to me.

If you’ll allow a bit of horn-tooting, I’d bet that reading these three posts will be a good place to start:

Black is the neutral that most folks love best and feel most comfortable wearing, but learning how to utilize it intentionally is key to making your black-based looks appear sophisticated. White runs a close second, often serving as a filler for a cardigan/jacket and pant combo in which a camisole or tee is required. And viewing neutrals as a palette that can be played with and mixed can make them seem less daunting. So do take a peek at those posts for a bit of background.

And here are some tips for the neutral-wary that should help you feel more comfortable purchasing and wearing those subdued shades.

Opt for colorful neutrals

Oxymoron, anyone? But the thing is that black, gray, and white are not, technically, colors. Brown, olive, and tan are. They have more richness to them and complement a wider range of true colors, so they may feel more appealing than stark blacks and whites. I’d also throw burgundy into the mix. Not universally accepted as a neutral, but goes well with nearly all colors excepting neons and a few pastels. If you’re a neutral-wary person, ease into neutrals by selecting the more colorful options available.

Go gray

Gigantic caveat: Gray can be tricky because it can have cool or warm undertones, be dark or light, solid or heathered. Gray is a family of colors, not a single shade, and it can feel overwhelming to figure out ways to wear it. But gray is also the neutral that covers the most ground. It works with all other neutrals, all neons, all pastels, all jewel tones, and all primaries. Gray is less harsh than black and softer than white, so gray-based outfits can feel less segmented and blocky. Play with gray in your colorful mixes to see if it feels like a useable neutral.

Try neutral patterns

Solid swaths of neutrals may feel challenging or even dull, but neutral patterns often convey considerably more energy. Black and white patterns are always chic, and work beautifully with cool brights like red, turquoise, and hot pink. Organic prints like florals and paisley look gorgeous with warm and autumnal shades.  And many abstract prints include colors and neutrals, which makes them ideal bridging pieces. If you’re still hesitant to incorporate solids, experiment with some neutral patterns instead.

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11 Responses to “Reader Request: Incorporating Neutrals”

  1. Andrea

    I have no problems with black/white/gray (also, navy!) but struggle with what I think of as “warm” neutrals: browns, tans, olives. I need to pay more attention to how others wear them well, especially people with coloring like mine (pale olive complexion). I often feel washed out in outfits with these colors.

    I just got some awesome burgundy heels and am hoping to make good use of them as neutrals as well! So far I’ve been putting them with anything that has any sort of pinkish color in it, but would love some more suggestions.

    • Ruth

      I have similar coloring to you and warm neutrals make me look ill (and not in the fun Beastie Boys way either). I love grey. I could write at lengths about my love for grey. And white. And black. And navy. I found that cool neutrals (even cool tan/beige/greige) look best on me. I tried to wear warm neutrals and I finally came to the conclusion that I like them as accessories. Even the cool version of a warm neutral like a bittersweet brown vs. a milk chocolate brown doesn’t look right on me though I love cool browns. So, accessories was the answer in the form of shoes/boots, bags, and jewelry. Perhaps try that… or not, and rock on with your preference for cool neutrals over warm ones. 🙂

    • Eleanorjane

      Don’t wear colours that don’t suit you! (or at least not near your face). I happily wear cool beiges, greys, browns etc. but there’s no need for me to go near yellowy beiges, mustard yellow, warm autumny shades. They just don’t suit me and that’s fine.

  2. A.B.

    I’m with Andrea re: warm colored neutrals. But then looking at my wardrobe I tend to gravitate towards cool colors in general. Again because of my complexion. Love the post, and hope it helps me expand my neutrals.

  3. Linda L

    Another colorful dresser here – I definitely wear tan, cream, light grey, navy, olive and taupe more than black and charcoal. Also, InStyle magazine has these pullout cards called “neutral know how” that feature different neutrals and what colors to put with them. I pin them to a cork board in my dressing room and use them for outfit ideas. Mostly, though, I just mix neutrals with colors and patterns. Every so often, I do wear an all neutral outfit – it has to have texture or pattern and at least a couple of different neutrals in order to make me feel great in it – no all black or black bottom/white top outfits for me.

  4. Tragic Sandwich

    I tend to stick to gray and a little black for my neutrals. I’m not crazy about black, because it can look very hard in certain fabrics, but I do really like gray.

    I also like the warmer neutrals, but the idea of buying shoes and bags that work with those, as well as the ones I have for my gray-anchored outfits, holds me back from really embracing them.

  5. Karen

    I use Navy as a substitute for black which completely washes me out! With ashy blonde hair, freckly skin, blue eyes, navy doesn’t drain the life out of my face.

  6. Thursday

    Um, are you sure red isn’t a neutral? 😉

    Seriously, depending on your colour palette, there can be one colour that consistently ties all the others together and grounds them. I have all my accessories (bag, belt, shoes, scarf, gloves, hat, spectacle frames…) available in the same family of red. Red is my best neutral!

    I do also rely on navy and grey a lot myself, but cream, olive and brown are a good supporting cast – the last two usually more casual.

    • Sally

      Ahhh, the neutrality of red! Definitely a contentious topic. As you point out, Thursday, it really depends on your personal color palette. Definitely neutral for some, but not so much for others!