Posts Tagged ‘neutrals’

I’ve been away and I have a lot to report. Reports about what to wear to funerals and to the hospital. Reports on Business Casual, 8 degrees (F) . But my first priority is that I have to tell you to mix dark neutrals together. 

Many of us come from a tradition that divides dark neutrals into two categories: Gray/black on one side of the line, and brown (maybe with black) on another.  I had a hard time getting over this, myself. Now I have a hard time explaining why.  Black is the darkest shade of both brown and gray. Brown is generally more red in hue, while gray is more blue or green.  So what?  This is the same tradition that always matches a black leather belt to a black leather shoe, and if one is wealthy enough, one also matches one’s handbag each day.  If you are thinking, “yes, but I fell into this habit before the War,” then fine, I’m not talking to you. You can also wear Chanel No. 5 as your signature fragrance.  If you do not want to be mistaken for your own mother (no matter how beautiful and classy she may be), step one is to stop being all matchy-match. Especially with dark neutrals.

Mixing gray and brown together instantly updates your look. It doubles your outfit possibilities. Most importantly, it frees you from a useless fashion “rule” that is doing nothing but holding you back.  If you have been wanting to jazz up your style but you’re stuck on a few favorite pieces that fit you well? Mix dark neutrals. If you are on a spending moratorium and won’t buy new clothes until after you pay off your Christmas Visa Bill (ahem, me)? Mix dark neutrals. If you are in love with a pair of brown boots, but conflicted on whether to get them because your clothes are all back and gray? Lucky you if that’s your only problem. Mixing dark neutrals is your answer.

Denim is also a neutral, so mix it up. Like all neutrals, worry more about how dark it is and less about the hue.  Very dark denim probably won’t look as good with light dove gray. But if all the colors are saturated and dusky (chocolate, charcoal, midnight blue), they will most likely work.
Black is an indispensable companion but some days it is a false friend.  Too much black weighs you down. Black is more difficult to mix with color — charcoal and gold might be awesome but black and gold is a bumble bee waiting to happen. Black is like dairy: When you hear about people giving it up, you might think they are crazy and you could never live like that, but maybe that means you are addicted or at least lazy, and you should maybe try to dial back a bit on the Rocky Road.
Speaking of that, I’m cranky, my clothes don’t fit, it’s been a terrible fall, and I have no idea why I’ve got those stupid wide margins on the narrow pictures.  I will straighten this all out soon. I will also post a hilarious picture of me falling over trying to demonstrate my boots. 
. . . And I know that you can’t totally tell the colors apart in these pictures, because the flash makes the light weird. That is the point! No one studies the color difference in the real world, either.  We’re all just walking around in the dark, trying to find socks that match, hoping for a little flash of light.

Gray dress with black boots. Black velvet jacket contrasts severely; brown textured linen is more muted. Yes that is a bandaid on my knee instead of hosiery.

Brown BCBG knit dress, black tights, black boots.

Brown dress, black tights, black boots. I do like this one better with brown boots. . .

. . . but add in the gray sweater and I prefer gray/brown/black to gray/brown/brown.

Brown turtleneck (my favorite winter clo for the past 20 years), denim skirt, black tights, black boots.

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Contributed by Jennie S.

Well, maybe not EVERYTHING, but he was definitely the guiding force in the development of my style as I moved from gormless child in Sears dungarees, to punky thrift-store teen diva, to drama and art style-influenced adult. There wasn’t the money to wear what the popular kids at school did, but the lessons I learned from him gave me the skills and inspiration to create my own look, and I’ll always be grateful (I miss you, Uncle Ray). While many of his ideas may really only be news to someone age 12, not experienced dressers, they still guide me today, and I’d like to to share some of them.

Number One: “Wow, your clothes all look so great together, they always match each other! I only seem to be able to wear the same things together all the time.”

We were standing at his closet as he packed a few items for a day out on a friend’s boat followed by an evening out (fabulous, of course) – I still have a vivid memory of this conversation. Ray, an interior designer by profession, laid out 7 or 8 pieces and demonstrated the concept that’s ruled my world ever since. This was the early 80’s, and all of his clothes were white, gray, turquoise or a clear blue red. The mix and match possibilities were endless. He even had incredible pieces like a white straw fedora with a turquoise band, and deep red boat shoes.

Evoking Uncle Ray

Evoking Uncle Ray

Ray purchased all his clothes using the metric of “2 neutrals, 2 colors”. His neutrals were white and gray, which suited the Southern Cali style he sported, even while he lived here, and his colors were turquoise and red, which were both fashionable at the time, and flattering to his complexion. By filtering all potential clothing purchases through that rule, he could quickly and easily decide whether to buy something and whether it would go with anything else in his wardrobe. He encouraged me to apply this rule myself, adding a 3rd color once I amassed a large enough wardrobe.

While I color matched through high school and college, it really became crucial to extending a small wardrobe as I started my first professional jobs. In the early 90’s the neutrals were black and navy, and the colors purple and dark green (I wore my hair red then). Over time, I phased out the navy (which, to be honest, I never had that much of), added in gray, went from green to the color red as I changed my hair to blonde, and eventually added the third color range of turquoise, probably the most flattering color I can wear.

Lamb Ruffled Blazer

L.A.M.B. jacket

This makes my shopping incredibly fast. For instance, the L.A.M.B. jacket from the Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale — not only did the shape attract my eye, but the gray/red color scheme announced it as securely within my schema. If the jacket had been khakis and browns I would have admired the design, but left it alone. And a few years ago when I saw purple Victorian boots in Vancouver, I knew to just buy them because I’d have plenty to match them to.

So – currently I have neutrals of black and charcoal/gray, and colors of turquoise, red and purple.  Note that ‘color’ actually refers to a whole range of tones from lighter to darker, and a even maybe couple of adjacent slices in the appropriate range, so it really covers a LOT room within the color.

Color Wheel

Color Wheel

But wait — if you are using all sorts of different tones – how does it work if your reds don’t all match, or your purples? Or even your neutrals! (like my issue with grays).

Number Two:
Two similar but non-exact colors paired together look like a mistake. But three or more look wealthy and slimming.  Especially if they are similar in hue but different in tone (light/dark).  Looking at the color wheel above, take a slice (or two) adjacent to each other and follow them as they get darker and lighter. All sitting next to each other, they look great, don’t they?

Check out the Style Bubble blog post where the author demonstrates some really terrific monochromatic dressing.

Monochromatic Dressing

Turquoise Monochrome

And of course, mixing accessories of the colors in really solidifies the look, which makes it fun when you find great boots or a hat or handbag in your color scheme. Obviously you can do the monochromatic thing with your neutrals too, and probably will more often — here’s some incredible grays (I adore everything here, by the way):

Monochromatic Neutrals

Bottega Venetta Fall 2008

Finally, it’s terrific for travel, for obvious reasons – I love setting out mix and match outfits on my bed before packing them for a conference or a vacation and then adding something silly like a matching hat or a shawl I picked up or knitted for the trip And it’s like Uncle Ray is looking over my shoulder as I do.

Number Three: Whatever you are wearing, WEAR IT.

Carson Kressley

Carson Kressley Struts

Before the world had Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Carson Kressley on Bravo to exort the strut and pose, I had my Uncle Ray. Once committed to an outfit, he’d dip the hat, tie the ascot, shoot the cuffs and he’d WORK IT. This was probably his most valuable tip. He taught me to look secure and act fabulous, even at 12 when I most certainly didn’t look it or feel it. I carried that punk attitude through some of the craziest outfits from high school on, and dammed if I didn’t always get away with it!   So, once you’ve picked your look – shoulders back, chest up, stride it out, baby – strut your stuff.

Thanks again, Ray — we still miss you!

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