The place of neutrals in your wardrobe

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Neutral shades are really, really useful. Wonderful, restful, reliable. The don’t fight back. They soothe and provide a backdrop to the drama that is your wardrobe.

Here is a Alison Thain who runs a new housing association called Thirteen. She has chosen light neutrals to go with her fair skin and hair, and doesn’t she look lovely? Totally business-like, powerful but approachable. She is wearing flat but fashionable white shoes and a tan belt, with a toning (rather than matchy-matchy) handbag. Her necklace is petite, like her, and her make up is light too.

 Alsion2

Neutrals Rule

But not all neutrals are born equal. Neutrals – like the colours – fit into the categories I mentioned previously. There will be a shade of blue and grey that works best for you, and everyone can wear the mid beige that Alison is wearing. But you can find your best neutral by determining your own colour direction and finding similar hued neutrals to enhance your natural characteristics.

Deep or light?

Deep neutral colour palette
Deep Neutrals

People with deep colouring look great in black, and very dark navy, darkest brown and charcoal. These are the traditional business colours and people with deeper colouring really carry off the look, especially teamed with a white or very light coloured shirt or blouse.

Light neutral colour palette
Light neutrals

People with lighter colouring just look washed out and ill in the traditional shades. Much better is to can choose a mid grey for their business-wear, or a lighter tone of mid grey blue. A light navy can look great, and so can beige, as chosen by Alison above. Cream would be a nice colour for summer, perhaps for a linen suit.

Cool or warm?

Cool neutral colour palette
Cool neutrals

People with cool colouring have a blue undertone to their hair, skin and eyes. The cool colours flatter then and they can really wear any blues or greys for their neutrals and business wear. Very dark brown is good too, and cool beiges and stones will look nice in summer.

Warm neutral palette
Warm neutrals

If you have warm colouring there will be yellow undertones in your hair, lips, eyes and skin. You will probably have naturally golden hair, reddish tones in brown hair, greenish eyes maybe. Anyway if you are warm most shades of brown will enhance your colouring and look good in a business suit. Apparently Churchill (a keen painter) felt sorry for the browns. Some people don’t think men can wear a brown suit, but on the right man or woman it looks wonderful. There are warmer greys and blues too if you prefer to wear more traditional colours. But avoid black.

Bright or muted?

Bright neutral colour palette
Bright neutrals

People with bright colouring – lots of contrast between their hair, skin, eyes and lips – think of Snow White for an extreme example – need to stick to brighter neutrals. All shades of grey to black look good, but brighter blues can be worn for work if you have bright colouring. Perhaps the ideal look is a clear bright charcoal with a bright blue or red tie for a man, or a strongly coloured blouse for a woman.

Muted neutral colour palette
Muted neutrals

People with muted colouring have a lot less contrast, and their natural colours are much softer and more muted. These people suit a muted, greyed off, elegant colour palette. Grey is good, but not the brightest greys. Grey blues are great on people with a muted colour direction. Probably worn with a low contrast shirt or blouse – perhaps a lighter shade of grey-blue and a tie or scarf in similar tones.

 Neutrals for the home sewist

Some  home sewists go mad for bold prints, quilting cottons or colourful fabrics. Compared to cartoon kittens, or a Navaho print, neutrals seem a safe bet. For garments you wear alot they are the natural choice – the business suit, or the coat. Neutrals go with everything. For example a black jacket – if black is your neutral – will go with your entire wardrobe. But you don’t want to dress head to toe in neutrals as they can be a little boring.

A friend visited from the Caribbean. After spending half and hour in London she asked if it was a national day of mourning.     She had never seen so much black and dark, dull neutrality being worn by a population!

Making a number of basic items in the right neutrals for you is a sensible use of your precious sewing time. Colours like grey, black, navy and grey blues suit many of us, but they need some relief. This is why a colourful blouse or scarf, necklace or lipstick looks so good with a neutral outfit.

In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)
In amongst the grey and beige you can spot an orange fox (or squirrel)

Cool, bright, deep and muted should find it easy to buy business wear. The two groups who need to depart from the classic palette are people with warm and/or light colour directions. Here is a nice vintage suit in Camel. Its a great colour if you have warm colouring and looks super with both warm pastels – cream, peach and warm yellows, and with deeper colours like burnt orange, teal and brown.

1960s Camel suit
1960s Camel suit

And light mid grey is a perfect colour for people with lighter colouring – it doesn’t overwhelm and looks good with white, pink, lemon and light blue. Or match it with a similar tone of mid blue, pink or like the model below a grey spotted silk blouse.

Light grey suit (lose the black hat)
Light grey suit (lose the black hat)

5 Responses

  1. How do you know what your neutrals are? ( I know there is interior paint neutrals such as a very pale green – which likely has a name like, “cloud of grass” hahaha).
    I do remember figuring out (years ago) that I was a “Winter” in the Colour Me Beautiful http://www.colormebeautiful.com/ I am confident my skin needs Cool, and bright jewel colours do wonders near my face …I also remember that some of my neutrals were like a burgundy ….. which is very much a “colour” in my mind, and a charcoal — oh!! but back to my original question > How do you determine what your neutral colours are, in fashion fabric? Can you pick any “hue”…and say…”this will be my neutral” ??

    • I should have defined a neutral. These are the mainstays of your wardrobe, around which the rainbow colours play a supporting role. We are talking about shades that generally work well as a backdrop to other colours – black, grey, dark blues and browns, beige, cream and white. On their own a little boring but very useful. So for me charcoal would be a neutral but not burgundy. If you have deep colouring black will be a great neutral. But if your colouring is light then black would not be a good hue to pick and say this will be my neutral. It would be better to choose a light grey or beige, perhaps.

      I don’t really like the CMB/seasons approach which is quite confusing. My approach is more simple, and I think more reliable.

      Everyone has a dominant direction to their colouring from these six – deep/light; cool/warm; bright/muted. Most of us also have a secondary direction too. The only way to be sure is to analyse someone’s colouring in the flesh, in daylight, without make up. Maybe, for fun, I could try a “virtual” analysis Joyce? If you send me a good quality make up free selfie, taken in day light, wearing say a white T shirt so I don’t get distracted, I will do my best to help you decide your dominant direction. Then it will be easy to chose the right colours, including the best neutrals. With your permission I could put it on the blog and see what other people think.

  2. wow, ok, that would be fantastic!! yippieee fun fun fun. I will get to that tomorrow. Thank you so much. Your the best-est ——– still no baby?!!!

    • No baby yet! Hoping for some news today (eight days late…). Great send the photos when convenient – I will answer the black and white question then too!

  3. my issues with black
    I do think its a good Neutral, but the Mr. is always saying..”don’t wear black”, especially in the summer…so I thought I’d switch over to Navy Blue…but that’s so touchy, some are good, some aren’t……. I have had a black and white wardrobe, it has been useful, but I feel a need for a change….(also my mother’s voice rings in my head, “put on a nice white blouse”… and I go for it…but then there is the “restaurant uniform I don’t want to be wearing….. so I need a pattern on top, black on the bottom ( pear shape)……… I need another neutral?? what should it be???

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