Monochrome dressing

Monochrome is popularly understood to mean wearing black and white. So ubiquitous is this look that it can be relied on to turn up in large numbers at everything from a provincial office to a middle class wedding. Once reserved for prison officers and waitresses it is now the architypal  needs-no-thought-or-effort look. I, for one, ache for a change in the fashion.

Actually to compound the problem this look is also misnamed. Monochrome means one colour – shades of white or black might qualify, if they were colours. But they are not – they are really an absence of colour. The Monochrome look is perfect for people who need a subtle but interesting look. It’s the first choice for people with muted colouring and good for lighter and warmer shades too. Here I am wearing another of my self-drafted Curvy-Pencil skirts with plain Uniqlo T-shirt and M&S cardi. Not only are the three items almost exactly the same shade of turquoise/bluey green, there is an absence of pattern too. What stops this looking too much? Firstly I would suggest that the belt (turquoise with silver) and the shoes are not quite matchy-matchy. The outfit would look wrong if there was a fourth or fifth element in the exact same shade- for example turquoise tights – ergh!).  My purple glasses also bring in a second shade. The buttons on the cardi are dark too. I think wearing silver jewellery rather than turquoise (the rock, or plastic) is really important again to provide a little bit of movement for the eye.

Kate Davies in turquoise skirt, Tshirt and cardigan with blue shoes
Another “Curvy Pencil” skirt with a monochrome look

I also like to combine Monochrome with layering. Wear say a long sleeved T, a cropped or ahort sleeved one on top and a skirt or trousers in one shade – mid and deep purples, or varieties of deep and light grey-blues. You can also use a plain or patterned scarf or tie to add another layer of a similar shade. Here is a photograph from that shows a male model (looking “cool” with an unlit cigarette in his mouth) wearing four of five shades of warm brown that beautifully co-ordinate with his own warm brown hair and beard. Here the colours are more clearly differentiated than in my turquoise outfit and we have a variety of textures – the Aran sweater, the slightly furry coat, the smooth fabric of the trousers and the leather bag. But the white shirt (and artful cig), and the dark brown buttons and, I think, shoes, again serves the purpose of making the monochrome work better by providing a contrast.

Man in several shades of light brown textured clothing
Monochrome for men – brown

Here is another nice monochromatic outfit which would work well on someone with light-cool colouring. The model is wearing a light bluish green shirt, a white jumper, mint jacket and light blue coat (with the blue lining revealled by turned back sleeves) with a greenish-blue beret. All the shades are a very similar tone but just different enough to make our gaze move around. The black zip (and her dark hair) actually provides some interest and prevents it looking too sugary. These pictures are just for inspiration!

Woman wearing shades of light blue
Light blue monochrome layers

Here’s a nice everyday interpretation by Nancy Biji who works for Notting Hill Pathways. The close fitting dress and matching bag in a deep pink looking stunning. By keeping her tights and shoes in black, to echo her lovely long hair, we see how elongating and slimming a single shade can be.

Asian woman in purple dress and matching bag
Nancy Biji in monochrome outfit

Rules with Monochrome

If you want to do monochrome well, here is some guidance:

  • don’t assume it’s just black and white – try colour
  • neutrals work very well for this look but, again, try colour
  • look for slight differences in colour rather than buying a matching set from one shop or range
  • if the colour is very similar look for different textures or textiles eg knitted wool with cotton
  • introduce a small amount of another colour to set it off (eg lipstick, buttons, shoes)
  • consider the accessories – they can contribute to the look
  • generally this is a discussion of plain colours but you could try a pattern
  • if you do it in pale blue or similar pastels it’s probably best to avoid travelling by tube.

Monochrome palettes

four purple monocrome swatches
Monochrome – Purples


Monocrome - Reds
Monochrome – Reds



3 Responses

  1. Tim Morton

    It may be fashionable in Nottin’ ‘ill to drop one”s aitches but I always spell monochrome with an h?
    On the other hand I do drop a lot of stitches when I pick up a needle

  2. Stephanie

    Love monochrome dressing. I do it in blues, greens and pinks usually and have to be careful to temper the green especially with something else. I like your outfit – especially the silver accents and the slightly different turquoise of the shoes. The necklace is terrific. I’ve actually never heard of black and white dressing also being referred to as “monochrome.”

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