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How to Wear Neutral Colors – Building Your Basic Wardrobe

How to Wear Neutrals

Black and other neutral colors are the most basic and popular choices used in fashion. They are widely available and a must for even the most minimal wardrobe. However, the way you wear them depends on your seasonal color type and contrast level. 

In this post, I am going to break down how each of the four seasons can best utilize neutral colors specifically for their color type. Since these colors are so basic you may be thinking “Yeah, yeah… I already know what these are.” or you may even have an aversion to wearing them since they can be regarded as “boring”.

While it’s true they can be boring I am going to cover some ways you can mix things up to get the most out of these very essential core colors that will hopefully give you a fresh perspective and maybe even get you to like or dare I say it – love them.

What Are Neutral Colors?

What Are Neutral Colors?

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So what are these “neutral” colors anyway? Sometimes referred to as “earth tones” these hues are basically timeless foundation colors. You most often see these colors in nature in tree bark, rocks, dirt, sand, dried grasses, water, etc. They are the result of two complementary or the four primary colors combining and blending together with the exception of black and white of course. Black and white combine to make gray. When black is added to a color it deepens it while white lightens it. Adding gray has a softening effect.

Basic Neutral Colors

  • Black
  • White
  • Gray
  • Brown
  • Khaki/Taupe
  • Beige
  • Blue

Metallic Neutrals

  • Gold/Rose Gold
  • Platinum
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Copper
  • Pewter

Since neutrals are a blend they often have an undertone. They can contain a lot of yellow and/or red giving them a warm undertone. Some neutrals have blue or purple undertones making them cooler. You can even find neutrals with green undertones.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I am a nerd and I love nerding out about color. Actually, it is because these basic foundation colors are also found in and form the base of your own natural coloring. These colors are at the base of the colors in your hair, skin, and eyes and contribute to your undertones and overall seasonal color type.

Knowing exactly which neutrals are contained within your body colors is very important. Color analysis is all about finding harmony through color. So, if what you are wearing (and this applies to all color) is even a little bit off you are not going to look your best. It’s similar to music – one wrong note or chord can ruin the whole song.

How Do You Wear Neutral Colors?

How to Find Your Best Neutrals

These hues are most often used to create the core foundation of your wardrobe however they can also make up your wardrobe as a whole if you like to keep things simple. Autumns and Springs have predominantly warm undertones so they can’t go wrong with warm browns and beiges. Summers and Winters are on the cooler side and look best in grays that are pure or have a blue undertone as well as grayed browns and beiges.

Wear them as –

  • Tops/Sweaters
  • Jackets/Blazers
  • Coats
  • Pants/Skirts
  • Hats
  • Shoes
  • Belts
  • Jewelry and other accessories

These colors can be worn as cosmetics as well – use them as eyeshadows, mascara, eyeliners, and even nail polish.

How Do You Make Wearing Neutrals More Interesting?

How to Make Wearing Neutral Colors More Interesting

The best way to keep these colors fun, fresh, and interesting is by mixing different tones and fabric textures. Light, medium and dark colors combined in various different textures such as soft, smooth, rough, and shiny/sparkly exactly as you would find in nature.

Think a textured wool blazer in dark brown or grey, a soft sweater or blouse/t-shirt in a light beige, pants or a skirt in a medium gray or brown, and shiny metallic accessories. This example is of a monochromatic look so if this is not your thing you can always add a pastel or bright fashion color if you wish. You can also mix and match different patterns.

Neutral Patterns/Textures

  • Stripes/Pinstripes
  • Checks
  • Polka Dots
  • Glen Plaids
  • Houndstooth
  • Tweed
  • Knits/Embroidery
  • Lace

These same principals can be applied to cosmetics as well – mix shiny/glossy, sparkly/glittery, and velvety or matte textures to create stunning makeup looks. Professional makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes is a master at this. If you don’t know who she is I highly recommend you check out her official website and Instagram.

Katie Jane Hughes

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I mean look at how she perfectly matched her eyeshadow colors with the exact neutral colors in her eyes. Gorgeous! When I come across images like this online I do a little happy dance. It’s so refreshing when I see someone get it this right. She nailed it! (insert applause) This is what we should all strive for if we really want to look our best 24/7.

The Best Neutrals for Winters

The Best Neutrals For Winters

The best and most versatile neutrals in the Winter palette come straight from the Grayscale. These shades are pure in tone with nothing else added. Literally black and white in this case.

You see these shades in nature in the form of ice, snow, clouds, minerals, metals, and even some plants. Water also reflects these silvery tones during this time of year as well. Tree bark and damp earth take on these cooler deeper tones.

Black is probably the most popular neutral and wardrobe staple in existence. Fashion stylists stress the importance of having the perfect little black dress or finely tailored black suit in your closet and for good reason. It is a lovely and very versatile neutral. But can everyone where it?

I say yes with an exception… Summers are the only season that isn’t as flattered by this color as the other seasons. Summers have the softest coloring of all the seasons and wearing a strong pure black is a bit too harsh for their slightly more delicate coloring. However, there are some ways to make it work which I will discuss later.

This is the best neutral you can have in your wardrobe. Black is highly complementary to your natural depth. Winters and Autumns have the deepest colors out of the four seasons. Yes, even if you have light brown or even blonde hair your coloring can take this very strong color.

Winters have a very high chroma and usually have deep hair or eyes or both. Lighter haired Winters tend to have dark or bright eyes and of course, Winters can also have a very deep skin tone.

Winter Neutral Colors in Nature

You may not “look” dark and that is okay. If you are a Winter then you can handle the deeper and brighter colors and if you were to stand next to a Summer or someone from another season your stronger coloring would be more obvious.

That’s why it is good to have comparisons of comparable magnitude especially if your contrast level is more medium to light. You can find a good example of this on the page covering the Summer Seasonal Color Type where I compare Jennifer Garner (Summer) and Sandra Bullock (Winter).

If you could only have one neutral in your entire wardrobe this is the one you should pick. It will combine perfectly with any other color in your wardrobe or you can wear it as a standalone color if you wish. You want to go with the deepest purest black you can find.

You may not know but black just like any color can have an undertone – some have a red undertone, purple, orange, yellow or green. So again look for the purest one you can find that has a blue undertone when you hold it up to the light.

Gray ranging from light and icy to deep is another great choice. You can’t go wrong with these colors. Like black, these also need to be very pure in tone. Think cold and cool just like a snowy winter day.

Your metals – silver and pewter also fall into this category and can be worn in clothing as well. These are derived from and combine perfectly with black and with each other. You could create an entire wardrobe using these monochromatic tones if you wanted to.

  • Deep True Gray/Charcoal
  • Medium True Gray
  • Pewter
  • Light True Gray
  • Silver Gray

Browns and Beiges are also on the deeper and cooler side for the most part with some slightly warmer shades mixed in.

  • Deep Black-Brown
  • Deep Cool and/or Bronzed Taupes
  • Deep Red-Brown/Burgundy Browns
  • Muted Golden Beiges (more yellow than orange in undertone than the Autumn golden beige)

Your gold and bronze metallics fit into this category as well. These shades will be especially harmonious if your hair is in the medium to light range, but look stunning on deeper brunettes as well.

Navy Blue is another great neutral. Look for very deep inky blues just like you would find in the Winter night sky. Some are so deep that at first glance they look black. This is what you are going for but slightly lighter versions will look fantastic as well.

Winter Fabrics - Neutral Colors

Choose fabrics that have medium to high sheens such as –

  • Satin
  • Shiny Leather
  • Fur
  • a very Fine Knit like Cashmere or a plush smooth Velvet
  • Lace or Brocade can look quite nice too
  • Shiny Metallics in Silver, Gold, and Bronze look stunning on Winters

The Best Neutrals for Springs

The Best Neutrals for Springs

Spring neutrals are mostly warm with a lightness and brightness to them as you would expect from this bright clear season. The browns and grays in this palette have a distinct yellow undertone. They are a bit lighter and clearer than the warm neutrals found in the Autumn palette.

Black can be worn by Springs and is especially flattering on dark haired Springs. It looks best if used as an accent color or when combined with a neutral pastel such as rich ivory or a warm pastel pink or apricot. This helps soften the effect just enough to keep it from looking too harsh by lowering the contrast ever so slightly.

Springs are clear and bright but they are also a little more delicate just as Summers tend to be. Wearing open necklines, strapless tops and dresses or light delicate fabrics is another great way to wear black that also helps to lower the contrast against your skin tone.

Spring Neutral Colors in Nature

Browns such as –

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Brown Sugar and Fawn

These warm brown shades are lovely choices for all Springs. Think rich, warm, and clear. The majority of your basic wardrobe should be made up of these classic colors.

Grays and Beiges are also more warm than cool with a distinct yellow undertone –

  • Putty or Clay
  • Milky Tea and warm Sand tones come to mind.

Warm grays can be hard to find at times so just do your best. Look for grays and beiges that just aren’t too blue or purple in the undertone, keep them in the medium to light range and they will look great on you.

Clear Navy is another gorgeous neutral in the Spring color palette. It is lighter and brighter than the dark inky navy of the Winter palette. Imagine a deep cool glassy lake or an evening sky just after twilight but before all of the light has faded. These are the shades you are going for.

Spring Neutral Color Fabrics

Choose fabrics that have medium to high sheens and fairly fine texture –

  • Satin
  • Leather
  • Fur
  • Fine Knits
  • Velvet
  • Lace or brocade
  • Light Cotton
  • Tweed
  • Shiny metallics in Bright Gold, Rose Gold, Bright Copper, and Bright Silver

The Best Neutrals for Summers

The Best Neutrals for Summers

Summer neutrals are softer and cooler in tone. They all have a dusting of gray making them more muted than the other season’s neutrals. Despite this, there is nothing blah about them. There is a beautiful richness that really brings out the best in Summers and looks stunning on them. The only time a neutral or any color looks blah on you is if it is not really your color because it’s not blending with your undertones.

Black-Brown is a better choice for Summers than black because it is less harsh against your softer coloring.

  • Espresso/Mink
  • Red-Browns like Cherrywood or Rosewood
  • If you really love black then wear it in a fabric that has a soft sheen or matte texture.

A lower neckline (i.e. showing a little more skin) or even a strapless with makeup and jewelry or a tie for men (with a shirt of course) in the correct coordinating colors from the Summer palette can work too. This will help soften the overall effect and can look really great.

Summer Neutral Colors in Nature

Muted Golden Browns, Gray-Browns and Beiges can also be found in the Summer palette. Even though some of these are shades are on the warmer side they have gray added to them and are therefore softer and a bit cooler in comparison to the truly warm neutrals found in Autumn and Spring.

Look for shades of –

  • Cocoa
  • Brown Sand
  • Softly Muted Golds
  • Medium to Light Grayed Browns and Beiges

You see these colors in nature as dried grasses, river rocks, and in the fur of squirrels and feathers of doves.

Charcoal Blue and Blue-Gray ranging from deep to very pale look absolutely stunning on Summers but drab on anyone else. Only Summers can pull off grays with a lot of blue added to them.

Grays with a lavender undertone look great too. These are a must-have for any Summer wardrobe. Picture stormy skies, mist after a heavy rainstorm, soapstone or slate.

Grayed Navy or Soft Navy is another lovely Summer neutral. Look for deep shades of blue with just a touch of gray added. It will appear softer and less intense than a Winter navy but will look absolutely gorgeous on you. Like the color of ripe blueberries or indigo.

Summer Neutral Fabric Colors

Choose fabrics that have some weight to them and a more matte or even rough texture –

  • Cotton/Denim
  • Seersucker
  • Linen
  • Knits (chunky or cozy)
  • Velvet
  • Lace, Eyelet, Embroidery or brocade
  • Leather
  • Tweed/Boucle
  • Raw Silk
  • Metallics in Silver, Gold, Pewter, Rose Gold

The Best Neutrals for Autumns

The Best Neutrals for Autumns

Autumn and neutral colors are almost synonymous. This is because there are so many beautiful shades of brown and gold during this time of year. The Autumn neutrals anything but dull or boring. They are rich, deep, and warm just like you (if you happen to be an Autumn and just happen to be reading this).

Black and Black-Brown look great on Autumns. Their coloring can tolerate stronger deeper colors just like Winters can. After all these two seasons are the darkest times of the year and that natural depth is contained in an Autumns natural coloring and within the Autumn Color Palette.

  • Look for shades of black (softer and not as pure as the Winter black)
  • Espresso/Dark Chocolate
  • Mink

Autumn Neutrals in Nature

Warm Grays that are more yellow or green than blue in undertone look very nice on Autumns. They can be worn in any value from light to deep. Colors such as –

  • Warm Charcoal
  • Deep Cloud Gray
  • Warm Misty Gray
  • Pewter
  • Putty

Golden BrownsRed-Browns, and Golden Beiges are also found in the Autumn palette. These shades have yellow and orange undertones like –

  • Cinnamon
  • Muted Gold
  • Wheat
  • Camel

These are I guess what you would call “typical” Autumn colors and are what usually come to mind when one thinks of this seasonal color type.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. These colors look great on Autumns and really help bring out their deep rich coloring. That’s a great reason to make these the foundation of your wardrobe. These colors never go out of style.

Gray-Greens are great basic colors for this season as well. Wear them in hues ranging from dark to light –

  • Olive
  • Lichen
  • Khaki (Jake from State Farm knew what was up), and Army Green are some classic examples.

Marine Navy is the best navy for Autumns. It is slightly softer than the Winter navy and has a tinge of green like a deep stormy sea. It looks great on its own or when combined with other colors.

Metallics look nice on all of the seasons but they look exceptionally beautiful on Autumns so I thought I should make a special note about this. Autumn’s hair and eyes contain a lot of golds and brassy tones so naturally warm metallics really bring out these characteristics.

So, if you are an Autumn don’t shy away from using these heavily in your wardrobe, cosmetics, and accessories. Men can use these in ties, belts, shoes, watches, etc.

Autumn Neutral Color Fabric

Choose fabrics that have some weight to them and a more matte or rough texture –

  • Cotton/Denim
  • Twill
  • Linen
  • Knits (chunky or cable)
  • Velvet
  • Lace
  • Brocade
  • Leather/Suede
  • Fur
  • Tweed/Boucle
  • Raw Silk
  • Metallics in Gold, Bronze, Copper, and Pewter

Image Sources:

Silver Metallic Fabric (Winter collage) – https://tinyurl.com/yab86f8y

Deep Cool Brown Leather Fabric (Winter collage) – https://tinyurl.com/y9xufbpy

Navy Blue Crushed Velvet Fabric (Winter collage) – https://tinyurl.com/yacpbdjy

Muted Gold Lace Fabric (Winter collage) – https://tinyurl.com/ya38tonq

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