10 Ways to Make Wearing Neutrals Beautiful, Not Boring
Add sporty accessories, surprising sparkle and a statement coat, for starters
by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, November 19, 2020
Celebs love bold colors for red carpet photo ops, but when it comes to everyday clothes, they grab neutrals for the same reasons we do: Those go-with-everything shades never go out of style and always look classy. Black is the top neutral pick for most women, but wearing it (or any other neutral) day in and day out can feel more like a uniform and less like fashionable fun. Here are 10 ways to shake things up.
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1. Mix all your neutral colors together
Wearing black tonally head to toe (see tip No. 10) is super easy, so we tend to do that and ignore everything else in our closet. I'm betting there are other neutrals you've been skipping just because pairing them feels too tricky. To really expand your options and max out your wardrobe's full potential, forget the old matchy-matchy rules for a minute and try fresh combos like navy or brown with black and khaki, or brown with gray. Or just a gray suit jacket with a white shirt and your black leggings. Take a look.
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2. Add sparkle and shimmer
Stop saving special occasion items for so-called “dressy” moments. Adding gold or silver metallic tops and shimmery fabrics, shoes or boots will wake up the basics and personalize your look. Anything goes — lurex sweaters from the back of your closet, metallic booties you bought on sale years ago, even that sequin-studded jacket you usually wear to weddings. Make them “everyday” and pair them with joggers, jeans (in black, gray or white) and of course your more refined tailored items, too.
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3. Mix sweet and tough, sophisticated and sporty pieces
Yes, we've learned to wear sneakers with everything from pantsuits to pretty midi dresses. Now take that mindset one step further. You can wear a ruffled dress with combat boots, track pants with a satin blouse, a tailored jacket with joggers and fancy boots. Simply delete the boundaries between work and weekend, sporty and party-festive.
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4. Add white tops to brighten black
Sounds simple, but most of us wear matching black when the chill sets in and forget about the radiance-boosting effects of a white jacket, sweater or blouse. Since white emphasizes and black diminishes, use that color strategy to your advantage. Wear white on top to grab the spotlights and add glow to your face, black on bottom to whittle away extra pounds at the belly, hips and thighs. Give all those white jackets and cardigans you thought were out of season a new life.
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5. Use black or navy to winterize your summer neutrals
Who would wear black leather “winter” boots with white jeans in December or pair a breezy white “summer” midi skirt with knee-high black boots and a black leather jacket in January? You! The whole idea is to push the boundaries between your warm weather and cold weather clothes. Try slinging a black or navy blazer over a white tee and jeans or pair a white print summer dress with black boots for another alternative to all black.
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6. Make black leather leggings a basic
Grab the leggings and then wear them in heavy rotation with all your other neutral items for a real edge. Black leather leggings truly are the best new neutral basic to add now. If you're not a leggings fan, you can get the same black leather rocker vibe from a leather skirt, jeans or pants. Wear it with every neutral jacket, sweater, shirt and blouse you own and feel like a diva.
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7. Collect animal prints
Pick up animal-print tops and dresses whenever they're on sale because they're a big part of keeping neutrals out of a rut and your style lively. Spotty leopard or cheetah patterns always work, but trendy prints in snakeskin, zebra, giraffe or tiger stripes also lift black, brown and beige clothes. Even the demurest dress shapes and classic blouses or blazers can feel feisty with a playful pattern.
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8. Pick statement accessories
Give neutral clothes a jolt with some unexpected add-ons. Any shoes, boots, bags or belts in trendy colors like pink or turquoise (bought impulsively and rarely worn) get a new attitude when paired with winter-y neutrals. So do can't-miss accessories like airy, oversized scarves, lacy black pantyhose and a neon cross-body bag. It's the startling color choice, proportions or texture that make these items work their out-of-the-ordinary magic.
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9. Choose a neutral wow coat
A statement coat is the one item that really makes your entire neutral look gel and probably gets the most wear from November through March. My first choice would be a light contrasting neutral like white, beige or camel. It does double duty illuminating your complexion and all your black clothes. Runners-up include a tailored topcoat — an always-smart classic — but even a white puffer, textured faux fur or tan trench coat (for tropical climates) does the trick.
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10. Enjoy a slimmer profile
I saved the best for last. If you do end up wearing black head to toe, know that the monochromatic look has many built-in advantages. First, an all-black outfit always looks chic and cool, whether you're wearing a dress and boots or a layered mix. Second, the inky-dark hue has the power to delete bulges, jiggles and pounds (and stains, I might add!), so you look trimmer, more toned and taller whether you're a size 10, XL or 3X. Fashion fatigue? Never!