The column of color outfit: an easy formula for effortless chic

If you want to feel put-together with a minimum of fuss, a column of color outfit is an easy option for an effortless and chic look. Today I’m sharing some outfit ideas using a column of color as a starting point.

Susan B. wears a column of color outfit with navy v-neck sweater, long necklace, textured ivory sweater jacket, blue denim cropped jeans, bone mules.

Outfit ideas using a column of color

If you’ve been following my Effortless Style series, you may recall my recent post about 6 simple style formulas for creating effortless outfits. Of all those, I think using a column of color is one of the most easy and foolproof.

While all black is a popular “column” option, really any neutral or color can work. The top and bottom halves don’t have to match exactly but should be close enough so that the eye doesn’t register a horizontal “stopping point.”

Above, I’ve started with a navy + darker denim base, and added interest with a textured sweater jacket and long stone necklace (gifted). Sizes: jacket (Petite Small), jeans (28). (I think this sweater jacket has turned out to be a very good buy! See more sweater jackets here.)

A dress or jumpsuit is another way to get that column of color effect. A suit (or jacket/pants) is another option: the jacket + pants or skirt create the column. The idea is to create a long, unbroken vertical line with color.

Susan B. wears a column of color outfit with a cream hoodie, plaid blazer, off-white jeans, and platform slip-on sneakers.

If you’re petite like I am (5’1″), a column of color outfit can have a slimming and lengthening effect. This even works with more relaxed fit styles as I’m wearing above and below. Sizes above: blazer (Small), hoodie (XS/S), jeans (27).

Here are a couple of previous outfits that utilize the column of color formula:

Outfit ideas from Susan B. using the "column of color"style formula.

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Do you use the column of color concept when putting outfits together?

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  1. I’m 5’3″ and heavier, and I do love the “column of color” approach to dressing. I always feel I need
    the third piece, like a sweater or jacket, which can be a problem for me as I get so warm. My base top has to be something with some coverage; not a cami or thinner tank top as I usually need to remove the jacket/sweater as the weather changes or I just get warmer. I really enjoy your posts and ideas. So creative and attractive! Being retired, mostly, I really appreciate your casual outfit ideas! Thank you!

  2. For the second time in a week or so, when I open your blog and start to read, a screen interrupts me, asking to to subscribe before I can continue. I will not let me go on without subscribing. But, I have been subscribed for years – I really enjoy your blog. Maybe this is intentional, but I’m just saying so that you can have it fixed if it is not your intention. About column of colour: it was interesting for me to see that the column can be made up of the top and bottom BUT ALSO the bottom and the 3rd piece like the jacket.

    1. Hi Gayle, I’ve asked my tech support to fix the popup. You can always close the box by clicking the small x in the upper right hand corner.

      1. I too have to click on the x every time I read the blog. Hope they can solve it because is really annoying in the context of things. I am a longtime reader of your wonderful blog.

  3. I share Gayle’s feelings about popups. I realize it’s a petty annoyance to have to x out of it but I think it’s because I’m enjoying what I’m reading then “POP”. First world problems. But if it could be fixed that would be nice. BTW, I have discontinued subscribing to a lot of blogs. But yours I continue because I enjoy your style so…..and I’m an Autumn and I can wear a lot of your clothes!

    1. This CAN be fixed by allowing cookies on your computer. The cookie tells the system you’ve been there before and that you’ve already subscribed. But every time you clean out your cookies (or your antivirus software prevents them in the first place), you will get the pop up box welcoming you and inviting you to subscribe. A solution is to eliminate the box, but that then prevents new visitors from signing up easily.

  4. Susan,

    A great tutorial on column dressing. I am 5’3 so this is very helpful. I love the hoodie and blazer look! I believe I am an autumn, as I have auburn hair, a fair complextion and blue eyes. What colors in the H&M Hoodie would fall under autumn? Thank you.

    1. Hi Cynthia, thanks! I’m not familiar with an H&M hoodie. The Me and Em one I’ve shown here (Cream) could work for an Autumn, and some Autumns could wear the Dijon (yellow) color. In the Quince hoodie the brown, camel and oatmeal colors could all work for an Autumn.

  5. I’m a tall, apple-shaped woman and always use a column of color when dressing. Mine is usually black (I’m a Winter). When working, I’d wear a black sheath dress with a non-black jacket or cardigan, worn open, and perhaps a scarf. Now retired, I wear black leggings, generally a black top, and then a non-black jacket or sweater or open sweatshirt, and a more casual scarf. All tops cover my butt, BTW. Women in leggings need to consider the rear view before leaving the house!

  6. I’m 5′ 2″ tall and also enjoy wearing a column of color. I’ve decided to look for more interesting third-piece items. I’m a winter and very much a classic dresser who shudders at the thought of too much pattern other than perhaps stripes or small checks. Maybe more textural items will work. I envy you for being able to wear some regular-sized tops. I almost always need petites to fit my narrow shoulders and short arms! I love the sweater jacket you’re wearing, and it does come in petites; however, the colors aren’t good for me. The search is on!

  7. If black is not in your season, it can be challenging to find tops and bottoms that go together well enough to wear as a column of color. Especially online because the computer screen can change the way a color looks and sometimes it is not accurately described. I love the look but it’s not as easy to put together for some of us.

    1. If you buy them from the same brand they will usually match. That has always been my solution. Also, if they’re different textures, they don’t need to match exactly.

      1. Good to know- I am an Autumn and there are so many shades of brown, beige, camel etc- my neutrals- and I struggle to find ones that create a column. Maybe I am being too picky about it. Thanks!!

        1. Hi Lulu, I don’t think the pieces need to match exactly, just that they’re close enough to not create a contrasting horizontal line. In all of the outfits I’ve shown here the column pieces aren’t perfectly matched.

          1. Thank you! I’ll remember to avoid having a contrasting horizontal line and not worry about exact matches. Great info!

          2. Basically, it’s about the *value* (light or dark quality) of the pieces. As Susan says, you don’t want to see a horizontal line. In theory a pair of light gray jeans and a light blue or pale lavender top could work. It’s the contrast of the pieces that you want to avoid.

  8. The column of color works with prints, too, if the background color of the print matches the other piece in the equation and has enough “space”. Eyelet tops/dresses create another “texture” to add some spice to the column. The column of color is foolproof for any body shape.

  9. Susan, could you give some tips on creating a column of color without using a third piece? All of your examples include one, and our summers are often too hot for that. Other than wearing a
    scarf, how to keep a two piece column from being boring?