How to wear navy: 3 easy outfit ideas

Navy can be a versatile and flattering neutral in your wardrobe. If you’re looking for an alternative to black, or to lighten up your basics for spring and summer, don’t shy away from navy. Today I’m sharing three easy navy outfit ideas to try…

Some of you have requested that I show outfits that don’t include jeans 😆. While I do wear jeans 90% of the time, I’ve been trying out some alternatives that are easy to wear, travel-friendly, and can dress up or down. Of all the neutrals, navy best ticks those boxes for most of us. (And there’s a navy for every seasonal palette, so it can be universally flattering.)

Casual outfit ideas with navy

I’ll admit, I’ve often struggled with navy, associating it with a more corporate or conservative look. But it can also have a sporty or nautical vibe, and doesn’t have to be relegated to the office. Here’s how I styled a pair of navy trousers in casual or “smart casual” outfits.

Striped and simple

Susan B. wears a striped sweater, silk scarf, navy trousers and gold metallic sneakers.

For all three outfits, I’ve started with the “Kate” pants from J.Crew. They’re available in Misses sizes 00-24, also in Petite and Tall lengths. I’m wearing the 6 Petite, and find they run true-to-size.

This is a medium navy, in between the Bright Navy from the Spring palette and the darker navy from Winter. When it comes to navy trousers (or skirts), I think you can “fudge” a bit and wear a shade that’s not a perfect match for your palette.

Adding striped sweater is a no-brainer for me. 😉 This one’s a nice lightweight ribbed cotton; I’m wearing size Small. The scarf is a vintage Chanel I’ve had for some years. This one is quite pretty (Summers), and here’s one in a fun shoe & purse print (Autumns & Springs). Winters, this one’s quite good.

If you want to “casualize” your navy trousers, footwear is key. Sneakers, ballet flats, and espadrilles are all good options. The gold sneakers (more sizes HERE) are fun and insouciant, but a little lower contrast than a white pair would be.

Layered sweaters

Scrolling through some of the street style images from Paris recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of “sweater tied over shoulders” looks. It provides some extra warmth without wearing another layer to add bulk. (If I were going out now though, I’d probably include a jacket too.) I could also have worn the cardigan tied over the striped sweater, but wanted to mix it up.

Many of you have expressed concern about mixing your non-matching navy pieces. You absolutely can! The trick is to vary the textures or fabrics between the pieces. Though the two navy pieces above are close in color, mixing a knit piece with a woven piece keeps it intentional and from looking like you got dressed in the dark. You could also wear a woven navy tweed or boucle jacket or top.

These raffia platform oxfords are a couple of years old but still a favorite pair. They’re comfortable and add some interesting texture to simple outfits. Here are some raffia styles (no platform) that are more budget-friendly:

Sam Edelman | Carrie Forbes | Clergerie (pre-owned, size 9) | Tory Burch

The dialed-down suit

Susan B. styles a navy suit casually with a graphic tee, colorful bead bracelets, and gold metallic sneakers.

In my recent post, “How to create the ultimate 12-piece travel capsule wardrobe,” I mentioned that if I were planning to travel soon, I’d probably pack a suit. For daytime, it can be dialed down with a graphic (or striped, or plain) tee and sneakers. To dress it up, just replace the tee and sneakers with a blouse and loafers, low-heeled pumps, slingbacks, or a dressy sandal. (And of course, you can wear the pieces separately.)

This is the “Goldilocks” blazer I featured here. It’s the same fabric and color as the pants. (The lighting makes the pants look lighter.) I’m wearing 6 Petite in both the blazer and pants.

Navy by season…

As I mentioned above, there’s a navy for every season. But I want to add a few caveats…

  • don’t worry if something isn’t an EXACT match for the navy in your seasonal palette, especially if you’ll be wearing it below the waist. A medium navy will coordinate well with most colors.
  • If your coloring is light, very warm, or very low-contrast, you may not want to wear navy near your face without adding a scarf or lighter top (in one of your best colors) with it.
  • YES, you can wear navy with black, brown, olive or just about any other neutral in your palette.

Winters, your navy is dark and saturated. You want to avoid colors that look faded, soft, or washed out. Winter navy is usually pretty easy to find. Check out Vince “Coastal” for some examples.

Fellow springs, our navy is also saturated, but lighter and brighter than Winter’s. It’s also hard to find at the moment! Many of J.Crew’s navy pieces are workable, though a little darker than ideal. Also check out the Caslon color “Peacoat” at Nordstrom.

Summers, your ideal navy is soft and not too deep. Some slightly faded navy shades can work for you. Eileen Fisher’s “Ocean” is one of the best I’m seeing for you this season.

Autumns, your “Marine Navy” is a color I often think of as “petrol.” And it’s a bit tough to find this season. The Eileen Fisher color “Deep Adriatic” is also good in many styles.

If you’re looking for more colors in your seasonal palette, check out the sections on my SHOP page by each season: WINTER | SPRING | SUMMER | AUTUMN

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  1. Susan, your new format is great.
    I love navy. A pair of navy slacks is an easy style lift for jeans when we want an elevated look. Plus many of the things we wear with jeans will work! Thanks for showing new combinations.

  2. You did a great job in showing this. You got me inspired. Ia ma about to but a blue and white striped sweater and my thoughts didn’t reach further than jeans. But I do own a pair of pretty blue cropped trousers. I will wear it with that.
    And I will try and style my suits with fun T-shirts.

    1. Thanks, Greetje! I’ve also been inspired by how you work your trousers into more casual outfits.

  3. I enjoy your blog! I appreciate your attention to the different seasons. I’m a “soft autumn.” I, too, wear denim 90% of the time as my lifestyle is pretty casual these days. Navy is one of my neutrals and I love its versatility.

  4. Really nice and helpful blog today. Thank you! Can you tell me who makes your glasses frames? They are great.

  5. Thanks for this helpful post. I agree, navy is wonderful in all its permutations. I just treated myself to some of the oceans you provided a link to. Such a beautiful color and a perfect, less-casual substitute for the jeans I usually wear.

  6. Thanks for this post Susan. I love that you are mixing it up a bit, and showing us some jeans alternatives. And the advice on hues, including brands, is so very helpful. As is the encouragement to not obsess too much on matching I like the idea of using texture as part of an outfit’s composition.

    If I didn’t think that I was a Winter before, all I have to do is put on a very dark navy top and my coloring comes alive. I like to wear navy and pale grey in fall and winter, thanks for some springtime options.

  7. I have a much-loved pair of Eileen Fisher washable stretch crepe pants in Midnight, the beautiful dark navy she used to make. One thing I don’t generally like about navy cotton pants is how they fade — but the EF fabrics hold their color, esp the stretch crepe, making them so reasonable in terms of cost per wear. Love!

  8. Hi Susan: I can’t seem to get sizing correct. I ordered the SM in the cotton V neck cardigan and it’s looking too big. Yours looks like it might be an X-SM? Thanks
    PS I’m still trying to figure out how to get down to you in LA.

  9. I love that petrol color! I look good in winter colors, but I have a petrol blue velvet bathrobe that looks just smashing with my greying hair! It brings a smile to my face every time.

  10. I have a couple of Echo scarves. The colors are just beautiful. When I wear one with non-exact navies, I figure there is at least one shade in the scarf that matches each navy piece, so it’s all tied together in my mind.

  11. Susan, i have followed you for several years and i love everything about California and Paris! I would love to know more about what “season” I relate with. i think i am a summer but i am not sure. Would love to take your course but i live in Texas. Is there a website i could go to that would help me decide on what colors look best on me? I have medium blond hair that has a few strands of gray showing, fair to medium toned skin with red undertones and dark brown eyes. I recently quit highlighting my hair so it still appears blond. Thanks for your help!

  12. I rarely comment, but wanted you to know that there are many items in my current wardrobe that were originally brought to my attention by your blog.

    The most recent? The Lowell Loafter (by Sam Edelman). My local Nordy’s had them and during shopping trip with/daughter, I saw, tried and bought. It was a 2-minute transaction. No question that these will be one of my most versatile purchases this year.

  13. Hi Susan,
    I’ve hopped here from your post on denim and was so relieved when I saw you acknowledge that some people don’t want to wear denim. I suspect this may especially apply to readers from outside the US. Navy is definitely my go-to unless I am sitting around the house on a cold winter’s day when a pair of warm jeans is definitely a comfort. When I turned 50 my husband declared that he really didn’t like jeans on people “our age” (men included). At the time I thought this was a bit of an excessive stance, but now I’ve turned 60 and I look around… and I feel I have hit my limit. So yay! And thank you for acknowledging that not everyone wants to live in denim.