The outfit color formula I use to look pulled-together

Susan B wears a faux suede tan jacket, red striped tee, boyfriend jeans and leopard print oxfords.

Style tip 👉 Wearing more color doesn’t have to mean wearing ALL color. I’ve done a LOT of experimenting with color since my color analysis in 2019. And while I love how wearing color makes me look and feel, I’ve realized that (at least for me), Less is More.

Above: jacket | tee | charm necklace | lariat necklace | ring | jeans | shoes

My easy outfit color formula

My color comfort zone at the moment relies on neutrals + one color per outfit. (I count denim as a neutral.) If I’m wearing both a scarf and another piece with color, the scarf needs to include the color of the other piece.

I find this formula helps me feel more pulled together, and prevents too many competing focal points on my smaller frame.

Susan B. wears an off-white puffer jacket, green sweater and silk scarf, boyfriend jeans, and white hi-top sneakers.

jacket (similar) | scarf (c/o) (similar) | sweater | jeans | sneakers* (c/o)

I wore this last week for a socially-distanced porch visit with a friend on a cool, breezy day. (Hence the scarf and face mask.)

*For the rest of this month only, save 15% on your first order at Paul Green with code FEMME15

Do you have a formula for incorporating color into your outfits?

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  1. A simple formula but a very clever one. I like that you define denim as a neutral colour. Both the outfits you selected to illustrate your point work very well. They include more than one neutral colour but only one “non-neutral” colour. Needless to say, I’d not previously thought about such an approach but after your deft explanation and convincing examples, I will try it out for myself and see if that aids my quest to be more being “pulled together”.

  2. Very interesting. I have been doing some research, not just about colours, but also what can be termed colour contrast and value contrast in outfits. You have absolutely nailed both of those for yourself, I wish I could do the same 🙂

  3. I hadn’t thought about it like this, but it makes so much sense and makes the foray into color more comfortable. I need to work on finding more neutrals! Thank you for the insightful tip!

  4. Yes, I feel your formula applies not only to a pop of color with a clothing item but also to our makeup and accessory choices. Even our hair color and style add to the total picture. Last but not least, if we wear glasses, the style and color of the frames are huge. I’ve wore glasses since I was a young child and have not wanted them to be the first impression that people would focus on. I would love to see you do a blog on various colors and shapes of eyewear frames. I prefer a color that compliments my eye and eyebrow color.

    1. I wear glasses as well and i often feel they compete with my jewelry and outfit. I would love for you do a post on glasses!

      This post made a lot so sense and was great!

      1. Darlene – agree with your comment about glasses competing with jewellery. I’d love to wear longer earrings, but feel there’s too much going on when wearing larger & bold framed glasses like I wear. So, resort to studs.
        Susan – could you address this issue? Thanks!

        1. I totally agree with both ladies comments about glasses competing with jewelry. I don’t wear earrings because of that issue and prefer a longer necklace also. I have a tortoise color frame now that compliments my eye and hair color. Any additional thoughts on this subject would be appreciated.

          1. Yes, please! Would love a post on how to incorporate “great” (i.e., funky, colorful glasses) into outfits. Also, I can’t afford numerous pairs of glasses (as I’ve seen others coordinate glasses with their outfits), so I’m always weighing buying one pair of neutral glasses that go with everything vs. a really great pair of show-stoppers that might compete with a colorful outfit. Decisions, decisions! Thank you.

    2. Yes. I LOVE funky colored eyeglasses but I don’t wear cool colored glasses anymore because I feel they compete with everything. I have gone with something more neutral, sadly. I would also love a post on eyeglasses.

  5. I have noticed that your use of color has evolved and I totally am on board with the less is more version! the colors seem to play together better now, instead of compete and they really compliment you!!!

  6. My rule of thumb is to wear my ‘pop of color’ either up or down, but never both…… draws the eye too many places…….

  7. I think you’ve expressed this well Susan, and I agree. I have lots of scarves, most have multiple colors, and I don’t feel they compliment my look if I don’t have at least one of the colors in y other clothing. I hope the red stripe top comes back in stock in other sizes, it would make a good addition. Thanks!

  8. Such an insightful post! I never thought about it, but YES – a formula WOULD help me! THANK YOU, Sue, as always for “breaking it down! Looking good doesn’t have to be difficult – just THOUGHTFUL!! Love your blog!!

  9. Thanks Susan!
    The best trick I ever learned was to “bring the bottom color up to the top.” For example, in Susan’s photo with the striped shirt, she could have accessorized with a larger denim blue necklace. In the photo with the green top, she could have worn a scarf that had a good hit of denim blue in it (and the green color as well). You do need to bring “enough” of the bottom color to the top so it’s noticeable. I’m always amazed at how this pulls an outfit together. (And why I own way too many scarves.)
    Oh and if your “bottom” piece sort of matches your hair color — for Susan it would be e.g. camel — you have a head start.
    I learned this trick from JoAnna Nicholson way back in the 1990s; one of her books “Dressing Smart in the New Millennium” might still be available on Amazon.

  10. I love formula dressing. I usually do column dressing but that doesn’t eliminate this one. I’m paying more attention to contrast too. I’m a low contrast dresser, I think. I feel more comfortable in that range. I started following you because of the way you brought color into your outfit with your shoes. I love that idea. I now own several pair in color, metallic and more detail. My shoes and bag no longer have to match or be a neutral. Love your blog.

  11. My formula: top and bottoms are a neutral (navy, caramel, rust, olive, white or occasionally black) column of color. Jackets, sweaters, kimonos, dusters or shaws are either vivid colors and/or interesting patterns and textures.) On the left hand side of my walk in closet are pants, skirts and tops organized by color. The right side are toppers and dresses.
    Many women have told me how much they like seeing how “pulled together” I look, and how hard it is for them to determine what looks good with what. I share my formula and explain that I came up with it because I’m lazy. I don’t like to spend a lot of time getting dressed and I don’t like having to make a lot of decisions about my appearance.
    And, in the summer, I switch my neutrals up by adding a column of hot pink, turquoise, marigold or coral.

  12. This is pretty much my formula, too, but somehow it always just looks so much better on you! And I have to comment again on just how svelte you look these days. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working!

  13. I think the top outfit has a little more je ne said quoi than one color + neutrals. Because that topper verges on yellow, no? And the leopard shoes verge on mustard? Which is why I like it so much. Like, it’s graduate level.

  14. I would have loved to see a neutral trouser other than jeans for at least one of these outfits. A trouser with a small pattern or stripe — a navy pin striped trouser instead of jeans with the green top would have added some polish to the look and worked as a neutral. I bought a pair of casual navy pin-striped trousers and rotate those in with all kinds of colors and patterns and shoes from heels to sneakers.

    1. Trousers (that fit me) are one of those items I’m still on the hunt for. I’d love to find some in a navy pinstripe!

  15. love this, thanks.
    I think of burgundy and khaki green as neutrals, or the accent colour, depending on the other elements.
    When I first came across Diana Vreeland’s wonderful comment, that “pink is the navy blue of India”, I realized that even the concept of neutral is relative!

  16. I, too, have a mostly black wardrobe, but have been craving color, and as I add items—tops—in colors, I also experiment with scarves. Coincidentally, I do as you did—choose a scarf that includes the color of the top. Your analysis and examples create a useful guideline. And I notice that in the outfit with the green top, your glasses also pick up a color in your scarf!

  17. I try to wear three colours rather than 2 colours. Two is usually a bit boring. But like you I try to repeat a colour in an outfit. Sometimes it is not necessary, but this is always a puzzle.

  18. Oh my goodness, such a simple concept (neutrals plus one color), but horizon-expanding for sure! I can go forward with confidence now. As an aside, I have been struggling to style a red striped tee I have with something that wouldn’t make me look like I’m wearing a flag. After reading your blog, I paired it with a khaki jacket I already have and presto: great combo! I added some leopard print sneaks and I think it looks great. Thank you opening my eyes to new possibilities.

  19. Where do colored shoes fit in…red sneakers, leopard shoes. Any guidelines on non neutral shoes? Thanks.