Back To Basics: Neutral Powers

The power of neutrals: a mini-capsule of navy and camel pieces with accessories. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Whether you’re trying to corral a wardrobe that’s outgrown its space, revamping to accommodate lifestyle changes, or just refreshing and updating, my advice is to always start with your basic pieces.

Above: a versatile “mini capsule” featuring navy and camel pieces.

Left: Watch | Necklace | Jacket | Bag | Shoes
Middle: Tee | Pants
Right: Scarf | Jacket | Bag | Shoes

Plus options: Jacket | Tee | Pants | Jacket

Basics are the foundation of my wardrobe. They’re the starting point for most of my outfits, and I think of them as Wardrobe Glue. That doesn’t mean wearing all basics, all the time. But a well-chosen capsule is a great starting point, and can help banish those “nothing to wear” days.

Last week I wrote about using silhouettes to help select your basics and build a cohesive wardrobe. Today I’m talking about color, specifically the power of neutral pieces in a wardrobe.

Why Neutrals?

Neutrals can often be combined with each other, as well as with other colors. In my opinion, neutrals add polish and sophistication, and make an outfit look pulled together. Even if you like to wear a lot of color, including a neutral piece often helps “ground” the look.

Neutrals can be black, navy, ivory, tan, olive, taupe, gray, white, brown. (And I count denim as a neutral.) You certainly don’t have to choose just one. (Mine are black, ivory, denim, navy and grey.) Though if you’re completely overhauling your wardrobe, I’d tend to focus first on the two that are easiest for you to wear and style.

Once upon a time, we were told that if wearing two pieces of the same neutral (e.g. black/black, or navy/navy) the color had to match exactly. That’s no longer the case. In fact, “tonal dressing” (different shades of the same neutral or adjacent neutrals) can look fresh and sophisticated. I’ve found the trick is to combine pieces with different textures. That way, a difference in color looks intentional rather than mis-matched. (Unless you’re wearing an actual suit, and then you do want to match.)

And those old rules about what neutrals can be combined…just toss those out the window. You CAN wear black with navy, or black with brown, or gray with olive, whatever suits your style and coloring.

🐆 And, yes, I still consider leopard print a neutral. 😉

What neutrals do you rely on most in your wardrobe? Any favorite combinations?

Just a note: you still have time to take advantage of some of the weekend sales.

Aquatalia30% off everything with code LONGWEEKEND

Eileen Fisher15% off full-price styles with code NEWYEAR

Stay in touch.

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for unefemme.net. See my complete disclosure policy here.

18 Comments

  1. January 21, 2019 / 5:09 am

    Thank you for your posts. As I move from living in the motor home to a house, I will be revamping my wardrobe to match my new lifestyle. I would be interested in a post or two about how you actually organize your closet. By color,? grouped as tops, bottoms, dresses, etc? As outfit groups? I’ve always grouped as tops, bottoms, dresses, etc, but am wondering if that’s best.

  2. Lynn
    January 21, 2019 / 6:38 am

    LOVE those Aquatalia leopard shoes! The whole capsule is very pretty.

  3. Liz
    January 21, 2019 / 7:25 am

    Leave it to you to put some flair into a neutral wardrobe look. Great post–interesting pieces at a range of prices. Also love the textures. Neutrals do not have to be boring!

  4. January 21, 2019 / 7:57 am

    Black, of course, and camel are the two that work best for me – I didn’t even get tired of my minimal wardrobe on a recent 2 weeks in Italy and Malta that was mostly those colors with leopard accents whether in shoes or scarves.

  5. Lyn
    January 21, 2019 / 7:59 am

    My travel wardrobe is built on black and navy. But that is the only time I can manage a capsule wardrobe. I love playing with color and pattern too much to live in a wardrobe of neutrals with “accents.” Am I the only one who enjoys a bright floral cardigan over a candy pink top? (It sparks joy!)

    • Susan B
      Author
      January 21, 2019 / 8:01 am

      Nothing wrong with that! It’s about doing what works for you and feels good to wear.

  6. Rondi
    January 21, 2019 / 10:14 am

    Love the camel jacket and the adorable leopard shoes! I also liked seeing the smaller scarf. My favorite neutrals are tan, olive, black, ivory, and denim. I feel I can stay within those boundaries and build a cohesive wardrobe. If I choose fewer neutrals I may stray in my purchasing. I find it very helpful to choose your best neutrals. It should curb impulse purchases.

  7. Karen Winch
    January 21, 2019 / 3:42 pm

    I know you produce this blog in a bubble that is untouched by real events. It is just hard to consider that clothes are so important when thousands do not have a paycheck and are so worried.

    • Susan Gosman
      January 22, 2019 / 2:59 am

      I love this blog for the ideas and tips. When I can I work them into my wardrobe and enjoy the way I look. I come from a long line of human rights activists and I intend to remain in that capacity for the rest of my life (just became 75!). I see no contradiction between walking a picket line and taking an interest in how I look. But if I did see one, I would look around for something that did not upset me so much.

  8. Roseanna
    January 21, 2019 / 5:32 pm

    Dear Karen, I think your remark is a little disingenuous. We all have different facets going on in our lifes. I am guessing there are women here, such as myself, who are involved politically fighting for equal rights for all and are active trying to make our world a better place. I like to dress well with a minimalist wardrobe that includes cashmere and merino wool a great new Brahmin bag. I have not taken the vow of poverty because that will not solve the problems we are facing. What will though is to be active and truly help. I find it interesting that you read this blog. Why?

  9. Rondi
    January 21, 2019 / 6:59 pm

    In response to Karen’s comment it would be wise to remember that there are many people struggling financially and that have great worries about employment or health issues or loss. Some of the readers of this blog may not be able to afford much of the featured clothing. And many can. But any reader can learn how to look their best. And perhaps ESCAPE their worries for awhile.

  10. Rondi
    January 21, 2019 / 7:28 pm

    In response to Karen’s comment it would be wise to remember that there are many people struggling financially and that have great worries about employment or health issues or loss. Some of the readers of this blog may not be able to afford much of the featured clothing. And many can. But any reader can learn how to look their best. And that is empowering.

  11. January 22, 2019 / 5:36 am

    Lyn – you are by no means the only one !

  12. marilyn bornstein
    January 22, 2019 / 8:27 am

    These are the basics I love! Will look to see if I can find a comfortable pair of animal print slingbacks.

  13. Joy Johnson
    January 22, 2019 / 4:24 pm

    Although some of us may not be able to shop at the same price point, your fundamental advice on wardrobe building is possible for most of us. I have had incredible buys at T.J. Maxx over the years! Handbags, especially, are often a great bargain as are shoes.

  14. Kathleen
    January 31, 2019 / 9:01 am

    I ordered the Boden tee after seeing it here. It arrived yesterday and I’m wearing it today. So pleased! A great replacement for some older, much more expensive Wolford tops! Thanks!

    • Susan B
      Author
      January 31, 2019 / 9:05 am

      I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks for letting us know.

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