How to Wear Eye-searingly Bright Colors

Big, bold brights are on the docket for spring, and I’m guessing that scares the PANTS off some of you.  And even if you don’t care about trends and are, therefore, still in possession of your pants, I’ve got some tips for ways to wear fabulously bright shades without looking like a Rainbow Brite doll.

TAMP ‘EM DOWN WITH DARKS

Yes, I love to wear intense, bright red right next to my face. It is my favorite color, after all. But in this outfit, I’ve paired it with a dark navy dress, which turns that blaring brightness down considerably. Utilize dark jewel tones, deep blues and navies, or really any deep shade to tamp down your brights.

CALM ‘EM DOWN WITH NEUTRALS

Already Pretty outfit featuring red distressed sweater, plaid scarf, skinny jeans, combat boots

Sure, that sweater is bold, but it’s the brightest color in an outfit that is otherwise comprised entirely of neutrals, namely black and dark denim. The plaid scarf has some zip to it, but even it includes a mix of brights and neutrals. Choose blacks, browns, denim, grays, and other neutrals to create a mix that will calm down your brights.

BREAK ‘EM UP IN PATTERNS

Already Pretty outfit featuring Missoni camouflage sweater, cobalt skinny jeans, longline blazer, black ankle boots

This sweater features both cobalt and chartreuse. And it’s still pretty wild, but the fact that both colors are broken up by a pattern makes them so much less jarring. Solid brights can be overwhelming, but a pattern that includes one or more extremely bold shades is generally easier on the eyes. Go for a bright-inclusive pattern that will break up those intense hues.

MANAGE ‘EM WITH OTHER GARMENTS

This pink dress is REALLY PINK. And although the zebra-print cardigan is itself quite bold, it’s a print comprised of non-colors: Black and white. And those desaturated tones combined with the way the sweater frames my figure and the pink dress means that the intense color feels less intense. Combine your brights with non-bright colors and patterns to keep them tame and manageable.

WRANGLE ‘EM IN ACCESSORIES

Of course the simplest way to add some brightness to your life is to go for boldly-colored accessories. Belts, scarves, shoes, and jewelry in shocking shades feel less risky than pants, skirts, dresses, and blazers. And they are! If bright colors just feel overwhelming to you but you’re interested in experimentation, try wrangling them in accessories.

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  • christine

    I am loving the khaki skirt in this post where did you get it?
    christine

    • Sal

      It was thrifted about a year ago, originally from Banana Republic.

  • Jane

    I know you don’t wear pants often, but is there anything you’d say specifically about wearing bright pants, or do all the same rules apply? I feel that a lot of the time, even advocates of bright colors seem to be a bit leery when it comes to bright pants. Given that I’ve recently found myself drawn to extremely brightly colored pants, I was wondering if they need to be employed with extra caution!

    Thus far, I have stuck mostly to the “safer” brights –slightly toned down versions rather than their almost-neon cousins –and paired mostly with blacks/greys/whites.

    • LQ

      Jane, check out the Osman show from London fall 2011 on style.com. Fabulously blindingly orange trousers deployed almost as a neutral with a white jacket. I am going to be looking to do something like this in summer if I can find any trou that fit.

    • Sal

      I own bright red, green, and pink pants and I adore them … but they are, somehow, more statement-y than bright skirts. All of the tactics from this post will definitely help make bold pants work. I generally wear mine with patterned tops that include the bright color of the pants, but that creates fairly bold looks, too.

      I think it depends on your priorities: If you are willing to embrace the statement, go for a pattern on top. If you’d rather tone them down, do so with darks and neutrals. Just remember that making the pants the only bright element in an outfit will put all the focus on your lower half. Adding an accessory in the same color somewhere else in the outfit will make it feel more unified.

      • Jane

        You’ve actually put a finger on exactly what’s been frustrating me about my bright-pants outfits (but that I couldn’t actually figure out until now) –I’ve been struggling to make the bright pants look like a deliberate choice and integrated part of the outfit, rather than looking like I took my standard outfit and just swapped out the jeans. I will definitely keep your tips in mind, thanks!

  • I love bright colors and so love this post!

    Also, I’d love to know more about your tattoo, since this is a style/fashion/self image blog. When/why did you get it, and what is it of? Do you still love it? (Can you tell that this questions come from a wannabe-inked commenter who is too scared to commit to a lifelong tattoo? haha)

  • Rachel K

    You wear brights so well! I love wearing bright colors and probably wear them more often than basic black. I mostly pair them with neutrals (navy, brown and white most often). My husband tones me down when I go overboard. Red and lime green are probably my favorites (but not together), and I’m really digging different shades of coral and orange this spring. I’ve been wearing navy and dark purple non-stop this winter so I’m really excited about breaking out the color – spring has arrived in FL & I’ve been getting my wardrobe ready!

    The only bright I feel like I can’t wear is yellow. Unless it is framed with another color or a neutral it washes out my skin tone. I wear shades of red, green, purple and orange really well. I’m glad brights are popular this year as the pastels of the last few springs don’t look good on me.

  • Sonja

    Dear Sally,
    I would like to tell you that after much reading here, I’m considering to expand my wardrobe (slightly) and actually include more colours. I love my somewhat classic style. I aim for elegant simplicity and rely heavily on dark basic colours (black, brown, gray and navy). It’s not a style rut for my, I love it. But … yesterday I went shopping and bought something I might not have bought before reading Already pretty – a glaring red cardigan. Today I put on my usual black pants and dark blue sweater, but I wear the cardigan underneath, so that the red sleeves are visible. I even noticed (haha!) that something was missing, so I put on a chunky red plastic necklace that I already had but had never worn before. The big cowl of the sweater dulls the exaggerated effect of the necklace. Wow, I’ve created a Sally-look with colours livening up the basics and even a repeating colour-scheme!
    I don’t know this this will be a new habit, but I certainly will try it from time to time. Thank you!

    • Sal

      Sonja, I’m thrilled!

  • I obviously don’t have any issue with ANY brights, or mixing them up alongside each other, but I think some colours are definitely easier to wear than others. Red and pink seem to work for more people that say, orange or yellow.

  • aya

    Wow Sally, are you telepathic or what? I am wearing today a striped stiff 50’s full skirt ( like that full mustard you have only with horizontal pink orange white and black stripes) , and i topped it with a deep navy blouse( sleeveless) and a black bolero. It’s pattern and dark-dampening!

  • Bright colors don’t scare me, I love ’em! I used to think that now that I’m a “grown up” (ha!) I should shy away from bold colors, especially in my line of work as a teacher, I was just afraid I’d look ridiculous. In the past few years I’ve really been trying to embrace my personal style more, and that includes using bolds, vintage, and funky colors in my work wardrobe while still looking sophisticated. I’m even thinking of putting together a feature on teacher fashion in my blog:
    http://appleadayproject.wordpress.com/

    Sal, what advice would you give for teacher style, or merging your personal style with any career that involves projecting a very clearly defined image?

  • I am a big fan of brights and today I’m wearing a skirt that can only be described as “neon coral.” I wear them all winter, but I’m excited for spring and wearing some of my brights that have been waiting for warmer weather!

  • Becca

    That first picture is definitely a Wonder Woman pose.

  • Kate K

    Yay color! It’s funny Sal, nearly all of those pictures come from posts I have “starred” on my reader for inspiration! One tip I would add: put the color or even specific colors where you can wear it comfortably. For instance: I wear the bright colors that flatter my skin tone up near my face, either in the forms of tops or scarfs or necklaces. This is why my closet is practically lined with blouses, cardigans and blazers in magenta, fuchsia, teal and cobalt blue. I’m also more of an semi-apple/semi-pear shape so I keep my lower half more neutral. And if I want to try a new color that I know isn’t exactly flattering to my skin tone (I’m looking at you yellow!), I look for a pair of shoes in that color.

  • I love brights on the runways and the racks, but never know how to wear them myself. Love your ideas. I’m going to try accessories for starters. Also going to try simple shapes, like your hot pink sheath is bright but the cut is really simple (no ruffles or puffy sleeves, etc.) which makes it work 🙂

  • I love Rainbow Bright and am very happy that my technicolor wardrobe is finaly going to be “in”…..not that the fact it wasn’t stopped me form wearing it! 😉

  • spacegeek

    I was thinking of you yesterday as I sported a brightly colored spring-ish cardi with BRIGHT green, yellow, red and and orange florals. (Sounds horrid but it isn’t!) I accented with a hot pink cami and lighter pink shoes. My most colorful outfit, and I got 3 compliments!
    Usually I go far more muted, but I have a fabulous tangerine leather jacket that I bring out in the springtime, and I realized that spring is my most colorful time of year. I go back to more neutrals in the summer and winter it seems.

  • dang you are making me realize that i NEED an obi belt, like, yesterday with a couple of these outfits! i’m going to be digging through my fabric scraps tonight to try to make one, i love how you used them to add some color.

    usually my use of color is most similar to your example of adding it in w/ accessories to a neutral outfit- i LOVE a good bright necklace or shoe. but sometimes i’m in the mood for tons of color, and i find it easiest to do a “shades of ___” outfit- so all versions of red, or blue, or whatever. like a bright red and orange with a pinky-nude to tone it down.

  • JB

    I would add that fabric can make a difference too. Bright pink satin or patent leather makes a much different statement than the same color in a cotton or cashmere, for example.

  • meghan

    A good fashion-y rule is colour with colour. White and ESPECIALLY black will often make your brights look cheaper and tackier than they might when worn with another colour. A denim jacket is going to be nicer than a black jacket, a brown or navy cardigan better than a black cardigan.

  • i am a huge fan of bright colors, even if those around me aren’t! the last outfit, while it isn’t super bright, looks so great on you. it is so figure flattering and i am in love with those blue sandals!

  • Erin

    Oh my gosh, you are so stylish! I have always worn brights but more like orange, red, pink and lime green together!!! I’m on the slippery slope to 40 now and trying to feel my way into dressing a bit more grown up finally without losing myself along the way!!! I have need of as much guidance as I can find so I loved your tips. Thanks!!!

  • Jen

    I love that last photo. Can you just package up that outfit and mail it to me?

    • Sal

      Hmm. What will I get in return? 😉

  • I love bright colors. And I love all the options you presented for wearing them in this post. Sometimes I tone my brights down with darks or neutrals, but a lot of times I just wear bright with bright and call it a day. I’m thinking I need more bright accessories though – I only have a couple pairs of shoes and a couple scarves – clearly I need more.

  • Ok, this makes me a little less terrified to try out bright colors. I shall have to try some of these techniques, but first to obtain some bright pieces which I have shied away from for fear of searing my eyes and other’s eyes.

  • You know, the first time I tried an orange shirt was in the early-mid oughts? And I was surprised, because it looked SO darn good against my fair skin. And because I’d never considered really bright colours before then. That might have been my turning point, actually. Now the ol’ wardrobe is full of brights.

    So, one thing, I think, is to keep trying , even if you think you can’t wear brights; I think everyone can wear something and look amazing!

  • You know I love bright colours! I am just waiting for warmer weather so that I can start wearing all my brights again!

  • I am so excited about the colors that are coming for spring. I look at my closet and all I see are black, navy, brown and a little purple. Blahhhhhh! You have such great ideas for mixing in these brighter colors, so that they are not so overwhelming. The only problem that I have when I look at your posts is that I want to go shopping. It’s a good idea to me, but my sweet hubby would differ. Lol!

  • Lorena

    Oh I loved this post – in fact I used the tap them down with black technique today… and it worked!

  • julie

    i know that you have worn the shoes in that last photo before, but i am seriously thinking that i need to have a pair for this summer, so what brand are they? where did you buy?

    • Sal

      They’re Marni from several years ago, purchased via Yoox.

  • Marie

    Funny to see this today. I just bought a pair of pink capri pants at a thrift store yesterday. Totally out of character for me, but they were calling to me. I’ve been drawn to color more now that I have a daughter. I’ve been used to having boys and all of the sudden pink came into my life two years ago. Last year, I discovered that I liked pink and green together on my daughter for St. Patrick’s Day. I may just have to try that combo on myself.

  • Jen

    oo! I just bought a fuschia silk dress. I’m thinking of trying to tone it down with a grey tweed blazer or black cardigan.

    Do you think I can get away with dark purple suede heels too, or is that pushing it?

    • Sal

      YES. DO IT. Dark purple and fuschia are glorious together!

  • Reminds me of 1992 when I wore a red blouse to work and someone commented on how RED it was.

    She’s still at that crap job, from what I heard. My red shirt and I up and left for (bright) greener pastures.

  • Lindsay

    I have discovered I am not afraid of color at all. In fact, I have been getting frustrated at not being able to find colorful shoes and belts (especially green and even royal blue) to match the outfits I have been putting together. Everything is black or brown or white! Though you can find good reds and purples… I have been putting scarves to good use for belts with color, but I still can’t find the shoes…

    I am so happy the trend this Spring seems to be bold colors because I really enjoy wearing them! Maybe I should be more intimidated than I am by them, but, meh, whatever. They make me happy.

  • I’ve been trying to outgrow grey in my wardrobe for the past few months. You have some great ideas here. I especially like the look of the pink dress with the zebra.

  • Mariana

    I just LOVE the last picture [I’m new to the blog and I’ve been reading old posts 🙂 ] I am in love with your cobalt blue shoes! May I ask where you got them???
    Love the blos btw !!
    Thanks 🙂
    Mariana

    • Sal

      Sure, they’re Marni via Yoox several years ago.

  • Afrokimmy

    I Loooooooooove the first two dresses. Where are they from? I so want them nowwwww!

    • Sal

      Both are thrifted!