Posts Categorized: color

How to Mix Neutrals

I’ve begun updating some of my greatest hits posts so they’re more current. This is one of them!

how to mix neutrals

At this point, my palette is ALL neutrals with splashes of navy, burgundy, and olive here and there, so this is a topic that’s close to my heart. There’s something so chic, elegant, and relaxed about mixed neutrals and I find that combination of traits irresistible.

When I set out to create a wash of neutrals, here are my personal rules of thumb:

THREE OR MORE TO A BATCH

Already Pretty outfit featuring leather jacket, heather gray tee, cargo sweatpants, long pendant, J.W. Hulme tote

An outfit comprised entirely of neutrals will look sophisticated and intentional if you include at least three distinct colors. In the outfit above, I have on a brown leather jacket and boots, gray top, and olive pants. I might be able to add one more neutral as an accent – the grayish-blue of the tote kinda fills that role – but any more than that might tip the scales into neutral overload.

This is a very loose guideline, since many outfits with only two neutrals look very chic. The key with two is to repeat at least one of them somewhere within the outfit. Like so:

asymtunicjacket_outfit

Black jacket, gray tunic, black leggings, gray bag. The repetition makes the look unified and the choices seem intentional.

If you’re mainly interested in mixing just black and brown, the easiest shortcut is to pick ONE shade of brown (either chocolate or tan, not both) and utilize it at least twice within the context of your outfit. Or if brown is the base color, utilize black at least twice within the context of your outfit. Again, that repetition creates intentionality. This formula constitutes a great way to practice mixing neutrals and train your eye to accept shades of brown and black as complementary.

LIKE UNDERTONES

Already Pretty outfit featuring waxed denim moto jacket, Woolovers turtleneck sweater, plaid slouchy pants, ankle boots

Cool grays and warm cognac browns can definitely be mixed, but I find it easier to pair warm with warm and cool with cool. Look at the neutral garments hanging in your closet. You should be able to tell which ones have cool undertones (whites, blues, and greens in their color mixes) and which ones have warm undertones (reds, yellows, and ivories in their color mixes). Pair like with like and you can’t go wrong.

TEXTURAL VARIETY

Already Pretty outfit featuring olive green jacket, tan knit dress, brown ankle boots, brown tassel handbag

Since neutrals are soft and easy on the eyes, all-neutral ensembles can read a bit bland. A great way to spice ’em up is to add a variety of textures: Leather, wool, slippery silk, nubby tweed, rough linen, smooth cotton. Pieces with embroidery, pick-stitching, and other 3D detailing also add textural interest.

One of the things I like best about my all-neutral wardrobe is that everything goes with everything else. Shapes may not be complementary and the occasional warm- or cool-undertone gray stirs up trouble, but overall I can wear everything together and it works. Neutrals have a reputation for being dull, but they needn’t be. Mixing them skillfully is easy to do, and can create some seriously chic looks.

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This Week I Love …

… all things olive green.

Working with a palette that is virtually all neutrals, I rely on quasi-neutrals like burgundy, navy, and olive to keep things from getting too drab. (No pun intended.) Olive green in particular has proven versatile and fun, and I’m always on the lookout for new pieces. Here are a few that I’ve been eyeing lately.

olive green fair trade dress

Fair Indigo Pleated Front Fair Trade Organic Dress – $54.99

100% organic cotton in a super versatile shape, with just enough detailing to make it eye-catching. I’d use a denim jacket and rugged boots to toughen it up a bit. Available in sizes XS – XL, and also comes in black, red, or purple. Also eyeing this Fair Indigo t-shirt dress in olive. (Sustainable pick – fair trade and organic)

olive leather tote bag

Distressed Olive Green Tote Bag by ChicLeather– $145

Mmmmm, a tote with a shoulder strap. In distressed olive leather. I’m drooling a little bit over here. Handmade by French expats living in Morocco, and they’ve got several other olive green styles that are affordable and laptop-friendly. Need a vegan option? This olive canvas tote looks amazing. (Sustainable pick – handmade)

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Mynt 1792 Cascade Crepe Skirt – $148

Not cheap, I know, but what a GORGEOUS shape. That notch might make it a little too sexy for some offices, but with tights and boots it will be considerably more subdued. Fully lined and machine washable. Available in sizes 12W – 26W.
olive suede ankle boot

Lucky Brand Basel Boot$93.20 – $155.88
with code 20VETERANS

Suede can be a bit dicey for wet winter wear, but with a waterproofing treatment it’ll work in all but the sloppiest weather. Especially in a sturdy ankle boot shape like this. Available in U.S. sizes 5 – 11, including C/D widths.

olive printed scarf

Lucky Twins Koi Scarf – $44

A bright but still versatile olive, this 40% silk, 60% viscose scarf is hand-printed with water-based pigments. Elegant and funky at the same time. (Sustainable pick – handmade) Need 100% silk? This hand-dyed scarf is spendy but exquisite.

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Talbots Italian Flannel Double Button Blazer – $199

A great option if you prefer a higher vamp blazer, and gets high marks from customers. This darker olive is a great alternative to grays and blacks. Available in regular, petite, plus, and petite plus sizes. Wanna make a suit of it? Talbots also has three styles of pants and two skirts in this same olive melange.

olive soft pants

Old Navy Olive Soft Pants – $12.97

A super bargain and ideal for fall and winter lounging. Medium-weight and made from a super soft rayon blend. Available in regular, petite, and tall sizes. (Smaller sizes sold out online, but check your local stores.)

olive necklace

Geo Terrarium Necklace – $24

This hand-crafted necklace features bright green reindeer moss and flecks of silver leaf preserved in eco-friendly resin. Each pendant will be slightly different, all hung on a 18″ chain. (Sustainable pick – handmade, eco-friendly materials)

olive ballet flats 2

BaliELF Muse – $110

Handmade – and made to order if you need customizations – these ankle-strap flats are so pretty and ever so slightly edgy. Available in U.S. sizes 4 – 13. (They might be able to do widths, too … not sure.) Not a fan of the ankle strap? BaliELF also makes a plain olive ballet flat. (Sustainable pick – handmade)

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Everlane The French Terry – $40

I haven’t ordered from Everlane yet and am trying to decide between a striped shirt and this dusty olive super-soft lightweight sweatshirt. I love that this top has a slightly thinner band than is typical in sweatshirts. Available in sizes XS – L, though sizes run small. (Sustainable pick – made in the U.S., transparent production chain)

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

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Reader Request: Go Versus Match

matchy matchy

Reader Roxane posed this great question:

What’s the difference between accessories that “go” and ones that are “matchy-matchy”? For example, if you’re wearing all silver accessories (necklace, bracelet, shoes) is that matchy-matchy? Would you need to mix metals to have things that “go” and still stay metallic? 

I wonder which assumes the need for a large supply of accessories (and thus perhaps a larger budget) – being matchy-matchy or having things that “go.” (Of course, if you stick to a very small color palette, this isn’t an issue.)

You all know I love talking matchy. Just a quick reminder: Matchy-matchy is not a crime, no matter what the magazines say. If you love matching your accessories, do it.

Matchy can apply to the clothing within outfits, but it’s more generally discussed in terms of accessories. Roxane’s question about jewelry is an interesting one: In my opinion, wearing necklace, bracelet, and earrings that are all silver is not matchy at all UNLESS they are part of a jewelry set that has repeating elements and motifs. Their silver-ness alone doesn’t make them matchy. I think wearing jewelry that’s in the same metallic family makes visual sense. If it feels like overload, try doing earrings and bracelet in one metal, necklace in another (or in a color) – that gives you a little distance between the two similar items and the chance to bring in a dissimilar third.

Silver necklace, bracelet, and shoes? That might be verging on matchy territory depending on how prominent the silver of the jewelry is and how shiny the shoes look. If you wanted to go with metallic accents beyond jewelry, it might be best to do at least one that isn’t silver.

When I think of matchy-ness, I mostly think about non-jewelry accessories. So, here’s an example:

mustardtealred_outfit

By doing a red necklace, belt, and shoes – three red pops in three different areas within the outfit – this is already matchy-matchy. If I were carrying a red handbag, too, that would be extreme overkill in my opinion. I like to think of two matched elements as being unifying without getting matchy. So this:

redyel_outfit

… works much better. There’s still red and yellow, but only two red elements, a non-red belt, and a non-red bag. Other variations that would’ve worked include:

  • Red belt, red shoes, non-red necklace, non-red bag
  • Red belt, red bag, non-red necklace, non-red shoes
  • Red necklace, red belt, non-red shoes, non-red bag
  • Red necklace, non-red belt, non-red shoes, red bag

Etc. Go ahead and match your shoes and belt, just make sure they’re the only matched items to keep things contemporary. Also consider tights, earrings, bracelets, scarves, and hats as potential elements to match or mix.

It’s a little harder to describe what it means for accessories to “go.” In this older post on the subject, I say that accessories that go are different colors from each other and don’t pick up on any elements present in the design or colors of the outfit’s garments. But everything is harmonious, similar without echoing. The outfit on the right at the top of this post “goes,” since it includes a burgundy belt, teal bag, and leopard shoes.

In terms of which route requires a larger budget and/or supply of accessories, my guess is matchy-matchy would create a bigger burden. If you need to have belts, bags, and shoes that match exactly and want them in multiple colors, that’ll get expensive. If your accessories are either all one color or in mix-and-matchable neutrals/colors, you’ll have more variety using fewer pieces.

What are your rules for matching accessories? Would even two matched items feel like too much to you?

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