Fashion 101: How to Combine Colors: Neutrals (with a Pop)

February 8th, 2009 § 34 comments

Module 2: Neutrals (with a Pop)

Neutrals — black, brown, gray, tan, and navy (okay, and white too) — are the staple of most wardrobes. And for good reason. They can easily mitigate more piercing color combinations, toning down an outfit and providing cohesion. They can also produce rich and textured outfits by themselves when layered and combined with just each other. With this module, we explore how ensembles comprised entirely of neutrals achieve a rich and interesting look, and how a simple pop of color brings an unexpected boost to an otherwise softer neutral palette.

Neutral Colors:

In painting, neutrals are made by mixing disparate colors together. Mixing red and green paint together will give you a brown, mixing red, yellow, and blue together will push you towards black, and so on. The fact that neutrals actually contain many colors is part of what allows them to look good next to any color.

Neutrals, originally uploaded by academichic.

Like Stacy and Clinton always say on What Not to Wear, “neutrals go with everything,” including each other. Injunctions against wearing black and brown or brown and gray or black and navy together simple aren’t true. When mixed together in a range of shades and textures, an all-neutral outfit can be minimal but sophisticated. Pairing two neutrals in different textures such as jersey and lace or silk and wool can create a clean look. A. is our resident expert on wearing multiple neutrals, dexterously mixing a variety of fabrics and shades.

Neutrals can provide a softer look on their own, or serve as a background for another color. When pairing one “pop” of color with an all neutral palette, the neutrals allow the brighter color to add a wow-factor.

Pop of Pink, originally uploaded by academichic.

S. and A. have both used pink to “pop” an otherwise neutral outfit, S. dressing it up for a date and A. punching up a teaching outfit. While neutrals dominate, the splash of color is what makes the outfit memorable.


While an orange-and-black or yellow-and-black combination may be something to avoid because of holiday and wildlife connotations respectively, use other combinations and mix boldly. Pair yellow and gray together. Try out navy and purple. Give black and tan a chance. We’ll be playing with neutrals all week. If you do too, drop us a comment and let us know! And don’t forget to check back soon for Module 3.

If you missed Module 1, click for background on this project after the jump!

Course Description:

It’s easy to fall into a rut and wear the same color combinations over and over again. A. and E. have put all of their art-historical training towards creating a useful color wheel of clothing, designed to inspire new color combinations in yours — and our — wardrobes. This is the second of several modules addressing different color combinations and providing examples from our own daily wear. Follow us as we navigate the color wheel and put color theory into practice.

The Color Wheel:

Color Wheel of Clothes, originally uploaded by academichic.

According to Wikipedia, a color wheel is:

an organization of color hues around a circle, showing relationships between colors

In this model, red, yellow, and blue are primary colors; orange, green, and violet are secondary colors; and red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet are intermediate colors. Color combinations can be built by using the color wheel to build particular color relationships or color schemes.

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§ 34 Responses to Fashion 101: How to Combine Colors: Neutrals (with a Pop)"

  1. [...] week we’re trying our outfits comprised of neutrals or neutrals with a pop of color. Although I rarely wear all neutrals, I realized that I quite often will wear mostly neutrals and [...]

  2. [...] making like Belgium and being neutral this week. I am much more of a “neutral with a pop” girl, so this outfit actually took [...]

  3. [...] I said yesterday, I will really challenge myself with our neutrals module and not just wear them as a backdrop for a burst of color as I would otherwise. So today I am [...]

  4. [...] today, and I needed a look that says, “I graded fairly and I am not a pushover.” A neutral with a pop of color seemed to fit the bill. I’m taking a cue from A.’s striking pairing of purple and [...]

  5. [...] their exams they will be silently grading my fashion efforts. Should I hand in an explanation about neutrals with a pop of color? -A. Category: Color Combinations, Dresses for Day, Teaching OutfitsTags: academic fashion > Add [...]

  6. [...] I’d see the day where I put navy, brown, and black together for an outfit. Before this Fashion 101 Color Challenge, I would have been reluctant to combine these items for an ensemble, but I love the result. Can you [...]

  7. [...] Flats – Banana Republic Endnotes: I love neutrals, I do.  I think they make for very sophisticated professional looks, elegant night-out ensembles, [...]

  8. [...] I really wasn’t trying to cheat the neutrals challenge, at least not for the indoor version of this look. The outdoor version, now that’s a whole [...]

    • Raju says:

      You certainly CAN ask gereanl life questions to create the hexagrams for your I Ching quilt.Questions about creativity can be about the process of a work in progress professional development your creative experience and practice.How do I trust the process?When will I be ready to start a new project?Why do I have a hard time finishing projects?What is holding me back from entering my work in this show?How do I handle this success? or rejection? So glad you are doing the quilt-along Shannon can’t wait to see what you do!

  9. [...] the week is winding down, so is my creativity level in combining neutrals, and I think this outfit reflects that. But it’s been a long [...]

  10. [...] the camera) do seem an appropriate reflection of my day. Yesterday was our last official day of the neutrals color challenge – I went for a jersey dress, long cardigan, and my new red wedges. I began the day guest-lecturing [...]

  11. [...] new color scheme. If you are still hesitant about a triad or a split complimentary experiment with neutrals by adding a pop of color or test out a monochromatic look. Just snap a picture and send it our way. We can’t wait to [...]

  12. [...] issue of Lucky Magazine, the editors were raving about orange-and-gray as an unexpected take on neutrals with a pop. While I clearly love gray and I have several orange pieces that I adore, I really have never [...]

  13. [...] but certainly not least, Courtney put together a fantastic “neutrals with a pop” look. She paired this lovely orangey-red with shades of black and brown as part of her [...]

  14. [...] color scheme: neutrals (black, brown, tan) with shades of pink.  I thought that the color combo of neutrals with one brighter hue would ensure that the mixed patterns (top and belt tie) and textures (silk and jersey) would still [...]

  15. [...] like I was wearing a suit, so avoided both my black pencil skirt and black pants.  I love the way paring two neutrals instantly makes work wear more  interesting.  I added the ruffle-neck teal top because the high [...]

  16. Kelly says:

    Just found your site and I am addicted! :) Today, I wore my first neutral outfit with a pop of color! I think it looks amazing and I feel totally confident and stylish!

  17. [...] allow the skirt to shine as the centerpiece, I completed the look with a variety of neutrals. Now I’m well aware that many a fashion critic will argue that black and brown do not belong [...]

  18. [...] far as color combinations and tights go, we’re pretty firm believers in the notion that neutrals go with everything, so experiment freely with your combinations. While brown tights might work well to create the [...]

  19. [...] forest at sunset made for a great backdrop, but it kind of  makes it difficult to see the many neutrals I have layered here – cream, navy, charcoal, black and brown – but trust me they are [...]

  20. outdoor wireless security cameras are here…

    Great job on version 2 Dan. Just purchased it from the itunes store and everything works great. Only feature I cannot find is how to change between celsius and farenheit for thermostats? I love the ability to dim lights, check event logs, view indoor/ …

  21. [...] first time I blogged this skirt, I wore it with a brown sweater. Go neutrals (and pseudo-neutrals). 30 January 2009 – 2, originally uploaded by [...]

  22. [...] a little refresher course with the newest member of our site, L. This week we’re focusing on Neutrals (with a pop). Since our last color course, I’ve come to embrace neutrals much more and so this [...]

  23. [...] be honest, doing a week of mixing neutrals or showcasing neutrals with a pop of color is not that great of a stretch. Next time I’ll regale you all with the story of my experience [...]

  24. [...] this week’s color module on neutrals I really wanted to push myself to combine neutrals in a new-to-me way. So, I steered away from my [...]

  25. [...] it was an exercise in proportions as well as in colors. One of my favorite color combinations is neutrals with a pop, especially a pop of pink! And whenever I wear this swingy cropped jacket, I look to pair it with a [...]

  26. [...] scarf Fashion 101 challenge from last February. I’m learning as much as you are! Next up for Color Wheel Fashion 101: Neutrals (with a pop)! Category: Color Combinations, Fashion 101, Mixing Patterns, Weekend WearTags: belted > black pants [...]

  27. valencia copeland says:

    what would be a nice “pop of color” if I’m wearing tan and black?

  28. Lily says:

    I recently stumbled across your modules on how to combine colors while desperately searching how to use a color wheel; your series and absolutely amazing fabric color wheel has completely demystified this formerly elusive enigma. I have infused color into my wardrobe, and received many compliments; from complementary and analogous colors to triads (pick two) neutrals, I think I have gained a basic understanding of the concepts. I just have one question, when using a regular color wheel, they mention using an ‘X’ or a ‘T’, to combine colors…how does this concept apply to your fabulous color wheel?

  29. [...] moderately sexy and simple attire with a pop of color to catch his attention. And a nice perfume will tantalize his senses in a much better way than a [...]

  30. Thank you for such an inspirational perspective of how to use neutral colors. We certainly going to try it.. Regards.

  31. [...] with a pop of color” described daily by Clinton and Stacey (Hello, What not to wear- watch it) (if you want a description of this concept- check out this tutorial by academichic). Sweater- Old Navy Tank, worn underneath sweater- Old Navy Jeans- Sweetheart jeans (budget [...]

  32. [...] to be noticed in the work crowd at your next meeting or business conference? Add a pop of color to your professional attire. A red tie or a red scarf can dress up a black business suit and grab attention without being [...]

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