Colour has long been a contentious subject in menswear. While some guys pride themselves on broaching the punchier realms of the colour wheel, most are content to keep things low-key.
But while blink-and-miss-’em colours like black, white, grey and beige have always been a mainstay in the minimalist wardrobe, in recent years they’ve been thrust into the limelight.
So what does that mean for your wardrobe? Well, neutrals are no longer the supporting act – they’re taking centre stage. And while you might be accustomed to reaching for a white tee here and a pair of beige chinos there when the weather hots up, throw another neutral hue into the mix and it’s a trickier ball game. Do you pair up the same shade and risk looking like a nineties boyband member? Or do you throw on two different tones and hope for the best?
Helpfully, we’ve done the hard yards for you, decoding the easiest routes to neutral dressing. Because with this trend, there’s no sitting on the fence.
What Are Neutrals?
Don’t be fooled into thinking neutrals are just shades of off-white. “A neutral colour is any ‘non-colour’ i.e. any colour that doesn’t appear on the traditional colour wheel, including black, grey, white and earth tones like beige and khaki,” explains celebrity stylist Sarah Ann Murray, who has dressed the likes of Jonah Hill, Samuel L. Jackson and Charlie Rowe.
In practice, the term ‘neutrals’ also refers to a series of colours that work together, even when thrown together in the dark (a real possibility in the winter months.) For this reason, sticking to these shades makes building a capsule wardrobe a cakewalk, providing the perfect foundation of which to add layers or pops of colour.
“In terms of accessibility, a neutral palette will always offer an appropriate style option for any occasion, any time of year, and there’s always a neutral shade and combination to suit everyone,” adds Murray. “Plus, if you’re shopping on a budget, these hues have an ability to elevate a look, as even on inexpensive materials they generally give off the look of natural fabrics which are usually pricier.”
6 Easy Ways To Wear Neutrals
No longer the preserve of maladjusted teens and funeral attire, the unsung hero of every man’s wardrobe is his all-black ensemble – it’s slimming, requires very little thought and can be tweaked to suit every season.
To make an entry-level move into darker territory, take your cue from rock’s leading men by slipping a leather jacket over a pair of slim-fit jeans and dark grey crew neck tee. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start switching out items for something more adventurous such as black joggers or a suede bomber.
All-black-errthang isn’t just for off-duty occasions, though. It’s also possible to create smarter looks without looking like you’re auditioning for a Matrix remake. Start by pairing a black dress shirt with a black suit, or a black Oxford shirt with a charcoal suit. If the void of darkness proves too much, add pattern into the mix to lend your look some contrast.
Many use the word ‘beige’ as a synonym for boring, but when put across some sharply-cut tailoring, it’s a far cry from flat. Growing weary of your well-worn navy suit? Beige, then – haters be damned – is the antidote.
Flying in the face of the tedium its name suggests, beige is actually a pretty ‘busy’ colour. Which means you’ll be attracting enough attention without going overdrive elsewhere. Steer well clear of loud ties and pocket squares (try complementary solid colour styles in blue, burgundy and darker shades of grey) and err conservative with classic dress shoes for a grounding base.
If you’re interested in injecting your suit fabric with some character, linen is a texture-rich choice and makes for a stellar summer wedding suit, too. Alternatively, try corduroy in the winter. Or, for something year-round, it’s hard to go wrong with cotton.
Light Neutral Separates
Tailoring today isn’t what it used to be. Over the past decade, tailored separates have come over all casual, slowly but surely edging away from the image of the monocled, moustachioed dandy.
So, if you’re into the idea of paler tailoring but have more of a streetwear thing going on, dial down the formality by swapping the shirt for a crew neck tee, the brogues for trainers, and trying your hand at tonal looks by mixing chinos, trousers and blazers in colours like tan, white and beige.
Limit the tonal approach to two items, though, keeping one piece out of the light neutral spectrum. You’re going for clean and minimal, not earthy Home Depot paint chart.
If monochrome was menswear’s first all-neutrals obsession, earth tones are its second. From muted moss to khaki, sand to russet, this colour palette is arguably one of the most versatile out there.
Thanks to their muted appearance, lighter shades of brown, green and orange are great for layering once the weather gets cooler. They’ll warm up your skin tone long after your summer tan fades, and sit right in that smart-casual sweet spot, making them a go-to for everything from the office to a Kanye-inspired night-out ensemble.
For a take that’s less desert rat, mix in some richer colours like burnt orange, mustard and shades of blue. Try teaming an olive green or brown lightweight cardigan with a navy blazer for a contemporary alternative to a three-piece suit. Alternatively, a chambray shirt worn with oatmeal-coloured trousers and a field jacket is the perfect go-to casual look.
One of the more advanced moves from the menswear playbook, there are several things to consider when wearing all-white if you are to look less Don Johnson more Riviera don.
Keep your white-out looks on point by not only switching up fabric textures, but colours too. Introducing shades of ivory and cream into the mix not only prevents you looking washed out but also not like a P Diddy impersonator.
Try teaming up a pair of white cotton trousers with a cream polo, long-sleeved tee or knitted T-shirt for a solid weekend look that’ll easily see you from day to night. Just remember, this look requires a healthy dose of confidence, a skin tone at least a few shades darker than fair and deep pockets for those inevitable dry cleaning bills.
Neutrals With A Contrast Colour
Using light neutrals for the base of your outfit and adding a contrasting hue such as orange can help insipid shades pop and stop a look from blending into the background.
The trick here is still making sure the outfit goes together, which is best achieved by opting for soft tones. For example, a sage green coach jacket is a resounding yes, whereas a shiny, ’80s-esque puffer jacket in neon lime is a no.
Feeling apprehensive? Dip your toe (literally) in this method by using your shoes to work in a slightly punchier shade. Level-up the minimalist sneaker with a pair rendered in soft pink suede.
6 Key Pieces To By In A Neutral Colour
White jeans are fashion Marmite, mostly due to the fact that they could miscast you as a Eurotrash weirdo. But with the right styling, it’s possible to come off more American Ivy League than Ibiza weekend warrior. Swap boyband rips and manhood-comprising skinny fits for a timeless slim fit, then simply ditch the socks and get your mankles out. Just take care that your pin-roll is on-point.
It’s a bolder statement than Kanye saying his latest album is the greatest ever made, but we’ll go out on a limb to say that neutrals are the new black. This is particularly true in the case of outerwear, when inky shades can feel funereal. Instead, arm yourself with that new menswear classic, the camel coat, as well as a chocolate suede jacket brown leather bomber.
No well-edited wardrobe is complete without a pair of grey trousers, whether they’re swiped from a suit or a standalone pair that skews more casual. One of their most redeeming features is that they afford you the opportunity to get experimental with the colour of your footwear, so as well as pairing well with minimalist sneaker, they’ll also sit handsomely with a pair in soft pink suede.
The words ‘beige’ and ‘knitwear’, when used in conjunction, bring about mental images of cardigan-wearing septuagenarians, but it’s a look that goes beyond pureed food. Neutral knitwear, be it a cashmere-blend roll neck or zip-up polo shirt, is a key layering component of male wardrobe. Use yours to create high-low looks, whether that’s with grey trousers and minimalist sneakers or relaxed mid-wash jeans and an overcoat.
Saying the white sneaker is an essential part of the modern wardrobe is like stating the sky is blue or that a bear does its business in the woods. Damn obvious. However, stripped-back kicks truly come into their own in the case of neutral outfits that whisper rather than scream style. Stick to premium leather and minimal stitching (which often dirties their appearance far quicker) to always have a solid foundation on which to build.
War, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Except, perhaps, 75 per cent of what you wear on a day-to-day basis. Take the overshirt, for example. While more a product of workwear, rendered in army green it’s arguably the perfection transitional piece: offering all the warmth of a flannel shirt with the tailored sharpness of a field jacket.
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