An easy—and often stylish—way to wear outfits is to stick to monochromatic pieces. You know you’ve done it on lazy days. You pull out a pair of black pants, a black turtleneck, throw on your black leather bomber jacket and black boots and head out the door.
While it certainly takes less energy and thought to dress in a monochromatic style, there are fashion pitfalls that require a bit of knowledge.
Let’s take a look at what is monochromatic, what makes up a monochromatic outfit and how to style existing pieces of your wardrobe into stylish monochromatic outfits.
What is Monochromatic?
The word “monochromatic” breaks down into two pieces: “mono” meaning single and “chromatic” meaning color. So a monochromatic outfit would consist of pieces of one color.
This doesn’t mean that you would only wear solid black or solid red from head to toe. No, the joy of a monochromatic outfit is wearing different shades and tints of the same color.
If you take blue paint and add white to it in increments, the color of blue would progressively get lighter resulting in a variety of lighter blue tints. If you were to add black to blue, it would get progressively darker, resulting in a variety of darker shades. The light tints and dark shades of a single color are what is best used to create a monochromatic outfit.
For instance, you might start with a pair of charcoal gray wool pants, top it off with a dove gray blouse, and add a pair of dark gray sling backs to complete the outfit. Pop on some silver jewelry (a variation on gray), and you’re ready to take on the world.
The joy of going with a monochromatic color combination is that it will work with virtually any color you choose: purple, red, blue, green, brown, pink…you name it. So there is no reason for you not to delve into this style, because there are bound to be certain colors that look marvelous with your skin tone, eyes and hair, which will only be enhanced where pairing multiples of the same color together in one outfit.
Monochromatic Outfit Combinations
In fact, I applied a gray monochromatic color scheme to this outfit, suitable for fall or winter, date night or a work event.
Photographed at the gorgeous Bardessono Resort in Yountville during a winter trip to the Napa Valley, this outfit was perfect for the temperate climate of this area. This skirt-and-sweater combination created the perfect mix of dressy and casual. For this monochromatic outfit, I was going for a moody and slightly sophisticated look.
The one color of emphasis in this outfit is, of course, gray. Every article of clothing you see in this image is gray, with the exception of the blue tint of the sunglasses. I like the contrast of the shiny silvery-gray skirt and subdued gray turtleneck. The sheen of the sequined skirt brought another dimension to this monochromatic style, while the sequins themselves added a different texture.
Texture is an important element when putting together monochromatic looks like these. If your monochromatic outfit were comprised of the same fabric throughout, it would likely come off looking dull. I’ll explain this more in the Style Tips section.
In the second image, taken on the same trip, I’ve revisited the gray theme, pairing the turtleneck with a light gray cable knit sweater and a dark gray felt fedora. While the fedora and turtleneck are similar in color, they are broken up by the V-neck cardigan, which also adds texture to the mix.
Since these were winter outfits, I went with a moody color. If I were to wear a monochromatic outfit in the summer I would choose a brighter color, while the spring calls for pastels, and the fall calls for rich royal jewel tones.
Monochromatic Outfit Style Tips
So, you now know what is monochromatic and you want to put together a monochromatic outfit. Where do you begin?
You first start by selecting the color you want to wear, making sure it’s one that looks great against your skin tone and hair, and that you feel comfortable in. The worst thing you can do is wear a color that doesn’t make your skin glow or dampens your mood in any way.
As an exercise in learning how to master the monochromatic style, let’s go into your closet and pull out all of the items you have in the color you want to wear. Make sure to get all the pants, skirts, dresses, cardigans, etc. Once you have the items laid out, start experimenting by combining your pieces into outfits. See what looks good together, what doesn’t work, and come up with several outfits that will be your go-to items.
Here are some style tips to keep in mind when putting together a monochromatic outfit.
Make sure you mix textures within your monochromatic outfit! You want to add visual interest, depth, and dimension to your look so it’s not one-dimensional or boring. With my first gray monochromatic outfit, the gray skirt was the point of interest. The shiny texture brought this gray outfit to a whole new level. In the second, the bulky sweater with the cable knit offset the sleekness of the turtleneck and fedora.
Some combinations you can try pairing together are denim and chiffon, leather and cotton, suede and silk, wool and sequins.
And don’t forget your shoes or boots when it comes to texture.
Remember balance when combining pieces. This is a rule for every outfit, not just monochromatic ones. You don’t want the one color to overwhelm you. Quite the contrary, you want it to make you look tall and lean. To achieve this, play with proportions.
For example, if you’re wearing a billowy top, make sure to pair it with fitted bottoms. With a full A-line skirt wear a form-fitting top. The same holds true with the bulkier sweater I am wearing above; I paired it with skinny jeans and the fitted turtleneck.
Accentuate the Good
Accentuate the right areas of your body using the right color. When wearing the same color in different tints and shades, you want to pay attention to how dark or light each piece is.
For example: If you have very wide hips and want to deemphasize them, you wouldn’t wear light-colored pants or skirt. More flattering would be the dark shade of the color on the bottom half and the lighter tint on top. Like dark navy pants and a lighter blue shirt.
Play with Pattern
Monochromatic outfits don’t just have to be made up of solid pieces; you can incorporate patterns or prints. To add visual interest and to break up the solid blocks of color, add a print piece made up of the same color you’re working with. You can also try adding a patterned shawl or scarf for fun.
It’s important to select a color that looks great against your skin tone and hair. For example: If your completion is very fair and you have blonde hair, opt to wear navy instead of harsh black. Women with tanned skin and dark hair could opt for a deeper color like burgundy or eggplant.
If you’re new to monochromatic outfits and not sure what color to begin with, start with dark neutrals, like black, navy, gray, and brown. If you are feeling brave, you can also try darker richer colors, like burgundy, eggplant, and hunter green. These are the best colors to play with and most likely you already own clothing in these neutral colors.
Monochromatic outfits are great for petites. Dressing monochromatically can make you appear taller and slimmer because the outfit is creating one seamless line from head to toe. Try it and see!
I hope this post has helped you understand what monochromatic is and how it can be applied to an outfit. Next time you’re putting together your stylish outfit remember the style tips from this post!
PS. Here’s an example of how I wore this monochromatic style in a professional outfit. The only difference is that I added leopard print heels instead of gray heels.