In menswear, colour has always been contentious. While some men 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 of a versatile rotation, in recent seasons they’ve been thrust right into the limelight. Some of SS17’s standout collections were awash with the kind of ‘non-colours’ you could throw on together in the dark and still end up looking good – from Astrid Andersen’s earth tone tracksuits to Topman Design’s greyscale tailoring.
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?
We’ve done the hard yards for you, decoding the four main routes to neutral dressing you’ll need in your wardrobe this year. 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 light earth tones like khaki.
How To Wear:
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.
Make an entry-level move into darker territory by taking your cue from rock’s best leading men and slipping a leather jacket over a pair of slim fit jeans and a simple crew neck tee. Once you’ve brought these basics into the fold, you can start switching out items for some more adventurous, textured separates – a black jogger here, a suede bomber there.
If your outfit’s whispering, make your feet shout with a pair of statement trainers – Nike Air Max 1s or some low-top Vans Old Skool skate shoes are great choices. And if you’re a watches man, try adding some inky black to your wrist to take your monochrome look to the next level.
All-black-errthang isn’t just for off-duty occasions though, and it is possible to create smarter looks without looking like you’re auditioning for a Matrix remake. Cases in point: pairing a textured black dress shirt with a black suit, or a black Oxford shirt with a charcoal suit. If the void of darkness proves too much, you can always add some pattern – like a windowpane check – into the mix to lend your look some contrast. And it couldn’t hurt to add a bit of pep into your step with a contrast shoe, either.
If monochrome black and white was menswear’s first all-neutrals obsession, earth tones are its second. From muted moss to khaki, sand to russet, earth tones are arguably even more versatile than the top-to-toe monochrome look. And while they’re great for the autumn months, there’s no reason this all-occasion palette can’t be put to use year-round.
Thanks to a 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 dead cert 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,” says menswear stylist Joe Ottaway. “This will not only give a distinctive injection of colour and contrast but also works as a more contemporary alternative to a three-piece suit.”
And for something that steers more casual? “A chambray shirt worn with mid-weight oatmeal colored trousers and a Belstaff field jacket is the perfect go-to casual look, suited to a Saturday afternoon hitting the shops or a few Sunday afternoon beers,” he adds.
Here’s where it gets a bit trickier, because get this look wrong and you run the risk of coming off more Don Johnson than Riviera don.
Keep your white-out casualwear on point by not only switching up fabric textures, but colours too, as introducing ivory and cream tones can warm up the skin and prevent you looking washed out. Try teaming up a pair of white cotton trousers with a cream polo, long-sleeved tee or knitted t-shirt for a weekend look that’ll easily see you from day to night – all you need worry about is keeping your pint steady.
All-white tailoring can easily veer into boyband territory, so stick to lightweight fabrics like linen, cotton and blends of the two. Subtle details when it comes to texture and contrast – a slash of navy piping on a cuff, a caramel belt, contrast buttons, a vivid pocket square or a pair of brown Oxford shoes – also works to break up head-to-toe white tailoring.
And 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.
Tonal greys are a staple palette for guys looking to nail minimal and modernist looks with a sporty slant, so here’s where to get the most mileage out of your casualwear.
Charcoals, stone and heather greys work best on your bottom half, and personal stylist Daniel Johnson has a few tips for doing greyscale right. “Try a darker chino or trousers with a mid-grey jersey or silk shirt on top,” he suggests. “Classic, timeless, cool.”
The more conservative guys amongst us should try a soft grey knit or jersey shirt under a blazer, says Daniel. “Apart from Zegna’s cashmere long-sleeved jerseys, Cos offer a more cost-effective alternative at around £60. Plump for a light basket weave blazer over the top in summer, but when the temperature drops, switch it out for a textured grey overcoat.”
Like earth tones, the all-over grey approach is about mixing and matching to your heart’s content – just make sure to pay attention to textures and details. A solid grey look can get sloppy quickly if fabrics and prints aren’t mixed up to add some character and depth to a look that could otherwise come off as unironic normcore.
For more on styling out neutrals, check out these 5 go-to light neutrals combinations.