A neutral wardrobe is the perfect minimalist trend for women looking to simplify their lives. From tips to process & ideas, here is the COMPLETE guide to building a neutral wardrobe.
Hey gorgeous! Neutral colors may not be everyone’s taste but they do make for crisp outfits. If you get used to a certain “signature color palette”, it not only reduces shopping time, but also the time that you spend to dress up every morning. And this is the main idea that makes building a neutral wardrobe so appealing to women these days.
What is a Neutral Wardrobe?
A neutral wardrobe is a minimalist wardrobe that consists of only the basic neutral shades, such as beige, white, black, grey, khaki, etc. Building a neutral wardrobe is a simpler lifestyle, opted for a few reasons.
- First, a neutral wardrobe creates fewer shopping choices, preferred by those who oppose fast fashion and the waste it creates for our planet.
- Secondly, neutral wardrobes give fewer choices to create outfits with, thus reducing decision time and fatigue in the morning, especially for working women.
- A neutral wardrobe may also reflect a clean, free mind that appreciates less distractions in today’s world of omnipresent social media and constant sensory overload.
What are Neutrals?
First, let’s get started with the basic neutral color families. They are white, black, grey, beige, cream and khaki. Some people (including me) also consider navy and denim as a part of the neutrals.
There can be countless neutral shades, such a sand, tan, latte, charcoal, mocha, seaweed, etc. but all of these are a part of the basic neutral color families. Here’s a neutral color chart I’ve created with all the common shades:
So let’s go over some of the basic shades you need to know within all the major neutral color families. There are countless other shades, of course, that one can incorporate while creating a neutral wardrobe. But these are the most common shades to start with.
White: Ivory, champagne, eggshell.
Cream: Vanilla, nude, camel, caramel.
Beige: Tan, sand, taupe, mocha, coffee, latte.
Khaki: Olive, army, seaweed, deep khaki.
Grey: Dove, steel, ash, stone
Black: Lead, charcoal
Denim & navy
How the Neutral Trend Began
Neutral fashion is hardly a new trend. In fact, some of the most iconic women in the history of fashion have worn classic neutral outfits we all loved, such as Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.
For example, Holly Golightly played by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is often seen in white and black. Some of her most iconic looks from the movie, such as the opening credits dress, Sung-Sung prison scene, house-party scene and even the climax look are in all neutrals.
In the history of fashion and especially runway fashion, neutral colors were a big part of some of the most iconic designs by Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Gianni Versace and more in the 1950s. . In the 90s, supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell brought back neutrals with whites and denim shades.
In the last couple of years, wearing neutrals has become almost equivalent to looking rich and classy. Neutral wardrobes been made extremely popular by Instagram models and influencers, who often use muted color themes to curate their Insta feeds. Celeb influencers like Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid are often seen in all-neutral outfits and makeup looks, inspiring a whole generation in street style. This gave many fashionistas the idea of building a neutral wardrobe.
However, an all neutral wardrobe not just a personal style choice anymore. The recent trend of minimalism has led many women to explore the idea of capsule wardrobes and neutral wardrobes to reduce their getting-dressed time. Actually, that is a lot similar to living like a man, because of how few colors men usually have in their wardrobes.
How to Build a Neutral Wardrobe: The Process
1. Do a Closet Purge
If you’re someone who doesn’t wear neutrals every day, you may initially find it difficult to adopt this kind of lifestyle. Giving up colors for good is a big and daunting step. In fact, one thing that most women worry about is that their style will soon get tired or boring. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Neutral clothes can be really fashionable and even creative, especially once you’re “tuned” into this palette.
Once you’ve decided you wanna go neutral, the first step would be to make space in your closet by donating some of your clothes, shoes and bags. Take out pieces you haven’t worn in a year. You don’t have to give it all away at once, you can just store it away in a box. This will also get you started with the minimalist fashion lifestyle, because you’ll learn to live with lesser clothes and accessories.
2. Start with 4 Beige/Nude Must-Haves
Before you go ahead and spend all your money building a neutral wardrobe, dip your toe in the water. Perhaps you already have some white and black in your wardrobe. So let’s start with nude or beige. The is to first give neutrals a test run. Start small with a few neutral must haves, such as a nude dress, a blouse, nude accessories like pumps & handbag.
3. Select 2 Neutral Fashion Days of the Week
You have to get comfortable with this new lifestyle, and a way to do that is to take out two days every week to wear neutrals only. Try pairing your 5 beige or nude must-haves with a dark contrasting color like black or a similar pale colors like white or cream. On the rest of the days, pair neutrals with the other colors you already have in your wardrobe.
Do this for a whole month to see if you like it. Later, you can always increase your wardrobe’s neutral pieces step by step before making it an all neutral wardrobe.
4. Build Your Basics
Once you’re comfortable with pairing nudes or beiges with blacks and whites, then you can take the next step and get a few basic neutral pieces. These include trousers, skirts, a few tops and accessories. Try solid pieces without prints or bling. Things that you wear everyday. Here is a list of what you need, which can easily be paired with each other.
Next, let’s take a look at how they can be paired. Here are some celeb outfit ideas to inspire you over the next month.
5. Add Items of Interest
Once you have the basic pieces, the next step would be to buy some items of interest. So add some prints or stripes into the mix, for example a striped t-shirt or a printed handbag. These are the pieces you can easily create interesting outfits with, while pairing them with your basic neutral basics. Try fun combinations with the pieces you have so far to create all-neutral outfits.
At this point, you can pretty much wear neutral outfits on a daily basis. The less you have to think about it, the more successful your wardrobe is.
6. Invest in Statement Pieces
The last step in building a neutral wardrobe would be to add some statement pieces. These are the pieces that would instantly take your outfit from okay to really fashionable and chic. For example, a cute pair of leopard print pumps, or a neutral-colored jacket with gold accents, etc. These don’t have to be worn with every outfit. – just when you feel like it! The point of investing in a few statement pieces is that it’ll keep you excited about your neutral wardrobe and give you a reason to stick to it. The idea is that, instead of feeling boring or repetitive, your clothes should be tasteful yet minimal.
7. Neutral Capsule Wardrobe
Ideally, a neutral wardrobe is all about adding simplicity to your life. So all in all, you won’t need more than 30 or so total pieces, not including lingerie or night-wear. This can include, say, 15-20 solid-colored basics, 5-7 items of interest and 3-5 statement pieces. If you are just building a minimalist neutral wardrobe, here’s an idea of the 31 items your wardrobe needs. Find the list here: How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe in 3 Simple Steps.
How to Pair Neutrals
Once you have a few neutral pieces, it can get tricky to pair them on a daily basis. Let’s find out how to pair neutrals.
Here are the basics about color theory that you need to know when you want to pair colors.
1. Complimentary Colors: Complimentary colors are those that are opposite to each other in the color wheel. Paired together, they can create contrasting outfits.
2. Analogous Colors: Analogous colors are those which are right next to each other in the color wheel. They can make tonal outfits when paired together.
Read more about Types of Color Schemes: Color Design Basics for Fashionistas.
Three Types of Outfits to Create with Neutral Pieces
With neutral colors, you can basically made three types of outfits.
- Contrasting Outfits: In this outfit, you can use one base color and then pair it with a complimentary or contrasting color.
- Tonal Outfits: Tonal outfits have shades of the same color, such as beige with tan and sand. To create tonal outfits, choose one color family and then pair pieces that are of different shades within it.
- Monochromatic Outfits: The last one is monochromatic outfits, in which there is only a single color and tone involved.
Here’s an example of tonal outfit.
And here’s a monochromatic black outfit:
Building a Neutral Wardrobe: Helpful Tips
Here are some basic tips to create a neutral wardrobe.
- Start Small: Start just with a few basic pieces like let’s say 5 items in different colors of neutrals, just to get an idea of what suits your skin tone and what you like wearing the best.
- Try Different Types of Outfit Pairings: Start to create the 3 types of outfits I’ve talked about before – monochromatic, tonal and contrasting, so that you know which one is your taste.
- Try Outfits with Just the Basics: Try to pair the basics with each other to know what takes you the least time to get dressed in the morning, since that’s the main point of having a neutral wardrobe. And then see which ones seem interesting to you, but at the same time suit your taste and lifestyle.
- Don’t Over-Shop: Here’s the most important tip when building a neutral wardrobe. When you go shopping, don’t buy something just because it’s a neutral color. Whether your wardrobe is neural or not, the same shopping rules apply. Just try it on, see if it suits your skin tone and if you see yourself wearing it. Buy it only if you think it’s a good purchase. You don’t have to buy everything neutral, just by what you really like. Read more here: 15 Shopping Tips to Save Money That Every Girl Should Know.
- Only Buy What You’ll Wear Multiple Times: The whole point of building a neutral wardrobe is to potentially save time and money. So ideally, you never want to buy something you wouldn’t wear again and again.
Can You Still Wear Other Colors?
Ideally, no. Or maybe, rarely.
When you’re shopping for a whole new wardrobe, it may get tempting to buy other colors or question your decision. Should you buy other colors if you really like something? Well, it really depends on whether you want to open up your wardrobe to other colors. If you’re opting for an all neutral wardrobe, the first thing you need to let go is temptation for clutter. So before buying things, just consider this – is it really necessary? Will it simplify or complicate your styling choices?
The style factor is something you can make your decision about. Such as adding one or two pastels, that’s okay or if you want to go a step further and include a color or two in your wardrobe such as red or olive green. You really are the best judge since you have to feel comfortable with it.
So I hope my guide on building a neutral wardrobe was helpful. Are you going to go for it? Lemme know below. And if you do, do show me your minimalist wardrobe on Insta by tagging me @shilpaahujadotcom!
Shilpa Ahuja a designer and entrepreneur. She is the editor-in-chief of ShilpaAhuja.com, which she founded with the goal of inspiring confidence in the modern working woman through fashion.
Fashion has traditionally been for the rich, white, thin woman. That’s how it evolved over centuries and that’s how it’s been represented in fashion media. But Shilpa believes that with the changing role of women in the society, fashion has changed, too. She believes that fashion is for everyone, regardless of their age, gender, color, body type and background. So she translates runway fashion into easy style advice that one can incorporate into their daily lives.
Shilpa’s work has been published in the University of Fashion blog and Jet Airways magazine. She is also an artist, illustrator and cartoonist. She is also the creator of Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She enjoys creative writing and world travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh and been published in Chandigarh Times.
Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa also has a professional degree in architecture and has worked in interior project management. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”. Shilpa has a Masters in Design Studies degree from Harvard University. For feedback and questions, please email [email protected]