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How To Build The Perfect Monochromatic Outfit

By Thea Coburn··  7 min read
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elsa hosk How To Build The Perfect Monochromatic Outfit
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Have you ever considered building a one-color outfit? No, I’m not talking about the grey sweatsuit you wear every Sunday. I’m talking about a head-to-toe outfit using only one color that’s guaranteed to turn heads every time.

The monochromatic outfit is the trend that never ends. Year after year we see our favorite celebrities rocking monochromatic ensembles, from the street to the red carpet. And for good reason. When done correctly, this look is classy and timeless.

The monochromatic outfit is the “no-makeup makeup look” of style. It’s not as easy as choosing the same color for all of your pieces though. It takes effort to look effortless. 

Before we dive into how to build your perfect monochromatic outfit, we need to discuss the basics of color theory. In color theory, there are three main color schemes: complementary, analogous, and triadic. For building a monochromatic outfit, we’re going to take a closer look at the analogous color scheme. The analogous color scheme is three colors side by side on the color wheel. This will serve as your boundary for creating your monochromatic outfit.

analogous color combinations

Another important element of color theory for monochromatic outfits is warm and cool tones. A guiding principle when building a cohesive outfit is to stick to all warm or all cool tones. The monochromatic outfit is no exception to this rule, and using only warm or only cool tones for your outfit is a great place to start. But of course, there are always opportunities for the rules to be broken. But more on that later.

warm cool tones color wheel

Blue on Denim

If you’re building your first monochromatic outfit, there’s a two-piece ensemble that everyone already has in their closet: pairing a blue top with blue jeans. This is one of my favorite looks. I love it because it’s timeless and blue is a user-friendly color. Everyone can find a shade of blue that looks great on them. 

The best way to start is to pair a light top with dark jeans, or vice versa, a dark top with light jeans. Think indigo denim with a baby blue sweater, or light denim with a royal blue blouse. These contrasts are so stunning and will make you stand out. 

Despite the beauty of the contrasting shades, there’s no reason you can’t pair two similar shades together as well. I personally love pairing a royal blue with a navy, or even two navy pieces together. Take into consideration your personality as well as your complexion. An all-dark look might appear too serious for you, or an all-light look might make you look washed up. This is where you can take personal preference and personal style into consideration. And you can easily make this a three-color monochromatic piece by adding a blue shoe, purse, or accessory. 

Three Is Key

Now that we’ve established the basics of building a monochromatic outfit, let’s dive deeper into the number that will really make your monochromatic outfit stand out: three. In style, the third time really is the charm, whether it’s applied to color or proportions. Adding the third piece might be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. A silk scarf, a detail on a shoe, or even a gemstone on a piece of jewelry are all subtle ways to introduce the third piece into your monochromatic outfit. 

Another way to build a three-piece monochromatic outfit is to choose a dress, jumpsuit, or coat as your main piece, and to add two accessories of the same color to round out your look. Kate Middleton might still be a duchess, but she’s certainly the queen of this monochromatic outfit.

Introducing a Fourth Piece

Three is key, but why stop there? There’s no reason you can’t create a monochromatic outfit with four or even more pieces of the same shade. My favorite example of this (and one of my all-time favorite outfits) is this monochromatic look from Meghan Markle. I recall seeing this ensemble for the very first time and being mesmerized by its beauty. 

What makes this outfit work? For one, it’s cohesive. If you add in Meghan’s eyes, skin, and hair, which are all a shade of brown/beige, this outfit comprises seven elements of the same shade. This cohesion creates the aura of a big presence, almost like Meghan is a ray of light, even in brown. Another reason this look works is because she has one stunning piece that isn’t quite like the rest. In this ensemble, it’s Meghan’s stunning camel coat that isn’t quite like the others. It contrasts perfectly with the darker shades of her heels, sweater, and silk skirt. Meghan would have looked stunning in this same outfit paired with a dark coat, but the camel coat makes it extra special. 

Play with Pattern and Texture for Contrast

If you want to bring your monochromatic outfit to life, playing with pattern and texture can create the contrast you’re looking for. Stripes, florals, and plaids are all timeless patterns. If you’re feeling extra bold, then sequins, ruffles, or leather can all take your outfit from two dimensions to three dimensions. 

Using Hair As an Accessory

Remember Kate Hudson’s stunning yellow dress from How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days? Remember when the diamond necklace (a fourth piece) is put on her body and the entire outfit comes together? Okay, maybe you don’t remember, but for those of us who do, we simply can’t forget it. But before the diamond necklace, Kate had a three-piece monochromatic outfit: her dress, her purse, and her hair. Yes, her hair. Hair can be used as a stunning accessory, and it’s particularly useful for the monochromatic outfit.

Depending on your hair color, there are several options. If you have brown hair, you can build a brown or beige outfit (like Meghan Markle). If you have blonde hair, you can build a yellow or cream outfit (like Kate Hudson). Redheads can do the same with a red or orange outfit. If you’ve decided to embrace your natural grey, then there’s no reason you can’t do a monochromatic outfit in white, grey, or black, and use hair as an accessory as well. 

Mixing Warm and Cool

Up until this point, we’ve mostly discussed monochromatic outfits that combine pieces of the same tone. This is a good rule of thumb, but let’s dive into how we can break this rule, and combine pieces of a similar color, but different tone. 

This Kate Moss runway look combines plum (purple) and cerise (pink). Despite falling next to each other on the color wheel, purple is a cool tone whereas pink is a warm tone. If you look closely at this monochromatic look, you’ll notice that she has purple lipstick as the third piece and even a hair accessory as the fourth piece. Although adding a third piece to this look is tempting, the balance between warm and cool really does create the effect of a monochromatic outfit, even if it’s only two pieces. 

Neutrals 

Another user-friendly option for starting a monochromatic outfit is choosing a neutral as your base color. This can be tricky because you might not want to look too boring or masculine. But there are lots of ways to make this work in a stylish and feminine way. 

The options are endless for the neutral monochromatic look. All white, grey, or beige is a great place to start. Even your favorite all-black outfit counts. So if anyone ever picks on you for always wearing all black (it has happened to me), tell them it isn’t all black, it’s monochromatic. 

Matching Sets

I can’t write this article without mentioning matching sets. Matching sets, specifically loungewear matching sets, have emerged into the style spotlight since working from home has become so widespread. But loungewear doesn’t have to be lazy, and being comfortable isn’t everything. To take your matching set from mundane to magnificent, all you have to do is add a third piece of your chosen shade to create a monochromatic outfit.

Closing Thoughts

Monochromatic outfits are here to stay. If you’re just starting out, begin with blue on denim or choose two pieces of a color that you feel most confident in. When you get more comfortable, you can begin with adding a third or fourth piece, playing with pattern and texture, as well as mixing cool and warm tones. Try out some different looks, and you’ll be a monochromatic outfit expert in no time.

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