One of the simplest and easiest ways to look ultra-chic is to opt for a monochromatic or tonal outfit. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to choose a certain color, or that you can’t have an accessory in an opposing color. But the general vibe should be, well, tonal.
Sometimes we wear monochrome when we don’t even mean to, and most often that monochrome outfit is all black. Yes, all black is the chicest and easiest of the monochrome family to pull off.
So, if you want to take baby steps, start with all black or an all navy outfit. You most likely have all the elements to create this look without going shopping.
If you are opting for an all-black or navy ensemble, think about simple and bright makeup. Don’t do anything too heavy in terms of eyeshadow or dark lipstick. If you want to dress up your black monochrome outfit you can pair it with a pop of color lipstick. But, if you are shooting for a daytime look, keep your makeup and your accessories light and airy. It will feel more modern and clean.
What is a monochromatic outfit?
Well, let’s break it down. Mono means one, and chroma refers to color- so there we have it. A one-color outfit.
But we can go further than that with the look we are going for and that is to introduce the tonal aspect. We are not restricting ourselves to ONLY one shade of a color. It is possible to do a monochromatic outfit in a tonal fashion, and do all “red” items but include different tones or shades of the color. This allows the outfit to have depth and balance.
How do I choose a color to start with?
Well, as we mentioned black or navy is probably the easiest to start with when trying this trend. But, to move past those options, think about what colors you naturally gravitate towards or often wear.
There is bound to be a color that pairs well with your skin tone and your style that you can experiment using this trend.
If you are going out and shopping for this trend be sure to try it on in the fitting room and take pictures. The undertones of a color (blue or red) can drastically impact whether this trend will make you look great or wash you out. And you don’t want to invest in a monochrome outfit that will drastically enhance a negative look.
Also, check out this post on color to see what shades naturally pair well with each skin tone. (but know that if you choose the right shade/undertone you can really wear any color you like).
TIP: Once you’ve mastered one color, you can start branching out to other colors. But, if you’re struggling you can start by picking one color item and slowly expanding the outfit piece by piece as you evaluate it in your full-length mirror. This will allow you to slowly build your outfit and successfully balance it in proportion and style.
Ok, I look like a crayon- help!
Well, if you look too “Red” or too “orange” (or whatever color you chose) then two things will help balance this out.
The first is choosing multiple tones of the tone color. As we see in this photo there are multiple lavenders and light purples going on. They are similar in undertone and shade, but NOT exactly the same.
The second is texture. Texture is always an important element to style, but it is especially important with a monochrome outfit. It helps add depth and interest to the style.
Monochrome, when not tonally varied, can look flat and “too bright”. When you add texture to it, that bright red outfit has a place for your eyes to rest and draw attention to. This creates balance and is incredibly important for our brains to register this as “aesthetically pleasing”.
We want the outfit to have a voice, but not be screaming at us all day long.
But, how do I get the monochromatic style right?
So, just like any outfit, the details are very important. Ideally, you would have a look that is head to toe tonally the same. However, when you choose a more obscure color, you may not have burnt orange boots to pair with your awesome outfit. Yes, this can technically break the tonal look, but if you choose the right pattern or texture it can accentuate it.
Opt for a texture or pattern that accentuates or helps draw your eye to the color of focus. In this outfit I am wearing, the burnt orange shoe options I had were not weather appropriate. So I opted for a sleek, white boot that was neutral but still drew your eye to the overall shade and tone of the orange.
Monochrome accessories are not always possible. That does not mean you failed at this look. It just means you need to tweak and evaluate whatever you are adding to the look that falls outside your chosen color.
Ok, I want to wear monochromatic outfits. Where do I start?
As I mentioned before it is easiest to try out the black or navy monochrome outfits. You probably have all the items you need, including accessories the fall in that tonal family.
Pay attention to what colors you naturally gravitate towards. If you never wear black don’t choose a black monochrome outfit. You could opt for navy, charcoal gray, or even heather gray to begin.
I personally love all white, all cream, or all tan as well. If you find the right shade of white/cream/tan it can look insanely chic and appropriate for all seasons.
The outfit below is perfect for fall/winter because it is warm and has fall textures. Colors are not confined to a specific season if you balance them texturally and opt for weather-appropriate options.
If you are feeling bolder you can go for burgundy, red, lilac, or even an orange monochrome outfit. For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board here.
And if you enjoy this post, you should try my 10-day fashion challenge. It will guide you and give you advice on how to tackle each day’s fashion outfit/style with ease.
Click below to take your fashion choices by storm and expand your style one new style at a time!
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Here are some examples
click here to jump to the top and watch the video for more styling tips on how each outfit works!
This is a great color for fall and winter and the specific shade goes well with my fair skin tone. Remember, to try on a color first to make sure it works for your coloring.
The opposing texture of the skirt (silky/shiny) and the heaviness (fuzzy/soft) texture of the sweater oppose one another and again create a balance. Think of this look like a judicial scale. One texture on one side needs to be balanced out by the opposing texture on the other side.
Because I did not have burnt orange shoes that were weather appropriate. I opted for a sleek, and modern boot that was neutral in tone. When wearing a color monochromatic outfit, you DO NOT need a pop color. All of your accessories should be more neutral or tonally similar.
All Orange Outfit (brighter tones)
Here we have some more saturated orange tones. This outfit is great for a warmer season, or a spring event.
Here, I did all white. You may find that if you don’t wear a ton of color all the time that you don’t have a ton of options for the brighter or pastel color outfits. And that is ok.
If you don’t wear a ton of color normally, no need to jump into the deep end immediately. Try an all-white ensemble in winter, or a charcoal gray look and master those first. Then, if you want to level up and try something like lilac or mint or even a jewel tone- ask your friends or family if you can borrow an item. And, if you really are committed go out on a shopping spree and find your colored look.
But, neutral monochrome outfits can be some of the chicest looks around, so don’t count them out. And, don’t limit any color to a specific season. An all-white or even an all lilac outfit can look amazing in winter provided you are wearing season-appropriate items and have texture.
TIP: Don’t try to wear your cute lilac spring dress in the middle of winter. Instead, opt for a fuzzy lilac sweater and a fun pair of lavender pants instead. Then pair it with a textured purple coat and you are good to go.
If you are going to go shopping for this trend be sure you really like the color you are trying on YOU. Don’t just assume because someone else wears that color and looks amazing in it that it will transition just as well on you.
There is a color/shade that is perfect for you. Fashion is about finding inspiration and tailoring it to your personal taste and expression. It is not about copying others down to every last detail. In fact, that is the quickest way to fail at a new trend.
If you want to learn more about trying new trends or styles and how to adapt them to your own personal tastes- check out my FREE style guide.
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This suit is heavily hued in green so it still works with the monochrome trend. The suit is not extremely fitted but adding a belt allows it to be balanced out.
This is a great example of a business casual outfit that one can wear to the office. Here is a great suit, that is elevated by the other green-hued accessories and items paired with it.
Another thing to note, as you can see the suit has a slight print on it. Prints are ok to weave into a monochromatic outfit, but the color palette should stay generally in the same family. Ideally, we are not introducing a totally new, and prominent color to our outfit.
In my book, fashion is not composed of hard and fast rules. I believe the navy and black are so close in color (and because they are “neutrals”) that they can be combined and still achieve the monochrome outfit style. However, I would not pair a more robust color like orange with a sister color like red. That will look over the top. But, with neutrals, you can spread the tonal variation just a bit further.
Notice how I styled the oversized coat over a more fitted silhouette. This creates balance. You don’t want to have an outfit composed of all “form-fitting” pieces or all “oversized” pieces. And the coat’s texture juxtaposed with the leather pants creates interest and variety. While the simple top and boots create a place for your eye to “rest”.
Being a New Yorker, I love all-black outfits. Here are a few other ideas:
Check these things to make sure your monochromatic outfit works:
Monochrome outfits are instantly stylish, and they actually take a lot of the guesswork out of your outfit choices because you know that the pieces all work together. The important thing to remember is to keep your outfit balanced.
Before you head out the door- ask yourself:
1. Do my tones compliment my skin/hair/style?
2. Do I have any other tones or colors pulling too much focus away from the “monochrome” look? (the answer should be no)
3. Does my outfit have texture? (remember our judicial scale).
4. Is my outfit balanced? Not all oversized? Not all tight?
5. Do my accessories subtly enhance or do they pull the attention away? *Remember the focus of your monochrome outfit is to highlight the color (or neutral color) you choose to wear.
I hope that this has helped you figure out why and you should be styling the monochrome outfit trend. It is a classic trend that will keep finding its’ way through the decades; so you might as well start getting your feet wet now.