Building a wardrobe full of neutral colors is a great idea for any man – regardless of body type, age, skin tone or style preferences.
This article explains why I love wearing neutral colors and why all of my wardrobe staples are in neutral colors.
Neutrals colors include black, white, any shade of grey, beige/cream and navy.
Even if you only wore these colors, you could be well-dressed and stylish every single day, no matter the occasion.
If you throw in a couple more versatile colors, such as olive and light blue, you’ve got a complete wardrobe.
Here’s the best part: if you like other, less standard colors, they will also work with this palette.
For example, if you love wearing burgundy or look great in yellow, both of those colors work well on top of a neutral wardrobe.
You don’t have to add extra colors, but it’s very easy to do so.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of wearing neutral colors.
All Your Clothes Look Good Together
With a neutral wardrobe, putting together an outfit or packing for a trip is a breeze. You can almost get dressed in the dark because everything goes together.
Here’s one example: a light grey shirt can be worn with pants that are black, charcoal, white, navy, tan or olive.
This comes in clutch during last minute packing for a vacation or business trip!
You Can Always Add Color (But you Can’t Remove It)
If you want to be more colorful, you can always add splashes of color to a neutral wardrobe. But if all your clothes are bright and colorful, it’s impossible to remove that color for a more subdued look.
Here’s what I mean…
If you’re wearing a navy suit and white dress shirt, and you want to keep things understated (say for a job interview), you can wear a black knit or grey silk tie.
But, if you’re wearing that same suit and shirt to a wedding, you can wear a gold, orange or green tie, along with a colorful pocket square and/or socks. This will add plenty of flare to the outfit with very little effort (or money).
If you don’t own neutral colors, however, this doesn’t work. If you don’t have the navy suit and white dress shirt to build on top of, you can’t choose between blending in and standing out.
For example, if you only own a pink dress shirt or a burgundy suit, your only choice is to be colorful and bold, which isn’t ideal for many situations (interviews, funerals, etc.).
Easy to Control Your Contrast
As a shorter man, I prefer low contrast outfits. In other words, I try to minimize the difference in tone between my top and bottom halves.
- White shirt + black pants = high contrast
- Navy shirt + charcoal pants = low contrast
But that doesn’t mean I always have to wear dark colors, as some style “advice” for shorter men would suggest…
I love wearing light colors, but I want to make sure those outfits are also low contrast.
With a neutral wardrobe, this is easy. If I want to wear dark colors, I’ll go with something like a dark grey shirt and navy pants (or shorts), and I’ll top it off with a navy field jacket, grey topcoat or dark brown leather jacket.
If I want to wear light colors, I have plenty of options:
- Olive chinos (or shorts) + light grey shirt
- Light wash jeans + white shirt
- Tan chinos (or shorts) + white shirt
With these lighter color combos, I’ll usually keep my outerwear light as well. For example, I’ll wear an olive field jacket, tan raincoat or light green windbreaker.
The point is, neutral colors make putting together low contrast outfits very easy, even if you like to wear lighter colors.
Starter Neutral Wardrobe
If you were building a wardrobe from scratch, here’s what you would want to buy first:
- Navy suit
- Grey wool trousers
- Khaki chinos
- Olive chinos
- Dark blue jeans
- Light blue jeans
- Olive chinos shorts
- Khaki chinos shorts
- White dress shirt(s)
- Grey casual button up
- Light blue OCBD
- Black/grey/white t-shirts
- Navy field jacket (or bomber)
- Black/brown leather jacket
- Tan raincoat (or Harrington)
- White leather/canvas
- Black Oxfords
- Brown brogues
- Grey/tan suede boots
With these 21 items, you’d be covered for pretty much any occasion. But if you wanted to be more unique or really loved a different color, you could easily add more to this collection.
Any of these additions would work with 80% of this wardrobe:
- Pink dress shirt
- Yellow OCBD
- Burgundy bomber
- Red striped t-shirt
- Forest green sweater
- Burnt orange knit tie
- Blue suede chukkas
You get the point. It’s very easy to add personality and individuality to a neutral wardrobe without sacrificing versatility (i.e., without making it harder to put together an outfit or pack for a trip).
I truly believe that all of your basic wardrobe staples should fall into a neutral color palette. This will make it very easy to build a lasting, versatile collection of clothing that’s ready for any occasion and won’t go out of style.
Do you like wearing neutral colors? Let me know in the comments section!
I enjoyed this article and find the information useful.
I’m curious about the color brown and whether it serves well as a neutral to use in place of some of these recommended pieces. I feel that there may be a warmth and versatility to the many shades and tones of brown (cream, beige, mustard, etc.), or does it risk too much contrast compared to the staple neutrals discussed here?
I welcome any insight and/or suggestions.
Brock McGoff says
Yup, brown/tan/cream all qualify as versatile, neutral colors!
I think neutral colors are great in the short term but very limiting wardrobe choices for men. Men need and deserve more color choices for their clothes. Why does society limit men’s choices in terms of colors (and so many other things, including clothing types and beyond? If women can wear colorful garments, men should be able to do as well.
Great article as usual, that is why you are and you always will be one of the best menswear bloggers of all time. God bless you. Have a good day.
Hi Brock! Why do you suggest Olive Chinos as an item to buy first instead of Navy Chinos? In many other guides, Navy Chinos are usually suggested ahead of other colors. Would be great to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks.
Hi Brock! Thank you the information as always. Could you please share the information about the hand bags/briefcase you have on the photos? Thanks again.
What is the brand of the messenger bag in the post?
Hi Brock, any thoughts on the new breed of watches i.e. smart watches and fitbits etc.
I’ve never worn one actually. The alarm clock and sleep tracking look interesting, and the ability to leave the house without taking your phone would be awesome. Do you wear one?
Richard Thurston says
Great article ! Love the section about the essentials for a mans wardrobe
Well illustrated article, I’ve learnt a lot on neutrals thanks a lot.
Neutral makes a lot of sense now. I used to like a Navy Polo over off white denim. Now at 5-7, 160 lbs, changing some of my ideas. Losing 55 lbs and shrinking over an inch changed my mindset.
George E Givens Jr says
There was a time I only bought cuffed slacks, dress or chino, corduroy (not jeans). Now I’ve noticed men are just simply rolling up there slacks and not wearing socks in good or even mild weather. At my age I don’t feel rolled up is appropriate except in some very specific situations such as very casual.
Brock, nice work on this post.
A couple questions on the chinos. First, how do you like the fit of the Peter Manning Slim Fit chinos? Are they closer to a Banana Republic Aiden slim or Fulton skinny fit?
Also, I noticed you choose to cuff your chinos. It seems like a lot of guys are doing this today with both jeans and chinos. As a modest male, I’ve always gone with the rule of thumb not to cuff pants, as that breaks the length of the pant leg, which is detrimental for those of us with shorter than average leg lengths.
Jennifer Stone says
This article will be a fabulous guide for my modest man’s wardrobe revision. Thank you!
Great article, as usual. Well written, relevant information, easy to understand, good pictures which illustrate the text. That is why you are among the best of the menswear bloggers!
Thanks for the kind words, James. Much appreciated!