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A Man's Guide to Color Part 3: Neutrals and Matching Colors

Updated on October 3, 2018
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Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Playing it Safe with Neutrals

It is important to understand that dressing well is a skill and like any skill it takes time to develop. The learning curve is different for everyone but in time and with practice you can learn to dress very well. Of course, like any new challenge we can expect to make some mistakes along the way. Our goal is to minimize the mistakes. When you are starting out on the road to dressing well neutral colors can be your friend. Neutral colors include: brown, tan/khaki, olive green, gray, navy, etc. The advantage of a neutral color is that almost any color will match it. Consider a pair of khaki pants or beige chinos. You could wear practically any color polo shirt with trousers that are neutral in color.

Lab Work

I do not recommend that you buy any new clothing until you have finished this complete series. However, this is the time for you to start trying on clothing. Think back to our previous article on determining your tone and intensity. Were you hot or cool? Were you muted or bright? Refer back to the tests you took to determine the colors and intensity that were right for you Part 1 and Part 2. Chances are that you already have neutral trousers in your wardrobe. Maybe you have gray, tan or khaki colored trousers. I do not recommend blue or navy for this expirement. The more neutral the color the better.

Take a Saturday morning and go to you local mall or department store. Wear your neutral colored trousers. Remember, we are not here to buy but to experiment and learn. Take the results from article 1 and 2 and find a shirt that matches your tone and intensity. You will be looking for either warm or cool colors and you will be looking for either muted or bright, depending on the results of your quiz.

Choose three or four different colors of the same style shirt and try them on. I find polo shirts are the easiest to compare. Look closely in the dressing room mirror to see which of the colors look best on you. Notice please, I did not say which colors you like. Your favorite colors may not be the ones that look good on you. Bring along another person to help you or take photos. The advantage of the photos is that you not only can share them with others but you can analyze them yourself. Record your results and save them for later.


Now let’s taking about a complete outfit. For men one of the more challenging sets of clothing to wear is the suit so I will use it as an example. The suit was the common daily wear of men for decades. Dating back to its inception in the late 1700s by Beau Brommell until the 1960s, men wore a uniform of formality. Today unfortunately, there is little difference between the average adult male in the office and the toddler on the play ground. But the suit is not dead and even if it is not your daily wear, it is a good example to use to learn the complexities of dressing well.

Monochrome refers to the same color with very little deviation. This is the black suit, shirt and tie or white t-shirt, pants and boat shoes. It is very simple and can be dramatic. However, it is also boring and can look out of place. Even if you add a slight deviation by changing one item to either contrast or complement the base colors it still can look odd and dated. Consider these examples of the monochromatic look.


The next step from Monochromatic is Ombre. Ombre refers to different shades of the same color. To illustrate, let’s consider the color brown. The shades of brown can extend from dark chocolate that looks almost back to lightest of beige that looks like an egg shell.

It is possible to apply this to our clothing as well. Ombre usually works best with neural shades. Like monochrome, dressing in ombre is safe, requires little thought and comes with minimal risk. However, it can also be boring. If you are not careful you can end up looking like a department store mannequin. Ombre often lacks creativity and personal expression that should come through in our dress (more on this in a future article).


Simple Complementary Colors

Complementary colors refer to those colors which are directly across from each other on the color wheel. When we start to consider complementary colors we are now moving to more advanced concepts. It is simple to wear all the same colors and it is easy to match shades of the same color, but now we are broadening our palate and this requires a higher level of skill. This is harder and when we get it wrong it will look terrible. However, when we get this right we start looking like sharp, stylish and men.

Complementary Colors in Tie

Please note that the pictures here are merely examples to illustrate the concepts of color. I would never wear any of these and you should not either. We can do better than this and in future articles I will show you how.

© 2018 Barry G Carpenter


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