What is a neutral?
Basically, we define most neutrals as colours that are ‘off the colour wheel‘ – as in we don’t give them a name of the rainbow colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) so we’re talking grey, brown, white, black, tan, camel etc. These are bascially the non-colours. They are created by either being achromatic (the absence of colour – eg. black, white and grey) or by mixing lots of colours together until there isn’t any distinguishable rainbow colour left (brown tones such as sand, camel, honey, beige etc.).
But, there are exceptions. And some colours do end up also categorised in the neutral category.
So when does a colour become a neutral?
There are two ways a colour (rainbow) can be morphed into a neutral:
1. Toning (Adding Grey)
When you add lots of grey to it (toning) and it becomes so muted that the colour becomes much less obvious. You might then consider a greyed out blue, green or aubergine to become more of a neutral than a colour when the colour is toned down to the point of describing it as very dull, muted or dusky.
Neutrals such as denim, cognac, camel, khaki tend to fall into this category of neutrals.
2. Shading (adding black)
When you add lots of black (shading) to the colour so it becomes very dark and less obvious.
The lighter, brighter versions of rainbow colours are not neutrals. But we consider that many of the dark or very toned (greyed down) versions of colours fall into neutral territory.
Here we get navy, deep aubergine, deep olive, deep burgundy, which can all act as neutrals in your wardrobe as the low level of perceived colour (it’s harder to distinguish between different colours when they are darker as our eyes don’t pick up the variations as easily) makes them more useable as neutrals.
This is why if you have a colour palette from a colour analysis it will likely contain a range of neutrals from the achromatic, the toned and the shaded ranges. And you may ask how I decide if it’s a colour or neutral? Well, when I’m looking at the colour in comparison to the other colours in the swatch, some just look too neutral, so end up in the “neutral” section of the colour swatch. But you may find some of the really deep colours in the “colour” section of your swatch could also be used as neutrals because of their depth.
How to choose neutrals
There are lots of neutrals around. Some have a warm undertone and some a cool. The neutrals you choose ideally want to work with the vast majority of the colours you wear (which is why having a colour palette makes choosing both the colours and the neutrals so much easier as they are preselected for you and designed to go together).
You can base your choice upon your hair colour as an easy way to decide on neutrals that flatter you. Check out these blog posts on how to choose a neutral to work with your hair.
Tips on wearing neutrals
When wearing neutrals, if you’re wearing black then adding a denim jacket, the denim jacket will appear to be more coloured rather than neutral, because of the achromatic nature of black.
You can see in this example that the black, grey and greige of the tunic, leggings and boots make the denim jacket more ‘blue’ and less neutral.
But in this photo below, the denim of my jeans is darker and less apparent than the blue of my jacket and green of my top, so it becomes the neutral backdrop to the colours.
And again here, if you’re wearing navy blue and then add a brighter or lighter colour, the denim will appear to be more receeding and neutral.
So the navy in my skirt and white top are acting as a neutral here because the red boots and necklace are really popping against them and so red becomes the most apparent colour in the outfit.