Finding Your “Key Neutral”
Although the retail fashion world insists that every woman should choose black as her base neutral, they do that to make their inventory management more profitable, not because it makes us all look our best. In truth, the more enhancing neutral for a woman’s wardrobe nearly always relates closely to her hair color.
We are talking about the hair color people see, whether that is natural or enhanced. (The exception: if you’ve colored your hair some far-out shade that doesn’t relate to the rest of your coloring. Then we need to talk.)
See how these women have no “point of connection” to black, so it doesn’t especially flatter them. Then see how much more gracefully they relate to a neutral similar to their hair color? That’s what we mean by “Key Neutral”.
It may be a nearly exact hair-color match, or just a related color, the highlight or low-light for example. For example, Marcy could choose a deeper gray for her winter neutral and a lighter one for warm-weather wear. If your hair is multi-colored, your Key Neutral may be a heathered or tweed-y version of the color that captures that variation.
And if your hair us black or near-black, then of course you DO have a point-of-connection to black wardrobe pieces.
So now that you’ve identified this key color, how do you use it to improve your wardrobe? Try one or more of these applications:
- Use it for a Core Four – skirt, pant, top and over-layer top – that will give you tons of mix/match options with all your best accent colors. You may or may not wear these neutral pieces as a head-to-toe look, but that nuance is another lesson.
- Look for jeans is that color tone in addition to your regular blues.
- Pick up a handbag, casual shoes and dress shoes in that color family. (I know you’ve always been told that black accessories go with everything. But if everything you wear goes with your hair color, shouldn’t hair-color accessories go with everything you wear? And be a lot more interesting and personalized?)
- Consider a winter coat in that color, if you can find it. You want your coat to go with everything in your wardrobe, right?
- Use the hair-color top from your Core Four to connect other neutrals you already own back to your personal coloring.
- Look for touches of your hair color in any prints you choose for your wardrobe. The impact is even greater when the shape of the print motifs relates to the shapes in your hairstyle.
Here again are our four models from above, now in prints that include their hair color:
And here are lots more examples — shot with my iPhone during a class I taught on print selection. See the connections?
What elements in your current wardrobe repeat the color(s) of your hair? What pieces in that color do you want to add?
So what about navy as a wardrobe neutral?
Nobody’s hair is navy blue – at least not naturally! – but navy is a nearly universal neutral because it is so easy to connect it with a woman’s personal coloring by accessorising it with touches of her hair color. You can check HERE for examples of navy accessorized for blonde, red and silver hair.
Info about our professional color consultations is HERE.
Have you identified your Key Neutral? And can you see how much more enhancing it is for you than “basic black”? What pieces do you already own in that color family?
Thanks, this does give me the feeling I know what direction I’m going in – silvered heathered grey !
And most likely your optimal accent colors have that same silvered, heathered quality too.
Thanks, Nancy, this is very helpful but there’s still one thing confusing me. Why does the gray haired woman (of the 4 main models above) look good in a fairly subdued print, whereas the gray haired model Ginni in your “Looking Good…every day” book looks so great in a deep, saturated color like royal blue? You state on page 15 of your book that this is because of Ginni’s clear coloring, but I can’t really tell much difference: they both have silver gray hair and pale skin. I feel like I’m missing some key concept when it comes to the gray haired ladies.
It must be a variation in the way different monitors show the color, plus my very amateur photography compared to the professional work in the book. You are right that their coloring isn’t very different. And actually that print on Marcy (in the blog post) is pretty clear and bright. Not the brightest possible, but certainly not subdued. The grays are very silver-y, the pink is quite cool and deep and having the motifs outlined in black plus a shiny fabric finish enhance the depth and clarity of the over-all print. Bonus points for a very insightful question.
I have known for years- since you did my colors- that my key neutral is a dark rich chocolate brown. But it is very difficult to find, especially in bags and shoes. Most of the brown out there is warm toned and leather accessories are golden hued, which I really don’t want. And brown prints all contain yellows and oranges. Enough! I know we have talked about this before. Fabric and clothing designers must not understand color theory because it is tough to find certain colors and prints. Now I am searching for a suitable fabric and will make my own chocolate brown purse.
As a cool gal who loves brown myself, I feel your pain. Our Chocolate ponte knit is a great neutral brown that can pull warm or cool depending on the accent colors you use with it. I’m considering a new newsletter feature I plan to call “Fashion Flash” that will be an alert that goes out when I spot a hard-to-find item in retail — anything taupe, softer navy, cool browns, etc. Keep an eye out for that starting soon.
I’m headed to a wholesale fabric show next weekend and will specifically look for cool brown prints. We’ll see what I can find.
I simply can not believe it has taken me this long to see the obvious – my key neutral is the wheat gold color of my hair. I do wear versions of this color fairly often, but I consider it a very casual color. Even wearing a darker version like caramel doesn’t seem very “dressy”. How do blondes find a dark neutral? Or do they usually go with navy?
Congrats on the insight! That Key Neutral/hair color relationship can be wardrobe-changing (occasionally women even tell me it’s life-changing!) And I think you can get a similar big change from the realization that the dressiness of a fabric or a garment is determined far more by the fabrication than by the color. I remember a client named Ivy – an absolutely gorgeous blonde – who was looking for a little black dress for her 15th or 20th high school reunion. Instead we found a beautiful camel-y, gold-y cocktail dress. When she showed me the pictures from the event she was the focal point of every photo — almost as if a beam of light from on high was shining down on her. And it didn’t look casual a bit. Even in day-wear, a smoother fabric surface, subtle sheen and beautifully tailored garment details add to a polished, dressy look regardless of color.
having said all of that, navy is fine for you too, ideally accented with a touch of camel in the outfit and some gold jewelry.
I look for suitable browns also. You did my colors about 7 years ago and they tend to be spot on. The brown chosen by you is a deep cool ash brown. The “grey” in my hair is a shade of dirty cream and I also have a warmer cream or ivory for my “white”. I think that the overall effect is a shade of taupe. There is no true “grey” in my hair based on my swatches yet I am considered by others to be grey. Here is my questions and a comment.
Question #1: can you tell me what my core neutral is based on what I have related? And what would my 2nd neutral be?
Question #2 I have been switching from gold to silver jewelry as my hair greys but I don’t think it is a particularly good point of connection. Neither is Rose gold. It melts into my skin and can barely be seen. Is there even a good metal choice for my coloring?
Comment: it seems to me that most available browns, especially those labeled “chocolate “, are red browns and do not make a point of connection with my hair.
Then there are the yellow browns. Another “miss” for me but maybe a better choice over red browns? Actually, I find greenish browns to be my best choice but they are very rare in retail clothing or fabric. What do you think?
Thanks for taking the time to answer this. It is important to me!!!!
It sounds as if your key neutral shold be taupe — both a darker taupe and a lighter one would work. I know how hard taupe can be to find, so when one of my fabric suppliers got in a beautiful oightweight but firm ponte knit in that color I took all of it I could get. I’ve also come up with a couple of prints that are gorgeous with taupe. If you’ll contact me offline at NNR@NancyNixRice.com I’ll be happy to send you swatches. My guess on jewelry would be a gold/silber combo or a tri-color mix of G, S and rose gold. Pieces that mix smaller elements of the metals rather than big chunks will be more effective. You want it to read “goldsilvergoldsilver” rather than “GOLD — SILVER — GOLD — SILVER” if that makes sense. And look for matte, brushed, burnished or otherwise broken-up surfaces rather that big flat shiny ones.
?Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!❤ I’m so analytical but maybe my getting a better understanding of the points of connection here will help others with similar coloring. It is easy to see the point of connection when putting together salt and pepper hair with marcasite or gold with warm blond hair but I don’t see it with tri color or bi color jewelry and ash brown/warmish cream greying hair color. Does rose gold on its own have any place in my wardrobe given that it is so close in color to my slightly peachy skin? Please share your professional vision. Also, when you talk about taupe, how exactly would you describe that color? Grey brown? ?
The gold/silver thing works better for you than either of those indivifually because you hair color has both warm and cool elements within it. or another way to say it is that your hair color averages out to mid-temp, not overly cool or overly warm. The tri-color mix realtes to the cool ash brown in your hair, the warmish cream elements plus your skin tone. As for taupe, it is a mix of brown and gray. There are versions of taupe that are more brownish and other with more gray tomes, but always a color that you wouldn’t call just brown or just gray. Hope that helps.
I think that I finally am beginning to understand! I played around with some bi and tri colored pieces of very inexpensive pieces and saw what you were talking about. Thank you so much!