Working with Neutrals

Today’s post was written by Indigo, a long time Unicorn from our Maryland Shoppe, with edits by Erica.

As promised, welcome to our post on working with neutral colors!

In a world of glitz and glam, neutral colors may seem like background noise.  But these soothing, subtle, sophisticated colors are nothing to ignore. Use them independently, or use them as a base to guide and enhance bold accent colors.  The right neutral can change the entire mood of a palette. 

So what are neutral colors anyway? Neutrals are inspired by nature. But unlike earth tones which can be bold like fire and vivid like the setting sun, neutrals are softer. They are soothing, gentle, and lacking in the intensity of earth tones. Neutral colors range the spectrum of natural colors, from the palest tints to darkest shades.  For our purposes, natural colors mean creams, browns, yellows, greens and greys. We include white and black in our neutral selections, though technically they’re their own beast.  Not all yellows and greens are neutrals. Yellows leaning towards brown, like mustard and ochre, could be considered neutrals; while sunshine yellow is not.  Greens tending towards grey, like olive or oak moss could be considered neutrals, while emerald green is not.  Colors that lack sharp visual contrast are more likely to be neutrals.

Historically, neutral colors were the easiest to replicate, so they were the first dyes discovered and used. Eventually folks became better at replicating bolder colors, and our clothing became brighter and more vibrant.  Though, as you’d expect, those bold colors came with a high price tag, so neutrals became the domain of less wealthy folks, whereas the bright bold colors (especially purple, red, and blue) were the domain of the nobility and the elite. If you’re trying to create a simple peasant-style outfit, stick to neutrals! 

By the Victorian Era dark neutrals like black, charcoal, olive and navy became the popular color choices.  Several generations later, during the time spanning both World Wars, neutrals had again gained popularity.  For most of history, really, neutrals gained prominence during times of war, restraint, and rationing. In times of peace, plenty, and excess, bright rich colors led the way. In recent times, the choice of neutrals most often reflects modern minimalism, sophistication, and clean simplicity.  

Now let’s take a look at how you can use neutrals in your garb and costuming today. 

Like all colors, neutrals fall into two categories: cool colors and warm colors. Cool colors have blue and purple hues.  Warm colors have red, orange, and yellow hues. Green is the tie-breaker color, and can be cool or warm depending on whether it is more blue leaning or yellow leaning. Cool neutrals are colors like grey and black. Warm neutrals are colors like cream and brown. For a harmonizing look, combine cool neutrals with cool colors and warm neutrals with warm colors. For a more contrasting pop, combine a cool neutral with a warm color or a warm neutral with a cool color. The great thing about neutrals is that they can be paired with just about anything without clashing.  

It used to be written in stone that brown and black simply did not mix, nor did cream and white. That is less strictly followed now. And don’t forget- as far as we’re concerned if you do it with Intention and Joy, you’re doing it right! So mix those colors! 

Hopefully you understand neutral colors in fashion better now. We’ll wrap things up with some tips for using neutrals in your next Unicorn Clothing ensemble: 

  • Lighten an outfit up with a cream or white blouse. Lighter neutrals lift and accentuate all the colors of an outfit. 
  • Similarly, you can darken an outfit by using a black blouse.
  • If you’ve picked a bodice or belt with some neutral colors in it, try to match those neutrals in the skirts. 
  • Use black as the bottom skirt to ground an outfit and divert attention away from the bottom. 
  • In general we structure our outfits from lightest color to darkest, from top to bottom, to flatter the wearer. 
  • If you’re unsure of what colors you’d like to pursue, or you’re looking for some simple separates that will mix-and-match well with a variety of other pieces…start with neutrals! 
  • Steampunk style is basically Victorian Era garb in predominantly creams and browns. 

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