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  • Writer's picturesarah

The Monochrome Experiment

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

I've always felt monochrome dressing can be instantly chic and polished. But I don't have the money or closet space to go to a store and buy one color head to toe. Plus, I'm trying very hard to decrease my environmental footprint by buying less clothing.

Thankfully, I don't think you have to be entirely head to toe one color to achieve the monochromatic look. I mean who even has that? So I'm thinking about working in some accessories and varying shades of my selected colors. But if you have some favorite colors (especially neutrals), you'll probably surprise yourself at the monochrome looks you can pull from your closet. Ninety percent of my closet is denim, white, and black, and I'm confident I can pull some looks.

Even though monochrome dressing is really in right now, it's never really been out. Think about dressing in all black or all white. It's always been chic--and even better, attainable--with various separates you have in your closet.

So this week, I decided to experiment with modern yet classic monochrome dressing, to see what works and what doesn't. Hopefully I'll come out on the other end with some outfit ideas to build on and wear on repeat.

A side note: a little known fact is that I was a Molecular and Cell Biology major in college. Although I've embraced my creative side (and feel much more comfortable there), my scientific brain is always running steadily in the background. So I've decided to approach this very loosely like a science experiment with a little trial and error, and see if that helps break down my analysis. I will start each outfit idea with a general hypothesis, and build on those initial ideas. OK, here we go!

Outfit 1: Nude on Nude


Nude on Nude can go awash, so it needs a pop of color.

This is the outfit that inspired the monochrome experiment. I picked up this top not knowing exactly how I would style it, and realized these culottes I owned were a very similar shade. I knew so much of the nude tone would easily wash me out, so I added a red lip for color and sculptural wedges to add some hard to all the soft. I think a cream sweater or denim or leather jacket could be good layering options here as well.


I quite like the bold lip as expected, but to me, the star of the show turned out to be the gorgeous sandal straps that are highlighted against a nude background.

Top: Theory

Culottes: Uniqlo (old)

Sandals: Johnston & Murphy

Outfit 2: Army Green


Army green can be an interesting palette for an unexpected color pop. Head to toe though, it may be too much.

1. I paired the outfit with nude sandals and a delicate gold lanyard to keep the focus on the army green.

2. Here I added a wine-colored fedora to enhance both the simplicity of the green and the velvety texture of the hat.


The army green top + pants combo is an easy look and one that I would replicate, but the addition of color with the hat and sparkle from the necklace enhance the overall look on those days you just need to be a little extra. I think breaking up the green with some skin on the arms and ankles helps it not to feel so heavy, so the short sleeves and cropped pants are a good choice.

Top: Theory

Pants: Wide Leg Crop Pant, in Surplus by Everlane

Sandals: Narrow Strap Sandal by Rainbow

Hat: Anthony Peto

Outfit 3: Shades of Grey


Grey isn't a very exciting color, so combining shades of grey might give the outfit a bit more depth.

I decided to try grey because it's a color that most of us have in our closets. Grey has been huge for several years, and has started to feel like it's had its day, as evidenced by the resurrection of brown in recent years. So maybe layering some varied shades of grey would help inject some life back into our grey wardrobes.

1. I started with a heather grey tee + faded black jeans. The white sneakers and metallic detail help break up the grey a bit.

2. The addition of the striped faded black scarf with fringe adds some depth; the silky drape adds softness.

3. A grey hat tops off the many shades of grey, but perhaps it's one grey piece too many

4. Swapped out the grey hat for a woven tan hat, which gives warmth to an otherwise very cool toned outfit.

5. Just for fun, tried topping the outfit with my neon scarf


I do think layering shades of grey helped to add some depth and texture to an outfit that could go drab fast. Pops will really pop, and adding warmth is important with this color combo. Brass accessories or caramel leather bags, shoes, or belts could be other good warming elements. And if you're going to go bold, neon is definitely queen.

Tee, Neon Scarf: J Crew (old)

Jeans: Authentic Stretch High Rise Cigarette Jean in Washed Black, by Everlane

Sneakers: The Trainer in Off-White, by Tread by Everlane

Scarf: Eileen Fisher

Faded Black Hat: JJ Hat Center

Woven Hat: Eric Javits (old)

Outfit 4: Shades of White

Hypothesis Whites say crisp summer days. Head to toe white should be instantly chic and modern.

1. I tried the classic white men's inspired shirt (styled with a half-tuck so I'm not drowning in it) with white skinnies and nude sandals. The nude sandals help to extend the ankle down and give some added relief to the white.

2. I had to try some white sandals for the whole head to toe effect, and then realized that if I was going to do that, I needed to cuff the skinnies to give some breathing room to the white. The light beige scarf brings a soft texture lacking in the first iteration.

3. Back to the nude sandals, and a Panama hat for texture


White on white feels classic, but some relief with the nude sandals and a bit of skin in the neckline helps offset so much white. So maybe there could be too much of a good thing? The hat and scarf warm up the white a bit, while also adding hard and soft for more balance.

Shirt: J Crew (old)

Skinnies: Madewell (old)

Nude Sandals: Narrow Strap Sandal by Rainbow (old)

White Sandals: Born (old)

Beige scarf: Eileen Fisher

Panama Hat: J Crew (old)

Final Conclusions

Monochrome dressing can be an easy way to remix your existing closet and make your pieces feel fresh and modern. Make sure to provide relief from the color you've chosen by showing a bit of skin. Nude shoes, short sleeve shirts, cropped pants, or skirts and shorts can help create this illusion. Adding varying shades, bold pops of color, or sculptural, textural, or metallic accessories can further help to break up the heaviness of a monochrome outfit. Lighter or flowy fabrics tend to lend themselves well to a monochromatic look. With a clean, monochromatic palette, your accessories are given a chance to shine, so break out your favorites, and get them some wear!

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