What’s the Secret to Monochrome Dressing?


Monochrome clothing is the official name for what you’re talking about. People often associate the word with black/white/gray, but that simply means wearing one color. Since Michelle Obama modeled her inauguration event in Sergio Hudson’s burgundy neck-to-toe hue, it’s been one of the biggest trends of the year. (See also Jake Gyllenhaal at the Tonys in a pink Prada suit with a pink shirt.)

As for the reason, well, Goop called monochrome “universally flattering,” because it creates a single, unbroken line that lengthens and polishes, enhancing the illusion of height for nearly any body. It also uses the power of color to create or reflect a mood, be it electric, upbeat, calm or serene. It also suggests commitment and confidence. There is nothing conceited about stepping into one’s shade. And you don’t have to worry about that annoying formatting issue.

The undisputed queen of this type of clothing, of course, the The Queen, who’s been wearing monochromatic since at least the middle of the last century, is best suited to stand out in a crowd. (She did so well that she inspired an entire book on the topic called Our Queen of the Rainbow) But she’s not alone.

Pascal Anson, artist and educator of the BBC’s “The Big Painting Challenge” has made monochromatic clothing a bit of a performance over his last year working remotely, documenting his experiences on Instagram. (He dubbed the series “Monoclo.”) Mr. Hudson doubled down on the look in his fall ensemble, showing off monochromatic tailoring and cocktail wear in red, yellow, blue, and purple. It kind of became his signature.

So for best practice advice, it seemed like no one was asking for it. Mr. Hudson emailed me that the most important thing to consider is to use subtle differences in tone. For example, he said, “I was going to do marigold yellow alongside canary yellow instead of the full canary yellow look. It gives a monochromatic feel without the roughness of the same color from head to toe and creates a more cohesive look.”

Meredith Cope, a designer and consultant responsible for Mrs. Obama’s look, suggested playing with texture: “Look for contrasts in texture,” she said. “Something silky with sheen, fleece velvet, matte crepe, woven bouclé or rich velvet. That will move the eye and make the look more dynamic.”

To be honest, it’s also easier if you don’t have to use matching nut swatches, and you can shop around to find what fits your budget.

Start, for example, with a simple silk skirt like this one from Quince. Or try wide-leg pants like these from Pangea (they come in flamingo pink, orchid purple, apple red, and saffron). Then build.

Ms. Cobb recommends looking to Michelle Mason and Le Soberby in terms of pricing, as well as Banana Republic’s Banana Republic and BR x Harbison for more budget-friendly styles. She said, “Always check with RealReal and ThredUP directly for a deal.”

As Mr. Hudson said, the result is that it was fought without fanfare. “And that’s always neat.”

Every week on the Open Thread, Vanessa answers a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her at any time via E-mail or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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