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Wear Neutrals Over 50 and Look Vibrant, Not Washed Out

Building a Wardrobe
July 12, 2022

Yes, you can! Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I mentioned to my Nordstrom stylist last week that some women believe you shouldn’t wear neutrals or, more specifically all neutrals, when you’re over 50 because… And before I could finish my sentence this professional stylist with 20 years of experience dressing women of all ages exclaimed, “What?!? Who said that?” We laughed and she jumped on her soapbox and continued to set me straight. Hahaha! So today I thought I’d share with you some of the tips I gleaned from Lucy, my Nordstrom stylist, and further research, so that you absolutely can wear neutrals over 50 and look vibrant, not washed out.

Wearing Neutrals is Stylish and On Trend

Wearing neutrals is definitely on trend in 2022. While we certainly have some beautiful colors to choose from in current fashions, we will continue to see neutral on neutral outfits looking chic and stylish. In fact, I don’t think wearing all or mostly neutrals ever really goes out of style.

An outfit comprised of all neutrals can look:

  • classy
  • sophisticated
  • mysterious
  • slenderizing
  • elevated
  • and very sharp…or very soft.
boyfriend Jeans and Long Shirt
See the original post // linen stretch layering tank // linen blend stripe maxi shirt // white boyfriend ankle jeans // Tory Burch Miller Cloud Sandals (gifted) // necklace // bracelet // earrings // watch (use code KAYHRMS for 15% off your purchase, gifted)

And one of the reasons I love wearing neutrals is that they can provide a great frame for the real star of the look…you! Clothes in neutrals don’t tend to grab the attention; instead, like a solid white mat around a simply framed masterpiece, they allow you to shine.

Camel and Grey Winter Classic

And any time I want to look pulled together and a little sophisticated but I also want to be casual, I know that I can put together simple pieces in all neutrals to achieve that goal. That’s why I chose mostly neutrals for my recent travel capsule wardrobe for the frequent tourist. Those pieces are all very casual, but when you combine them they create polished, classy outfits.

Black Polo and Seasoft Pants
See the original post for details.

Our Coloring Does Change as We Age

That said, I will agree that, especially as we age and our coloring changes, we can begin to look washed out and somewhat hidden if we don’t add a little color. But remember, there are other ways to add color to your look besides wearing it in garments. More on that later.

Kut from the Kloth jeans
From the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale // See the original post // Kut from the Kloth Rachel fab ab mom jeans // Vince wool & cashmere rib tunic sweater // Madewell desert dune leather belt // Steve Madden Fleur Pointed Toe Mules in black plaid

The reason some people will tell you that older women shouldn’t wear neutrals is that as we age our coloring does indeed change. We tend to soften, for the most part. Our skin becomes a little more translucent, less pigmented. Our eye color begins to fade a little. Sometimes we begin to lose some of our lashes and brows. I know, I know. This list is no fun! But you know as well as I do that these are the realities of aging.

earrings // necklace

And of course our hair changes. You and I know that greying is not usually as simple as just “going grey.” My own hair has actually become more yellow since I stopped coloring it. Some women are fortunate to have glistening silver locks, but many of us have more of a motley mop or harsh steel-colored tresses. And when we look in the mirror we just don’t see the hues of our youth. It’s a little startling, isn’t it?

But the well intentioned folks who tell you not to wear neutrals over 50 are missing several key factors. First of all, there are no hard fast rules here. We are no more cookie cutter women over 50 than we were in our 20s, 30s or 40s. We’re still unique, and you need to take into consideration your own unique coloring…even over 50. And yes, even well over 50.

Favorite Fall Outfit from My Closet
See the original post.

Second, there is actually much more to looking vibrant and radiant than coloring. And finally, there are other ways to add some color than through our clothing.

Instead of Fixating on Color, Consider Vibrancy

Have you thought about why adding color helps a woman look a little more vibrant? It’s because our eyes associate color with life, health and growth. Things that are healthy and growing – babies, children, plants, etc. – all have color. Whether it’s the vibrant green of new growth on previously dormant trees in the spring or the full blush of a baby’s plump pink cheeks, that color signals healthiness.

So as we age, our diminishing color indicates to others that we are no longer spring chicks. Like the vibrant blue or purple hydrangeas that later dry to muted shades of their former glory, our own changing color shows we are, at least biologically, past our prime.

hydrangeas and dried hydrangeas

But those muted, faded colors are still beautiful. They just indicate that growth has stopped and maturity has been reached. Consider the fact that we often use those more faded, neutral shades to decorate our homes. Why? Because they make us feel relaxed. They don’t overstimulate the eyes, but instead they put the eyes at rest.

When we dress in neutrals we can do the same thing. We can create pleasing looks that are easy on the eyes. The more muted shades may not communicate growth or youthfulness, but they do communicate maturity, elegance, refinement and a soft harmony.

Contrast in Intensity

Sure, you can look stunning in colors that compliment your undertones and make your eyes pop. (See my blog post What to Wear So Your Eyes Pop for more insight into choosing colors that play well with your eye color.) And I’m all for wearing those with joy and confidence. My light green eyes really dazzle when I wear blues or greens, so I do enjoy wearing these colors.

Color is Beautiful

But that doesn’t mean I’m limited to always wearing color. And neither are you. We won’t achieve the exact same effect when we wear neutrals as we will when we don our best colors. But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean you necessarily look washed out or tired. Or at least you don’t have to.

Color is just one of several ways to add vibrancy. We can also look more alive, more healthy and vibrant when we…

  • smile and laugh joyfully
  • engage with our eyes
  • get plenty of sleep
  • get outside for fresh air consistently
  • protect our eyes from strain by using the right strength of corrective lenses or wearing blue light protection if needed
  • take care of our teeth and whiten possibly
  • wear a little makeup
  • use some self-tanner or bronzer
  • color or just highlight our hair
  • use a toner such as L’Oreal Paris Le Color Gloss in-shower toning hair gloss
  • add some sparkle with jewelry
  • use good posture
  • exercise regularly
Coastal Grandma at Afternoon Tea

The bottom line? The end goal is vibrancy. But color is only one of a number of ways to add a little vibrance to our appearance.

Some Tips for Wearing Neutrals Beautifully

When you do want to opt for neutrals instead of color, here are some tips that can help make you look more vibrant and beautiful in them. (Personally, I don’t abide by all of these tips as though they are rules. I use them as guidelines, realizing some will help me get better results. But I don’t stick with these religiously because sometimes I just want to wear what I want to wear.)

Mother's Day Outfit
See the original post.

Wear neutrals in a tone that compliments your undertones. My undertones are actually neutral, so I can wear a wide range of neutrals and do pretty well. But if you have warm undertones, you’ll want to look for neutrals – whether they be black, brown, grey, beige, camel or whites (ivory, ecru, etc.) – with some warmth. Yes, even some blacks are warmer than others when it comes to fabric. Look for flecks of gold in your neutrals. And if you have cool undertones, you’ll do better with neutrals that are in cool tones. These may have a purple or pink cast to them.

LInen Tank and Cardigan
linen stretch layering tank // linen button front tunic cardigan // linen wide leg pants // d’Orsay Pumps // necklace // bracelet // earrings // watch (use code KAYHRMS for 15% off your purchase, gifted) // Clutch

Choose neutrals that look pretty against your skin color. I think women with black and brown skin look so lovely in white, cream and other lighter neutrals. But paler women can look stellar in shades of grey. And some women have skin that looks so creamy in brown.

Leather Blazer with Pleated Midi Skirt
See the original post.

Wear neutrals that make your eyes pop. Some of us have eye colors that actually work really nicely with neutrals. For instance, if you have grey eyes, your peepers will shine when you wear black. Or if your eyes are amber, coppery browns will intensify your eyes. See this blog post to see if there are any neutrals that work well with your eye color.

Wearing Panty Hose

Add some color with your makeup. Notice I said “add some color” with your makeup. Just applying foundation and mascara and a nude lip will not add vibrancy to your face. Instead, take advantage of products that help add some youthful color to places such as your cheeks and lips. I usually dust just a faint bit of pink blush onto my forehead and the bridge of my nose as well since those are places that would naturally get a little sunkissed if I allowed them to.

Ivory Sweater and Ivory Boots bookending black jeans

Do highlight your eyes with mascara, add a little eyeshadow and define your brows. A little artistry around your eyes can help them light up against the backdrop of your chosen neutrals.

Keep your hair shiny and toned. I’ve been using L’Oreal’s Le Color Gloss one step in-shower hair toning gloss every two weeks or so. It helps keep the yellow out, but it also just adds shine and silkiness to my greying hair. I also think the Hair Biology products (found only at Target and help keep my hair shiny and vibrant.

white linen shell

Use contrast in intensity principles in your outfit to work to your advantage. For a detailed explanation of putting together outfits with different levels of contrast in intensity, see this previous post and this one. And definitely check out this video, The #1 Secret to Creating Great Outfits. In brief, if the contrast in intensity in your own features (skin, hair, eyes) is low, you’ll look great in outfits where there is less contrast in intensity, such as the lighter one above or the darker one below.

Fall Non-Jeans Outfit with Low Contrast in Intensity

And if you have medium contrast in intensity among your features, then you’ll shine in neutrals when you keep the contrast medium, as I did below.

Caslon Jeans and Kut from the Kloth Jacket

But if you have a lot of contrast in the intensity of your eyes and the intensity of your hair or skin, then you will look really pulled together in outfits that also feature high contrast in intensity, such as a black and white outfit. Or the black and oatmeal beige outfit below is another good example of high contrast in intensity.

Versatile Spring Style Formula

Truly, keeping the contrast in intensity in your outfit similar to your own contrast in intensity can actually light up your face and make you look even more vivacious and beautiful than wearing one color you love.

Add light with jewelry and metallic accessories. Adding some pretty earrings that make your eyes sparkle can add just as much light to your face as a colored shirt. So add some earrings and or necklace. But don’t forget that your sunglasses and reading glasses can also add light to your overall look. And even carrying a metallic handbag, wearing a sparkly bracelet or wearing some shiny shoes can add vibrance.

boho cuff bracelet
See the original post.

Layer on the texture. When you put together an all neutrals outfit featuring multiple textures, you create interest. You give the eyes something to look at. Since you’re wearing all neutrals – which is very soothing on the eyes – some variation in texture can add that little something that gives your overall look more polish. For instance, you could combine cashmere, leather and denim. Or maybe silk and wool. Or linen and knits and silk.

Camel Sweater Outfit for Women Over 50
See the original post for details.

Switch up your neutrals if it makes you feel better. I personally believe we do not have to age out of our favorite neutrals. But if you do feel like black looks too harsh on you, opt for navy instead. Or if you feel camel no longer works for your coloring, consider grey instead.

Eileen Fisher
From the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale: boat neck raglan sleeve merino wool sweater // Eileen Fisher corduroy cropped tapered pants // Cole Haan Viola skimmer flats // Kendra Scott drop earrings // Argento Vivo Herringbone chain necklace

Go ahead and throw in a color if you’d like. You can still achieve a “neutrals look” if you keep most of your outfit neutral but throw in one swath of color somewhere. Above I’m wearing camel pants and camel shoes. I could add a camel or brown jacket or handbag, too. That one splash of blue in my sweater simply works nicely with my eyes, but my overall look is still stylishly neutral. Below I added just a touch of color with the collar of my sweater. Of course if you add that blazer, you get even more color!

Tonal Outfit

Add a print. If you feel like large blocks of neutrals make you look (or at least feel) invisible, add a print or pattern in neutrals to the mix. That print adds interest and style. And it may be what you need to feel more visible.

Nordstrom Sweater and Caslon Jeans
From the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale: Nordstrom cashmere crewneck sweater // Caslon distressed slim leg high waist jeans // Open Edit Kyla flat mules // Rails Chelsea plaid blazer // Allsaints Odette East/West leather tote // Kendra Scott drop earrings // Argento Vivo Herringbone chain necklace

Add a splash of color with your handbag or shoes. Brown is really trending this year. And the antique blue above (and many other shades of blue, too) will look “natural” with this neutral. You still get that “all neutrals” look, but you get to satisfy your need for color, too. I get it. Some women just crave that splash of color!

Create your all neutrals look with blue jeans. Who doesn’t love wearing blue jeans? Well, I know a few of you don’t. But if you do, use them as the base of your otherwise neutral look.

Classic white shirt

Add some animal print. Remember, animal print actually calculates into your outfit like another neutral. So you can wear it with any of your neutrals, but it adds interest and texture.

What I Wore to the Mall

Finally, remember tomorrow is another day. Unless neutrals are your dress code at work, we’re not talking about a uniform you have to wear every day. If you put together an all neutrals outfit and don’t feel beautiful in it, don’t wear it again. No harm, no foul.

On the other hand, I love variety in my wardrobe. And I love having a closet full of neutrals that I can easily mix and match to create interesting but…neutral, easy-on-the-eyes, elevated outfits. Honestly, they give me more joy than color…on me. You might be interested to know that I don’t have hardly any neutrals in my home. I have a spring green sofa in one living area and a bold red one in another. My china is colorful and my crystal is blue. I love color in my home. But on me…I feel my best in neutrals.

What about you? Do you love to wear neutrals or color the most? And what do you decorate your home with? I hope today’s post was helpful to you. Thank you so much for stopping in.

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Blessed for My Day

I was reminded recently that I do not have to do anything on my own. That is such a relief to me. I’m carrying some things right now that seem way to heavy for me. Sometimes they wake up at night. Sometimes they make it hard to get to sleep at all. It’s funny because these things probably would not have seemed so hard and heavy ten or twenty years ago. But as I get older and become more aware of my own limitations, matters feel a little bigger sometimes. Anyone?

But I have to remind myself that while things may seem big and heavy and hard and long, I do not have to carry them even one foot forward alone. God walks with me, fights my battles for me, strengthens me, gives me courage, provides the resources, produces the results and grants the wisdom I need to navigate through each twist or turn. Maybe you needed to be reminded of that today, too. Friend, you are not in this alone. It may be too big and hard for you. But God’s got this. And He’s got you, too.

‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. ~ Jeremiah 32:17

xoxo, Kay
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16 thoughts on “Wear Neutrals Over 50 and Look Vibrant, Not Washed Out

  1. Very interesting and informing blog but I have to tell you that some of us just love color. At 76 I always have, though I wear neutrals in my pants and some layering pieces. My Dad was still wearing his Penelton plaid slacks at 90 and my Mom her red. Guess I inherited their love of color. But it is good to know how to wear neutrals well.

    1. Absolutely. I tried to say that, but maybe I didn’t emphasize it enough. That if you love color, wear it! This wasn’t meant to be an encouragement to wear only neutrals, but an explanation of how you can if you desire to. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love the post! I think you look really nice in the white/khaki combination. Thanks for the encouragement as well. May God bless and keep you. He Is Faithful!

  3. Good Morning! I enjoyed your post on wearing neutrals. I forget to mix up my colors, great reminder. It is also peach season, which triggered memories of your peach recipe last year. I have misplaced it. Can you repost the recipe?

    Thanks for bringing scripture to everyday living and daily inspiration of looking our best.

    1. Hello Patrise. I just checked and the pound cake recipe is actually in the Printables Library. So if you’re an email subscriber you can access it there. There’s a link to the Library in the top menu.

  4. You are a great observer and full of practical, detailed knowledge! Thank you for your thoughtfulness and care. Great post – you do “get” my feelings about being washed out as I age. I still have trouble choosing my best neutrals (despite reading your tabbed posts), and tend to think I am washed out wearing them. It does seem easier to use neutrals in warm seasons when linen is predominant. Neutrals in cool weather seem to be heavier and less alive, if that makes sense. As a dark brown-eyed “winter” with cool leanings, I struggle with shades of brown – never thought I could wear them – though I keep looking at Eileen Fisher lantern pants which are currently offered in brown! Thanks for being in my mailbox – I always enjoy your musings and advice.

    1. I bought those brown lantern pants and they are lovely. They’re actually a perfect choice for you because you could top them with a pretty light pink, rose or blue top.

  5. Kay,
    Thanks for the thorough review. I mistakenly equated wearing neutrals as wearing only beige, tan, camel and grey. They do not look good on me but I can wear navy, black and maybe charcoal grey.

    One of the key things I learned was from the post on contrast in your outfits and how it relates to our own contrast. As I aged I went from high contrast ( darkish reddish brown hair, pale skin, blue eyes) to medium contrast ( softer hair color, more textured skin, faded eyes with less white sclera). I now find wearing more medium value colors and medium contrast outfits more flattering for me.

    I like your attitude about trying new things, there is always tomorrow to return to our old ways. Most of us want to look our best which may mean trying something different. If we didn’t we probably wouldn’t be reading blogs like yours.

  6. Just wanted to say thanks for what you do and how it has helped me. I’m about 60 and just seemed to have lost any sense of what I need to wear other than dog walking. So when an occasion came up I relied on your advice and was able to put something together at the last minute without going into a panic. It really has helped me figure it all out. Keep up the good work!

    1. Ahh, that’s so good to hear, Lori. Thank you for letting me know that my content has been some help to you. At about 60 you’ve got a lot of life to live yet!

  7. What a wonderful BFMD! Oh, Kay, this post is so very helpful. I do enjoy wearing neutrals every now and then. Thank you so much for mentioning the L’Oreal Paris Le Color Gloss. I will definitely be adding it to my hair care regimen right away. Our healthy well water has helped my silver hair to become yellow, which I don’t like. Thanks to your kind encouragement, I am going to make an effort to wear makeup every now and then, unless my allergy issues get too bad from it. I wish you a beautiful weekend!

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed your “Wearing Neutrals” article today , I love colour BUT I also love Neutrals but dont always know how to wear them , ive pushed them to the back of my wardrobe , they will come out today and I hope I can wear them as Classily and Elegantly as you do Thank you . Also I loved your prayer and footnote at the end ……I so needed reminding that God is there for us especially today when I felt so sad and hurt. Much Love and Care to you Kym Xx

  9. Neutrals can be very elegant, but I agree about adding some other “interest” to out outfit, through jewellery, light makeup, a scarf, an accessory, and so on. And I might add that, in addition to following our own tastes, our personality also plays a role. As a retired secondary school teacher, believe me, I had to be calm and poised but definitely direct and vibrant! “Strong” accents definitely fit my personality, so although I do wear various neutrals on a regular basis, I nearly always add some bright colours that reflect the “real me.”. P.S. I am a grandmother, and I live on a coast, so that look works for me. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Elizabeth. I can definitely see where adding a little impact to a neutrals outfit can make a difference as a teacher. Great point!