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:
- and very sharp…or very soft.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Target.com) help keep my hair shiny and vibrant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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