Struck in Neutral: Metals in Subtle Hues Complement an Elegant Tone-on-Tone Color Palette

With numerous fashion designers promoting such looks as 1960’s revival how-short-can-she-go mini-skirts (now repackaged as the “pantless” look), dangerous to wear platform shoes with extreme heels (Kate Walsh’s navigation of the steep ramp to take the stage on the People’s Choice Awards had us watching her descent in horror) and skintight patterned leggings, none of which trends will even be considered by well over half of American women as style possibilities, it is good to see one option with almost universal appeal. With so much of fashion shouting “look at me!”, many designers have hit the mute button when it comes to color.

Elle magazine calls these hues neutrals; Glamour calls them nudes, Harper’s Bazaar thinks of the range of colors as shades of ivory, and Lucky magazine speaks of coffee and cream. I like Marie Claire’s summary: “Fashion’s strongest understatements: brushed khaki, embellished ivory, and textured taupe. Go ahead, get a tan.” Camel hair coats, popular this winter, as well as classic khaki trench coats fall into this neutral zone.

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Illustration: From the December 2009 issue of Glamour, a photo collage of celebrities wearing variations on neutrals, each hue chosen to work with the wearer’s skin color. The bracelets are from Sequin.

Tone-on-tone dressing in these soft colors is one of the hallmarks of the elegant personality style. It is powerful and professional and at the same time approachable and calming. The new ABC’s World News Tonight anchor Diane Sawyer was the epitome of professional elegance last week wearing a taupe ensemble that flattered her blonde coloring accompanied by a pair of understated hoop earrings. Her entire look conveyed the gentle confidence for which she is known.

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Illustration: Nuanced neutrals pictured in the December 2009 issue of Elle magazine. The Buccellati estate jewelry from Camilla Dietz Bergeron (center), pearl chain necklace by Louis Vuitton (right) and brushed yellow gold bracelet by Hermes (left) all typify the subtle coloring perfect as accompaniment to a neutral fashion palette.

The best metals to complement these hues are themselves subtle. This is not the time to finish a look with highly polished metals or bright 22-karat yellow gold. Brushed metals and antiqued finishes are ideal, particularly in interesting mixes. Luminous pearls are perfect. Soft variations of brushed silvertone, gunmetal, bronze and 14-karat yellow gold are all excellent choices. Notice that the jewelry styles themselves vary significantly although all of the designs are substantial in size. The hues are subtle but the designs are not.

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Illustration: From the January 2010 issue of Marie Claire, a shorts suit by Gucci worn with a subtle yet eye-catching cuff bracelet from Philippe Audibert.

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Illustration: Also from the January 2010 issue of Marie Claire, a mini-dress by Max Azria accompanied by a mix of necklaces from Stephen Dweck and Elizabeth Cole Jewelry.

These subtle color palettes might actually be considered wonderful palette cleansers, as we look forward to the bright designs for spring and summer that will inevitably follow and provide their own fresh delight.