Christen’s Color Theory: Neutrals, Pseudo-Neutrals, and Metallics

Years ago, I worked on the Hill and was utterly bored. I hated the work I did and was on a committee with no one on staff even remotely close to my age. I was desperate for a creative outlet, and started a personal style blog back before style blogging was a thing. (The blog has since been password-protected out of embarrassment so don’t try Googling me…) I had enough colleagues ask me why certain things went well together and others didn’t that I decided to do a series of blog posts on color. I wanted to teach my (limited) readership how to know when something “goes” so they no longer felt the need to match.

Now, I’m not big on fashion “rules” as I’ve stated in the past because I believe when it comes to fashion all rules are meant to be broken, but I still personally abide by the color theory I developed nearly a decade ago and it has never steered me wrong.


First, there are neutrals. Everyone knows these — black, white, brown and gray and their various shades. They can be mixed and matched amongst themselves in any way without the need to overthink it. Yes, you can wear brown with black, I promise. Yes, you can wear white and beige. Additionally, any neutral can be paired with ANY single color. Gray and hot pink — they’re a do. Brown and mustard? They might make you look ill but they don’t clash themselves.

Neutral on NeutralThis is my favorite way to dress — in various shades of the same neutral. It’s easy and always looks more luxurious.

Finally, because all neutrals are interchangeable AND they can be paired with any single color, you can wear a mix of neutrals with a single color of your choice, and rest assured that they will all work.


Are you confused yet? I hope not.

Enter the pseudo-neutrals. Pseudo-neutrals are colors dark enough or light enough that they function as a neutral. Pseudo-neutrals include, for example, dark navy, forest green, pale yellow, Alice blue. So, all of the rules about neutrals above? They apply to pseudo-neutrals, too.


 This pale blue jacket by TSALT doesn’t clash with my hot pink hair because it’s pale enough that it functions as a neutral. Any more pigment and we would run into trouble.

Side Note: All blue denim is a pseudo-neutral. No, the shade does not matter.

Blue Denim

This is one of the reasons I wear so much blue denim — I don’t have to think about what to wear with it!


Finally, enter the metallics. You have your silvers and golds, bronzes and pewters, and their various shades. Once again, metallics function exactly like a neutral color. They can be mixed and matched and worn with any other single color of your choice without thought or worry. Are you catching on?

Neutral on Metallic

A soft gray t-shirt is an unexpected yet easy choice for my gold pleated skirt with my color rules in mind.

So, to recap, when you get dressed in the morning you have one of two options:

Option 1: Pick a color and then wear any variety of neutrals, pseudo-neutrals and/or metallics with it and carry on with your day.

Option 2: Decide you hate color and wear any variety of neutrals, pseudo-neutrals and/or metallics together and carry on with your day.

There is one final piece to this puzzle, one that I failed to indicate to my once-loyal blog readers in the original series: this only works if you cap your total number of shades per outfit at three. In my experience, if you have more than three colors in one look, no matter what they are it will look sloppy unless you are wearing a print that ties them all together. But if that’s the case, how many pieces of clothing are you wearing?!?

Three Colors Max

Here, I made sure my shoes matched a color in my outfit since I was already wearing three hues and didn’t want to introduce a fourth.

Assuming your next question is, “What about wearing colors with other colors?” my answer is that I haven’t solved that one yet. It’s just instinct. When in doubt, wear neutrals. Or pseudo-neutrals. Or metallics. That’s still a lot to work with!

1 Comment

  1. Avatar alexandra says:

    STUNNING love this AND you!


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