Monochromatic dressing is the favorite trick of virtually every fashion editor, designer and stylist I know. Even Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan are adherents in their personal lives.
Why? Because it makes everybody look slimmer and taller instantly. Plus, it’s always elegant, and it’s an extremely easy way to dress — almost a total no brainer! You have to wonder why more women outside the fashion industry don’t take advantage of it.
Technically, dressing monochromatically is wearing one color — any color — from head to toe (although we can fudge that bit, and it works for two main reasons:
Color is the first thing most people notice about an outfit. Even someone who is clueless about fashion and rarely notices what anybody’s wearing will notice color.
Dressing in one color produces a strong unbroken vertical line that elongates the body. Put those two facts together and you’ve got a very powerful slimming tool.
Audrey Hepburn was a fan
Audrey Hepburn was one of the multitude of stylish celebrities who fully appreciated the marvels of monochromes. There’s the much told story of how Audrey was driven to tears during the making of Funny Face by director Stanley Donnen’s insistence that she wear white socks with her black dancer’s outfit.
Audrey tried to explain that the socks would interrupt the continuous black line of her outfit and make her legs look shorter, but Donnen — apparently unschooled in the finer nuances of Camouflage Chic — just didn’t get it.
Ultimately, Audrey wore the maligned socks, and after seeing the footage actually acknowledged that in that particular cinematic instance they were, in fact, acceptable, since they helped to separate her from the background. I don’t think she ever incorporated the socks into her personal wardrobe, however. Audrey was way too hip to the glories and chic of monochromes.
Use texture to add interest to monochromes
While we’re talking one color here, we’re in no way limiting texture. You can incorporate as many different textures into an outfit as you like. In fact, you’d be surprised at the extra pizzazz and sophistication you can get with a little warp and woof.
Imagine the rich interplay of a buttery soft suede jacket, cashmere turtleneck, fluid wool flannel trousers, and silk scarf. Even if all colors were identical, the variation in textures would give the outfit a rich interesting dimension and relief from sameness.
With textures like ribbing, knits, tweeds and jacquard-type fabrics, you can even add patterns without ever getting near another color. Plus, texture can even help define the mood of your outfit. You could, for instance, add a touch of affluence with silk charmeuse, a hint of femininity with lace or chiffon or a dash of romanticism with velvet.
How to bend the monochromatic rule
Of course, you can bend the rule. (You didn’t think I was going to keep you in fashion jail, did you?) There will probably be times when you just don’t feel like dressing in one color. Even I, who have more black in my closet than a nun, occasionally get the urge to mix and match a color or two — not often mind you, but it does happen.
So a little cheating is fine, as long as we don’t lose the monochromatic magic. Once we start on this course, the resulting outfits might not be technically monochromatic, but they’ll be real close, which is good enough. Bending a rule is always fun if you can get away with it.
Play around with values
The first bend in the road is the juxtaposition of values. Value in this context is the lightness or darkness of a color. Black is the darkest value, white the lightest. Every other color falls somewhere in between.
It’s really easy to see value when you look at black and white photographs, because those are the only color elements that actually comes through. Medium red and medium green, for instance, come across as the same shade of gray. Ditto for pale yellow and pale pink, or dark brown and navy.
So when you’re trying to determine value of a particular color, just imagine what shade of gray it would be in a black and white photograph. The closer the shades of gray, the closer the colors are in value.
One value of different colors
Theoretically, you could mix almost any colors of the same value and create some pretty spiffy fashion combinations. In the pastel ranges, for example, you could mix a yummy melange of dusty pinks and blues, lavenders, muted greens and melons. Bright combos such as red and purple, bright blue and emerald, turquoise and yellow might also be viable and exciting.
But if you’re serious about looking thinner, your best bet is to mix subtle dark colors, such as navy and deep loden green, mink brown and charcoal gray, deep wine and raisin — or any of the aforementioned with black. It’s a very effective and creative way to skirt the monochromatic rule.
The intensity of the brighter colors, on the other hand, tends to draw the eye to where the two colors meet, which would be risky in terms of camouflage if the colors intersected in an undesirable area, say across the hips. Not only would you be drawing attention where you might not want it, but a horizontal line would be created that would interrupt the vertical line of the body.
One color of different values
The other value-mixing tactic is to blend different values of the same color. In other words, blend lighter and darker shades of one color. You could blend a range of grays, for instance, from pearl to putty to slate to charcoal; or a palette of browns from taupe to cocoa to chocolate. It’s always a good idea to keep lighter tones on top for balance.
Also, since lighter tones draw attention first, they lead the eye up to your lovely face and away from any potential trouble spots. Blends in the same color family give the impression of solid color unity and make for a longer and leaner look. Plus, they are quite chic and very sophisticated to boot.
Things to remember
A hemline that hits at the heaviest part of your leg adds pounds. So if your legs are skinny, you can wear your longer skirts around mid-calf, which is the heaviest part of the lower leg. If you have heavy legs, long skirts would look better hemmed lower, at the narrowest part of the calf. As you experiment, see if this holds true for you.
Wearing a skirt longer than midcalf can make you look matronly — especially if you’re short. This length requires a triple check, and is another thing to look for as you experiment. Just above the ankle can be a graceful length, but is not recommended for women with thick ankles. As for ultra long skirts that fall below the ankle — well, that’s an extremely tough length to make work with anything but evening gowns. Frankly, I wouldn’t suggest it.
Skirts with side slits are a natural if you have good legs. Skirts with front slits, on the other hand, never move very gracefully and are generally unflattering on everybody.