Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Can I Use Denim is Place of... ? Substituting Denim for Olive Grey in a Four by Four Wardrobe

You asked, and it was a really intelligent question - can I use denim in place of olive green, in a wardrobe from The Vivienne Files?

Heck yes! Neutral colors can be interchanged, especially in casual wardrobes in which rigorous color matching isn't terribly important. Let's recreate a recent wardrobe and make this substitution, to see how it works out.

First up - remember this amazing painting by Salvador Dali? I've changed the associated color palette to include the denim that we want:

Head of a Woman by Salvador Dali with style notes and color palette

I'm starting from the same point as before - a solid core of grey garments:

Four by Four Wardrobe Starting Point of four grey garments
grey cardigan - Lands' End; jeans - L.L.Bean;
capris - L.L.Bean; shorts – Patagonia

The first difference is immediate - instead of the olive tee shirt from before, I found a shirt that feels very denim-ish!

how to add a denim blue tee shirt to your wardrobe

From here, things look very familiar for a few steps:

how to add a grey tee shirt to your wardrobe

how to add a pink long-sleeved tee shirt to your wardrobe

how to add a pink hooded sweater to your wardrobe

Already, you can see that the row of "What I Have" across the top looks really coherent and visually "comfortable" with the denim blue. Adding jeans doesn't alter that comfort level...

how to add blue jeans to your wardrobe

This is a great shirt, but OH MY GOODNESS, it needs to be washed. Repeatedly. While I completely abhor distressed jeans (I'll tear my own clothes, thank you very much...), I would like to see this shirt look just a tiny bit more softened and faded. I'm sure that we're all qualified to take care of that on our own, eh?

how to add a denim shirt to your wardrobe

A slightly different tee shirt here, more a cool color palette than the somewhat warm-ish one from before:

how to add a pastel print tee shirt to your wardrobe

Denim shorts can be tricky - I like the softer fabric here, and the drawstring. It keeps these from looking like our 1970s-era cut-offs...

how to add denim blue shorts to your wardrobe

I debated about replacing this tee shirt, because it still has echoes of olive in it, but I ultimately didn't want to abandon it, because it includes that pink that matches the sweater so very well...

how to add a bright print tee to your wardrobe

As always, if you detest skirts, get another pair of jeans, or a pair of cropped jeans, or capri jeans, or whatever other clever name them devise. Pedal pushers? Clam diggers?

how to add a denim skirt to your wardrobe

Everything else remains the same...

how to add a pink tank top to your wardrobe

how to add a floral sweatshirt to your wardrobe

So I changed 6 of the 16 garments, and the overall wardrobe impression is VERY different. One of the real beauties of denim is that our eyes are trained to see it as an all-purpose neutral, and thus it feels like it goes with everything. I don't like to match the denim pieces, because that ends up looking... awkward, to me. But this wardrobe has literally dozens of outfit possibilities...

a sixteen-piece "Four by Four" casual travel or capsule wardrobe in grey and denim blue with pink accents

Do you want me to go back through the grey and olive accessories and change things our for denim? I never mind looking at tons of accessories!


More from the Salvador Dali, "Head of a Woman" series:

How to substitute denim for olive grey in a capsule wardrobe
Like this article? Save it to Pinterest!


  1. Brilliant. At the very least, denim is easy to find in all shapes and sizes.

  2. I have inherited a merino-possum toasty warm, deep dusky pink, collared cardigan, much the same as the colour you have used above. I would love to see your take on using this colour in the coldest of winter weather for a smart casual capsule.

  3. Oh, I love this! Yes, please do accessories!

  4. Janice,
    I think this grouping works better with the denim than with the olive, because of the underlying cool tones all working together . The print tee has blue in it so paired with a denim blue bottom, the olive fades away, I think.

  5. Yes please do accessories for this denim and grey! Janice Collins, Washington DC

  6. Denim, one of my favourites! By "match," you mean wearing the denim with the denim? (Accessories would be great.)

  7. I'm not usually comfortable with denim on denim either, so I really like the "denim-colored" tee shirt. IMHO, heather knits in the right shade of blue carry a strong impression of denim.

  8. Being a Canadian, the "Canadian tuxedo" always works for me. Yes, please to accessories.

    Deb from Vancouver

  9. Thank you for sharing this very interesting painting! Grey and denim are 2 of my favorites, and fresh ideas for combining them are always welcome. I would love to see some accessories. Mary

  10. Yes please do accessories! Janice Collins, Washington DC

  11. Three random thoughts:
    1) "Denim shorts can be tricky - I like the softer fabric here, and the drawstring. It keeps these from looking like our 1970s-era cut-offs..." Speaking of 1970s-era cut-offs: I have fond memories of one summer in the late 1960s when I lived happily in a faded chambray shirt and cut-off denim shorts.
    2) Fast forward to today, when I have the same L.L. Bean shorts that you feature. Love them.
    3) Yes, please add me to the list of readers who would enjoy seeing accessories for these clothes.

  12. Accessories for casual is always a bit tricky for me - I want to keep comfortable and very active, but still look finished - love to see you tackle this wardrobe with them!

  13. I agree that denim - in all its shades of blue, black and grey - works as a neutral. For this wardrobe I'd ditch the pink and keep the olive for a more consistently toned look and because I love dark green (I have green eyes). But that would lose the fun pop factor that the pink provides. You have got me thinking about pink!
    Robyn in Tasmania

  14. Hi Janice! I just love all your wardrobes. I have a question I wonder if you'd consider addressing? I think, from some of your comments, that you're petite. I'm not, I'm 5'10". I love to see your ideas and when they fit my schemes, I like to consider purchasing pieces. But one of the big issues is where to shop. I don't have experience with Uniqlo, but I do know LL Bean can run short on me. All of this is the long way around of asking if you could do a post(s) on shopping resources? Especially for those of us not in a major city. Also, it might be really interesting to hear from some of your readers about their best sources. Thanks!!

  15. yesm I would love to see accessories for the denim variation! I bought the rose hoodie, and this gives me many new options. I remember a stormy blue grouping you did a while ago and it would work well with this as well. I would also like to swap out summer for winter clothing, as mentioned in another comment, because this sweater is way too warm for summer and fall in Utah. Spring would be ok, and of course, winter...worn indoors. I also like the comment about using some of the olive with denim. This could be a great casual mix. I have blue green eyes, so denim and olive are perfect, odd I have never put them together. I always wear olive with autumn tones. Great comments everyone!

  16. I like the denim and gray, and it's a combination I often use as the basis for a travel capsule. In both the olive+gray wardrobe and this denim+gray one, I would be might tempted to add a white t-shirt (or black) as the first step. - nancyo

  17. I don't wear pink, but this combo is pretty for those who do! I think denim has become a forever classic. The tones and styles change slightly from year to year but denim is here to stay. My kids(all in their 30's)wear denim for all but the dressiest of occasions. My girls consider jeans and a nice top to be dressed up! LOL!