Friday, March 03, 2017

Building an All-Neutral Wardrobe, based on a Scarf: Navy, Grey, Camel and White

People often ask me where I get ideas for blog posts - they should see my inbox! I get the most wonderful emails, with the most interesting questions... (if it takes me days and DAYS to respond, please don't be offended or insulted - I love to hear from you!)

Many of us start to feel like we need to migrate away from black, and toward grey or navy. One among you found a lovely scarf - vintage! - to help focus this wardrobe shift, and asked me for a few ideas. What fun!

First off - buying "luxury" scarves second-hand is just plain smart. You can find them on Ebay (which can be dicey, because they don't do anything to police against fakes), Tradesy, 1st Dibs, Etsy, The RealReal, Malleries, and among others. If you have any concerns about authenticity of Hermes scarves, feel free to email me a link ( and I can weigh in. But there are LOTS of other brands available, including Missoni, Etro, Ferragamo, Cartier, Tiffany (yes, they both make scarves!), Bulgari, Pucci, Chanel etc. etc.... It requires some patience, and some focus, and you might have to compromise on a wee spot or snag, but you just might be able to find something unbelievably beautiful for a price you could only have imagined. (let's be serious - all of my Hermes scarves did NOT come from the boutique...)

Our friend found this lovely scarf at

Vintage navy Ferragamo scarf with 2 lepards and a tiger

Here's where some real intelligence came into play - her preferred accent colors are forest and wine, but she was able to see PAST the other colors in this scarf and focus on the core neutrals she's planning with - navy, dark grey, camel and white. No scarf has to go with every piece of clothing in your wardrobe, and you don't have to use EVERY color in a scarf in order to wear it and love it to pieces... (that would be so restrictive that you'd never be able to get dressed!)

Vintage Ferragamo scarf with style guidelines and color palette

I don't know if I've ever actually said this or written this before, but it is entirely possible to build a functional and lovely wardrobe without ANY accent colors.... especially if you are working with four core neutrals that are as versatile as these! Every possible combination of these colors works beautifully...

In order to give this new color scheme enough options, I'm going to pull together a Four by Four Wardrobe, in a new way - I'm going to "buy" outfits that bring all of the essential pieces together. While these ensembles might seem pretty monochromatic and plain, once we put some accessories on them I think they'll work well. We shall see on Monday, eh?

Dark grey is very difficult to find this time of year - it's apparently considered an autumn and winter color, which is a crying shame. Patience is key to finding what you want - don't let someone sell you something that isn't in your plan!

two grey outfits

I'm trying to cover a wide range of dressiness with this wardrobe! And I have to mention that, for anyone incorporating navy into their wardrobe, a navy blazer is a garment worth considering... it's classic, flattering, and madly versatile. J.Crew offers navy blazers in linen, stretch cotton Super 120s wool (a menswear grade fabric) and stretch wool (right now). They also have a navy and white "puckered gingham," which among my people might have been called seersucker? Hmmm....

And how nice is this piped shirt? And it's no-iron... I can personally attest to the wonderfulness of these shirts, AND they come in a wide variety of sizes! (petite shirts = shorter sleeves + enough "torso" space)

For what it's worth, the blazer and pants also come in both Petite and Tall sizes. Now if we could JUST get people to include some Womens sizes, the world would be a better place, in a small but important way!

Two navy business outfits

Camel was the color we were targeting, but this time of year, a warm khaki or tan is MUCH easier to find. When the seasons roll around and you're able to find wool (or cashmere..... mmmm....), true camel can be introduced.

two casual outfits in warm tan or camel

At this point, we have 14 garments, so I just looked for two more tops that included a couple of the colors in our color palette. I know that there are a lot of stripes in this capsule wardrobe at this point, but when you're trying to find 16 garments in 8 hours, you have to compromise; stripes are the easiest way to find "multi-colored" garments! In real life, you would have the time to look around at some length for a lovely neutral floral, or a paisley, or maybe a unique geometric pattern. Once you have your color scheme in your mind, you'll be able to pick our "your" pieces a mile away!

two navy-based pieces to finish a Four by Four Wardrobe

I have a hunch that this is going to prove to be pretty versatile:

a Four by Four Wardrobe in grey, navy, camel and white

But as I am wont to do, let's test-drive this wee wardrobe!

Two ways to wear a navy pleated skirt

two ways to wear khaki pants

two navy and grey casual outfits

two ways to wear navy dress pants

two outfits from a Four by Four Wardrobe in grey, navy, camel and white

That gives us sixteen outfits from sixteen pieces of clothing - a pretty good rate of return, I'd say! And I'm thinking that the presence of all of those warm tobacco/whiskey-colored kitties on our inspiration scarf might suggest some brown leather accessories.... hmmm....


How to Build an All-Neutral Wardrobe in a Navy, Grey, Camel and White color palette based on a scarf.
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  1. Don't these colour play well together? And this concept of a wardrobe built on four neutrals seems to fit well with the way my wardrobe works. For me the neutrals are black, navy, grey and soft white along with legacy other stuff. But this idea gives me the sense of sufficient variety that I don't feel hemmed in by too restrictive a colour palette, but enough structure to create a solid base for future purchases.

  2. This is shaping up very well and I really like the idea of rich brown leather accessories. I would change the white to a cream and I am a go. My navy needs to be more of an indigo which is very hard to find.
    Deb from Vancouver

  3. I like this a lot and gives me some ideas to switch my wardrobe back to warmer neutrals. I plan to work for another two years or so, and black seems to be the easiest color to work with. Part of the reason for my shopping ban is to get the most out of the beautiful work clothes I own before jeans and khakis become my daily
    outfit choice.

  4. As the owner of the scarf - thank you, Janice, for all these inspiring ideas! Now armed and ready to go on the prowl. I have several pieces in camel for winter; a segue to khaki for the warmer months is a really great suggestion. Judith

  5. Janice, this is lovely and reminds me of your very popular group of six neutrals (4 items in in the following "colors": black, gray, white, chambray, brown, and camel) years ago. I also realized that your posting on August 11, 2011 for a black and grey travel capsule followed your 4 by 4 sixteen item structure ... but without the 4 by 4 box structure that you devised years later. You created this little capsule (which I still love) very early on (5 months from the beginning of your blog). I think that structuring wardrobes must in your DNA.

    Susan in WA

  6. Love this scarf and the wardrobe is so versatile! - nancyo
    p.s. not to be a noodge, but I think you have 17 lovely pieces (including the khaki shorts that seem to have dropped off the final two templates)

  7. Lucky Judith - what a lovely scarf, an absolutely fabulous find! And the wardrobe looks so versatile - the tour neutrals work wonderfully well together. These are my colours too, so I'm delighted to see what's developing here. I particularly like the first two outfits in the test drive slides: the way the horizontal stripes of the t-shirt play with the vertical pleats in the skirt in the casual version, and then the pretty top with the skirt for a dressy occasion. Mmmmmm, lots to like here! (Uniqlo style that skirt delightfully too, on their website, with ankle boots and a shirtwaist dress, so the skirt is like a petticoat. Gorgeous.)
    Now I'm excited to see the accessories!
    Robyn in Tasmania

  8. A post that resonated with me!! My wardrobe basics are: (1) navy and grey; and (2) navy and khaki/camel. Wish I had found that scarf! I "pinned" a number of your selections. Now, I will look forward to seeing you add shoes and other accessories.

  9. This is my spring/summer wardrobe almost exactly with the exception of the grey. The grey I want to add would be a light grey, but Janice, how would that shade of grey go with the golden khaki which I love . Also LOVE the scarf. And thanks for all the links for purchasing an Hermes scarf .. perhaps this year I may own one at last! Janice Collins, Washington DC

    1. I think khaki and grey are great together - both classic neutrals, and the combination of them will give you an uncommon look that's still completely timeless.

    2. Thank you Janice, I shall try it with what I have now. I did get a gold/silver combo necklace and earrings per your previous request and my grey sweater worked well with the golden taupe bottoms. Now to get with khaki . I shall venture forth as I trust you after so many years :) ♥ Janice Collins

  10. I have a bunch of dark grey pieces for summer from JJill, for one. I found a pair of dark grey very lightweight pants on British/UK QVC! I have found it possible to find dark grey if you look for "graphite," a synonym for dark grey. I can honestly say that I scour the world for dark grey, graphite, anthracite, obsidian (my favorite color). It is possible to find, and yes it is difficult to see it en masse!