The Inauguration in January sparked interest in monochromatic dressing again. Dressing monochromatically is nothing new nor is first ladies at an inaugural ceremony wearing it. You likely remember Melania Trump’s powder blue suit from four years ago. Ladybird Johnson wore a red coat and hat, Laura Bush wore all white, Nancy Regan wore her famous Nancy Reagan Red for her husband’s first and blue for his second swearing-in, Hilary Clinton wore monochromatic salmon at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, and Michelle Obama wore a lemongrass coat and dress for Barack Obama’s first swearing-in.

Given the long history of first ladies wearing monochromatic colors to inaugural ceremonies, you may be wondering why this type of dressing got so much attention compared to past years. Well, it seems like dressing monochromatically wasn’t just seen by first ladies. Kamala symbolically wore monochromatic purple, Michelle Obama rocked burgundy, Laura Bush looked demure in a slate blue/grey, a whole bunch of Bidens went for monochromatic looks, Nancy Pelosi matched her shoes to her coat and even J. Lo got into the mix in head-to-toe white.


Perhaps you’re now considering creating monochromatic looks as well. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? One color, no worries about color combining, boom, done. Well, not so fast. Dressing monochromatically well is a lot more nuanced than just tossing on a single color and walking out the door. First, you have to color matches which, good luck, is harder than you would think. It’s always your best bet to stick with one designer when figuring out your pieces, particularly in fashion colors. Sometimes you will have a stroke of luck and be able to gather different pieces from different designers and they’ll all come together, but it’s not always a guarantee. Second, even if you are buying from the same designer, fabrics take dye differently. I know this because this used to be part of my job description. It’s called lab dips when designers send a color standard to a factory to have fabrics dyed in that shade. When you dye two different fabric contents the same color it’s almost impossible for the two colors to match exactly. Trust me, I have logged hours and hours of correspondence from my designer days with factories in Hong Kong trying to get colors right.

Instead of trying for an exact match, working in tones is a lot easier, but even that comes with challenges. What you want to strive for is a match in the undertones of colors, similar to how there are yellow blacks and red blacks. As you know from trying to force two black shades together, getting two colors to work together when they have different undertones can doesn’t work well. Lastly, despite working with one color, you still want put these looks together in a stylish way and not in a way that looks matchy-matchy. Sometimes it is better to pair your monochromatic look with shoes that match and other times it is too much sameness. Sometimes a hit of another color can enhance and sometimes it can detract. The bottom line is, avoid throwing on one color and considering yourself done. It doesn’t always work.

Monochromatic Outfits for Work

I have put together five different monochromatic outfits for work to give you some look ideas and inspiration.

Outfit #1


This outfit contradicts much of what I just said. The magenta suit is from Reiss (link to jacket, link to pants) the blouse is from BOSS Hugo Boss and the shoes are from Banana Republic. While this look is a real boon it’s a unicorn. It’s not easy to find such a close color from three different brands. Although keep in mind, the colors work photographically, I have not seen them in person.

Outfit #2


This is a super user-friendly way to wear monochromatic colors, to work in a range of one tone, similarly to what Laura Bush to the inauguration in January. I styled this ombé sweater from BOSS Hugo Boss with navy pants also from BOSS. I added this powder blue T. Tahari coat and finished the look with navy block heel pumps and soft blue earrings.

Outfit #3


Working with tones of one color makes it super easy to dress in a monochromatic way. This is also an example of undertones all working. The grey shades are all cool-based which helps them blend better. It helps too that they are all from the same brand, J.Crew. I styled this charcoal cardigan with a light grey short sleeve sweater and heather grey pants. I finished the look with Corso Como flats and a grey statement necklace that pulls it all together.

Outfit #4


This is a fun example of dressing monochromatically. All the pieces are from M.M. Lafleur and the pants and the visible side of the reversible coat are in their rust shade. A helpful tip to see if two pieces are a match is to identify the color name the brand has named a color (designers get paid to name colors and it is a super fun part of the job). This outfit is also a great example of how fabrics take colors differently. The rust pants are much more saturated vs. the coat that has a slightly more muted cast. I would bet this is the effect is the same in person. What I like most about this outfit is the fact that it is technically monochromatic but interesting. I styled the coat and pants with a flax sweater, earrings that match the rust shade, and a pair of flats that work tonally with the look.

Outfit #5


Not surprisingly, the blouse and skirt in this look are from the same, BOSS Hugo Boss. The chances of finding two greens in this shade from two different brands are next to impossible. This is also a situation where too much of this green would be a bit much. Instead, I chose to pair the outfit with beige pumps and a mother of pearl link necklace from Ann Taylor. Imagine this look with a green necklace and matching green shoes. This is why you have to know when to push in with one color and when to pull back. Trust your instinct on this one, my friends.