Somewhere along the line, the world of style accumulated a laundry list of rules governing what you can wear and when and with what, and most people’s wardrobes show it — especially when it comes to the colors they choose every day. But it’s time to ditch the outdated fashion rules about colors you’re “allowed” to wear after Labor Day and which shades you can wear together.
We’ve collected seven outdated rules about the colors you should wear or avoid, and put together some suggestions on the stylish ways you can defy those rules. Instead of encouraging you to stick to a limited or traditional color palette, as traditional style advice would, we’re going to show you a few ways to start wearing some underused combinations and colors. Everything is better in moderation, but there’s no reason why wearing color — and loving it — needs to get in the way of looking stylish.
1. Don’t mix black and brown or black and navy
A surprising number of stylish people still follow these rules, but there are a few great ways to successfully wear these color pairings, which have traditionally been considered off-limits despite the fact that all the colors in question are pretty neutral. The key when breaking these rules is to be intentional with the pairings you’re making. Make your color combinations look deliberate, instead of haphazard, since leaving the house looking like you got dressed in the dark is never a good look.
A great way to pair black and brown is to go for contrast. For instance, pair a cognac shoe with a black suit, or a tan belt with a black oxford shirt. Have a favorite pair of brown loafers? Try them out with a pair of black denim. When it comes to pairing black and navy, a great place to start is with an easy closet staple: a pair of jeans. Wear a black shirt — a button-front or even a casual tee — with a pair of dark denim to get used to the combination.
2. Don’t wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day
It’s a traditional rule that you should wait until Memorial Day to start wearing white, and put away your white clothes after Labor Day passes. While wearing white in the summer definitely makes sense, this is a great rule for any modern dresser to break. The best way to do that is to pay attention to material and texture.
It’s best to leave white garments in lighter fabrics — like linen, canvas, seersucker, and thin cottons — for the summer. Though those fabrics will look out of place when it’s no longer 90 degrees outside, clothing made of white wool, cashmere, mohair, or flannel are game for winter white. White denim can look great in any season, so a great pair of white jeans is a stylish choice with a fitted tee in the summer or a chunky sweater in the winter.
3. Stick to navy and black suits
Especially when it comes to their work wardrobes, most guys err on the conservative side, and tradition encourages most not to stray beyond the basics, like navy and black suits. While those standbys look great in a well-fitting suit, break from tradition to try something a little more unexpected. Start with gray — a neutral that almost every guy looks great in, but few actually try — or tan — which can take just a little more work to nail when it comes to finding a shade. An even more uncommon choice is a dark or forest green.
On the topic of limiting your color choices, there’s no reason to stick with traditional color palettes if bolder choices are calling your name. We might not recommend jumping straight to the pastel or technicolor suit, but there are plenty of underused colors you can start putting to work in other parts of your wardrobe. Matt Allinson at FashionBeans points to pink, brown, purple, green, and yellow as colors worth considering for items like shirts, pants, shorts, jackets, sweaters, and accessories.
4. Match your belt to your shoes
Matching your accessories is no longer a prerequisite for good style. Your shoes and belt don’t have to match so long as they coordinate with each other (and with the rest of your outfit). Thinking of wearing gray loafers with a black belt? Go for it. Cognac shoes with a navy and brown belt? Give it a try. Ladies can have even more fun with such a wide array of hues available for both their shoe and belt options.
Dropping the idea that your belt and shoes have to match also frees you up to make some more interesting choices when it comes to footwear. Shoes in unique colors, or even patterns, are nearly impossible to match with a belt. Similarly, if you carry a leather bag to work or while traveling, don’t feel the need to match everything perfectly — just make sure that colors don’t clash.
5. Don’t mix patterns
Most people shy away from mixing patterns not only because traditional rules prohibit it, but because doing it well takes some thought. But if you’re up for bringing a modern edge to your wardrobe, pattern mixing is a great technique to try. Start by choosing items in the same color family to make sure that your choices look harmonious.
When you’re beginning to think about which pieces to pair, start small. Men might want to try a floral pocket square in a gingham or seersucker blazer. Or, go for the same pattern in different colors, like a checked shirt with a tie featuring even larger checks. Women might want to opt for a basic pattern for pants or skirts, think stripes or polka dots, then add a blouse with a playful print.
When mixing patterns, it’s important to always pay attention to scale; if a pattern appears solid when looked at from a distance, you can treat it as a solid, such as with patterned neckwear on a printed shirt. When mixing patterns, moderation is also key: Wearing a different pattern on your shirt, tie, blazer, and pants is a definite don’t.
6. Horizontal stripes are unflattering
It’s a style cliche that horizontally-placed stripes are going to make you look wider. While that may be true if you wear them head to toe or skin-tight, those are extreme examples that we, personally, have never seen in the wild. Don’t let this “rule” stop you from wearing stylish pieces like a classic striped tee. Try a timeless cotton Breton stripe tee in blue and white, or red and white. Ignoring this rule also opens up an entire world of dresses for women.
7. Don’t wear denim on denim
Does anyone still follow this rule? It’s definitely a good one to break (provided you don’t go overboard and wear a denim shirt, jacket, and jeans all at once.) The key when mixing denim pieces is to keep the silhouettes tailored and to pay attention to color. Pair a light chambray shirt with a dark pair of jeans, or wear a dark denim jacket with dark denim and a cotton shirt. Or, if you don’t want to wear two pieces of blue denim at once, wear a chambray shirt with a pair of black jeans or a dark denim jacket with a pair of white jeans.