The Good Ick #14: Adding Color Responsibly
The Good Ick #14: Adding Color Responsibly

I find people often exist in two closet “camps.” The first is mired in a never ending cycle of black and white. Somehow you convinced yourself that all black was the quickest way to look sophisticated and that paired with white, it’s a solid uniform. I waitressed a long time, I can attest that it is - but I don’t think that’s what you’re going for here. The second closet is weighted down by a plethora of colors - often bought in an attempt to course correct the ills of the aforementioned all black and white closet. It’s unhelpful to describe either of these closets as “a hot mess.” Rather than call names, I’m going to explain why they are non functioning and by that, you’ll begin to surmise on your own how to fix this stylistically unfortunate and ultimately very costly and ongoing mishap.

Remember, if a person’s life is the sum of all their actions, then your personal style may be a sum of all your outfits. And since personal style is our only visual form of communication, it’s really important to me that this all adds up correctly.

No matter which closet camp you find yourself in, the outcome has been the same:

“I feel very basic and uninspired in my clothing. If I try to insert color, I feel exactly the same as before: basic, but now with color.”

So, let’s look at Exhibit A:

You have a good black suit. Proportions are strong. Anyone should have this in their closet. But if you’ve always paired it with white, or a bit of gray, then you feel stuck. Now, if you’ve bought the proverbial bright colored shirts to “lift” your wardrobe, maybe long sleeve cotton tees or silk blouses, you see you have created more outfits. But not more vibes. And an outfit that gives exactly the same vibe will make you feel exactly the same every day. It’s not that one of these outfits with the bright top is “basic” per say, it's the repetition of the same “vibe” that makes you feel basic. See?

Four illustrated women

Building a variety of vibes in your closet, especially paired back with a base, requires a heavy focus on the B…IGS. Just look closely below - same idea of color, but different outcome. There is more range here. I’ll explain why.

Four illustrated women

As someone who loves the grounding of neturals, but never wants to feel stuck in a rut, I have really pushed myself as a designer to understand why some of the time, bright colors work. And oftentimes, they do not. And it comes down to this: bright colors should always be in fabrications that are icky or glossy or be in a design shape that is sculptural. Brights: Icky Glossy Sculptural, pages 108-115 in The Creative Pragmatist Book. This is why a plain red cotton t-shirt rarely makes it's way out of the closet and it’s why the red patent leather midi skirt you bought, that you thought was so extreme, is the very piece you find yourself wearing a ton.

“I want to break out of the black/white rut, but I’m petrified of color. Where do I start?”

Ok, the first thing to understand is that to "break out of the b/w rut" you don’t need to add “color.” That’s like saying you want to stop eating chicken so you’ll just start eating cake. The answer doesn’t have to be so extreme. You know there are hundreds of ways to make chicken so that it’s not the same every night. Rarely would the answer be to cover it in pink icing. Think about the core color in your closet that way - if it’s black, all other neutrals serve as ingredients to mix together to create something that tastes wholly different. Different vibes that don’t rely on bright colors. I am a fan of color, but I know it is impossible to fold it into your style without solidifying your base first. When Traci and I design each collection, we view the strong colors as the tip of the pyramid. We don’t start top down - we nail down the base first - our shapes, our tones. And from there we slowly build the collection. Do the same for yourself in your closet. Give yourself time to settle - and then, if you WANT color rather than think you HAVE to have color, you can add it in. But responsibly.

As you can see, a handful of neutrals make a huge range of vibes:

five illustrated women

Each outfit here is created from just the addition of a few more neutrals that are not black and do not replicate proportions. The result is not just 4 new outfits, I could make exponentially more here. The result is that each outfit has a different vibe to it - simply by how pieces are layered, tucked, and put together. Neutrals, especially in a range of textures, become like a rubik's cube - you can mix them all around but at the end of the day all the squares fit together.

Referencing the color wheel in The Creative Pragmatist Book, pages 116-121, you see above is all from ring 1 and 2. The key to mixing the neutrals is the range of proportions (big/slim/skin), pages 94-101, and the assurance that each style has the balance of chill/modern and classic, pages 35-37. When relying on neutral fundamentals to convey your style, make sure that each individual piece hits on your style marks of CMC. I’m fanatical about this - buy a “basic fitting” tee or shirt and prepare to feel basic all damn day. Every piece Traci and I create for Fundamentals has to go through this filter. Powerful enough to stand alone but not so overpowering that you can’t wear it, a lot, with everything you own.

colour wheel

So remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a good closet. In fact, it’s built up over years and decades, if life treats you right. So if you have found yourself in the “black rut” or the “bright colored rut” - understand, what you're experiencing should be really referred to as:


These neutral pieces below are the ones I rely on to make a closet with black at the center go much, much further:

six images of models wearing tibi clothing

And now you know more. How to break free by adding in some simple neutrals. Experimenting with piling them on. And slowly, thoughtfully, mixing in more. If you are a cook, think of it as building your pantry not recipes. I am not a cook so I can’t take this analogy much further, but you get my gist.

Explore Tibi.