With all the snow we’ve been having, it’s hard not to look around and be inspired by beautiful shades of neutral colors. That was the case with Christian Zamarriego, 31, who was photographed at the Garfield Park Conservatory during a particularly snowy day. “I felt inspired to wear neutral colors that matched the weather. We live a few minutes down the street from the conservatory, and I just wanted cozy vibes,” says Zamarriego, whose love for neutral tones is connected to his native southern California.
“I grew up going to the desert quite often, and neutral colors remind me of those fond memories,” he says. There’s also a practical side to his penchant for neutrals: “Neutral looks—especially monochromatic ones—typically make an outfit come together with not a lot of effort,” he says. His partner, Mycah Murdock, 28, wanted to be comfortable and warm, while still wearing an outfit that matched her energy that day: “I belong in neutral tones. I feel safe, calm, and beautiful in them. Though the colors are often subtle, I think strong statements can be made in neutral-toned outfits—particularly monochrome neutral-toned looks,” she says, in agreement with Zamarriego.
Also covered in neutrals, Naomy Valbuena, 19, was enjoying the wintry local landscape while gliding away at the ice skating ribbon downtown. She was going for a 70s-inspired look that day, decked out in all kinds of cozy textures and earthy tones. A visitor from Miami, Florida, Valbuena planned most of the outfits for her trip and chose the one in the photograph for “an active day out.” Another out-of-towner, Julia Boccabella, 22, planned her outfit as well. Originally from Chicago and now living in Denver, Boccabella usually favors an “indie sleaze” aesthetic, but decided to gloss it up that morning she was photographed: “This outfit is a lot more refined than I normally am! I had it ready since I knew I was heading to brunch the morning after a night out. I wanted to stay warm, so the fuzzy hat was a must,” she says. Boccabella claims to love colors, but prefers neutrals: “They’re so flattering and versatile, which is perfect for me since I’m always on the go. I love that they’re so classic and effortlessly chic,” she says.
Another advantage to neutrals, according to Agriculture Custom Clothiers owners Milton Latrell and Christopher Brackenridge, is that they provide a blank canvas for pops of color brought by all kinds of accessories. “Neutrals really expand the range of a wardrobe and add a lot of versatility to it,” says Latrell.
Speaking of blank canvases, Brooklyn, New York, dweller Naama, 22, picked her outfit to match all kinds of imagery: “I style my outfits themed on where I’m going—that day we were heading to the Art Institute of Chicago. I love taking pictures at museums, so I opted for an all-white outfit to not detract from the artwork,” she says. Naama also praises the flexibility neutral shades offer: “I love how forgiving neutral tones are. Neutral tones for my wardrobe allow me to match multiple items together, repeat outfits, and lessen the time spent styling outfits,” she says. Some of Naama’s style references are light academia, cottagecore, and Parisian and Scandinavian fashion—all very neutrally-toned.
Even for those that usually subscribe to a more vivid aesthetic, neutrals certainly have their value. The owners of two of the coolest (and most vibrant) stores in the city, Sasha Hodges and Adrienne Hawthorne, share why they can sometimes open an exception for more muted tones.
“We usually highlight bright colors and patterns at Kokorokoko [vintage shop], but there are a lot of beautiful pieces in cream, beige, and tan on our racks as well. Many of our customers are inspired by the late 90s minimal aesthetic, or the 70s revival from the same time period, which lean heavily on earth tones,” says Hodges, who owns her boutique with Ross Kelly. A seasoned wardrobe stylist as well, Hodges suggests playing with texture and different tones when going for a head-to-toe neutral look. Neutrals remind her of the Olsen twins, Yeezy, and Halston—a big inspiration for Calvin Klein, whose collections defined minimalism in the 90s.
Another “colorful maximalist,” Adrienne Hawthorne of Ponnopozz says she has lately been enjoying neutrals: “They’re calming and perfect for the winter weather outside . . . they’re a good base to play from,” she says.
At the Weaving Mill, where their main focus is thoughtful in-house design of woven apparel while partnering with social programs and promoting artist residencies, an attention to detail makes their neutral garments pop. “I think playing the temperature of ‘neutrals’ is the most interesting and fun thing to do,” says Emily Winter, who runs the studio. “Weaving is all about color relationships and figuring out how those little tweaks in value and temperature can either kill a pattern or make it sing,” she says. With some considered choices, neutrals can clearly make a statement on their own, or be the basis for bright splashes of color. One thing is certain: no wardrobe is complete without at least a few trusty neutral pieces.
Where to buy
• Agriculture Custom Clothier, 67 W. Chicago, 312-877-5610, shopagriculture.com
• Kokorokoko Vintage, 1323 N. Milwaukee, 773-252-6996, kokorokokovintage.com
• Ponnopozz Studio and Store, 4839 N. Damen, 773-654-3025, ponnopozz.com
• The Weaving Mill, Chicago (online shop only), theweavingmill.com