Dress for Success: Working Color into your Wardrobe

Each morning as I walk down the streets of downtown Washington, DC on my way to work I can never get over the massive sea of safe, neutral outfits that I encounter. I love neutral colors (black, navy, gray, khaki, white) as much as the next person, possibly even more, but  one can still dress professionally across the rainbow. The key to using color is to limit it to one statement piece in the outfit, whether it be a coral shell under a navy suit , a red pussybow blouse tucked into a khaki pencil skirt, or colored tights underneath a gray dress. Here are some of my favorite bright and colorful pieces to incorporate into your workwear.

Pair any of these options with clean, tailored neutrals for a polished yet individual look. The Trelodie blouse in Curry would be stunning with a black pencil skirt, opaque black tights, a nude or black heel and a statement cocktail ring. The Belted Jersey dress could be finished with black patent round-toe pumps or black suede booties as the temperatures begin to drop. Color can, and should, be a part of your professional wardrobe as an expression of individual style while still looking entirely capable of getting the job done.

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  • Jonathan Moody

    Good post here. As for the men, the same basic rules apply, with one MAJOR exception – men should NEVER attempt to add color with a brightly colored shirt. A general rule of one colorful item at a time is a good guide. I would offer a progression of places to add color, and once you feel confident and get regular compliments on the first item on my list (a minimum of a month or two) then you can move to the next.

    Here it is:
    Tie
    Cufflinks
    Socks
    Pocket Square

    After you’ve worked through this progression of color, then you could POSSIBLY work with two items of color. But stick with a single pop of color until you’ve learned how to properly and professionally use color in your wardrobe.

  • Linda

    Great article. Enjoyed reading it and great advice for anyone. You don’t need to overdo the color but putting some color in will make you feel so much better. Article is short and to the point and gets the message across fast. You don’t have to hunt for what the important part is nor do you bet bored and loose interest before you get to the end. Great job Lauren. Hope to see more articles by you in the future.

  • Jane

    I usually wear only neutral colors to work and wanted to have more variety but didn’t know how to make it still look professional. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Sean

    I agree fully with the idea of not adding brightly colored shirts, the culture at my office requires attire to be simple and powerful, and is often accomplished with the right tie. I personally have never moved past the tie in the progression of color, but I like the idea of adding a pocket square.

  • Stan

    Excellent advice – especially limiting the bold colors to one statement piece. Although Incorporating vivid color into your wardrobe will make you stand out in a crowd of drabness, overdoing it quickly changes the outfit from serious and bold into garish and unprofessional.

  • Hilary

    I’m all for using color, but the complication comes at the point of investment. I’m too cheap to buy a nice piece that I can only end up wearing once a month due to the color. Any color I work in ends up being an accent piece or versatile enough to wear more frequently. I’d likely go for the tights or Bow Blouse.