Fashion Friday: Gray

I have been re-thinking gray.

For years, the color palette of my wardrobe was almost entirely either (a) vivid jewel-tone colors or (b) black. What can I say. I’m a sensation junkie. I like extremes. Royal blue, scarlet red, strong black-and-white prints, cobalt, peacock, black black black black black… that’s for me. Forget about earth tones and pastels and browns. They work fine for other people, but on me, they just feel boring. And I felt the same way, only multiplied tenfold, about gray. The word itself evoked tedium, conformity, institutionality, even depression.

But I’ve been paying closer attention lately to what kinds of outfits get my attention on other women. That’s often a clue to directions I should consider for my own wardrobe. And I recently realized that my attention was frequently being caught by gray. So I’ve been re-thinking it. I’ve been experimenting with it. And I’m finding that I’m quite enjoying it.

If I want a neutral to frame a color or a black-and-white print, I don’t always want the harshness/ extremity/ severity of black or white. And gray is often the answer. Gray is still within the basic concept/ palette of black and white, and it does much the same job: being the background vocal to the lead singer, giving a strong signature piece a platform to stand out and do the talking. But gray is softer than black or white, and less demanding of attention. (Ivory or cream is also a good option, for many of the same reasons.)

Gray is also a great way to set off black, in a way that’s not distracting. If I’m wearing a black dress and black boots, for instance, and I want the blackness to be highlighted but not upstaged, gray tights are often a good way to go. Again, it stays within the basic concept/ palette of black, but it’s different enough that it makes the black stand out. Patterned gray tights can be especially sweet: a gray pattern or print adds visual interest to a look, without being too distracting. And on me anyway, I think gray against black looks more thought-out and put-together than the standard all-black ensembles I used to wear so reflexively. (A topic of its own, for another day.)

I also think gray can be interestingly sexy. Because gray is more subtle and muted, it calls attention to texture, inviting you to think less about how the clothing looks and more about how it feels. So if your textures are actually sensual and inviting, that can be very yummy indeed. And because gray is more subtle and muted, you can go shorter in a dress or skirt with it, and still not look trashy.

And I’m finding myself especially intrigued by interesting combinations of grays. If someone is wearing all gray — but it’s all different grays, like a darker gray dress with lighter gray tights and deep charcoal gray shoes, all in different textures and patterns, with silver jewelry to add shine while staying within the theme? If that’s done well, it can look elegant, sophisticated, thoughtfully understated: like an authoritative person speaking in a quiet voice to get attention, or a partygoer who’s confident enough in themselves that they don’t need the whole room to pay attention to them. And it will totally make my head swivel.

You have to be careful with gray, I think. It can be hard to pull off: if it doesn’t work, it can in fact look boring and mousy and institutional. And that’s especially true for an all-gray outfit. All of the pieces have to be interesting and beautiful, with some sort of cool texture or pattern to them, if you don’t want it all to blend into a blobby background sameness.

But if it’s done right, gray doesn’t have to say tedium, conformity, institutionality, depression. Instead, it can say subtlety. Elegance. Class. Calm.

And those are all things I’m interested in saying right now.

Fashion Friday: Gray

24 thoughts on “Fashion Friday: Gray

  1. 2

    I like grey, but don’t dis brown. Brown is, I think, my favourite neutral. It’s so vocal and has so much character, it’s almost on the colour side of the spectrum. It looks so good with red (chocolate & strawberry, yum), blue (earth & sky), green (lush forest), pink (like a smartie of the same colour), salmon or coral or just by itself in different shades (a conglomeration of exotic clays). Brown can be rugged, natural, sophisticated, sexy, intellectual, cosy.

  2. 3

    I’m a big fan of grey, but it isn’t a fan of me. I sew most of my own clothes and keep getting drawn to grey fabrics, but every time I have to remind myself that I cannot wear it anywhere near my face because it just completely drains my, already too pale, complexion. Doesn’t stop me from buying it to sew the occasional skirt though. I also really like grey tights with a black skirt and black boots and they work great with navy.

  3. 4

    I also think gray can be interestingly sexy. Because gray is more subtle and muted, it calls attention to texture, inviting you to think less about how the clothing looks and more about how it feels. So if your textures are actually sensual and inviting, that can be very yummy indeed.

    This is a very good point. This is something I notice as a knitter: some colors or color combinations are better for working with certain stitch patterns. Very dark colors obscure textured stitch patterns, and high-contrast combinations make cables almost invisible, which defeats the purpose of a lot of work put into a piece. Mid-range colors, either in solids or very subtle variations, allow textures to show themselves, in the first place, not to mention drawing attention more to the structure of the fabric than to the color or fiber content. Gray would be especially good for letting the stitches shine more than the hue.

  4. 5

    Another great thing about grey is, it goes with EVERYTHING, including itself. Sometimes even black doesn’t go with black, for example if one item is more faded from laundry than another, or if they have different “overtones” so it looks like you tried to match but they don’t. A dozen different greys though? Sure! A dozen different greens, blues, reds, purples? Not so much. I also can’t think of a colour you can’t/shouldn’t wear with grey. It’s an absolute workhorse in my wardrobe for exactly those two reasons. Plus it turns my light-blue eyes kindof exotic and sparkly-silver. Or at least I like to think it does.

  5. 7

    I again do not in the least understand a lot of what you are talking about and posts like this make me wish that there were unisex uniforms for everyone. IMHO, the talk about the various kinds of cloth to drape your body in is quite confusing and TBH irritating in its intensity (I have decided to mark all clothes advertisements of FB as “against my opinion” to make them disappear, but still there is a lot of bias that women should care about cloth to drape their bodies in). I mean, I wear grey, sure. It is one of the colors, people corrected me the least for, so it is as safe as black. But for me spending more effort than the bare minimum on clothes still makes no sense and what these articles tell me is that I cannot even understand those who do.

  6. 8

    Rejistania: Okay? Are you being bound and forced to read about it? Some people have different interests. WOE AND HORROR.

    On-topic, I love grey. It’s right now my absolute favourite colour to wear. I especially love it for formal-type stuff. Grey nail polish is a big obsession of mine as well

  7. 9

    But for me spending more effort than the bare minimum on clothes still makes no sense and what these articles tell me is that I cannot even understand those who do.

    I don’t find this kind of comment particularly interesting or productive. I don’t understand people who feel the need to make such comments.[/irony]

    I’ve started to wear a lot more gray too, and I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t understand much about fashion and color and pattern and shape and things like that, except that white looks bad on me (does something to my complexion) and red looks good, and pencil skirts always fit me really wrong for some reason. Otherwise, I just… see stuff I like and I put it on and then I change it if I don’t like it anymore and that’s my whole thought process about it. I wish I understood better, and this kind of post – where visuals are put into writing – helps me a lot 🙂

  8. 11

    I have similar color preferences as you – jewel tones and black. But I have also been drawn to gray. I think it is “in” this year and so we are seeing more interesting uses for it. By favorite color to wear is purple and it looks great with gray to tone it down a bit. I have purple knee high boots and I wear them all the time, with grey or black leggings and a grey sweater dress or cardigan. Umbra grey and black is also beautiful. I also have a strong preferences for silver and white gold jewelry and I think it looks nice with gray.

  9. Max

    It’s always been my opinion that it should be socially acceptable to wear gray robes everywhere. I view clothing is just another unneccesary complication to my life.

  10. 13

    Gray tank top with a richly colored open button-up shirt over it and any pants whatsoever, I love it. Also gray leggings for blue- or green-toned dresses/skirts. I also like ash-colored shirts, I think because it gives the illusion of texture where it isn’t.

    I totally think gray can make colors pop. I think my bright blue over-shirt gets more attention with gray underneath than it does with magenta there. Sometimes I don’t want my clothes to be the things most noted but rather the accessories’ Gray and muted tones work nicely for that. And, yes, with black and white and silver… it can be perfect. I say this as one who, five years ago, didn’t have any gray clothing beyond T-shirts that just happened to be gray. I have four different kinds of gray clothing now. Gray can make the bright brighter, the bold bolder. Dunno, just does sometime, I think.

    Anyway, this has got me wanting a piece charcoal-colored. Hm.

  11. 14

    I love greys with blacks, silvers, etc. Very elegant and sophisticated, like you say.

    In practice I actually am kinda boring though.

  12. 16

    I’ve always liked gray skirts, tights, and trousers to combine with my usual muted deep blue, teal, purple, or forest green tops, and the gray (and brown) skirts that I have are now perfect for the recent steampunk trend in some of my clothing. Brown is the predominant steampunk clothing color, of course, but I think gray works just as well. Currently trying to decide whether to buy some Doc Martens Cath boots in charcoal, to go with my longer skirts.

    Gray, in lighter shades, is a good neutral for the hot months here, which can be uncomfortably hot and typically extend from late spring through the fall. Black is out of the question during those months, AFAIC, and I don’t like to wear white (look like crap, now that I avoid even incidental tanning).

  13. 17

    Gray is also good for setting off certain colors, especially ones that are maybe a shade off a primary color. So while red and black are good, I like maroon and gray. (In fact, wore a gray dress with maroon tights last night!) Gray also goes well with yellow.

  14. 18

    Three topics that are bound to get at least one commenter denouncing the very subject that is being discussed, in the broadest possible sense, with an eye towards shaming anyone who cares about it:

    1) Fashion. “I don’t get all this interest in something as stupid as clothes. If we could all walk around naked, that would be great.” I always wonder if these folks extend their dislike of aesthetics to the existence of music, home decor, gardening, cooking, or anything else people use to make life more pleasant.

    2) Television. Write about a TV show, and inevitably, you get someone preening about how TV is crap and they haven’t owned a TV in 30 years, and how everyone should just read a book.

    3) Music. This one is a little different, since people rarely denounce all music. But if you write about popular music, you will inevitably get a commenter who says that anything other than classical music is crap, and if you write about underground pop, you’ll get both that person and someone who denounces anyone who has interests in anything but the top 100 as a “hipster”.

  15. 19

    @ #18 Amanda Marcotte-

    Definitely related to Greta’s “Straw Vulcan” post. My favorites are those who boast about being TV-less, and then describe watching TV shows online or from DVDs, as if that makes the activity more rational and intellectual. Or something. [/rolls eyes]

    [/on topic] I knit quite a few scarves and shawls, because they make great lightweight accessories and I enjoy knitting lace (keeps me from throttling some of my more annoying colleagues, I think). Most are in pastels or jewel tones, but then I realized that gray or brown scarves work just as well with colorful tops, as do colorful scarves with neutral tops. Some of the indie yarn dyers offer beautiful shades of gray, and then of course there are undyed fibers in gorgeous grays and browns.

  16. 22

    So I think it’s up to me to write the dissenting opinion:
    Grey is plain simply boring.
    It’s black that has been washed too often, it’s white that has spent too much time hanging around with black.
    Sure, it doesn’t get dirty quickly and that’s because it never looked clean in the beginning.
    The only thing grey is good at: imitating silver or steel in embroidery thread.
    Back in summer I desperatly needed something grey because I needed to demonstrate my daughter that women and girls are actually allowed to wear grey and the result was 1 T-shirt, a PJ I don’t wear anyway and socks.

  17. 23

    I don’t know it it’s just my greying hair or what, but I’ve found my whole relationship to color has changed. I’m loving layers of grey along with my usual black with bright colors. I even bought a peach and olive and gold kimono-jackety thing that I would never have looked at twice – looks much better over greys than stark black – and makes my hair look sparkly and great.

    Also, I do love textures and knits as well, and greys and taupes and so on often do show that off much better.

    I’m enjoying the fashion posts quite a lot. I love clothes and shoes, but I’m frequently alienated by mainstream fashion.

  18. 24

    I think gray can be marvelous for setting off other colors. I wear a lot of outfits that involve a base of black and gray, offset by multiple pieces in vivid color. I like it, because it’s not as austere as all black with some vivid color, but it’s not as in-your-face as multiple vivid colors. I’m a matchy-matchy sort of person. Gray and black with peacock blue or with red are among my favorite things! I think gray is a very under-appreciated color, and I am delighted to see it getting praise. 😀

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