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Neutrals have a reputation for not having much of a reputation. Most wardrobes are full of them, but rarely by choice. They’re the default; safe, reliable, but pretty boring. The Switzerland of menswear, if you will. It’s not entirely fair (to clothes or country) but as with most clichés, it contains a grain of truth. Neutral colours are reliable and they are safe. But that doesn’t have to translate to boring.

First, a definition. When we talk about ‘neutrals’, we mean colours without colour: white, black and all those shades that are overrepresented in fancy paint shops, like beige, grey and khaki (or mizzle, mouse’s back and mole’s breath, as the sample pots put it). Anything that’s a little murky or washed-out, like muddy brown, forest green or stone, is a neutral.

And on their own, they don’t add up to much. They’re unobtrusive. Which is why they’re great on the walls of your dining room, and in the pieces that form the spine of your wardrobe. Because the beauty of neutrals is that, thanks to their lack of colour, they don’t clash with anything. You can wear them with jewel tones, primary colours or even neon, and they’ll sit there quietly, the perfect backdrop.

The mistake men make is relying on neutrals head-to-toe. It’s an approach that can look great, if you mix up your textures, vary your shades and experiment with unexpected silhouettes. But you really need to embrace all those non-colourful elements otherwise your outfit can end up – it’s true – boring. But the other, simpler option is to use them as a frame. Something like a chore jacket in an earthy tone isperfect over something punchier. Its neutrality creates contrast, letting your bright colours shine. 

Odds are your wardrobe’s already full of neutrals. Which is great. Because with the addition of a couple of statement-makers – think Arlen’s duck egg-orange sweatshirt or Selected Homme’s blissed-out floral shirt – you bring background looks to life. If only the same trick worked on the Swiss.

Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Chris Howlett
Styling: Brooke Philips