How to Wear All Black: A Guide to Monochrome Outfits

In fashion, color is one of your main tools for creating interesting outfits. Incorporating good color pairs into your outfits is often the mark of a good sense of style and the skill that goes along with it.

Read More: Color: Everything You Need to Know »

When wearing all black or monochrome outfits (ex. one color in multiple shades), you’re limited to a single color and lose that tool. Building monochrome outfits can seem a bit like playing the fashion game with a handicap when you first start.

That being said, designing monochrome outfits can provide a lot of insight into the other aspects of good style and offer a chance to build your knowledge of patterns, silhouette, drapery and other subtle details that you might not otherwise incorporate into your outfit designs.

The Monochromatic Color Space

In the graphic below, you can see a few different example of monochromatic color ramps. These are basically just a set of the same color in different shades.

If you wear the same exact shade of a single color throughout your entire outfit, then you’re going to risk looking like you’re wearing a uniform. With monochrome outfits, it can be a great idea to mix different shades of the same color (ex. wearing dark greys along with a majority black outfit).

Combinations of black, grey and white in the same outfit can be a very powerful way to stay monochromatic while keeping a nice color balance at the same time. You can also apply the same principle to other colors and get great results.

In the two outfits above, both men are wearing a single color (blue on the left and grey on the right), but they’re both using several different shades of a single color to create more depth and make the outfits more interesting.

Drapery, Asymmetry and Silhouette

When you’re dealing with a single color in an outfit, you need some way of keeping the outfit visually interesting. This is often done by using asymmetrical pieces or having interesting lines spread throughout your outfit to help lead peoples eyes and keep them engaged.

Avant-garde designers who typically work with lots of black, white and grey often make use of interesting asymmetrical patterns and pieces that drape nicely over the body. You can see this principle at work in the photo below.

All of the outfits pictured above are only using a single color, but they all look very visually complex because of the asymmetrical lines and the unique shapes created as a result of the draping material. These sorts of designs are spellbinding simply because the lines lead our eyes in many different directions. It’s also rare to see people wear such bold pieces, so when we see them it’s interesting to look at.

You can see how powerful single-color silhouettes can be by looking at some of the concept art designs below:

Our brain can figure out exactly what each of these characters might look like, just due to the outlines. There’s no color or details. It’s all just visual suggestion with good placement of lines. This is the same principle used in the monochrome, avant-garde outfits above.

If you’re interested in building all-black outfits, try and find some pieces with unique asymmetrical designs or interesting features (lots of zippers, heavy drapery, folding, etc.)

Layering and Depth

As I’ve discussed in several other posts, layering is one of the easiest ways to make your outfits more interesting. But it’s especially important with monochrome outfits as you’re not relying on color to catch people’s attention.

Layering in all-black can give you a very elegant look. If you want to go for a classier, more professional image, then it’s better to stay away from the avant-garde designs above and instead choose traditional pieces like blazers, sweaters and waist coats and just layer them in combination.

All black layering can be especially good for night time venues like clubs and bars where the environment is already a bit dark. Winter time is also a good time for darker colors due to the natural lack of color in the environment after the leaves have fallen and when it snows.

Details and Accessories

Wearing accessories or throwing in a small splash of color can really help a monochrome outfit stand out. Notice how the men in the photo below are using the circled accessories to keep the outfits interesting.

Red is a great color to pair against black because of how strong and eye-catching it is. Gold and silvery jewelry or chains can also be great to catch people’s attention because of how they shine.

There are many different accessories you can work into all-black outfits: necklaces, pocket squares, belts and belt buckles, watches, sunglasses, rings and more.

Putting It All Together

I’ve discussed a number of different tools for skillfully creating monochrome outfits. When you’re building an all-black or monochrome outfit, it’s a good idea to do several of the things I’ve discussed above in combination for to create a very strong image.

Here’s a checklist you can use when creating a monochrome outfit:

  • Am I layering?
  • Am I wearing interesting accessories or putting in small color splashes?
  • Does the outfit have strong leading lines or asymmetry?
  • Is the shade of color being varied to create depth?

I hope that helps. Do you often wear a lot of black? Post in the comments and share your own tips!