A Color Strategy That Even The Often Color-Avoidant Can Embrace


In retirement, or any situation where one can dress as casually as one wants, we want to avoid the schlump.

In hyper-casual outfits, I’m not going to be experimenting with silhouette, or shoe height, or really anything. So what I want is a way to ensure that when I throw on any old thing, shorts, jeans, a tee, sandals, sneakers, an inexpensive linen blazer, and/or a field jacket, I’ve got a shot at style. As one who always shunned colors any more saturated than, say, navy, I am surprised to find how much I rely these days on not-black and not-white, and even not-brown-and-not-gray, to add that little je ne sais quoi.

Color, you see, is always available.

But I was never going to go rainbow. Or popping. Even if my being could handle intensity, my particular over-50 coloring could not. I may not be melting like the Wicked Witch, but I’m fading. So I want my style subtle and balanced.

To try this out, just start with your fail-safe color. For me, that’s blue. For you it might be green, acid yellow, or peach.  We’re inclusive. Now add one or two complementary blue-based shades, and one that contrasts.


I’m wearing navy UNIQLO shorts, blazer and rather intense radiant orchid tee, along with orange Havaiana flip flops. I like to keep strong contrast away from my face. I’m also wearing these 20-year old handmade gold hoops. Gold provides a contrast too, just gentler.


You can also take a more muted tack.


A blue (Citizens of Humanity boyfriend jeans), two purples (you can just see the lavender UNIQLO t-shirt peeking out from under my heathered purple sweatshirt), and forest green Supergas. The more yellow the green, the strong the contrast to the purple. (By the way, I love this sweatshirt, cotton, comfortable, fairly flattering.)

Tonal values should be similar across your outfit. In my case, all are “dusty,” That’s because I’m kind of dusty myself, low contrast, neither pale nor dark. I’m also wearing these earrings – because the color play here is more subtle, I wanted to add a little interest with variegated stones. You can go all pale, or all vivid. As I said, inclusive.

Also, extra side benefit, not expensive as stylish goes.

Here are a few options if you’re dusty too, but yellow-undertoned. Feel free to tell us all how to put these colors together better than I have.

One more thing about basing my wardrobe on “Blue: Its Friends And Its Enemies?” The strategy brings out my eyes, which, as I fade, seem to be getting brighter. I wouldn’t mind becoming that old lady with bright blue peepers and the purple shoes.


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  • I think color preference is much about eye color. I am a (mostly former) redhead–green eyes. Olive green works as a primary color for me, especially with turquoise or berry shades. How lovely to think that, as hair color fades, eyes may appear brighter in contrast. The glass may be half full, after all.

    The darker purple in the last shot is stunning on you. I’d love to see you look up, so that I may admire your peepers! :-)

    10:10 am
    Lisa said...

    @Velma, Here’s a link. http://amidprivilege.com/2013/09/5-hints-big-event-beauty-routines-50/ . Since I take my own photos with a timer delay, it can be tough to smile into the camera in 10 seconds. Hence the downward gaze;).

  • It looks good on you!

  • I’m not good with colour, I bought a red dress last year and have never won it again, others love me in it but I find colour. awfully distracting, I would like to dip more into blue however.
    I really love your tomboy style, that’s how I dress at home all of the time but much more schlumpy!

  • What a mess of punctuation above – apologies.

  • I am good in blue, too; alas, I never wear it in Spring or Autumn. Just doesn’t feel right, those are my dark Navy and taupe, respectively. Navy doesn’t count as a blue, because it is such a traditional Spring color. I stick with neutral bottoms and colored tops. Ho-hum, bit I am very adventurous in other ways. I love the colors you have chosen! Can’t wait for Summer – my blue season!!!

    10:12 am
    Lisa said...

    @Caro, Interesting. In California we don’t really change colors, season to season. Some would say that’s because we don’t have seasons.

  • Color is everything to me! I can’t stand red, although others say that it looks great on me. I like your idea of elegant fading, and exactly like you I start with my favorite color and then do the matching and contrast. My colors are blue and green, all shades, maybe a little coral and pink for contrast. But colors, yes! The only color I feel deadens everybody down is brown. But colors please, elegant, sophisticated, subtle, but colors please. No more plain black or just black, blue and white.

  • My eyes are getting brighter too; I’ve gone from a dull hazel to clear green. It’s my consolation prize for having thick dark eyebrows slowly fade away.

  • For a colour avoider, you wear it convincingly!

  • I like to call your kinds of colours Smoky rather than dusty, like a haze of smoke has been passed over a brighter colour. They would also fall into my Sophisticated palette.

    10:16 am
    Lisa said...

    @Imogen Lamport, Imogen, I like your language;). And I’m adding a link to one of your color posts, as I try to send people your way for expertise as often as practicable. http://www.insideoutstyleblog.com/2010/05/choosing-colours-part-2.html

  • Hmm, I tend more to the fail-safe color plus, when I’m feeling adventurous, two others – but all in the same family as opposed to one that contrasts. I guess I should get more adventurous.

  • Blue is a favorite of mine. Although I own a pair of black shorts, I wear them when I feel like I ought to dress up a little.
    I’m not so sure about the jacket/shorts and flip-flops. WASP culture understands that arms and chests can be cool while legs with tennis playing muscles are warm.
    However, I feel like if it’s cool enough to go with the jacket then sturdier shoes are appropriate. If you were clowning around on a rocky shore in New England drinking beer and fooling with the bonfire wouldn’t you wear your Topsiders or the old Keds you wear to wade on the rocky shore?

    10:19 am
    Lisa said...

    @RoseAG, This is a California thing. The jacket is removable, shoes aren’t. So in the evening, when I took this photo, temps are down in the 60s. The jacket is linen, and lighter than it appears. At midday, temps would be up in the mid-70s, and the jacket would be over a chair somewhere.

    In New England, yes, you’d do as you say. But we flip flop all the time out here, even the well-behaved do it:).

  • I love the glimmery earrings with casual clothes. And that second outfit is fabulous. If I wore it, sadly, I would look like an urchin. However, adding in heels … now you’ve got me thinking!

    I wore a bright green cashmere sweater to work yesterday, with two green necklaces (malachite bought in a car park in South Africa, and very green turquoise, a present), and received compliments from two of the senior women in my office – themselves with diametrically opposed styles (one wears wrap dresses, heels and heaps of jewellery, the other flat knee-high boots and denim skirts or khakis, with unstructured knits). I usually wear dark or pale grey, black, navy or white, so this was as interesting as it was unexpected!

  • Oh dear! Can I be controversial? Looking at your photos the impression I am given is ‘ hey I am trying to be inconspicuous but my shoes tell you I am not what you may think and my earrings tell you that I am someone with taste and money! Am I right?
    Come on ladies there is nothing wrong with being bright and feminine ! Why do we have to look like boys? What is wrong with celebrating our feminism
    Just thought I would throw that into the discussion.
    What am I wearing at this moment? Well navy blue cotton jersey pants, a navy and grey fitted striped cotton sweater, because it is colder a plum woollen cardigan. Navy blue loafers. Blue tourmaline stud earrings and a fig perfume.

    10:23 am
    Lisa said...

    @Jenny, I think I need more info here. Is your primary issue that I’m dressing tomboy? In that case, yes, you’re right. If I have no external requirements for my outfits, I’m always going to dress like this. I like pants, I don’t like heels, I don’t like drapey things, et voila I wind up Tomboy. I have struggled with the idea of “feminine,” but that is changing everywhere, so I just stay happy with “female.”

    But if you don’t like the way I am adding style to Tomboy via colored shoes and earrings, that’s another question altogether. Do tell!

  • I love the lavender/purpley items in this post, and clicked to the link to find you in a lavender skirt, tenderly alluring and not too dressed up. Bet you could wear it with the blue blazer or purple sweatshirt, b/c there are days when it’s warm for jeans, and the skirt is so unusual and pretty.

    1:04 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thanks! I have to confess, I don’t wear skirts or dresses unless there is an occasion. Hence the shorts. When I say Tomboy, I mean dyed-in-the-wool:).

  • I love your muted purples, just as I love the terms dusty, and smoky, as those are my colors as well, even though my hair is still fairly dark. I would wear your purples, but although I wear blues, and even true blues, I am best with the ducky shades and the blue-greens, and periwinkles more than the true blues. Must be because my eyes are green, and not particularly bright, more muted themselves.

    You wear your colors well and everything seems to fit together with you in such a harmonious way.

    10:24 am
    Lisa said...

    @Mardel, Such a cute term, what is a “ducky” shade?

    11:45 am
    Mardel said...

    @Mardel, Oops, I meant dusty. I should have caught that, it comes from holding the laptop in one hand while I type with the other…..

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