The Role of Neutral Colours in Colour Combinations

Black, grey and white might be the oldest and most acknowledged neutral colours around, but many others have joined the fray over the years.

More and more colours, including neutrals, are created each day for various purposes, but it is interesting to note that the fashion and design industries share similar colours that are considered ‘neutrals’. Take any neutrals from a paint company catalogue (like the pic below) and you’ll see that when you wear them, they’re still considered neutrals.

Whatever neutrals might be to you in your fashion context, we agree that generally, the neutrals below are the popular ones we see:

  • shades of black
  • shades of white
  • shades of grey
  • shades of brown and some blues and greens
  • denim

And the list goes on….

How do we define ‘neutral colours’ then? 

In my definition, neutral colours are those that ‘take a backseat’ in a colour combination and allow other colours to advance.  Let’s take these examples.  Notice how a couple of colours pop out from the combination, while others form the backdrop.

Our focus is drawn to the brightest colours – fuschia and green. The rest of the colours form the backdrop.

The blue and purple flowers get the attention.

The inclusion of accessories in brighter colours distracts us from the neutral colours. When these brighter colours are worn with neutrals (not all together of course), they add interest.

If I could personify ‘neutral colours’, they would have these character traits:

  • Reserved
  • Undemanding
  • Reliable
  • Hardworking
  • Humble
  • Versatile
  • Non-assertive
  • Might be perceived as a wall-flower by those who underestimates her worth
  • A team player

As colours, neutrals are:

  • Easy on the eyes
  • Easy to match
  • Understated
  • Provides a backdrop for accent colours to add interest
  • composed, unassuming

In short, neutral colours may seem boring, but they are necessary.  In interior decoration, they are an asset to those who find solace in  a cozy and relaxing place.  In fashion, they are a staple that give you mileage for your money, and works hard to present your in whatever way you choose – to stand out with bursts of colour, or just to stay understated, but composed and elegant.

Photos of living spaces captured from

  • Home Colour Visualiser,
  • Dulux  ‘The Color Guide’ 2012,

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