In everyday life we all have our fashion hang-ups. From a fear of mixing black and brown to working a super-short skirt with sky-high heels, the history of our anxieties is almost as interesting as the history of the clothes and accessories themselves. Dr. Anna Akbari is a professor of sociology at NYU with a specialization in art and design history. She also moonlights as a “thinking person’s stylist” for her own company, Closet Catharsis.
Sometimes mixing and matching can be tough — ESPECIALLY when it comes to long-standing taboos about which colors you can actually wear together. Is black and brown, OK? Can you ever throw navy into the mix? Much like the whole “no white after Labor Day” controversy of past, today anything goes and then some.
Want a quick cheat sheet on how to make it work — click through the slideshow above for a complete breakdown!
Mixing black, brown, and navy is confusing for most people, so many simply defer to the seemingly timeless perception that it is a faux pas to wear them together. But this is one style myth that needs debunking. (Exhibit A: These great interpretations courtesy of J.Crew.)
The color navy is associated with the U.S. Navy, as the blue and gold scheme dates back to 1802, making it a color of authority. The uniform colors were originally used to differentiate military classes, but evolved into a more practical application, as the darker colors grew more prevalent in an effort to minimize visible soilage.
U.S. Navy/Navy Visual News Service (NVNS)
Black was historically expensive as it was costly to dye and difficult to maintain, given its propensity toward fading. Groups like the Puritans (as seen on the cover of this recent historical text) instead embraced earthier tones like brown, navy, maroon, and neutrals, as they were more practical and modest.
With its 'elite' history, it’s no wonder the all-black uniform became the signature look of the urban elite. Fashion theorist Anne Hollander argues that the need to fit in and feel “right,” overpowers the need to feel stylish. Thus, the all-black uniform is a safe haven for fashionistas and the sartorially-challenged alike.
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Style icons like Kate Middleton and other Hollywood A-listers understand that black and brown are a chic combo.
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Jason Wu’s Pre-Fall 2012 collection elegantly pairs navy and black together.
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Burberry Prorsum’s Fall/Winter 12/13 collection reveals a clever coat sporting a navy/brown/tan color combo coat that would nicely anchor a monochromatic black outfit.
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Throwing white or ivory into the mix can make it easier to successfully marry black and brown, as witnessed on Elizabeth Olsen.
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Try pairing a lighter shade of brown with black or navy -- or both -- as the color contrast will be more complementary than a deeper chocolate brown. Accessories are a great place to start blending these colors (as Jenna Lyons oh-so-helpfully demonstrates).
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