Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend

Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend | Styling tips

Choosing to wear one colour head to toe not only makes for a statement look, it also gives you the opportunity to play with colour in a new way while creating a sophisticated yet stylish outfit.

This style trend is known as tonal dressing, or tonal styling, and it’s a great way to change your look while bringing visual interest to your outfit.

If you’re thinking about giving tonal dressing a go, follow these styling rules to ensure you nail this fashion trend.

What is tonal dressing?

When it comes to tonal dressing, it generally means dressing head to toe in the same colour, or in varying shades or tones of a specific colour.

For example, if you choose blue as the colour of your tonal outfit, you may opt for slightly different shades of pale blue across different garments in your ensemble, or you could choose more of a contrasting look by incorporating shades of blue at the light and dark ends of that colour’s spectrum.

Personal stylist Jude Stevens, of Styling by Lumiere, said tonal dressing gives you the chance to be creative with fashion by using a single colour.

“Pick a single colour, but be creative with the different shades within that colour palette. Pick a colour that suits your complexion and build your tonal outfit around that colour tone,” she said.

Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend | Styling tips

Pick a colour you love and build a tonal outfit using shades of that colour.

Where to start with tonal dressing

For those who are new to tonal styling, the idea of dressing head to toe in a single colour can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start small, and build your confidence with wearing colour slowly.

“Pick a colour that you love; that you feel great in. Then build on it from there. If you love a colour you are likely to have different shades of that colour in your wardrobe already,” said Stevens.

It’s also okay to start with the existing colours in your wardrobe, even if they’re all neutral. You can gradually introduce a colour and work your way up to a complete tonal outfit.

For example, if you have a wardrobe full of staples in navy, such as tailored navy pants and a navy blazer, try adding a t-shirt or blouse in a slighter lighter shade of blue. That could be your first step to branching out into the tonal trend.

“You can do that with grey as well. You can mix charcoal with different shades of grey. Even a dark grey with black is quite nice as it’s not too contrasting because it’s in a similar colour palette,” Stevens said.

Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend | Styling tips

Keeping the overall outfit colour light is a good tip for mastering the tonal dressing trend, said stylist Jude Stevens.

Keeping the overall outfit colour light is another good tip for mastering the tonal dressing trend, as it can be easier to pull off a more cohesive tonal look across the whole outfit when working with lighter colours.

“I like adding camel and tan colours to white and beige. White paired with beige keeps it in a similar tonal colour palette, rather than mixing it with a darker colour like black which will look too harsh and no longer appear tonal,” Stevens said.

If creating a neutral-coloured outfit, add texture to break up the colour. Something like a textured bag could break up the outfit, such as a leather bag in the winter or a woven bag for the summertime.

Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend | Styling tips

Elevate your tonal outfits by playing with brighter, bolder colours.

How to level up your tonal dressing style

So, you’ve given tonal dressing a go and you’re enjoying embracing colour as a full look, but now you want to take the experiment further. What can you do to level up your tonal style?

Stevens recommends “going bolder” with your colour choices – shift away from dressing head to toe in neutral shades and opt for brighter, bolder colours.

“Use light and dark shades of the same colour to create contrast. Something like pairing a light blue satin skirt with a darker blue top is quite contrasting,” she said.

“You can also add a pop of colour through your accessories, such as in your bag or belt.

“But always keep your shoes neutral so not to detract from the colour in your outfit. I always say nude shoes are a good choice when it comes to tonal dressing.”

Tonal dressing: what is it and how to wear this style trend | Styling tips

If dressing in a rich tone like mustard yellow, stick to the darker, warmer end of the colour palette.

When it comes to bold colours with a deep or rich tone, like mustard yellow, Ms Stevens suggests sticking to the darker, warmer end of the colour palette across the different pieces in your outfit.

“If you introduce a colour too opposite to it, like a much lighter yellow, you lose the cohesiveness of the tonal look. So, if you are dressing in a colour like mustard, you want all of the pieces in your outfit to reflect that same warmth and richness of the mustard.”

Lastly, introducing various textures to a tonal outfit is a must, as different fabrics can bring new qualities to the overall look.

“Try something like leather pants with a silk shirt, or satin with a cotton, or something contrasting. It adds depth and variety, and by having the different textures, the outfit looks more interesting,” Stevens said.

“It’s all about layering – layer the colours, the textures, and the accessories until you find the right balance.”


All images courtesy Jude Stevens, Styling by Lumiere.

Sharon Green, editor

Sharon Green

Sharon Green is the founding editor of SHE DEFINED.

An experienced journalist and editor, Sharon has worked in mainstream media in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Forever in search of a publication that confronted the real issues faced by modern women, Sharon decided to create her own.