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Guide to Tonal Dressing

Posted on20-04-2023
The thought of ‘Tonal Dressing’ can be daunting, so we’ve put together our best advice to make tonal dressing as easy as possible. Done well, it’s all about mixing up textures and similar tones/hues to sit perfectly together. If you’re already a repeat colour offender, you’re halfway there - it’s just finding the right combinations for your tonal get-up. A tonal outfit is the easiest route to feeling put-together and well-dressed. The best part? A one-colour outfit has the power to streamline and trick the eye with a continuous line of colour.


The vital starting point of any tonal vibe is the colour choice. The best plan of action is to a) find a colour that complements your skin tone and b) isn’t too gaudy and in your face.

When beginning your tonal adventure it is advised to keep things muted. For example tan, navy and blue - not just because they are safer, but these colours provide a bold, strong look overall.


Tonal dressing may look like a wardrobe art form but it’s all about creating subtle variations on a theme. Think mixing up dark and light tones of the same hue.


If a commitment to just one colour feels a bit too much, there are easy ways to break up the colour monotony. Simply adding a white Oxford shirt or T-Shirt can provide some outfit-saving contrast.

Wearing a smart-casual summer suit in a bold tone suddenly feels far less intimidating with a white tee to pair it with. Likewise, an otherwise all-black-everything look is given a little depth.



Texture plays a huge part in a tonal outfit. Using different patterns, fabrics and finishes helps to make the outfit less static more visually interesting. Some bold examples of this would be fabrics like cotton with leather or woollen knits with silk.

Nick Hammond, head cutter for tailor Norton & Sons, says: “Texture can really heighten the effect and impact of tonal dressing. Using different textures will emphasise contrast and add depth to your overall look – especially important if you’re carrying the same colour throughout.”



Sometimes, matching your shoes with your chosen colour can be overkill, the same can be said for accessories. Reach for neutral tones that sit nicely with your chosen colour.

“Keeping it as simple as possible is key for a tonal look,” Hammond explains. “There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles or accessories involved – this is way more about the clothes and keeping it cool and straightforward.”





Black can look very harsh against most skin tones making it surprisingly difficult to style head-to-toe. But if black has your heart, it’s all about textures. Play with leather, knits and cotton to add visual variety.

For formal-wear it is best to keep razor-sharp, however, a casual weekend outfit can be lifted by the use of a dark charcoal piece.



Blue is one of the hardest colours to mess up. If, like the average man, you already have a wardrobe full of blue, Denim, Navy, and Dark blue, it is an obvious place to start.

An easy standard? Try a stonewashed pair of denim jeans paired with a darker blue shirt and jacket for a subtle tonal look.


Green is a huge player in tonal dressing, think khakis and forest greens. These colours behave more like a neutral in this environment.

Green is an up-and-coming colour in both casual and formal environments, When it comes to formal events, a rich green dinner jacket can make you stand out from the pack. In a casual setting, a good variety of hues from forest green to sage can provide a striking contrast.



Unpredictable British weather means a white-out outfit is all kinds of tricky to pull off convincingly. Mix light neutrals instead for a more wearable option. Think cream, ivory, eggshell, beige and putty for a versatile combination of tones that all work well together.

Still into the idea of all-white? Save it for your Amalfi vacation suitcase and keep it crisp and fresh.



The grey spectrum is pretty vast – and surprisingly wearable. Choose from charcoal, marl, dove, silver or slate for effortless cool tones.

Contrast is key so you don’t end up looking like a slab of granite – remember to add variety with different tones and textures. Mix up items like flecked coats, flannel suiting and woollen sweaters in winter, and cotton tees, seersucker suiting and canvas shorts in summer.






Nothing says ‘I’ve got my life together’ like a smart tonal outfit. This needs to be carefully curated, a head-to-toe look. Hammond has this tonal outfit inspiration: “I would wear a midnight navy dinner suit with waistcoat, blue shirt and navy bow tie for a twist on formal black tie.”

If you’re going tonal with shirts and ties and steer clear of shiny finishes, which could come off a bit cheesy. Instead, try subtle complementary contrast accessories to make your suit pop, like a pocket square or silk patterned scarf.



Tonal is your need-to-know shortcut to looking sharp in smart casual pieces that work for the boardroom to bar.

For autumn/winter, Hammond suggests adding a roll neck to a suit: “I don’t think you can go wrong with a silvery grey flannel suit teamed with a light, heather grey turtleneck. I also love mixing up blues, so a navy suit with sky blue shirt and royal blue necktie.”

For summer, switch out the roll neck for a crisp T-shirt. Pair with breathable linen, cotton or seersucker separates for a look that’s ideal for business casual offices.


Weekend and vacation outfits are done best in an ensemble of two or three pieces in similar hues – beige and camel tones, greys and taupe, or navy and mid-blues. Because there’s less structure in casual-wear, taking a tonal approach makes your outfit look more put-together.

Avoid mixing summer fabrics with winter fabrics when you’re contrasting finishes, e.g. linen with corduroy is a no-go, but linens, cotton and canvas all combine well together.

For casual scenarios, soft greens and khaki lend themselves to layering and work all year round. Use some workwear- or streetwear-style trousers as your starting point and build from there.

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