Anyone sensible should be cautious of a particular style when it becomes popularized, especially when celebrities jump on the band wagon. There are of course times when innovative ideas and approaches are catalysts for enriched culture and long lasting improvements – maybe even cementing themselves as milestones in fashion history. Consider the evolution of the Trench coat from its practical roots, or how a request for a shorter informal jacket by the Prince of Whales led the storied Savile Row tailor Henry Poole to invent the dinner jacket. Naturally the polar opposite of the spectrum would include perverse atrocities like parachute pants or the infamous “garbage bag” suit cut from the 90s; we can hang on to these for future photo album entertainment. One trend. This brings us to the point of this article, which is tonal dressing and what kind of trend it will turn out to be.
When it comes to keeping up to speed with the latest and greatest, I would probably be considered a “late adopter”, even if my style leans toward the classic side, and that may explain why I was admittedly a bit quick to shun the concept of tonal dressing, also known as “tone-on-tone”. For those who don’t know, tonal refers to building an ensemble which layers different tones of the same colour, and a safe interpretation is to coordinate shades of neutrals like black, white, grey, brown, etc. However, more interestingly, and perhaps a trickier choice, is to try a single monochrome colour like navy, as seen below. Obviously coordinating shades of a single colour coherently isn’t a ground breaking revelation, but even timeless staples in fashion were likely popularized at some point, and we shouldn’t allow that to cloud our judgement.
Only sound judgement and taste can allow us to decide for ourselves which trends are worth our time and money, and many would agree that truly great style is never achieved by following the heard. The question raised then is whether tonal dressing is a short lived blip destined to fade away, or potentially a timeless but edgy look to store in the tool box for years to come. The root of my apprehension may be that for a while it seemed like every Hollywood actor would appear on some late night talk show in a dark monochrome suit, with matching everything. The issue here is if they don’t execute the look well, it leaves a bad impression as opposed to showcasing the distinct potential.
Tip 1 – Take Baby Steps
The great thing about layering tones is that it’s not a look you have to fully commit to, it’s simplicity at its finest by coordinating just a couple monochrome items. You will develop some skill at finding the sweet spot between too much contrast and too matchy-matchy. While its an easy style to experiment with, it requires a keen eye for colour coordination and nuance as you incorporate more items into the outfit.
With this look, I went with a navy shirt and navy tie to demonstrate a very simple, low risk way to experiment. Consider this the fist step on the tonal ladder. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 for more looks and tips for tonal dressing.