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How Do I Brighten Up My Style?

I am the Man in Black. I would like to be more of the Man in Yellow.

You hope that the person who suggests you incorporate more color into your wardrobe isn’t your therapist. But sometimes it is. 

“So my therapist kind of jokingly suggested at the end of my last session that I try wearing a bit more color to see if it might brighten my mood or boost my confidence a little/get me out my comfort zone,” a denizen of the Male Fashion Advice subreddit confessed three years ago

The advice isn’t totally unfounded: Research shows that colors can affect our mood. They can even change our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, as researchers Keith Jacobs and Frank Hustmyer discovered way back in 1974. 

But just because you want to incorporate more color into your wardrobe — whether for mental-health purposes or because you’re tired of looking like a character from a Tim Burton movie — doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Especially when, like the aforementioned redditor, your entire wardrobe is black and it’s all you’ve ever known. “Even the high school sports teams I played on had mostly black and grey uniforms,” he laments.

There are, though, at least three baby steps you can take to start… 

#1: Microdose

At the start, you might find that you look dumb and ridiculous. To alleviate such feelings of dumbness and ridiculousness, one r/MaleFashionAdvice devotee suggests microdosing (color, of course) — starting with your pants. “They’re black aren’t they?” he says. “Blue jeans can open up some Western and workwear options.” Moreover, he adds, “Khaki chinos open up even more and will push you out of your comfort zone even further if you’ve made black jeans your default.”

The same calculus can be applied to shirts. “Just wear what you normally do, but swap the black tee for a burgundy button-down,” another redditor advises. “Trade the black peacoat for an olive military jacket.” 

In other words, take it slow. 

#2: Buy in Bulk

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing two (or three, or four…) of the same shirt, especially if you’re looking to brighten up your wardrobe. In fact, buy it in every color it comes in. “I set a goal of cycling through wearing all of those shirts,” writes yet another MFA subscriber. “They ranged from black and white all the way up to safety orange and bright yellow. I had simply never worn anything so colorful and loud in my life.” 

No doubt, this is a more radical approach, but he was able to quickly figure out which colors worked for him and which didn’t. “I started really liking certain colors,” he writes. “For example, I love the look of rich orange with medium grey.” Although the monochromatic style still dominates the way he dresses, he was at least able to learn how to use color to create contrast.

#3: Layer Away

Layering is a nice half-measure — it allows you to still prominently feature your penchant for black while also giving you the freedom to remove the colorful item and/or obscure it a bit, a la this redditor. “When I first started experimenting with brighter colors in my wardrobe, I’d typically wear them as a base layer, while keeping the black jean/jacket thing going on,” he says. 

In terms of some very specific examples, menswear content creator Brock McGoff told me last month that you could layer a navy or olive-colored T-shirt under a black leather jacket. Or a black denim jacket for that matter. You could even try a flannel shirt under a black sweater. 

Either way, you’ll definitely lighten up.