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E.J. Topper’s “Colorful Thoughts” – Earth Tones

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Earth Tones: Suiting You Down to the Ground

So what precisely are the “Earth Tones”? A long-forgotten Seventies prog rock group? A mystical sound heard only by practitioners of an exotic cult? Or a group of colors associated with nature and the great outdoors? (No prizes, by the way, for guessing it’s that last option.)

Earth tones take their lead from the naturally occurring color palette that Mother Nature gifts us. Expect shades of green, soft grays, slate and of course the colors of the earth. These are much more subtle and varied however than a generic, muddy “brown”. Experts will detect hues from burnt umber through sienna to ochre. All of them are a great opportunity to experiment and to achieve a classy, gently relaxed look, especially during fall and coming into winter. And don’t think just in terms of the earth, but include the fruits of the earth as well. These colors pair beautifully with the natural notes of the fall orchard: crimsons, russets and cooking apple greens.

It’s actually quite difficult to “get it wrong” with the earth tones. They are not garish or shouty. But problems can arise if you don’t include sufficient color touches to keep things interesting. As Topper says: “Please don’t make the earth tones a reason for defaulting to brown every time. They are so much more intriguing really and will always reward a little thought.” So, here come Topper’s Top Earth Tone Tips.

Topper's Top Tips

Earth Tone Top Tip One – “Falling to Earth”

Fall is the perfect time to be thinking in terms of earth tones. Topper says: “Think of the wonderful color inspiration that is New England in the fall. Experiment with lively accents suggested by the changing leaves: flame orange, red, maroons, yellow and purple. Choose sweaters, plaid shirts and even sport coats that include these bright hues. Then balance them with calmer earth tones, perhaps slate gray pants or something in a more muted moss green. You’ll be delighted with the effect.”

Topper's Top Tips

Earth Tone Top Tip Two – Avoid “Down in Brown”

Topper is a fan of brown. But he does have some strong views on how, and more specifically, how not to wear this most misunderstood of color choices: “Think of those Seventies cop shows, or, if you’re too young to remember them, then what about every comedy misfit movie of the last 20 years. The central figures are always down in brown, from sludge colored suits to hideous brown shirt and tie sets. This is a travesty. Brown offers us a huge range of subtle choices. So take a little time to understand them.”

Topper's Top Tips

Earth Tone Top Tip Three – “Worth The Earth”

Sometimes it makes perfect sense to invest just that little extra in some signature wardrobe items. Says Topper: “Earth tones look especially good in high quality natural materials – wool, cashmere and premium cottons. As the days shorten and we all prepare psychologically for colder days and longer nights, it can be a real boost to go to the closet and select a tasteful, earth tones-influenced outfit that just exudes luxurious yet cozy comfort.”

Tone Alone?

As Topper tells us, there is no earthly need to keep the earth tones to themselves. This is a true mix and match color palette, so there is no excuse for being “earth tone deaf” here! Some great combinations involve pairing earth tones with bright orange or yellow, to create an outfit that will really “catch” like a yard bonfire of fallen leaves. Or go for plaid shirts with reds, browns and oranges as a great way to wear lots of earth tone references in one garment.

Earth tones can also work brilliantly as a background to brighter flecks and checks. For example, think about a tweed sport coat with accents of red or blue within a more restrained base color of gray or slate. It makes sense that this palette works so well with natural materials. Earth tones, after all, gave rise to some of the earliest dyes back in the days when there were no artificial fibers.

And there is almost no earth tones-related outfit that won’t be set off to perfection by a pair of top quality and highly polished brown shoes. Brogues in burnished natural leather put the finishing touches to that country gent look, with their notes of living color.

(Just a single word of caution here: Topper says please, under no circumstances, ever pair brown shoes with black socks!!)

Brown – Only for Downtime?

Certainly not. Earth tones are not restricted to ‘’off duty’’ wear and downtime. A brown suit is totally acceptable in a formal setting, offering a welcome alternative to the more usual black, gray or blue. Pair it with those brightly polished brown brogues or loafers. Then why not combine a shirt in gray with a brighter necktie, maybe even in orange or saffron. Finish the whole look off with a vee-neck sweater in a natural fall color.

The earth offers us limitless bounty. With a little understanding and appreciation of the choices on offer, there’s no reason why earth tones shouldn’t suit the well-dressed gentleman absolutely down to the ground.


Get more of Topper's advice on any of the color palettes here:

Red Pink Orange Yellow Green Blue Purple Pastels Earth Tones Black & White