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Have a neutral party with new base colors

Lately I've been getting a lot of questions about neutral colors.

Both men and women seem slightly befuddled about the base hues around which to build an ensemble. One of my girlfriends recently inquired about a navy sheath dress, and which color tights and shoes I thought would be best. Similarly, last week I had to assure one of my guy friends that, yes, he could wear that gray sweater with jeans and was clear to proceed to work.

Don't feel bad -- sometimes, what's supposed to be easy can be quite difficult when it comes to your wardrobe. In this case, neutrals have thrown you a curveball. In the fashion world, the palette of neutral colors is no longer defined by black and white. Bright hues have come to the forefront and black and white can be too stark to compliment them. It's all about subtler, more unexpected colors.

So allow me to help you swap out your old neutral colors with the newer answers to all your clothing dilemmas. Or, if you're color-challenged, just help you get dressed in the morning in general. Hint: They all go really well with dark denim.

New neutral: Mink

Wear it with: Navy, light pink, burgundy

Replaces: Brown, white

Let's go back to my friend with the navy dress. In my humble opinion, if you are over the age of 12, the worst thing you can wear with a navy dress is a pair of white or cream wool tights. That's the road most commonly traveled when it comes to the navy dress, but no matter how sophisticated your shoes and accessories, I guarantee you'll look at yourself in the mirror later in the day and wonder why you dressed like a paper doll.

Enter mink, which is sort of a cross between brown and gray. It can have a hint of green or a hint of pink sometimes. When a shade is so strange to describe, that's when you know you'll be able to wear it with a lot of things. I especially love mink as a replacement for any situation where you would previously have worn brown -- and, unlike brown, it also works with black.

In terms of colors, mink is very winter-y, so it's not the best choice for accompanying bright colors. But hues like burgundy and dark mustard are great partners for it. It also works well with petal pink, an unexpectedly popular shade this season.

New neutral: Blush

Wear it with: Black, mink, camel, bright red

Replaces: White

Sorry to play favorites here, but blush is my favorite new neutral. In full disclosure, that's mainly because I look great in it, which I unfortunately cannot say about rust. But I'm also a fan of blush because contrary to popular belief, there are some things that white cannot do.

The main hues I'm referring to here are, of course, black and bright red. Elementary school music concerts and chain restaurants have brought great things to everyone's lives, but have indeed killed our ability to wear a solid white top with solid black bottoms in situations not involving an apron or a rented violin. Similarly, red and white is a lovely combo, but Santa has a bit of a monopoly there. Since black is a staple and bright reds like persimmon are enduringly trendy, blush is the perfect solution. I frequently wear my bright red cigarette pants with a blush-hued top.

New neutral: Camel

Wear it with: Almost anything

Replaces: Khaki

Khaki. Shudder. To be honest, I can't say how khaki fell from grace, but I'm fairly certain the pleated pants we all had to wear to our mind-numbing summer jobs played a large role. Chino fabric is still fine, but reaching for camel, that darker tan, is the way to go.

Camel is great with all the bright hues and jewel tones of winter 2012. My favorite partner for it is emerald green. In addition, where khaki and black used to reign supreme, camel and black look fresh and of-the-moment together. In my closet, a camel blazer and camel over-the-knee boots are both pieces that I reach for regularly.

New neutrals: Dove gray and titanium

Wear them with: Almost anything

Replaces: Black, brown, navy

Dove gray is a very light gray with almost a pastel-like feel. It often has just a hint of light blue. Titanium is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a dark, rich gray.

Gray is obviously nothing new, but I always have a surprisingly hard time getting people to warm up to it. This is no longer that heather gray, gym T-shirt color that isn't really a color. Both dove gray and titanium are lovely, dynamic hues. They go with anything, but dove gray is a big winner with burgundy, plum and cobalt, and titanium compliments mustard yellow well.

New neutral: Rust

Wear it with: Black, gray, navy, blush

Replaces: Nothing -- it's more of an addition

The purpose that rust seems to be serving in the fashion landscape right now is to be another option for an all-neutral outfit. You know that day: The day you wake up half an hour late, aren't feeling anything in your closet, and walk out the door in a gray skirt and black sweater. Talk about gloomy. Rust pieces are still perfect for when you just feel like blending in, because they're almost brown. But, for example, a rust-hued silk tunic dress, belted, with black tights and riding boots is a more modern take on the all-neutral outfit.

(E-mail Kristyn Schiavone at, follow her on Twitter at @KKSchiavone or write to her c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Ste. 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.)