The cold-colour capsule

Wednesday, December 9th 2020
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I realised recently that an increasing number of my casual clothes fall into a narrow colour range. 

A good proportion of my favourite things - and certainly combinations - are a mix of brown, cream, black and grey. With some secondary colours at the edges. 

This might not be unusual in tailoring, but with casual clothing it’s more striking. And I think I like the palette for similar reasons - it feels smart despite the lack of a suit, its darkness and simplicity make it subtle, and yet its rarity means it has personality. 

In this post I thought I’d try to break down this cold-colour collection - for my own purposes as much as anything else. 

Knowing what you wear most often, in what combinations and why, is great when you need to  put together a small capsule collection, for example when travelling. Even if I’m just going to my parents for the weekend, with my family, it means I can chuck things quickly in a bag with the confidence that it all works together.  

This kind of analysis helps that a lot.

So, the four primary colours in this scheme are:

  • Brown. Must be dark and cold - see post here for more on what I mean by that.
  • Grey. All shades of grey, which sometimes means charcoal and light grey in one outfit.
  • Cream. Not white, though that can be a useful secondary colour. 
  • Black. As mentioned previously, something I wear more often these days. 

These four can then all be swapped around, between knitwear, trousers, shoes and outerwear.

Any colour can apply to any of them. You’re less likely to have cream outerwear (except in a knit, as below) or cream shoes (except as a leather trainer/tennis shoe) but otherwise any category can be any colour. 

Below I've picked out five different permutations to demonstrate:

  • Brown/black/grey 
  • Charcoal/grey/brown 
  • Grey/white/charcoal
  • Cream/black/brown 
  • Brown/charcoal/cream 


Brown - black - grey
Charcoal - grey - brown
Grey - white - charcoal
Cream - black - brown
Brown - charcoal - cream

These all work, and are consistent as well as characterful (I think). But if they get a little boring or too tonal, there are secondary options. 

Apart from the occasional bright, accent colour, these are all quite cold as well. They are:

  • Taupe, beige or stone. Basically, muted and greyed versions of these classic colours. Particularly useful as a trouser option. 
  • Navy. Useful in this colour scheme as a minor piece - a scarf, a beanie, sometimes a trouser. If a major piece, such as a jacket, the look becomes something different. 
  • Olive. Basically the green equivalent of the dark brown. I find this a harder shade, and not quite as good with black and cream as the dark brown. But a nice alternative if the shade is right. 
  • Bright red, yellow, indigo. A nice way to add colour, with a bright accessory like a hat, scarf, umbrella etc. This also means it can be removed easily. Red and indigo seem to work best. 

Some examples (the more I look for them, the more there are from my outfits this year):


The cold-colour capsule, with taupe coat
With pale taupe trousers
With navy trousers
With dark olive jacket
With pop of red

Each of those has the same basic combination of brown, black, grey and cream, but adds secondary colours.

Other things to note with this collection are that matte textures work particularly well (suede, flannel, nubuck).

But contrast in texture also adds useful variation without the need for another colour. For example, black calf shoes add some shine, and thus variation, from wool and suede elsewhere. Jewellery can do something similar, and is usually best in silver with this palette. 

In the image below, the brown calf shoes add that variation. Although having thought through the combinations in this way, perhaps black calf shoes might have been better: they would have provided both another colour and another texture.

Another thing this analysis has suggested to me, is that I should look to expand the colour/category combinations where I don't have them. For example, I don't have any black knitwear, but it would work with a lot of these outfits.

So I've just ordered a black crewneck from Luca Faloni to try that out.

One way to look at this capsule collection is that it’s just like a range offered by a brand.

Most small brands naturally have a narrow range of colours, or at least types of colour, so that everything works together. That’s the case whether you’re looking at the dulled colours of Anglo-Italian, the organic ones of Adret or hyper-tonal Saman Amel.

And I should also make clear that there is nothing original about this cold-colour look. Others do it well, often better than me, and have been for a while. I just like systematising, explaining and communicating. 

Most of those people are friends, so I’m sure they'll take it as a compliment. I’ve included a few images below, with their own takes and tweaks. 

Enjoy playing with my collection, their variations, and if you feel inclined, even analysing your own.


Berg & Berg
Willy, The Anthology