Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How To Wear Neon

I'll admit it, I have not historically been a fan of neon.  I've always thought you had to have the sort of skin tone, sass and attitude of Solange Knowles to pull it off as well as a unnervingly sunny disposition to boot.  My sister is a chirpy sort of soul with the kind of caramel coloured complexion which means lime green and bright yellow work a treat on her.  Such acid brights against my sallower skin generally only succeed in making me look sea sick and as they have always had the reputation of being passing fads in fashion, I have traditionally steered clear of them.

Simon Rocha SS13, Source: Vogue

Yet this season I have surprised myself to find that I'm actually seriously considering an injection of the brightest neon into my wardrobe.  Two seasons ago you wouldn't have caught me dead in lime green, bright orange or fluorescent yellow.  Now I'm eyeing up pieces and wondering if I could make them work for me with a bit of crafty styling.

Maybe it is the eternal winter and the months of being swaddled in dark colours that has got me craving palette cleansing citrus shades, bright corals, hot pinks and electric blues.  Having suffered the coldest summer on record, a harsh winter and now the coldest spring in decades, I'm sure my seasonally affected disorder is running at an all time high.  It's culminated in a burning desire to wear something brighter than the sun itself in order to blast the winter blues into oblivion and as a colour, neon seems fit for purpose.  There is an undeniably happy go lucky, feel good factor to it too.  I have a dance student who turns up to class regularly wearing simple neon yellow or orange shift dresses with equally bright accessories and a megawatt smile and I swear I feel better just looking at her even in the darkest depths of winter!

Sportmax SS13, Source: Vogue

 As for being a fad, given that I've been seeing neon pop up in spring and summer collections as far back as 2007 it is probably not as much of a throwaway fad as you would think.  See Raf Simmons first collection for Jil Sandler, or Christopher Kane's inaugural collection back then.  Neontastic.  Since then the neon idea has never really gone away, if anything it just snowballed into something big.

Antonio Berardi, Source: Vogue

In fact you can almost bank on certain things coming out every spring and summer in designer collections: florals, whites, pale colours like nudes or pastels, and then the bright colours where very often neon is a key look.  This is the season where the sun is shining, we are baring more skin, people naturally end up more tanned and as a result, we can get away with wearing more colour and in stronger shades.

Gucci SS13, Source: Vogue

My new found enthusiasm for all things bright may also be down to the fact that this season neon really gained traction and many designers sent beautifully crafted, show stopping neon pieces down the runway.  From the girlishly pretty lace separates and dresses at Simone Rocha to the statuesque elegance of Gucci's ruffled column dresses and trouser suits, to the sheer beauty of Erdem's embroidered floral motifs, designers showed that neon could look very feminine, grown up as well as fun.

Erdem, Source: Vogue

The easiest and also cheapest way to work neon into an outfit is of course in accessories.  A bag, belt or shoe is probably enough for most people to play it safe and dip a toe into a trend.  This is of course considered the cheat's way to the die hard fashionista, for whom nothing less will do than plunging into the deep end and boldly swathing herself head to toe in a neon look.

This season I'm feeling adventurous enough to wear a block piece in the brightest, most saturated shade my skin tone can tolerate, but I am going to have to take some care in how I approach it.  Happy the woman for whom the glow of neon flatters, for she is the one who can turn heads in a bright dress for all the right reasons.  I am unfortunately not that woman!

But is there some comfortable middle ground in between these extremes for those who are feeling a bit more adventurous than just accessories, but not quite able to do a head to toe look?  This season designers have come to the rescue with looks that cater for everyone's neon saturation threshold.

Roberto Cavalli SS13, Source: Vogue

If you're like me you may have to settle to keep any neon away from being directly against your face or mixed in a print.  The most wearable neon in the spring summer collections appeared as either an accent on an otherwise monochromatic palette of black and/or white as seen at Sportmax and Chalayan, or mixed in with another print as seen at Roberto Cavalli.  Neon as an accent on snake print seemed to be a big theme this season with designers like Preen, Proenza Schouler, Gucci and Erdem all getting in on the act.

Proenza Schouler, source: Vogue
Preen, Gucci and Erdem SS13, Source: Vogue

Alternatively neon was used as one element in colour blocking with a selection of other shades including other neons or black, allowing the option of keeping the most flattering tone for your skin colour nearest to your face.  Here, London fashion intellectuals Osman and Chalayan came to the fore grounding the playfulness of neon with some sharp tailoring.

Osman used sculptural shapes such as peplums and severe origami folds to lend neon pink and blue gravitas.  Neon met more serious black in peek-a-boo combinations: a neon peplum partially covered by an asymmetric shawl collar or sitting atop a black pencil skirt, or lime cropped trousers protuding underneath a thigh high split in a black overskirt.

Osman SS13, Source: Vogue

Hussien Chalayan worked his pared back tailoring in a base of pure bright white on which neon trims provided a fresh pop of colour.  He added bright yellow and lime green lapels in a sporty mesh fabric to tailored tuxedo jackets, which worn with a plain white tee underneath would be understated enough for day wear, yet smart enough for work with a crisp white collared shirt.  In a bit of sartorial reverse psychology, Chalayan used contrasting trims and sheer layers in white to clever effect in toning down neon shades and making them more wearable for the neon shy.  A white chiffon overlayer reduces the colour of a lime green bodice to a subtler hint of neon, whilst a decorative strip of white gauze bordering the neckline of a flirty lime green peplum top draws the eye's attention.

Chalayan SS13, Source: Vogue

So there you have it, I am a new neon convert!  I expect I have probably been subject to the slow and constant drip feeding of a new idea that makes one accept that idea as a new normal, both from the fashion press and from seeing neon being embraced by other people I know or on the streets of London.  I'll never be able to carry off a head to toe look but the ideas in the designer collections have given me some inspiration for new, subtler ways to try wearing neon other than just using accessories.  After all, what is art and design for, if not to challenge our world view, show us new ways of looking at things and open up new possibilities?  A trim on a jacket, a bright skirt with a white shirt, an accent in a monochromatic print or snake print with a yellow stripe. The possibilities are exciting!

Would you wear neon?  How would you wear it?

This is a sponsored post.


  1. What a great analysis of this season's neon. Like you I've never been a big fan of wearing neon, apart from hot pink which I LOVE, and now having read your piece I'm eyeing up those bright blues! The colours look so fresh and springy.

  2. These clothes are stunning. Have fun exploring neon-- the neon pool is one I have waded in and out of since the 80s!! Sometimes it boils down to my mood for the day. What works for me one day may simply not work next week--neon is a very moody thing for me.
    Becky :)

  3. I'm looking forward to seeing how you introduce neon into your wardrobe.
    I am not a huge fan of neon either, but I have been seeing the prettiest bright pinks, greens and yellows that have been tempting me for just little taste of neon!

  4. I have always thought neon was too much for me, with colors either totally unflattering or too intense. I do, however, love color blocking and adored the images that incorporated that sensibility, especially the Osman designs.
    I also loved the Gucci designs and the idea of snakeskin with a little neon.

    Thank you for such a delicious post, full of beautiful images and interesting commentary. You've just made the art of "fashion" much more interesting to me, and I agree that it opens us up to new ways of looking at things. This just might consciously or unconsciously inform choices I make as I sew this Spring. Thank you!!

    P.S. I can't wait to see you in your neon-inspired iteration. :-)

  5. So much cool pieces! I think I could pull off neon, but only in small doses. Head-to-toe probably wouldn't work on me, but I'm down for a pop of color in a bag or shoe. We shall see!

  6. The sheer neon layers in Chalayan's pieces look very wearable and versatile. I have actually always liked neon, but never really wore too much of it (clothing-wise) until recent years. But, I like it in small doses best for my style. I think you just have to do what works for you, my mother wears it in accessories and she is very fair than you, so I agree it's how you approach it and think it can go various ways. Some people go for only clothing, others accessories or footwear. Enjoy your venture into neon.:)

  7. Hi there! I love this post and all the different catwalk looks on neon. I love a pop of it and currently have a scarf with neon yellow in it. I will definitely try and score some more of it as the season continues too xx


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