How to wear navy: 3 easy outfit ideas

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Navy can be a versatile and flattering neutral in your wardrobe. If you’re looking for an alternative to black, or to lighten up your basics for spring and summer, don’t shy away from navy. Today I’m sharing three easy navy outfit ideas to try…

Some of you have requested that I show outfits that don’t include jeans 😆. While I do wear jeans 90% of the time, I’ve been trying out some alternatives that are easy to wear, travel-friendly, and can dress up or down. Of all the neutrals, navy best ticks those boxes for most of us. (And there’s a navy for every seasonal palette, so it can be universally flattering.)

Casual outfit ideas with navy

I’ll admit, I’ve often struggled with navy, associating it with a more corporate or conservative look. But it can also have a sporty or nautical vibe, and doesn’t have to be relegated to the office. Here’s how I styled a pair of navy trousers in casual or “smart casual” outfits.

Striped and simple

For all three outfits, I’ve started with the “Kate” pants from J.Crew. They’re available in Misses sizes 00-24, also in Petite and Tall lengths. I’m wearing the 6 Petite, and find they run true-to-size.

This is a medium navy, in between the Bright Navy from the Spring palette and the darker navy from Winter. When it comes to navy trousers (or skirts), I think you can “fudge” a bit and wear a shade that’s not a perfect match for your palette.

Adding striped sweater is a no-brainer for me. 😉 This one’s a nice lightweight ribbed cotton; I’m wearing size Small. The scarf is a vintage Chanel I’ve had for some years. This one is quite pretty (Summers), and here’s one in a fun shoe & purse print (Autumns & Springs). Winters, this one’s quite good.

If you want to “casualize” your navy trousers, footwear is key. Sneakers, ballet flats, and espadrilles are all good options. The gold sneakers (more sizes HERE) are fun and insouciant, but a little lower contrast than a white pair would be.

Layered sweaters

Scrolling through some of the street style images from Paris recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of “sweater tied over shoulders” looks. It provides some extra warmth without wearing another layer to add bulk. (If I were going out now though, I’d probably include a jacket too.) I could also have worn the cardigan tied over the striped sweater, but wanted to mix it up.

Many of you have expressed concern about mixing your non-matching navy pieces. You absolutely can! The trick is to vary the textures or fabrics between the pieces. Though the two navy pieces above are close in color, mixing a knit piece with a woven piece keeps it intentional and from looking like you got dressed in the dark. You could also wear a woven navy tweed or boucle jacket or top.

These raffia platform oxfords are a couple of years old but still a favorite pair. They’re comfortable and add some interesting texture to simple outfits. Here are some raffia styles (no platform) that are more budget-friendly:

Sam Edelman | Carrie Forbes | Clergerie (pre-owned, size 9) | Tory Burch

The dialed-down suit

In my recent post, “How to create the ultimate 12-piece travel capsule wardrobe,” I mentioned that if I were planning to travel soon, I’d probably pack a suit. For daytime, it can be dialed down with a graphic (or striped, or plain) tee and sneakers. To dress it up, just replace the tee and sneakers with a blouse and loafers, low-heeled pumps, slingbacks, or a dressy sandal. (And of course, you can wear the pieces separately.)

This is the “Goldilocks” blazer I featured here. It’s the same fabric and color as the pants. (The lighting makes the pants look lighter.) I’m wearing 6 Petite in both the blazer and pants.

Navy by season…

As I mentioned above, there’s a navy for every season. But I want to add a few caveats…

  • don’t worry if something isn’t an EXACT match for the navy in your seasonal palette, especially if you’ll be wearing it below the waist. A medium navy will coordinate well with most colors.
  • If your coloring is light, very warm, or very low-contrast, you may not want to wear navy near your face without adding a scarf or lighter top (in one of your best colors) with it.
  • YES, you can wear navy with black, brown, olive or just about any other neutral in your palette.

Winters, your navy is dark and saturated. You want to avoid colors that look faded, soft, or washed out. Winter navy is usually pretty easy to find. Check out Vince “Coastal” for some examples.

Fellow springs, our navy is also saturated, but lighter and brighter than Winter’s. It’s also hard to find at the moment! Many of J.Crew’s navy pieces are workable, though a little darker than ideal. Also check out the Caslon color “Peacoat” at Nordstrom.

Summers, your idea navy is soft and not too deep. Some slightly faded navy shades can work for you. Eileen Fisher’s “Ocean” is one of the best I’m seeing for you this season.

Autumns, your “Marine Navy” is a color I often think of as “petrol.” And it’s a bit tough to find this season. The Eileen Fisher color “Deep Adriatic” is also good in many styles.

If you’re looking for more colors in your seasonal palette, check out the sections on my SHOP page by each season: WINTER | SPRING | SUMMER | AUTUMN

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