Bored of your wardrobe? Try wearing one colour at a time | Fashion

It started when Pascal Anson’s mum bought him a yellow jumper for his birthday. “I

It started when Pascal Anson’s mum bought him a yellow jumper for his birthday. “I already had a pair of yellow trousers, yellow socks and a yellow belt. So I thought I’d wear them all together, as an experiment.” He enjoyed the experiment so much he gave it a name – “monoclo” – and turned it into an event at Kingston University, London, where he was a senior lecturer in design. Staff and students were invited to dress in one colour, fabric or pattern from head to toe. An exchange system helped people struggling to find the missing piece: one person has a spare pair of pink trousers, another needs size 10 blue shoes, and so on.

“On the day, what I loved was that people were in everyday pieces of clothing – normal stuff from Gap or wherever, not fancy dress – but there was a newness and strangeness to it,” says Anson, now a tutor at the Royal College of Art (he is also one of two mentors on the BBC’s Big Painting Challenge). Christmas jumper day but make it art school, if you like. Monoclo grew into an Instagram project, with Anson styling himself in immaculately curated single-shade outfits (when stumped, he occasionally went shoeless) that not only look glorious, but make a serious point. “Monoclo is about re-enjoying what you already have,” he says. “It has rewired how I think about clothes, and how I think about myself.”

Carving new looks out of the mountain of clothes many of us already own is the key to marrying style and sustainability. Monoclo delivers the dopamine hit of fashion newness, without having to hit the shops.

“It redefines where excitement comes from, so that I don’t slip into overconsumption,” says Anson. And the monoclo mindset is not just about clothes. The principle, after all, is to turn your focus on to what you already possess, and find joy within that, instead of constantly wanting more. That is a mantra not just for fashion, but for life.

Artist Pascal Anson models monoclo.

All of which is marvellous, but head-to-toe yellow? I have my doubts. Anson, who I meet on Zoom, lives by the sea and smiles a lot. He is perhaps a little less inhibited about dressing all in one colour than most of us, by dint of lifestyle and inclination. Moving out of your comfort zone is good, he says. “The same point applies to monoclo as it does to becoming vegan or learning a language or taking up exercise. It’s a bit uncomfortable to start with but you push through that and realise it was worth it.”

I tell him I would hesitate to dress for an important meeting in head-to-toe green or pink. Perhaps, I suggest, monoclo is more challenging for women, for whom being taken seriously still can’t be taken for granted. But Anson points out that the queen of monoclo is a woman – is, in fact, the Queen herself, who wears a bright colour from head to toe, including hat and accessories, for most official engagements, and never looks anything less than regal.

When I wrote about single-colour dressing for a column two years ago, I compared it to playing Snap. Having had a second pass at it, inspired by Anson, I have changed my mind. It is more like completing a Rubik’s Cube – very tricky, but highly satisfying. I begin my monoclo challenge by pulling out from my wardrobe a knee-length skirt in ballet-slipper pink, which I usually wear with a camel or navy jumper to offset its sweetness. This time, I pair it with a washed-out pink linen shirt from M&S – so old that the label says St Michael – and a chunky, oversized bubblegum cardigan. It looks pretty good, in a Gucci-adjacent way. But an hour later, when I’m ready to leave the house, I’m too hot, so the cardigan has to go, and without it the skirt and shirt slide from quirky to twee. It needs a third element. Am I brave enough to wear pink ankle socks?

“You have to go for it,” counsels Anson. “Make sure it looks deliberate. It’s when you chicken out that you get on to shaky ground aesthetically. Don’t be tempted to add a bit of contrast, or break it up.” He’s right. I wear the socks. The next day, my khaki trousers look perfectly fine with an olive T-shirt, but the look only starts to sing when I loop a moss green jumper around my shoulders.

“When you wear, say, a blue shirt with black trousers, it just looks blue,” Anson says. “But when you wear trousers and shoes in different blues, your brain starts recognising all the different shades, and it gets interesting.”

Monoclo man in blue, silver, yellow and brown outfits
‘The beauty of monoclo is that it works better with clothes of assorted vintage than with off-the rack stuff.’

I think the last time I wore head-to-toe green I was playing a tree in a school play. But spread thick and smooth as royal icing, with no jolts of black to snag the eye, even a loud colour is somehow calmed. Shoes are difficult, though. I check on Anson’s Instagram and find that with his green outfit he is wearing wellies, which isn’t going to work for me, so I cheat with a pair of off-white Converse.

The beauty of monoclo is that it works better with clothes of assorted vintage than with off-the rack stuff. In any one season, a few specific shades dominate. Right now, for instance, the same apple-green tone can be spotted in every shop window. “But when you put a blue jacket with blue trousers and a blue jumper from different times, and some are more worn than others, the subtleties of the different blues come through, and it’s beautiful,” he says.

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To figure out where to start, open your wardrobe and see which colour or pattern jumps out. It could be red, or stripes; with me, slightly worryingly, it might be animal print. “Monoclo is self-selecting, in terms of what works for you, because if a colour doesn’t suit you, you probably won’t have a lot of it in your wardrobe,” says Anson.

An elite pantheon of monoclo enthusiasts wear only one colour, repeated every day. Architect Mike Davies only wears red; he also drives a red car and writes in red pen. Elizabeth Sweetheart, a fashion print designer known in her neighbourhood as the “green lady of Brooklyn”, has worn only lime green for the past quarter-century. She dyes her hair and paints her front door to match. “Artists have always made those kind of rules about clothes,” says Anson. “It simplifies things: you make one decision, and don’t have to think about clothes after that.”

We have been talking for almost an hour when it occurs to me we haven’t mentioned the pandemic once. Monoclo is cheerful and uncomplicated – everything that the past 18 months haven’t been. But Anson believes being freed from office dress codes has played its part in helping colour to catch on, as the old rules of dressing have fallen away. These days, he himself sticks to just one wardrobe decree: no black. “I find the black rollneck, design-studio aesthetic very boring,” he says. “So that’s a pretty strict rule. Monoclo is fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s a joke.”