Pascal Anson’s birthday present from his mother was a yellow sweater. “I already had a pair of yellow slacks, yellow socks, and a yellow belt,” she explained.
So I decided to put them all on as an experiment.” He liked it so much that he named it “monoclo” and turned it into an event at Kingston University in London, where he was a senior lecturer in design.
Staff and kids were encouraged to dress entirely in one color, fabric, or design. People who were having trouble finding the missing item were able to use an exchange system: one person had a spare pair of pink trousers, while another requires size 10 blue shoes, and so on.
“What I loved about the day was that people were dressed in everyday clothes – not fancy dress from Gap or wherever – but there was a newness and strangeness to it,” says Anson, who is now a tutor at the Royal College of Art (and one of two mentors on the BBC’s Big Painting Challenge). It’s Christmas sweater day, but you can make it art school if you like.
Monoclo evolved into an Instagram project, with Anson donning meticulously chosen single-shade costumes (when stumped, he went shoeless) that not only look great but also make a significant statement. He explains, “Monoclo is about re-enjoying what you already have.”
“It’s changed the way I think about clothes, and it’s changed the way I think about myself.”
The secret to blending style and sustainability is to carve fresh outfits out of the mountain of garments many of us currently own. Monoclo gives you the dopamine rush of new clothes without having to go shopping.
Anson explains, “It redefines where excitement comes from so that I don’t slip into overconsumption.” And the monoclo mentality isn’t limited to clothing.
After all, the premise is to focus on what you already have and find delight in it, rather than continuously wishing for more. That is a credo that applies to many aspects of life, not just fashion.
Everything is lovely, but head-to-toe yellow? I’m not convinced.
Anson, whom I met on Zoom, lives near the sea and is always smiling. Because of his lifestyle and tendency, he may be less hesitant to dress all in one color than the majority of us.
He believes that getting out of your comfort zone is beneficial. “The same argument holds true for monoclo as it does for going vegan, learning a language, or exercising.
It’s a little unsettling at first, but you push through and realize it was well worth it.”
I told him that I wouldn’t wear head-to-toe green or pink to an important meeting. Perhaps monoclo is more difficult for women, for whom being taken seriously is still a risk.
But, as Anson points out, the queen of monoclo is a woman – the Queen herself, who for most public events wears a bright color from head to toe, including hat and accessories, and never looks anything other than majestic.
I equated single-color dressing to playing Snap when I wrote about it for a column two years ago. I’ve altered my opinion after having a second go at it, inspired by Anson.
It’s more akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube – challenging yet rewarding. I start my monoclo challenge by taking out a ballet-slipper pink knee-length skirt from my closet, which I generally pair with a camel or navy sweater to balance off the sweetness.
This time, I wear it with a big, oversized bubblegum cardigan and a washed-out pink linen shirt from M&S that says St Michael on the label. In a Gucci-like way, it looks pretty fantastic. When I’m ready to leave the house an hour later, I’m too hot, so the cardigan needs to go, and the skirt and top go from quirky to twee without it.
A third component is required. Is it possible that I’ll be bold enough to wear pink ankle socks?
Anson advises, “You have to go for it.” “Make it appear deliberate.
When you give up, you’re on shaky ground in terms of appearance. Don’t be tempted to split it up or add some contrast.”
He’s right. The socks are worn by me. My khaki trousers look great with an olive T-shirt the next day, but the style really comes together when I wrap a moss green sweater around my shoulders.
Anson explains, “When you wear a blue shirt with black trousers, it just looks blue.” “However, when you wear blue trousers and shoes, your brain begins to recognize all of the different shades, and it becomes fascinating.”
I believe the last time I dressed entirely in green was for a school play in which I played a tree. Even a bright color is calmed when spread thick and smooth like royal icing, with no jolts of black to hook the eye.
Shoes, on the other hand, are a challenge. I check Anson’s Instagram and see that he’s wearing wellies with his green suit, which won’t work for me, so I cheat with a pair of off-white Converse.
Monoclo’s appeal is that it works better with vintage clothing than with off-the-rack items. A few distinct hues predominate in any given season.
For example, the same apple-green tone can be found in every shop window right now. “However, when you combine a blue jacket with blue trousers and a blue jumper from different eras, the subtleties of the different blues come through, and it’s lovely,” he says.
To decide out where to begin, look through your closet and see which color or pattern stands out the most. It may be red or stripes, or, more concerningly, animal print in my case.
“Monoclo is self-selecting in terms of what works for you,” adds Anson, “because if a color doesn’t suit you, you’re not going to have a lot of it in your wardrobe.”
Only one color is worn by an elite pantheon of monoclo aficionados every day. Mike Davies, an architect, only wears red, drives a red automobile, and writes with a red pen.
For the past quarter-century, Elizabeth Sweetheart, a fashion print designer renowned in her neighborhood as the “green lady of Brooklyn,” has solely worn lime green. She changes the color of her hair and the color of her front door to match.
“Artists have always made those kinds of clothing rules,” Anson explains. “It simplifies things because you only have to make one decision and then you don’t have to worry about clothes.”
We’ve been talking for about an hour and I realize we haven’t even touched the pandemic. Monoclo is upbeat and straightforward, exactly what the previous 18 months have lacked.
However, Anson feels that the removal of office dress regulations has aided in the adoption of color, as the old rules of wearing have fallen away. He now has only one clothing rule: he does not wear black. He describes the black rollneck, design-studio style as “boring.”
“That’s a pretty strict rule, isn’t it? Monoclo is entertaining, but that does not imply that it is a joke.”