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How to Select a Scarf for a Fall Sweater and Pants Outfit: Olive & Rust

Way back in mid-August (!), Janice at The Vivienne Files posted six outfits in various color combinations using the same outfit formula: pullover sweater + pants/jeans + scarf + earrings + loafers/boots. She was celebrating the upcoming "limit of heat" from the Japanese seasons of the year with some shopping options for readers, including two scarves with each outfit. Now that fall has arrived, this outfit formula is looking much more appealing than it did in August!

With autumn being the start of scarf season, today I would like to talk about how to choose a scarf for this perennial favorite fall outfit: the sweater and pants in two different colors (aka colorblocked). Now depending on where you live, what the weather is like there, and what you own, you might form this outfit from different pieces, but the scarf selection method will work for any top in color A + any bottom in color B. T-shirt and joggers? Yes. Blouse and skirt? Yes. It's all fair game.

For the beginning of November, I was attracted to the olive and rust color combination (the fifth one in her post). These are such traditional autumn colors with a rich earthy feel that really vibes with this time of year. I pulled the olive and rust items from my wardrobe that I could use to build a colorblocked olive & rust fall outfit using the outfit formula. She showed an olive sweater + rust pants, but you could flip it to have a rust sweater (or other top) + olive pants. I don't have a rust sweater (or other fall-appropriate top) so I threw in my rust quilted vest that could be worn over the olive sweater with the olive pants to get that "rust on top, olive on bottom" feel. I also pulled out my olive/cream striped sweater as a simple print variant on the formula.

Chambray floral dress + sandstone coral cardigan-Plus size summer outfit idea for women over 40

In addition to having different particular pieces, you might also have different versions of "olive" and "rust" in your closet. Rust especially seems to come in a lot of variants from cognac to cinnamon to a rusty brick red (like mine), but they all work with olive (or aloe or sage). These are both semi-neutral colors, so they have some of the qualities of a neutral (e.g., coordinating well with many different colors) and some of the qualities of an accent/fashion color (e.g., having some visual punch). I think they make a great color combination for us to work with in this analysis.

But if you dislike or don't own olive & rust, feel free to substitute any two colors of your choice!

Note: which of these combinations appeal to you, leave you feeling meh, or give you the poison eye is very personal, so I'm advocating for trying and evaluating the options, not on behalf of any particular combination! (Some of them will probably not be my favorites either.) Also be prepared for some scarves to look better to your eye on the rust top & olive bottom or the olive top & rust bottom outfit.

Let's get started!

#1: Matching Solids

I am quite fond of the "matching scarf" color formula, so looking for a scarf in either rust or olive is an obvious starting point. But that doesn't make it easy, necessarily, because I know I'm not the only person to be bedeviled by colors that are just enough "off" that they look weird together. And that "off" quality is more noticeable the physically closer the two items are. So that can make the "matching scarf & top" a challenge.

I don't have a rust scarf, but I do have this olive pashmina in a warm, dark, rich olive with a pattern in the weave. This is a good pairing with the striped olive sweater because (1) it also has warm undertones and (2) prints, patterns, and textures can make slightly "off" colors work together more readily. I think it would also look good with the rust top & olive pants because even though the pants (and underlayer sweater) are a cooler, more muted version of olive, the rust provides separation between the two.

My tips for matching/blending the scarf with the top color more easily:

(1) Both pieces share a warm (yellow) vs. cool (blue) undertone;

(2) The pieces have different patterns/textures that reduce the appearance of the difference in color;

(3) One piece is distinctly different in value (darker or lighter) than the other, which reduces our ability to visually compare the underlying hues;

(4) Instead of a true solid, the scarf (or the top) is ombré, certain tie-dye, etc. that includes multiple versions of the same color. These pieces can be as versatile as solids for wearing with prints, but they also blend more readily with different solid items because your eye isn't expecting an exact match to any specific color;

(5) But the best way of knowing whether the two colors will work is to try them and see!

I love having a matching solid scarf because it adds textural interest to an outfit but keeps the overall look more restful to the eye...and, dare I say, adds a hint of sophistication? This is worth considering if one of the colors in your outfit is one that you wear frequently and like wearing next to your face (which is why I have olive, a go-to color in my wardrobe, but not rust, a rarer accent color that doesn't look great next to my face).

#2: Solid Neutrals [Not in the Outfit]

Neutrals infamously go with anything, so having a solid scarf in your favorite neutral makes a lot of sense. Here I pulled 5 neutral scarves as possible pairings with these outfits (and yes, I switched the striped sweater for the more typical solid one so it's easier to evaluate on color alone). And for the neutrals where I also have a pair of ankle boots, I added them as a possible alternative to the olive ones. The matching scarf & boots (or other shoes) is a good start to a beauty bundle/accessory set that can be worn over and over with different outfits. The use of matching accessories creates harmony and communicates intention in your use of the neutral color. (Obviously it's not necessary, but it's a nice styling trick to consider.)

#3: Print Neutrals [Not in the Outfit]

I continued with the neutral theme by selecting scarves that are a print with two or more neutrals: gold/cream ombré, black/grey/white floral, black/ivory plaid, and black/white houndstooth. It turns out that I don't have a navy/white print scarf (what? I know!), but that would also work. Again, you could stick with the original ankle boots (or shoes) that match the outfit or substitute boots in one of the neutrals from the scarf.

#4: Prints with Matching Color + Neutral [Not in the Outfit]

This is a variant on #3 with a print of two neutrals, only substituting one of the two colors in the outfit for one of the neutrals. You'll have to decide how rigid you want to be about the "matching color in the outfit." It really, really doesn't have to be an exact match! Whereas the solid matching we looked at in #1 can be tricky when two solid pieces are a bit "off" in color, in my opinion, prints are an entirely different situation! With a print scarf, the amount of that possibly "off" color is reduced and the addition of other color(s) further lowers the impact. Now strangely I don't have any olive + neutral print scarves (what?), but I do have 3 scarves with a "rust-like color" + neutral print to try. I grabbed a warm brown leopard zoological print on a cream background, a coral/white tie-dye, and a coral (with hints of pink) and black leopard animal/zoological print as options to consider. And once again, the ankle boots that match the neutral in the print are alternatives to the olive ones.

#5: Bridge Piece that Contains Both Colors in the Outfit

If I were to pick my favorite type of scarf to wear with a multi-color outfit, this would be it! It just pleases the heck out of my matchy-matchy sensibilities to see both colors in a single print. It's harmonious, it's intentional, and it's colorful, so a total win for me. Note that the scarf need not contain only the colors from the outfit! You will often see other neutrals/accents in the scarf as well, and that can actually be a really great look. (My personal coloring is color contrast dominant and I love color, so this works very well for me.)

The scarves in this first set have olive, rust, and black in the print (so black is another option for boots/shoes). The top plaid one is pretty much just those colors (though with a hint of other colors appearing in the weave). The large scale floral print in the center has several other colors: yellow, purple, magenta, and a bit of white. The bottom small scale floral print also has yellow in it, but the warm azure blue background dominates.

I have two other bridge piece options: a floral folk print on a pale background (which would work with navy boots) and a bolder floral print on a dark grey background (hence grey boots).

#6: "Sorta" Bridge Piece that Contains Variants on Both Colors in the Outfit

For the bridge pieces under #5, I kept the choice of olive and rust colors in the scarf pretty close to the colors of the outfit. But that really isn't necessary because when coordinating prints to solids, you have quite a bit of leeway in choosing colors from the same basic color family. So for the olive, you can think in a broader way of variants on this color: lime, mint, grass green, hunter green...any green that doesn't move too far into the Blue-Green category (which is too cool). For the rust, think coral, orange, warm brown, cognac, red...any orange/red that doesn't move too far into the Red-Violet category (which is too cool). And remember that the less of that color there is in the print, the less you'll notice that the color is different from the olive or rust.

I also agree with Jodie that not matching can give a modern vibe to an outfit and is a way to easily update one's look. I think using a "sorta" color can be a more comfortable way to move that direction for us matchy-matchy lovers...and instead of costing you money (and the earth its resources) to rejuvenate your style, it gives you more options with what you already own.

Here's what I pulled together using variants on olive and rust with black in the print (hence the black ankle boot option). At left, the floral print has lime and red with blue against an aqua background for a very bold choice. (OK, it doesn't actually have black in it, but I still thought the black boots could work with this vivid print.) The tropical floral print has a grass/lime green and a red/coral in the print against an orange background; the orange, red/coral, and pink all have something of a family resemblance to the rust. The butterfly print has a maroon/brick red background (similar to rust) with lime green in the print. And the bird print on a white background includes lime green and red. Perhaps you can tell that I view olive as a dark, muted variant on the Yellow-Green hue of the color wheel, which is also where I place lime green, so olive and lime feel similar to me.

My second set of "sorta" bridge piece scarves include two with brown in the print and two with navy. The woodland critters print on a black background has a bunch of different autumnal colors, including a couple warm browns and a couple warm greens, and an overall dark, muted appearance. The gold striped, I don't know why this one seems to go with every traditional fall color but it does! This combination reminds me of the "2. Scarf" outfit in this post by Angie Cox in that the scarf doesn't repeat the outfit colors but works well with them. The floral scarf on the pink background is another bold choice, but it has a lot of green and some bright orange and dark orange in the print...and we have seen that pink + rust can be a good if unexpected combination. And the last floral with peachy-orange and lime green in the print is bright and cheerful while the neutral navy background is a bit more muted.

#7: Wild Cards!

If you are looking for even more possible combinations, enjoy pop of color styling, or are just feeling adventurous when it comes to color, it's always fun to consider some "wild cards" that aren't neutrals or matching colors or bridge/"sorta" bridge pieces. These options aren't as easy on the eye as the previous ones, but they can be fantastic and unique choices. I think they can be improved sometimes with the addition of other supporting acts (i.e., other accessories/garments that reinforce the wild card colors) that make the choices look intentional rather than random (as I will experiment with below). And remember that if you're interested in trying something but not confident how it will turn out, wear it in a low stakes environment...even just around the house for the day...and see what you think. You might decide, Eh, nope, never again...or you might discover a new combination to jazz up your look.

In my first set of wild cards, I selected scarves that are related to one of the outfit colors but not the other. By coincidence, all 3 in my wardrobe are ones that relate to the rust, but not to the olive; however, ones with greens related to olive but no rusty colors would also fit here. I chose a solid bright coral scarf, a brown leopard print with red and pink, and a cinnamon brown with black horses. I brought in the brown and black ankle boots, as we've seen throughout this post, but also a pair of warm brown leopard print smoking slippers that also relate to the rust (and animal print is a neutral anyway, right?) because a print shoe alternative is always a great option. You could probably put animal print shoes/boots any of the scarves in this post! But I chose it here specifically as a supporting act because I am struggling to see how to make the horse print scarf work, and I wondered if repeating the black and warm brown would help. (I'm still not sure.)

My second set of wild cards were chosen based on our old friend, the color wheel. When I looked at Yellow-Green (olive) and Red-Orange (rust) on the color wheel, I saw that they form a triad with Blue-Violet. So I searched my scarf collection for anything that has that purple-tinged-blue color to it as a major component of the scarf's coloring. I came up with 4 contenders: a solid faux pashmina in a variant of Blue-Violet, a tie-dye/colorwash scarf with deep blue (as well as a reddish orange and a lime green!), a white rabbit print on a bright navy background (with tiny bits of green and red in the print), and a purple-navy scarf with a white bird print. I also chose my navy ankle boots as a shoe option to coordinate with these deep blue colors.

My last set of wild cards don't have much in common other than as I scrolled through my digital scarf inventory, I thought they might work in a coordinate-but-don't-match kind of way. I grabbed the yellow ombré because it has that warmth shared by the olive and rust, so it has something in common with the colors while also having a contrasting "pop" from the hue. The two print scarves with black backgrounds have a riot of colors, none of which match the outfit but might still work. The giraffe scarf at left has brown, gold, and red in the print, all of which seem promising with olive & rust. The bird scarf at right has the warm yellow and orange colors but that's not why I picked it (at least not consciously) just felt like "huh, maybe this one" on an intuitive level. But you know, all three of these scarves share that yellow/gold/orange very warm element, and I do think that color group is a great fit with the olive & rust to my eyes, particularly when the yellow is a muted version and thus shares that desaturation with the colors in the outfit.

Whew, OK, that was a lot of scarves to look at! 36 total. Even if I only end up liking half the alternatives I identified, this is a LOT of options. Of course, I have a large scarf collection; I don't expect that everyone will go through this process and find so many options...and this many options certainly aren't needed! But I wanted to cover a range of possibilities in my example of selecting a scarf for a two-color colorblock outfit like the sweater + pants/jeans + scarf + boots outfit formula that is popular in the fall.

I hope you try putting this process to work in your own closet. Or if you have a limited number of scarves, quite seriously, you could just test every one of them against your outfit! Because you never know when a wild card option will click for you.

If you try your scarves and don't like your options for your outfit, that's a possible wardrobe hole to consider filling. It's easy to end up with a whole bunch of gorgeous multi-color prints that don't actually line up well with your clothing and yet be missing some basic combinations that you could wear over and me not having any navy or olive + white/cream/ivory scarves in a simple print. That surprised me! And though I'm really not in a shopping mode right now, and certainly not a scarf shopping mode, I did not it on my shopping wish list that I keep in Excel for future reference. Navy and olive are probably my two most relied on neutrals, and scarves are critical to my style signature, so a basic olive + cream polka dot or a navy + white stripe would be a very useful piece for me.

Do you have wear the sweater + pants outfit formula in fall? Do you like the olive & rust color combination? Did any scarf options stand out to you as YES or oh my stars, never? Do you have a favorite scarf? How do you wear it?

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