I am not a naturally colorful dresser. A glance into my closet reveals mostly sections of white, gray, and black (I group my clothes by type and color, e.g., tank tops in one section grouped by color, long sleeved tops in another grouped by color, so it’s pretty easy to figure out what colors I gravitate to). I’ve been trying to branch out – challenge my comfort zone and add some colors that I would have never considered a few years ago. I find that when I wear the right colors, I receive more positive comments than when I wear neutrals. I still love the chic look of a monochromatic black ensemble, but I think adding some new colors has perked up my wardrobe a bit and alleviated some of my boredom with it.
Trying to be creative with a more colorful wardrobe palette can present its own challenges. How do I know what colors look great together? How can I pull together a fashion forward look with color without looking like a clown?! Combining colors to create beautiful looks doesn’t have to be difficult. The goal in creating style with color is to have a look that is harmonious and pleasing to the eye.
The color wheel is a great tool to use to help us beautifully combine colors in all areas of our lives – home decorating, landscape design, and definitely styling great outfits.
Here are ways you can use the color wheel to create harmonious and fun color combinations to wear. The first category is the simplest and easiest to interpret – and works perfectly to create stunning looks. You don’t need to go beyond the “Keeping It Simple” section.
But, if you want to delve a little more deeply into the world of color styling, it’s all here in “Expanding Your Color Choices” and “Getting Fancy.”
Keeping It Simple
Design your color combinations using the color wheel and combine colors with these simple guidelines:
- Colors that sit directly next to each other complement each other (e.g., yellow and yellow-orange; yellow and yellow-green; violet and blue-violet).
- Analogous colors are groups of three colors; they sit next to each other on the color wheel. Choose a color on the color wheel; the color adjacent on its right and on its left make analogous colors. The look harmonious together because they are closely related (e.g., yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange).
- Colors which are at an angle of 90 degrees from each other are a good match when combined in an outfit (e.g., yellow and red-orange; blue and violet-red; green and orange).
- Complementary colors are any two colors lying opposite to each other in the color wheel. These create a strong contrast (e.g., yellow and violet; blue and orange; red and green).
- Split complementary colors are a trio of one color and two analogous colors – a triangle arrangement that is less of a strong contrast (e.g., yellow, purple, violet).
- Colors that form a T (e.g., blue, orange, and violet-red; yellow, violet, and red-orange; yellow, blue-green, and red-orange)
- Colors that form an X (e.g., blue, orange, violet-red, and yellow, violet, blue-green, and red-orange)
Black, brown, gray and white are neutral colors and can be combined with almost any color on the color wheel. Denim is considered a neutral color in most cases as well. Try some new combinations of neutrals with colors like chocolate brown and bright red or fuchsia.
Colors that are a part of a “color family” also apply. For instance, you can substitute pink with red and still be able to pull off combinations based on the color wheel.
Once, you get these basics down, it’s not that difficult to get more detailed and expand your color options and combinations. The color wheel above is pretty basic and shows the high saturation colors. But when you go out to shop, there are so many colors available.
Also, for any particular hue (color), there are: tints (hue + white), shades (hue + black) and tones (hue + gray).
Use this expanded color wheel as a guide when combining different shades, hues, and tones.
Getting Fancy – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors
Primary colors are red, blue and yellow. (We all, no doubt, learned this when we played with crayons!)
Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors together: orange, green and purple (red + yellow mixed = orange; blue + yellow mixed = green; red + blue = purple).
Tertiary colors are the result of mixing a primary color and a secondary color (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet). Different hues of tertiary colors are created depending on the amount of each color in the combination.
Oh my goodness – it’s easy to get overwhelmed!
We don’t have to “invent the wheel” here, either (no pun intended!). There are a variety of accessible sources of inspiration for color in fashion. Googling images is a great way to see what combinations celebrities and their personal stylists (must be nice!) put outfits together. Another fun resource is Pinterest (I am a somewhat recent Pinterest fan and I now understand how easy it is to get drawn in for longer than intended!). Of course, catalogs from clothing retailers and fashion magazine are also great go-to’s for color inspiration.
The bottom line is – have fun with it! Download and print this Color Wheel Cheat Sheet and keep it handy near your closet (you can laminate it and post it for quick reference). Most of us probably have a good idea of what colors look nice together. But we do tend to stay in our comfort zones. Referencing the color wheel when styling your outfits will help if you want to try some new combinations.
Experiment with what’s already in your closet. Or buy one piece of clothing or an accessory to add a pop of color that you haven’t tried before. See what colors look great on you: How does your complexion look when you wear certain colors? How do certain colors bring out your features? Which colors are you comfortable wearing? (Don’t translate that to being afraid to try a color you haven’t worn if it looks good on you.)
Each new season gives us the opportunity to perk up our wardrobes with color. Enjoy!