I recently received an email from a reader asking for advice on pairing colors and I often get similar questions from clients that are looking to revamp their style. Since I love playing with colors when putting together outfits, I thought it was perfect for a reader question.
“I read your blog pretty regularly and I’ve noticed that you wear a lot of colors together that I would never have thought would work in one outfit. I really like wearing color but every time I put more than a color or two together I feel like a walking rainbow and I end up changing. How do you know how to put different colors together to look good without feeling ridiculous? Whatever advice you can give me would be awesome.”
This is a great question and something that I think a lot of guys are unsure about. A big part of wearing multiple colors is confidence. You are undoubtedly going to get some looks because most people are afraid to step outside of their comfort zone, especially as our society gets more and more casual. Unless you make some serious missteps, most people are looking at you because good style is far less common than it once was.
When it comes to picking which colors will work well together and which ones will make you look like a circus clown. There is no quick and easy answer because there are so many variables, but there are some basic guidelines that I can give to get you started on your way exploring colors.
The best place to start is a super abridged lesson in color theory. The basic pigment color wheel is made up of 12 different hues. You have primary colors (blue, red, and yellow), secondary colors (green, orange, and violet), and tertiary or intermediate colors (which are made by mixing a primary color and the adjacent secondary color).
|Image from The Working Wardrobe|
Obviously this is a basic representation of color, since within each color there are innumerable shades (made by adding black) and tints (made by adding white) with varying degrees of saturation (the intensity of the color), which gives you the wide range of hues that undoubtedly make up your wardrobe. I like this image because of the breakout wheels that help clarify some of the terms.
The best way to approach color theory when it comes to your closet is to view the primary and secondary colors in terms of color families. You have your blues, reds, oranges (which includes brown), etc. This keeps things from getting too complicated and makes the whole process a little more fluid.
The two main ways that you will want to begin coordinating your colors are by using complementary and analogous colors. Complementary colors are the ones that are opposite each other on the color wheel – orange and blue or violet and yellow, for example. This method provides you with a nice contrast that still works well together. In fact, when you pair complementary colors, they actually make each other seem brighter (which is why sports teams often use this method for picking their team colors).
|In this look, the pinks and greens are complementary to each other.|
Analogous colors on the other hand are the five hues that are next to each other on the color wheel. If blue is your dominant color, the analogous colors will be violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and green. This gives you a more nuanced look but still provides the opportunity to pop if you take advantage of different shades, tints and saturations of the colors.
|Pink, purple, and blue are analogous which presents a more |
understated color palette.
What you will usually want to avoid is using contrasting colors. These are colors that are separated by three hues on the color wheel, such as red and yellow or orange and green. These pairings tend to give you a harsher contrast that is less pleasing to the eye. There is a lot of psychology behind color pairings, but there is a reason that fast food chains use contrasting pairings like red-blue and red-yellow for their color schemes and it isn’t to make you feel comfortable. There will always be exceptions though, because as with so many things when it comes to style, rules are meant to be broken. Just think of anything styled for Independence Day (the holiday, not the Will Smith movie).
|Red and blue are contrasting colors, but the shades (oxblood and navy)|
tone down the abrasiveness while the tint (pink) provides a nice pop.
Once you have a basic grasp of color theory, it is important to know what colors you personally should and should not wear. To keep it simple, you should try to avoid colors that share characteristics with your skin tone, especially near your face (i.e. shirt, jacket, tie). For example, I have more of an olive complexion, so I generally avoid anything in the yellow spectrum as they really wash me out and make my face look a little sallow. Someone with a very fair complexion and pink undertones (or bad acne for that matter) will want to avoid the red/pink family because it will make you look more flushed and splotchy.
The last thing I will say is when in doubt, ask someone else. Ask your friend, significant other, or even your mom. Tweet a picture asking for a yea or nay. Try different combinations and see what kind of response you get. If you like the way something looks, give it a go. There is no shame in experimenting. Unless you are going on an interview, best not to experiment too much when you are trying to get someone to give you a job.
Hope this helps and thanks for reading!