Friday, February 17, 2012

fashion week: color theories

Today's Fashion Week post focuses specifically on an issue that seems to plague many women: how to wear color well. Notice I said "well" and not "correctly" because, as much as I or any other fashion blogger might try to infer, there are no fashion rules. Fashion is a statement about you, your taste, your mood, etc and it is what you make it...or don't make it. Someone can commit a fashion "don't" but it really is only a "don't" because the person mentioning it doesn't agree with their choice.

So, with that, I want to talk about how to wear and incorporate color into your wardrobe...and do it well. Color, for many people, is a love-hate detail in fashion. Maybe you love when it comes together in an outfit and it works, but you hate figuring out how to put it together. For others, color is like a second skin and it's easy to incorporate it into their fashion sense. And yet for others, they are somewhere in between.

I want to offer a few color guidelines that I go by personally that may help anyone who is color-phobic or color-challenged.

1) Utilize the color wheel. I know this seems simple. But clothing, that is colored, can be thought of as parts of the color wheel and color combinations can be chosen using this method.

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Think of the "look" you are going for when in an outfit before pairing colors. In general, you can get away with combinations of any primary color and it's immediate 2 tertiary colors. For example, you can use blue and purple or blue and aqua/teal easily because they are close together on the color wheel. Primary colors are also very nice when paired with their immediate secondary colors. For example, you could try yellow with green. Both of these combinations are fairly easy and intuitive. Now, you can pretty much try ANY color combination but there are some that should be approached with caution for a color novice. More than 2 primary colors in an outfit can be very bold, and if this isn't the look you are going for, you might want to proceed with caution. Also, combinations of direct opposites on the color wheel can be difficult to pull off sometimes. For example, red and green; blue and orange; or yellow and purple. Notice that the former two are often school colors. Why? Because they are a striking combination. One exception to this rule is when you are using various saturations of colors...or the shade of it.

2) Saturation/Shade is key. Why do all colors of pastels virtually work together? (Think all of the colors in Easter M&Ms) Because they are all lighter shades of colors. Now, imagine that the pastel M&Ms were altered to be the original color. (Pink was red, lilac was purple, mint was green, etc) It's a lot harder to look at and even conceive wearing in the natural state. Saturation is the process of adding black or white to a color to make it darker or lighter. So, blue with black added to it makes dark blue, or navy blue. Green with white added to it makes light green or a mint green. Saturation also has to do with the amount of "gray" in a color. The more vibrant a color, the more saturated it is. A muted red, for example, has black and white added to it to make it less vivid and more subtle. So, colors that vary in shades/saturations are also easy to put together. Remember when I said directly opposite colors are hard to pull off? Let's use red and green for example. Now, if that red was dialed back with some white and became pink then it would be a lot easier to wear with green. Pink and green is a great color combination. Or, how about orange and purple? Not direct opposites but fairly far away on the color wheel. Now, imagine darkening the purple and lightening the orange up a bit so you'd have more of a plum and melon combination. Perfect!! By playing with the shade or saturation of the color, you give yourself even more options in color combinations.

shade and saturation
3) Balance with neutrals. An all netural outfit is often boring. (Unless you're going for that look intentionally, or playing a symphony...) A neutral based outfit with a pop (or two) of color is stylish. Now, I'm not saying that a black pencil skirt and white oxford shirt isn't stylish, because those are two of fashion's bread-and-butter items, but they are a bit boring and yawn-worthy. In general, neutral wardrobe colors are considered black, brown, tan, white, gray and navy. Think about the colors that mens shoes and dress pants come in and that can help you figure out what neutrals are! HA! I'm a BIG fan of using neutrals as an outfit base and punching things up with color in the accessories, shoes or cardigans. Heck, even our Presidents incorporate this idea. They usually always wear a neutral colored suit and a white shirt and then will have a brightly colored tie. If THEY can get it, then you can!! A camel colored dress is very pretty on its own. Punched up with some bright red, coral accessories and you have a show-stopping outfit! In the same way, neutrals can also help to tone down otherwise bright color combinations. Let's say you're wearing a red blazer over a white and yellow blouse with red shoes. Wearing yellow pants would be a bit much here, so you might choose black or navy pants to wear it with.


  1. I know this is an old post, but I totally wore that last color combo today! A plum tank top with a coral skirt - so pretty! I totally credit you (and Katie at with inspiring me to wear color! Thank you!


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