We’ve all had that moment where we see someone else’s outfit and all we can say is ‘wow’. But what about their outfit makes us speechless? Is it the pattern? Is it the material? Is it the model’s attitude or simply the way the light’s hitting them just then? Most of the time, it’s not because of any of those things. It’s because of color.
Color affects us in lots of ways. When it comes to our surroundings, cool colors like greens and blues are good for keeping us calm, and bright colors like oranges and reds can excite us, even going so far as to make us angry. In fashion, the best colors to wear are the ones you look good in. But finding the colors you look good in can be hard. To help you out, we’ve come up with a crash course in colors, starting with the color wheel.
The Color Wheel
Colors are naturally ordered from warm to cool, and come in three categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary colors: red, blue, and yellow are most essential, and can be combined to make all the other colors. Secondary colors: green, violet, orange, are made by mixing primary colors together, and tertiary colors: blue-green, red-orange, yellow-green, etc. are made by mixing secondary colors with primary colors.
You probably learned the ordering of the color wheel as an acronym growing up – ROY G BIV: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. When you connect the two ends of the list to form a circle, as shown above, what you’ve created is the color wheel. The color wheel is a great tool for understanding how colors work together, especially in fashion. Typically you want to stick to colors that are in harmony with each other. There are five types of color harmonies within the color wheel, and we’ve explained them for you below.
Monochromatic ‘fits are one of the more common ways to dress, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from rocking them. Monochromatic colors are the same color but in different gradients, lighter or darker depending on what you like. You can’t go wrong with monochromatic outfits – they’re classic, comfortable, and easy on the eye, always sure to garner lots of compliments. Basically any color will do: yellow, purple, pink, purple, as long as you wear it with confidence!
Complementary colors are on the opposite sides of the color wheel: red and green, blue and orange, violet (purple) and yellow. It might sound kind of scary to wear colors that are opposites, but it shouldn’t be. Complimentary colors are great when you want to wear solid pieces, like a blue skirt and orange sweater.
These colors are the ones that are next to each other on the color wheel: red and orange, blue and violet, yellow and green, etc. Analogous colors nearly always work together because they’re made up of the same primary colors: red, yellow, and blue, naturally blending together. A pair of analogous colors that is typically warned against is red and pink, but it’s been making a comeback in recent years. While made of the same base (red), these two colors have very different color dimensions. If you end up getting overwhelmed with analogous colors (or any color combination), a good rule of thumb is to break colors up by using white or denim to calm your outfit down.
These colors are worn the least in everyday fashion, but they shouldn’t be slept on if you’re trying to mix up the color scheme of your wardrobe! Triadic colors are three shades in the color wheel that are equal distances from each other, for example: pink, green, and orange or yellow blue and red. This is more easily done in colder places and winter months, wear layers allow for more reasons to wear three colors all at once.
Like monochromatic colors, neutrals are some of the most commonly worn colors in everyday fashion. Instead of just wearing all of one neutral color: white, black, grey, brown, navy, cream, etc., neutral outfits combine one or more neutral to create a more laidback, classic look.
The way you pair colors has a huge impact on how they look and affect you and other people. If you don’t feel like taking the time to study the color wheel when pairing colors, you can also use a variety of online color calculators to figure out the different harmonies of color pairings. Color behaves extremely differently in relation to other colors and shapes, so you should be especially careful how you pair patterns with colors or other patterns. Colors that look fine on their own, or even together, can easily become overwhelming or too loud when you mix them with shapes and patterns.
At the end of the day, you should always wear clothes and colors that you’re comfortable in, clothes that not only make you look good, but make you feel good too. Whether you’re inspired by loud vibrant disco colors, more natural earth tones, or monochromatic looks, color theory is a helpful tool for taking your wardrobe to the next level. Fashion should be a personal expression of who you are and what you feel. The colors you wear are a direct translation of this, and should be picked accordingly.