Possibly one of our biggest challenges when putting an outfit together is coordinating colors. I’m sure science has a good explanation, but it seems most men lack skill when it comes to harmonizing colors. Hey, I’m a guy…I get it! So, instead of trying to change what makes us men, I’m going to give you some basis rules that will turn a handicap into an asset. Say goodbye to the women’s advice you’ve been relying on, and say hello to the new you – the artist of your wardrobe!
In order to understand how colors work, let’s start with some basic vocabulary words:
Core Color: This is the dominant color in the color scheme of your outfit – blue suit, grey trousers, brown jacket, etc.
Accent Colors: These are the second and, at times, third next prominent colors worn in an outfit. Brown pants (core color) with tan jacket or tie (accent color). Accent colors are categorized and will be either complementary, triad, analogous, or neutral. It will make sense… I promise!
Complementary colors: These are colors found directly opposite of each other on the color wheel or in the color spectrum.
This is the infamous Color Wheel!
There’s a lot to be said about applying the rules of the color wheel to fashion, but in order to keep you from falling asleep, I’ll attempt to simplify it by getting to my first point – opposing colors are complementary. Red and green; yellow and violet; blue and orange; etc. are colors that compliment each other, and usually look good when teamed up together. Keeping this rule in mind makes color combining accurate and easy.
Complementary Color Wheel
Yes, it’s true… you can wear violet and yellow together and look chic. Red and green, too, but you might want to hold off until December!
Chances are most of us don’t wear these exact colors too often; however, we do wear varying colors and shades of the color wheel. Navy blue slacks instead of royal blue, a burgundy shirt instead of red, olive green shorts instead of blue/green… you get the idea. But where are those colors, you might ask?
Check out the expanded color wheel below, which includes a multitude of colors that stem from the original colors in the first chart. Now, we’re seeing the colors we typically wear!
Expanded Color Wheel
When referring to colors and their various shades, there are terms to use, which give accuracy to their description. Becoming familiar with these terms will help master the art of purchasing and wearing your wardrobe. In other words, know the terminology so you and the salesman can speak the same language. The three properties of all colors are:
- Hue: The name of a color: blue, red, green.
- Value: The degree of lightness or darkness in a color. Other words that mean the same are: tones, tints and shades.
- Intensity: The level of purity of a color (hue), which describes its degree of brightness or lack of. For example, the blue on the first color wheel is a very strong, pure color. It looks like a royal blue to me. When any color is added to it, the original color changes and so does its intensity. Imagine mixing white into that same blue color. The vibrant blue becomes a sky blue and is less intense. Add black to that same blue and you get an intense navy blue. Beige would be a less intense color of brown. Got it?
OK, let’s take it one step farther, so you can see the two rules for blending three colors in an outfit…and we’ll be finished with the wheel.
Triad colors: These are three hues (colors), which are equally spaced on the color wheel. Combining triad colors gives a safe balance and harmony when wearing an outfit with three colors. Check out the following wheel:
Analogous Colors: Still three colors, but these colors are adjacent to each other on the wheel. Because they’re so close in color, they work well together.
OK, the color wheel lesson is over! I thought it would be beneficial to know the actual color combining rules and where they come from, so you can make smart, informed wardrobe choices. If you keep the color wheel in mind when deciding which colors or color “families” work well together, you won’t go wrong.
Hopefully, your head is not spinning from the color wheel (yes, pun intended!), but in case it is, or not, here are a few simple color combining rules to remember that will keep you looking cheerfully color coordinated:
- Pants are the foundation of an outfit. They should not be a loud, crazy color that dominates the outfit, or competes with a shirt or tie’s color. Neutral colored pants: black, brown, gray, navy blue, tan and olive or dark green are appropriate colors to build an outfit on by adding color with a shirt, tie, jacket or sweater.
- When in doubt, choose a white shirt. White goes with everything… even white! Notice white is not on the wheel; neither is black.
- To tone down bright colors, wear gray or brown, which mute or dull loud colors. Gray compliments most colors, especially black, charcoal, blues, burgundy, and reds. Browns tone down orange, yellows, greens, and blues.
- Choose clothing whose colors compliment your skin tone and hair color. I know that makes things even more confusing, but it’s not difficult to do. Has anyone ever told you a particular color looks good on you? Or, do you sense or feel certain colors look best on you? When you look in the mirror, do you get that “thumb’s up” feeling with certain colors? If so, they’re probably your colors.
- Seasons play a part in color choices, also. Certain colors like white, yellow, beige, off-white, etc. may make you look too sallow or washed out during winter months, but once you’re rockin’ that fabulous tan, those colors should look great against darker skin. So, factor skin tones into the equation – both normal skin color and suntanned skin.
- Certain hair colors look great with certain colors. Red heads look good in purples, greens, browns and rust. Black hair is complimented by navy, red, blues, and greens. If you’re unsure of your best colors, play around and see what you come up with. Ok, maybe this would be a good time to get a female perspective!
I hope you have a better understanding of color combining, and realize there are many colors (some of which you may have never considered blending) that work well together. By expanding your color combinations, you’re expanding your wardrobe…without even buying new clothes. Go ahead and put a copy of a color wheel on your closet door for quick and easy reference. Soon, you’ll be stylin’ some sharp outfits, which I’m certain will get you both noticed and lots of compliments!
Aaron Marino is the founder, owner, and senior style consultant at Atlanta’s alpha m. Image Consulting. He also runs alpha m. Dot Net, which features accessories for men, and I Am Alpha M. , which is a lifestyle and personal development zone for men. He authored the book, “The Guy’s Guide to Image, Style, and Impeccable Grooming” and appeared on VH1′s Glam God and also Man Made Style. He frequently makes public appearances, giving his expert opinions an advice, and his highly sought after videos appear on YouTube.