Color: Everything You Need To Know
Color is one of the most difficult fashion concepts to understand, but it’s also one of the most important. Well-matched color combinations are one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd and turn heads.
This guide is an attempt to explain everything you need to know about color in men’s fashion. I’ll try to break everything down so you can understand which colors are the best to wear and how to pair different colors together in a way that looks good.
Note: this guide is going to be very in-depth. I’ve included as many image examples as possible to make it easy to understand. If you have questions, leave a comment or shoot me an email 🙂
Why Is Color Important For Fashion?
When you look at art, you often have a sense of when something looks good, but it can be hard to explain why. Fashion is the same way. It’s often hard to explain exactly why certain outfits look good, but they do.
These reasons usually have to do with good use of layering, strong visual communication and harmonious color combinations.
The biggest problem with understanding colors and how to match or combine them is that people think there are some hard rules for color matching and there aren’t, really. The best path to color mastery is by understanding the way different colors relate to each other and then using those color relationships in effective ways.
In order to use color effectively, we have to go back to the basics and dig into the science of color a bit.
Understanding The Color Wheel
The color wheel is a way to represent the relationships between different colors.
Think back to art class in elementary school where you would mix two different paints together to create a new third color. That’s exactly how all the colors on the color wheel are created: by mixing different pairs of colors together.
The graphic below shows how you can combine three primary colors (red, green and blue) to create 3 new colors.
Red and blue will create magenta
Blue and green will create cyan
Red and green will create yellow
With enough different color mixing combinations, you can create complete wheel of color just by starting with those three initial colors:
The color wheel is designed in a very specific way and it always looks about the same. The reason for this is that the positions of each color on the wheel are very important.
If you look at the wheel, you can see how the colors relate to each other based on their positions. Colors that are next to each other are usually very similar (low contrast), and colors that are opposite each other on the wheel are very different (high contrast).
We refer to any two colors that are positioned opposite each other on the wheel as complimentary colors. Complimentary colors are high contrast, so they are visually jarring to look at when combined.
This blue suit with orange tie and pocket square is a great example of complimentary color combinations:
You can see how bold and exciting complimentary pairings can be. However, it’s important to be careful and not use too much of a complimentary color or else the outfit can be too overwhelming to look at!
Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel are referred to as analogous color pairings. Due to their closeness on the wheel, these colors often seem very natural and harmonious when paired together.
Split complimentary pairings are created by taking a complimentary color pair and then picking the two colors on either side of one of the compliments. This gives the same sort of contrast as complimentary pairings, but without being so loud or visually jarring.
Below are a basic set of tips to use depending on what kind of effect you want to have with your style:
- If you want something that’s harmonious and easy-on-the-eyes, then picking analogous colors for you outfit is a good idea
- If you’re trying to create a bold and exciting look, incorporate complimentary or split-complimentary color pairings
- If you want to stay safe and avoid any major color mistakes, stick with neutral colors
You generally want to work colors into your outfits strategically. You can’t just pick two complimentary colors and use one for your pants and one for your shirt. The outfit will be too jarring and off-putting.
A good rule of thumb separate the top and bottom of your outfit into dark and light color. For example, you might wear a lighter shade of color on the top of your outfit (shirt, blazer, coat, etc.) and a darker shade of color on the bottom (pants, shorts).
You also want to be careful not to let any single color dominate your entire outfit. This makes you look boring or like you’re wearing a uniform. Remember to differ the tone of the colors you wear to create a sense of balance.
A great rule of thumb is to wear your lightest shades on the inside of your outfit and wear the darker shades on top.
Skin Tone and Palettes
You can take any person and identify a set of colors that would look best for them specifically. This set of colors is referred to as a palette. When you start experimenting with color in fashion, you’ll want to figure out an ideal palette of colors and shades that work well specifically for you. Everyone is different, so there are no universal rules here, but there are a few tricks you can use to easily narrow down your color choices.
Determining your ideal palette is done by finding the colors that naturally occur on your body. The features that will best determine your color palette are your eye color, skin tone and hair color.
With skin tone, most people think of their skin color being a single shade (ex. white, black, brown, tan, etc.) But if you really look at your skin up close, you’ll notice that you can detect many subtle colors on your body that you wouldn’t notice at first.
In lighter skin, you’ll notice that the naturally occurring colors are light blues, reds and rosy pinks. Darker skin contains deeper gold and yellow undertones. You want to choose clothing colors that include these kinds of naturally occurring skin undertone colors.
If you have lighter skin, then your best colors are going to be cool colors (colors with a bit of blue). If you have darker skin, then you want to wear warmer colors (colors with a bit of yellow). You can see an example of these two color groupings in the images below:
Figuring out an ideal palette for yourself is more art than science. It can take a lot of trial and error before you figure out exactly which colors work best for you. Simply applying the warm or cool palettes based on your skin tone can give you a huge head start and radically simplify your options.
You also want to avoid overpowering the naturally occurring colors on your body. So, if you have very light skin, you don’t want to wear colors that are too bold. They’ll contrast too much with your natural colors and the effect can be a bit jarring.
When you pair your clothing colors to your natural features, your outfits will look like they were personally designed just for you. There’s a great sense of harmony that comes from good color integration in fashion.