Styling 101: Color Combinations

Inspired by the more vibrant and warm weathered seasons that are approaching us (slower than I would like but whatever), I feel that now is an appropriate time to talk about one of the most basic principles of fashion design and styling: color. Spring and summer garments hold a great deal of color possibilities, and while I’ll admit I’m not a color person, and my closet consists of mostly black and gray, it’s undeniable that understanding color theory and combinations can prove useful for a variety of reasons.

A new color combination can add innovation to a seemingly dull wardrobe and can completely transform a look from winter to spring, spring to summer, and so on. Color theory is relevant to several aspects of style besides clothing as well.  For example, hair color, makeup choices, interior design, and more are all types of style and design that revolve around color choice.

The Basics:

color-wheel

While the color wheel may seem intimidating at first, it really is easy to use and super helpful for piecing together flattering and unlikely color combinations. To be great at anything, you first have to know the rules so you may test them and break them, if you so choose to, and the principals of the color wheel are no exception to this. The color wheel holds a lot of information and, quite frankly, more than I’m willing to discuss within the limits of this blog post. However, these basic elements of color theory are more than enough to get you by and help you understand color relationships.

spectrum

1. Hue, Tint, Tone, & Shade.

Hue is a color in it’s purest form. Tint, tone, and shade are all derivatives of Hue. Tint = hue + white, tone = hue + grey, shade = hue+ black. These four elements are used to create the color your eyes see.

color_saturation

2. Saturation

Saturation, not to be confused with any of the previously mentioned elements, refers to the intensity/vividness of the color. Colors that are highly saturated are bold and rich, while those that are desaturated lack in vibrancy. For example, saturation could be the difference between wearing a hot pink sweater or a baby pink sweater. Both can actually be the same exact color of pink but are just at different levels of saturation.

color_wheels

3. Primary colors

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. A.K.A you learned this in elementary school. These colors can not be formed by mixing other colors together, but can be combined in 100+ ways to make every color imaginable.

4. Secondary colors

Secondary colors are the colors that are formed after mixing each one of the primary colors together. Yellow + red = orange, red + blue = purple, blue + yellow = green.

5. Tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are the colors that are made from mixing secondary colors together along with primary colors. Some tertiary colors you may be familiar with would be orang-yellow, green-yellow (lime), orange-red (coral), blue-green (teal), etc.

colorCircle_15

5. Cool colors

Cool colors are all derived from shades of blue, also known as cool hues. The easiest way to remember what cool colors are, is to think of what colors would best illustrate a cool temperature such as greens, violets, light pinks, etc. Cool colors look wonderful on pale skin with pink  undertones and silver jewelry.

6. Warm colors

Warm colors, the opposite of cool colors, are based around hues of reds, oranges, yellows, etc. Warm colors look best on warmer skin tones and gold jewelry.

neutral colors

7. Neutrals

Neutrals are colors that do not pop out or attract a lot of attention to the eye such as black, beige, taupe, olive, and more. They literally go with everything and anything, and can be used  to slowly integrate color into your wardrobe by pairing bolder color combinations with them.

So…now what?

Once you have a general idea of what the color wheel encompasses, you can begin to combine the colors together. There are a ton of different color combinations out there. From prints and patterns, to color blocking, accessories and everything in between there are so, so many ways to utilize these combinations. Here are some of the basic ones:

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 12.14.41 AM

(Michael Kors, Roksanda Ilincic, DKNY)

1. Monochromatic

The simplest color scheme to make, but often the hardest to pull off: monochromatic. Monochromatic is a color combination that is comprised of just one color. Wearing an outfit that is entirely blue, pink, green, etc, isn’t something that you seen often, but if it’s done right it can look super cool. The best way to pull of monochromatic is to mix different elements of a specific color together such as saturation, tint, or shade and design elements like the texture or structure of the fabric.

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 9.50.46 PM

(House of Holland, Victoria Beckham, Jonathan Saunders)

2. Complementary 

These are the colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Because of their high contrast, as the name implies, they complement each other the most out of any color combination. Because of this not only are they the simplest color combinations to create, but they’re also the most bold. An easy way to add a complementary color combination to your outfit is to start out with a primary color as the base for the look and then wear its complement in your accessory choices.

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 10.15.47 PM

(Roskanda Ilincic, Gucci, Nanette Lepore)

3. Analogous 

A combination of any three colors that are directly next to each other on the color wheel are analogous. This color combination is the most harmonious out of all the color combinations. It’s important to note that when creating an analogous color combination that you should choose colors that have enough contrast between them, whether that be through shade, tint, tone, etc, so they’re not overwhelming. Although this color combination does contain three separate colors, only one of them should be the dominate color while the other two act as supports.

PRABAL-GURUNG-SPRING-2011-RTW-PODIUM-001_runway

(Prabal Gurung)

4. Split complementary

This color combination is found by taking a base color then pairing it with colors directly next to it’s adjacent color. For example, in the picture above, a green-blue (teal) is  paired with red and red-orange to create a split complementary. This color combination has much of the same lasting impression that complementary color schemes produce but because of it is split, it’s generally more flattering and dimensional.

moschino-resort-2013-1

(Moschino)

5. Triadic 

Colors that form a triadic are groups of three colors that are all equidistant from each other on the color wheel. Because of their placement on the color wheel, when paired together, triadic color combinations tend to be very vibrant. Just like other color combinations, it helps to choose one color as the dominate color and the two others as supporting colors in accent pieces.

And remember,

these are just the beginning of all the possibilities that the color wheel can hold for your style choices. Honestly though, when it comes down to it, don’t forget to just have fun with it and take risks, make mistakes, and do whatever the hell you want.

 

Emma Klug started The Style Note in the fall of 2012. Her writing has been featured in DBusiness Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times, Nothing Major, The Working Wardrobe, Chicago Talks, Inexpensive Chic, and The Wayne State University student paper: The South End. When she’s not writing you can find her eating pizza, binge-watching Netflix and working her day job as a magazine editor.
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38 Comments on "Styling 101: Color Combinations"

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francis
Guest

i like orange,yellow and lime green….how is that combinations?

Laura Daniel
Guest

I love the colors dark red and teal (bluish/green) together, to my eye it really pops and makes sense, What do you think?

Emma Klug
Guest

Thank you for your question! Be sure to check back for an elaborate answer in our q&a series.

Best,
Emma

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