Building a wardrobe full of great looking pieces is only half the battle. Not only should each individual piece of clothing look great on their own, they need to look great as a cohesive outfit. When the colours of each item you wear in a single outfit clash, you lose style points and your look takes a huge dive. Colour matching can be complicated, but learning the basics is essential if you want to keep your style game strong. Avoid looking like a clown at a kid’s birthday party by keeping these 4 rules in mind when throwing your next outfit together.
Coasting in neutral
By definition, neutral, means without colour. In fashion and style, neutrals are colours that match easily with most other colours. White, black and greys are the standard here but I would throw in beige and navy blue which also pair well with most colours. Neutrals are great because they can form the base of any outfit. If you look inside my wardrobe you’ll find mostly blues and greys which I can pair with many of the other colours I’ve added to my closet.
I can throw on a pair of dark wash jeans and match it with an olive tee, or a red/green plaid button down, or a burgundy polo. Switch the denim out for a beige chino or khaki and you’ll still maintain a solid look.
Switch it up by wearing something louder below the waist like some red or blue shorts. Throw on a plain white tee and you’re out the door in an effortless summer look.
Tip: If you’re building a wardrobe on a budget, make neutrals your biggest priority. Neutrals will help remove some of the guess work from putting an outfit together, and you’ll maximize the number of outfits that you can create with a limited number of pieces.
“Once you enter this (colour) family, there is no getting out”
If there’s one piece of advice we should take from the fictional mob boss, Tony Soprano, it’s to keep it in the family. That is, it’s usually a safe bet to build your outfit out of pieces in the same colour family. When keeping it in the colour family, remember these two points: using (1) contrast; and (2) texture. I’ll explain why in a moment, but here are a few examples of this rule in action. Wearing all black from head-to-toe is a go-to here. Or, if you’re feeling bold, all white is a power move.
You can also play with the shades of a single colour like blue, grey or green.
Wearing shades and tints of one colour that contrast well with each other is important because it helps break the outfit up, give more detail and show more intention. Better yet, throw on a check or striped shirt that accents your chosen colour. Using some contrast in your outfit will help to avoid looking like you’re wearing a male romper, which is probably for the best… although some might say otherwise.
Mixing different textures into your outfit can also add more dimensions that break up your outfit. Instead of rocking a “Canadian tuxedo,” keep the jean jacket and switch out the jeans for a pastel blue chino.
By going with a lighter pant of a different fabric, you break the outfit apart so you don’t look like you’re wearing a mechanic’s jumpsuit. So pick your favourite colour and build your wardrobe around that. You can always add more colour later.
Setting the Tone
You can easily match colours in your wardrobe by using tonal schemes that are tried and tested.
Earth tones is a scheme that incorporates browns into other colours that make them look earthy and natural. Earth tones are great in the fall because they are typically made from warmer colours and look great with thicker or chunkier textures like flannels, knits or tweeds which are heavier fabrics great for cooler temperatures.
Pastel colours are desaturated, soft and more neutral than their primary counterparts. Because the colours are softer and more “washed out” they can be paired more easily. Look for muted blues, soft pinks, olive greens, and lavenders. These four colours are versatile and matched easily.
The metallic scheme is essentially pieces that are black and white and everything in between. Again this is keeping with the neutral strategy as any item of these colours will always match. DO NOT get this confused with shiny, silver, or reflective fabrics. Unless you’re hopping in your time machine to hit up a New York disco in the 70s, that trend has come and gone.
Opposites attract—it’s science!
If you’re ever in doubt, look to Sir Isaac Newton’s colour wheel from the late 1600s. Granted, Sir Newton was working on splitting white light into every visible colour on the spectrum (no big deal), but he unintentionally helped guys visually understand how to pair different colours in their style. To wrap your head around using the colour wheel there is a great overview here.
In trying to make the biggest style impact by matching colours, stick to matching complementary colours, those colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, or split complementary colours, which are the colours adjacent to a complementary colour. If this is confusing, you didn’t click the link above—go do that now.
Complementary blue and orange:
Complementary red and green:
Split complementary orange and violet:
Split complementary green and violet:
Build from the ground up
Think of each successive rule above as stepping stones to building colour into your wardrobe. Start with the basics and add more colourful pieces as you get comfortable. Stick to your favourites so that you can maximize your outfit variations with minimal pieces. That way you don’t have to break the bank or the rod in your closet!