Style Intro - Colour Combining

Apr 03, 2015

I have written a lot about clashing and matching and combining clothes in unique ways, however I realise that it's not always obvious how to do that and a bit more specificity may be in order. A key component of dressing in unique and eye-catching ways is to be able to combine colours together in creative ways. It is the easiest way to revive life into an old, stale wardrobe without spending money buying yet more items. I remember one time someone looked at my wardrobe and found I had only one small, single wardrobe of clothes (boohoo). They thought I had three times as many clothes but I just used to stretch my budget finding new ways to mix and match. 

Common Misconceptions

It is frustrating to hear the common misconceptions about colour - people are genuinely afraid of it! These are some of the things people regularly say:

I only wear black because its slimming
Red and green clash
Red and pink clash
Yellow/black/white doesn't suit my skin tone/ I need a fake tan before I wear it/It washes me out
I am not a pink person


For various reasons these are either completely false statements or true only up to a point and in certain contexts. On the other hand, I believe these statements are true about most of us:

  1. We stick to a few basic colours

  2. Not only that, but we stick to a few shades of that colour

  3. We combine the same items together all the time so end up limiting the potential of our wardrobe

  4. We buy accessories in neutrals so it 'goes with everything' when in fact we could be using them to introduce colour in a subtle way

    I could go on but rant time is over! I have set out some tips and techniques below so you can start to use colour to introduce more variety into your style choices, take risks to the extent you are comfortable and recycle and revisit old pieces and go-to combos.

    The Colour Wheel

    The colour wheel was originally devised by Isaac Newton and came out of his experiments with refracting light – as you spin the wheel around the colours merge and appear white. At its foundation are the three primary colours; red, blue and yellow which combine to give secondary colours; purple, orange and green. These are then blended themselves to give tertiary colours and all the other colours. Note that neutrals are not represented on the wheel and we will come to that later.

    For reference, here is a very simple colour wheel divided into 12 parts. 

     Colour wheel

    As the three primary colours are blended they give rise to intermediate hues of colour so that where a colour is next to another it has parts of itself contained within that next colour. For example, as you travel from yellow to red you get shades of orange which contains both red and yellow. The orange shades closest to yellow have more yellow in them and the orange shades closest to red have more red in them. As you travel round the wheel from any pure hue, say red, the colour becomes more and more different until you reach the opposite end - the opposite colour is a contrast colour, in this case green.

    Tips Using The Wheel

    Similar Colours

    Using the colour wheel is an easy way to colour combine whether you want a subtle look or a bold look. For example, colours close together on the wheel (in this example say any three colours next to each other) will give a look that is easy on the eye, however can still be quite interesting.

    At its extreme this is the mono colour look which is head to toe black (groan). However, taking a small step forward, it can be a worn as different shades of one colour .... so red, darker red and lighter red or a spectrum of neutrals.... black, white and grey.

    Here is Alexa Chung doing it with with blue paired down with black neutrals:

    Match similar colours

    Contrasting Colours

    To create a bolder look you would go for colours opposite each other on the wheel. So red and green or yellow and purple.  You can use contrasting colours in a subtle way, you dont have to wear a blue top with a orange skirt. If you want to tone it down you can add a neutral - so that would be anything in the white to black spectrum (greys too) as well as browns and navy. Denim is also a neutral. So to wear a contrasting palette, for example, you could do a blue top, grey trousers and wear orange as a belt or a bag.

    Here is one of the Olsen twins doing it with blue and orange with black neutrals:

    contrast colours


    Ok once you have the hang of that you can add three colours or more. Using the wheel above, any colour three spaces away from another (or 90 degrees away) on either side can be combined to create a balanced but dynamic look. So that would be yellow, red-orange and blue-green. Also, you can take two colours next to each other and add a colour opposite either of them as a 'pop'. Or take two sets of colours opposite each other! There are lots of combinations and once you start using this tool you will find many more - also keep in mind that there are infinite colours that fit in between all these colours and the use of neutrals can tone things down.

     Here is Riri using three colours - her hair counts! 

     experimenting with colour


    If we break it down.... what she has done here is use colours quite close together on the wheel. Three colours is enough as she is using them to colour block but if she were to add a fourth colour - maybe as a statement ring - it would have to be related to these colours. Looking at the wheel this may be a emerald green, which is directly opposite on the wheel to the red of her hair. This is advanced people! Generally if you are using blocks of colour you wouldn't do more than three.

    So there you go some tips and techniques using the colour wheel. I will be posting a part 2 so watch out for it!

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