Styling Guide: The Color Wheel and Color Theory

All color theory is based on this wheel.

To describe a color with reasonable accuracy, there are three basic properties used to identify the qualities of color:

  1. Hue – the name of a color
  2. Value – the degree of lightness or darkness in a color; can be expressed by tones, tints and shades
  3. Intensity – the degree of purity or strength of a color (hue) or how bright or muted the colors are. For example, an intense red is one that is a very strong, pure red color.   When a lighter or darker color is added to a color, the intensity will be less bright. (If you add white to red you get pink, a less intense color strength)

A visual presentation of those color terms:

HUE – The pure color (for example RED)

TONE – Hue + small amount of gray or opposite color (will mute or tone down the color)

TINT – Hue + White (will lighten the color)

COMPLEMENT TINT – Tint + small amount of gray or opposite color (will mute or tone down the color)

SHADE – Hue + Black (will darken the color)

To use the color wheel and the chart below we need to know these definitions:

Core Color:  The dominant color in a color scheme.  It’s the color of the principal item in your outfit like your suit or a dress shirt.

Accent Colors:  The second and sometimes third colors used in a color scheme.  The accent colors may be complementary, triad, analogous or neutral.

Complementary colors:  Colors directly opposite each other in the color spectrum or wheel.  These colors are highly contrasting and look very bold if put together. Such combinations usually draw the eye and stand out very well. Blue is opposite of orange on the color wheel.  That is why gold, rust and brown compliment shades of blue.  Here’s an example of an outfit:  navy trousers (blue) with a rust dress shirt (orange).

Blue orange combination

Blue always goes great with orange, as they are complementary colors. You can tone the blue down in order to get a better effect.

Because they are complete opposites, complementary colors make each other seem more intense. It can be difficult to wear complimentary colors together and simultaneously avoid looking like a page out of a coloring book, try complementary color schemes that used intermediate colors, such as red-orange and blue-green:

Picture: Blue-Green & Red-Orange

Also try using a darker hue of a color’s complement created a more sophisticated palette:

Picture: Violet & Mustard

The split complementary color scheme: A split complementary color scheme will result in a more calm, toned down look than a combination of complementary colors would, but still with a very big impact. Basically, to create such a combination, you need to choose two analog colors and the complementary color of the one that is found between them.

The split complementary color scheme.

A red checkered shirt goes great with a turquoise tie and an aqua-green pocket square. The more shades you use, the more subtle your outfits will be.

A red checkered shirt goes great with a turquoise tie and an aqua-green pocket square. The more shades you use, the more subtle your outfits will be.

A green shirt makes a good combination with an orange tie, and a violet pocket square. Notice how the color scheme follows the rule.

A green shirt makes a good combination with an orange tie, and a violet pocket square.

Triad colors:  Three hues equally spaced on the color wheel.  When you want a combination that is colorful and yet balanced, a triad color scheme might be the way to go.   The first or primary triad colors in the color wheel are red, blue and yellow.  Such combinations will result in more unconventional, strange combinations, but nevertheless harmonious. They go best with formal clothes, but can also be used if you are putting together a club or party attire. Here’s an example of an outfit: a navy suit (blue), pale yellow shirt (yellow) and burgundy tie (red). The second (or secondary) triad colors in the color wheel are orange, green and purple.

Triad colors can look more serious if you use shades.

Triad colors can look more serious if you use tints.

But they can also look funky and electric.

But they can also look funky and electric.

Of course, creating a triad with fully saturated, bright hues is often a formula for looking like a German Expressionist painting. Triads comprised of tertiary or intermediate colors, however, can be more subtle but still interesting. Examples would include: blue-violet, yellow-green, and red-orange or red-violet, yellow-orange, and blue-green.

Picture: Triads

Two-Thirds Rule

Triads can be tricky to wear simultaneously, but picking just two colors from a triad often results in a terrific, eye-catching palette. An example might be blue and yellow.

Picture: Blue & Yellows

Another example might be violet and green:

Picture: Violet & Green

You may try to mix a bright hue with its darker, more subdued complement:

Picture: Violet & Olive

Analogous colors: Colors, which are next to each other on the color wheel, go well together, such as blue pants, a blue-green shirt and a green jacket.

While a blue and green scheme may seem like a natural choice, other analogous combinations — such as red and orange — may not be as obvious. If we include the tertiary or intermediate hues in the color wheel, an analogous scheme could also pair violet with red-violet or yellow with yellow-orange.

Picture: Red and Orange

Picture: Analogous Colors – Blue, Blue-Green, and Green

You can also choose one color from the spectrum, skip one and then choose the next one. These combinations are very simple yet highly elegant. Such combinations are found in nature and look great. choosing one color from the spectrum, skip one and then choose the next one.

A tie and a pocket square matched according to the analog colors scheme

A tie and a pocket square matched according to the analog colors scheme

A tie and a bow tie in another scheme with analog colors.

A tie and a bow tie in another scheme with analog colors.

Neutral colors: Neutral colors include beige, ivory, taupe, black, gray, and white and sometimes brown.  Neutral usually means without color, and these colors don’t usually show up on the color wheel.

In painting, neutrals are made by mixing disparate colors together. Mixing red and green paint together will give you a brown, mixing red, yellow, and blue together will push you towards black, and so on. The fact that neutrals actually contain many colors is part of what allows them to look good next to any color. And for good reason, they can easily mitigate more piercing color combinations, toning down an outfit and providing cohesion. They can also produce rich and textured outfits by themselves when layered and combined with just each other.

Picture: Neutrals

Like Stacy and Clinton always say on What Not to Wear, “neutrals go with everything,” including each other. Injunctions against wearing black and brown or brown and gray or black and navy together simple aren’t true. When mixed together in a range of shades and textures, an all-neutral outfit can be minimal but sophisticated.

Neutrals can provide a softer look on their own, or serve as a background for another color. When pairing one “pop” of color with an all neutral palette, the neutrals allow the brighter color to add a wow-factor.

Picture: Pop of Pink

While neutrals dominate, the splash of color is what makes the outfit memorable.

Some examples of how to put this to use to coordinate your wardrobes:

CORE COLOR ACCENT COLORS
Complementary Triad Analogous Neutral
WHITE (neutral) All colors (Same for all colors) White, black, gray,tan
BLACK (neutral) All colors
GRAY (neutral) Darker or lighter gray, red, blue, yellow and green
TAN (neutral) Blue, purple, burgundy, cranberry, turquoise, brown, orange, green,
BROWN Blue, green, orange, yellow,
NAVY Orange, gold, rust Yellow, red, brown, tan Blue, green, purple
BURGUNDY/RED Green Blue, yellow Purple, orange
YELLOW Purple Red, blue Orange, green
PURPLE Yellow Orange, green Blue, red
RUST/ORANGE Blue Green, purple Yellow, red, brown
GREEN/OLIVE Red Purple, orange Blue, yellow

Some additional considerations:

Seasonal Colors: Some colors are more appropriate at certain times of year than others.  Like the pastels of yellow, are usually associated with summer, while autumn colors are rust, brown, green, and burgundy.  Wearing rust in the summer, or light yellow in the fall looks out of place.

Think Contrast:  Try one light element with two dark, or one dark with two lights, such as a charcoal suit, white shirt and red tie, or tan suit with yellow shirt and green tie. Or khaki pants and a dark blue shirt.

Color Value: Dark colors recede thus making you look thinner, and light colors project, which tends to bulk you up.  Dark colors are more formal than light colors.

Warm and Cool Colors:

Families of analogous colors include warm colors (red, orange, yellow) and cool colors (green, blue, violet). Designers often build color schemes around two or three related colors.

Select two warm colors with one cool or two cool with one warm to create dynamic harmony.  Examples:  navy suit, light blue shirt and red tie, or a yellow shirt, rust jacket and blue jeans.

Monochromatic: all one color, but different shades, tones or tints. All blue attire could consist of a navy suit, light blue shirt, dark blue tie, blue pocket square, etc.  This simple combination can be quite subtle and sophisticatedly understated. Add some contrast to this combination by using texture and pattern.  Some of your clothing items should be smooth; others rough in texture.  Some items could be patterned; others solid.

Picture: Monochrome

 

These orange pieces would work great with a neutral jacket.

Neutral: We talked about neutral colors, but you can dress in shades of white, black, gray or beige.  Khaki pants, a white shirt, and a gray dress shirt are all neutrals.  It may not be a dynamic look, but it is sophisticated.

Seasonal Colors: Some colors are more appropriate at certain times of year than others.  Like the pastels of yellow, are usually associated with summer, while autumn colors are rust, brown, green, and burgundy.  Wearing rust in the summer, or light yellow in the fall looks out of place.

Color Value: Dark colors recede thus making you look thinner, and light colors project, which tends to bulk you up.  Dark colors are more formal than light.

Source:

http://foxxybeauty.blogspot.com

http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com

http://attireclub.org/2014/05/05/coordinating-the-colors-of-your-clothes/

http://academichic.com/

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8 thoughts on “Styling Guide: The Color Wheel and Color Theory

  1. Thank you for your help. I purchased a pair of rust colored pants, but couldn’t find a blouse to match. My brain was stuck on Olive green, with African color’s around the neck line.

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