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Refine Your Palette: Coordinating Clothing Colors

10/26/2016

Refine Your Palette: Coordinating Clothing Colors

It plays out in clothing stores everywhere. A person finds a great item and then thinks, how in the world do I know what colors will look good with this? Matching clothing items by color is a basic fashion skill that lets you decide how you're going to coordinate what you buy. The task is a breeze once you understand the color wheel and some color schemes designers use regularly.

What's the Color Wheel?

The color wheel is a graphic representation of colors that are possible. The number of colors on a color wheel differs depending on who is using it and for what purpose, but the colors are always put on the wheel in clockwise order according to the rainbow. Red is at the top of the wheel, while bright oranges and yellows are at the right. Greens and light blues are at the bottom, and dark blues and purples are on the left. Color wheels are made up of primary colors (red, yellow and blue), secondary colors (green, orange and purple; the colors you get when you mix primaries) or tertiary colors (colors made by mixing primary and secondary colors).

Color Wheel

Monochromatic

The most fundamental color scheme is monochromatic. Monochromatic means you choose clothes or accessories that are of the same color but have different tints and shades. Tint refers to how much white is mixed into the color, while shade refers to how much black is mixed with the color.

Monochromatic

Complementary

Another very basic color scheme to use when picking out clothes is the complementary color scheme. With this scheme, you take whatever color you’re working with and then find the color directly across from it on the color wheel. For example, the complement of true red is green.

Complementary

Split Complementary

Once you know how to use a complementary color scheme, you can branch out a bit with your wardrobe by using split complements. For this color scheme, you find the complement of the color you're using in your clothes. Then you look at the two colors on either side of the complement. For instance, if you were using red, the complement would be green, so the split complementary colors would be light green or light blue.

Split Complementary

Analogous

Analogous means two or more things are similar or alike in some way. When scoping out clothes and thinking about colors, it means that the colors you pick out are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. An example is a green shirt with a tie of yellow-green and yellow stripes.

Analogous

Split Analogous

Split analogous color schemes are a variation on regular analogous color schemes. Instead of using colors directly next to each other on the color wheel, this scheme skips one. For example, you might see red, light purple and light orange.

Split Analogous

Triad

The triad color scheme is the simplest scheme to use when you need to use three colors. For this scheme, you make sure that the colors in your clothes all are spaced equal distances apart on the color wheel, such as using blue, red and yellow.

Triad

Tetrad

The tetrad scheme for clothing and other items uses four colors. The four colors are any two colors and their complements, so you’ve got lots of leeway for how to mix and match.

Tetrad

Neutral/Accented Neutral

If you're working with a neutral color scheme, it means you're using colors not normally found on the color wheel, such as brown or grey. Neutral colors are appropriate for situations such as business, but don't overdo it: too many neutral colors in your clothes can make you look dreary or washed out, depending on your skin, hair and eye colors. To keep this from happening, some experts recommend using an accented neutral color scheme, which just means you add a little splash of another color, such as adding a red scarf or tie to a grey business ensemble.

Neutral/Accented Neutral

Warm and Cool

Some color experts divide the color wheel into “warm” or “cool” colors. Warm colors include everything from red to light green, whereas cool colors include darker greens all the way to dark purples. Another way of looking at this is to think that warm color schemes don’t use blue, while cool color schemes don’t use red. This way of using colors usually relates to skin tone. Everything you wear can heighten or soften your natural coloring, however, so it’s important to think of your natural scheme (warm or cool) when finding clothes to make you look energized and vibrant.

Warm and Cool

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