How to Create Color Mixes in Your Outfits

outfit color mixes

When I was first told that black and white should only ever be paired with each other, with gray, or with brown, I balked. Talk about a seriously constraining little guideline! And I still don’t totally buy it: Both black and white can look amazing with cool brights, patterns, and in carefully-crafted color mixes. But over the years, I’ve found myself gravitating toward color-on-color mixes and keeping the neutrals mainly to themselves.

Since mixing colors and creating color-free outfits can feel incredibly daunting, I thought I’d share a few tips for finding successful color mixes.

USE A PATTERN TO GET STARTED

floralcord_outfit

The easiest way to create great color mixes is to call in an expert: A patterned garment. You can generally trust textile and clothing designers to group colors that work well together, so if you use a patterned item as your starting point and draw in other solid pieces based on the pattern’s colors, you’ll generally end up with a unified mix. In the photo above, the jacket’s print includes both mustard and maroon, which I pulled out in the skirt and top, respectively.

RELY ON COLOR FAMILIES

floralscarf_burgdress_outfit

Many of the colorful mixes we see these days seem bold and fresh, but are really relying on the traditional families of shades: Jewel tones (as shown here), primaries, pastels, earth tones. Naturally, these groupings encompass a huge number of colors and some pairings will look horrendous. But, generally speaking, throwing three earth tones or three pastels into an outfit will work. Tossing a neutral in there can create balance if things feel too thematic or over-saturated.

TAKE NOTE OF SATURATION

Already Pretty outfit featuring cobalt cardigan, emerald green eShakti dress, orchid purple suede pumps, Franco Sarto Cicero, magenta bib necklace

Mixing colors with varied saturation levels can look utterly amazing, but it’s pretty challenging to do. If the colors within an outfit are all muted, all neon, all dark, all bright, all share a saturation-related characteristic, they’ll make sense. Here, my sweater, dress, and accessories are all cool and bright. Swap the kelly green dress for an olive green one, and you’ll get a completely different look – not bad or wrong, just different. This mixing technique is another that frequently benefits from a neutral.

GO MONOCHROME

asg_outfit2

I feel like monochrome outfits get a bad rep, but they can look incredibly sophisticated. In my opinion, the key is to choose two shades that are fairly close in brightness and value, and a third that’s markedly different. And, again, adding a neutral or bridging patterned garment or accessory helps.

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  • I love wearing colours – and I’ve been experimenting a lot. I think it’s hard to get it right every time, so having your guidelines will hopefully help!

  • I really like mixing colors, a new pleasure after years of fear of making a fool out of myself. I like to start with a pattern and go from there. But sometimes I just wing it and see what comes of it. Using tights and shoes as a way to add and mix colors is an easy way to be a little daring.

  • Aziraphale

    Funny, I didn’t know there was a “rule” about mixing black and white with each other or with gray or brown….but as it turns out, that’s generally what I do. I like neutrals with neutrals and brights with brights, too (although my closet contains precious few brights). But I agree with you that feeling like you *have* to adhere to certain rules feels constraining. Guidelines are helpful, though. Thanks for the tips. You are a master colour-mixer, and if I ever feel the urge to start collecting more bright colours, I’ll refer back to this post for ideas!

  • LinB

    In a costume design class, we learned that a monochromatic scheme encompasses all the tints (light through dark) of a single hue, plus the two hues on either side of that hue on the color wheel, PLUS the color directly opposite that hue on the color wheel. That really opens up options for a monochrome dressing scheme, so useful either when dressing oneself or when helping an audience to identify which one of a myriad of characters belongs to which side of a family/side in a war.

  • Fantastic set of examples. I’m making slow progress:). But I just love these looks.

  • tagatha

    black and white should only ever be paired with each other, with gray, or with brown

    Insanity, that’s what I say.

    On the other hand, I love colours and wear them all the time: lately it’s been a lovely bright orange cardi with a pink scarf. Okay, I pair them with dark blue jeans but I’ve turned some heads with this combo 😉

  • It’s so funny to see this written down as tips, because it comes so natural to me. I have a few colour combos (top; green-red-yellow; followed by blue red yellow) that I love, But i’m always looking for new ones.

    But i do have a tip, actually: I always make sure to pick at least one of the colours up in more than one place, i think that makes it look pulled together. for example, this outfit, which I love so much i just want to share it over and over again, has the red picked up in the shoes, and the yellow in the brooches, and the green is in both the brooches and the cowl:
    http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2012/03/red-and-yellow-and-green.html:

    • Sal

      Yes! Good point, Franca.

  • Most often, I think I tend to start with a print and pick up colors out of it. Or if I wear two prints like I am today, they’d better share a color. The thing I’m worst at is combining pastels with, well, anything. If I put anything light-colored into an outfit with more saturated colors it’s going to be a neutral.

  • You are a whiz with the colors, Sal. I especially love the color pairing of the first outfit – so bright and unexpected!

  • Anamarie

    This is kind of strange, but if I ever wonder whether certain colors go together, I take a look at logos for sports teams. Blue and orange? University of Florida Gators say yes! I figure if a sports team has spent time and money putting together a logo and colors for uniforms, the color combos must work! Can you tell I spend a lot of time watching sports, when this is my point of reference?

  • Great advice, per usual. Like Franca, I think color pairings just come naturally to me, but I love seeing it written down as tips. At the very least, it confirms my instincts and helps me with some areas I may have trouble with.

  • Anne

    Lately I’ve been pulling pages out of Instyle Mag. for color guidance. I love that they use the term, “Plays well with…” I also tear pages out of the J Crew catalog for color paring inspiration.

    I think it’s kind of a fun time to be experimenting with fashion. The pictures of us now, in 20 years are going to be very memorable!

  • The “monochromatic” combo pictured above is stunning. However, it is questionable whether it is actually monochromatic. If the colors are magenta and purple, I would say yes; but, magenta and burgundy, no. Every art instructor I have had and every theory book I have read in my design education defines monochromatic as a color and its tints (color + white) and shades (color + black). A color + the color across it on the color wheel is an complementary scheme (e.g., blue and orange), while a color and the color on each side of it is an analogous scheme (e.g., the 2 blues and the purple in Sally’s “color families” photo). I have a challenge for Sally to pull together a split-complementary scheme (a base color and two colors adjacent to its complement, such as red, azure, and spring green).

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