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
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
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
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.
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.