An anonymous reader popped this question into the suggestion box:
A lot of advice on wearing color assumes that one uses the whole color wheel. People recommend choosing opposite colors for contrast, or choosing a triad of 3 colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. However, what about those of us who only wear colors from one half or one third of the color wheel? I wear green (cool green) to blue to purple to pink. I’ve applied the advice on contrasting colors in a limited way by pairing green with purple or pink (i.e., the opposite ends of my color range), but it seems difficult to wear more than one color at a time if choosing from the center of my color range. So if I wear blue, I’m stuck with only blue because my other colors seem too close to it. And then how many shades of blue to wear simultaneously?
Monochrome and near-monochrome looks have been trendy for several years running, and yet there’s always some pushback. Since each human eye perceives color differently, outfits that combine colors that are close but not exact may look lovely to some and jarring to others. If you’re working with a palette that contains only related colors – or even a very small subset of the available colors – it can quickly become frustrating to attempt assembly of outfits that work, color-wise. I can’t say as I have any foolproof tips – especially since I consider the whole color wheel to be my playground – but here are a few ideas.
If you’re worried about wearing colors that seem too close in value to work with each other, adding a pattern can ease the tension. Patterns that include the colors in question are fabulous, but even totally neutral patterns can work as bridging pieces. Black and white prints are huge this season, though they’ll work best with cool bright colors as shown here. Colorful prints and patterns with warm undertones will work best if you’re doing warm shades.
Do three shades to a monochrome mix
There’s no one right way to do monochrome, but in my own experience I’ve found that three distinct shades make a mix feel intentional. Just two may look like the shades are mismatched, though more than three can definitely work. So if you’re going for blues, do bright, mid, and dark shades. Adding a print or pattern in your chosen color can liven up the mix.
Watch your undertones
Most colors have warm (red) or cool (blue) undertones. Mixing colors with different undertones can work, but I find it to be challenging. The pairing above seems a bit off to me because the chambray has different undertones than the colors in the blazer: It is warm, while the blazer and pants are cool. (Yes, it’s chambray so may read as a neutral to some, but since it’s paired with other shades of blue here its blueness is hard to overlook.) Cool brights mix well with each other, warm dusty colors mix well with each other. Wedging cool brights and warm dusties into a single outfit can look not-quite-right.
Be on the lookout for pairing inspiration
I adore color, and am constantly searching for new and different color pairings. Anyone who is wondering about how to wear color-on-color can rely on cheat sheets: Look at magazine photos, Pinterest (I’ve got a whole board dedicated to color pairings), existing patterns in clothing and cloth, logos, flowers and other elements of nature, home decor, absolutely anything that mixes colors. See if you can re-create those mixes using solids or prints in your own closet, and sticking to your chosen subset of colors.
If you’re interested in working with a subset of colors but not sure where to start, check Ashe’s fabulous post on developing a color palette for your closet.
What other tips would you share for wearing and mixing colors within a confined palette? Do any of you do this already? How do you make it work?
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