Reader Jill had this question:
I would love some advice on how to add a third color to an outfit. I just bought a turquoise and brown suit, and I love the colors together. But the jacket needs a cami or top under it, and I don’t know what color to add … and I’m thinking I would carry that color to shoes?
Great question, and one with MANY answers! Let’s start with the scientific one.
Consult a color wheel
I’ll be straight with you: The chances of me, myself, doing this approach zero. Color wheels make me itchy, just like music theory makes me itchy: I’d rather make choices with my gut than be constrained by rules about how to make artistic decisions the “right” way. HOWEVER! Not everyone is wired that way and I know that clear systems with comprehensible rules are absolutely invaluable to many. So, if you’re looking to add a third color to your outfit, you can definitely work with the color wheel. The graphic above is from this post about color schemes that does a spectacular job of explaining why some work and others don’t. This one will help if you’re dealing with neutrals, since brown and gray are shades and tones.
Add a tone, tint, or shade of one of your colors
Instead of bringing an entirely new color into the mix, consider utilizing a tone, tint, or shade of the two you’ve already selected. Tints result from adding white, tones result from adding gray, and hues result from adding black. So if we think about Jill’s example, she could add a lighter tint of turquoise, a deeper hue of brown, or a more muted tone of turquoise and the colors would be harmonious. This can get tricky because all turquoises aren’t the same and you need to watch your undertones, but it’s fun to tinker with.
Look to existing patterns or prints for guidance
The best color cheat in the world, if you ask me. Find a print, pattern, or graphic that includes your first two colors, and pick a third from within the design. A person who gets paid to group colors has just made your decision for you. If you’re doing an outfit of solids, adding the printed or patterned item can serve as a bridge, but it’s not strictly necessary.
Poke around online color resources
This is a great way to get color-grouping inspiration overall, but can also help out if you’re in a pinch looking for a third color to complete an outfit. Color blogs like Design Seeds and Colour Lovers are great resources, but I also love poking around Pinterest. I’ve got a color board, and Imogen has an amazing one, too. For general help you can search for “color schemes” or the two colors you’ve already selected – here are results for turquoise and brown. Another great Imogen-created resource? Her Polyvore sets. Even the ones that aren’t directly related to color theory or color groupings are inspirational.
The one tactic I’d suggest avoiding? Making white or cream your fallback third color. Yes, they’re neutral, but they don’t always look harmonious in color triads. White can be jarring, and cream doesn’t often add anything to color groupings. If possible, do a tone, tint, or shade instead.
Got any other suggestions for adding a third color to your outfits? Link to resources if you’ve got them!