Color Theory for the Fashionista
Boredom is one of the things that ultimately drives us to shop. Chances are you already own quite a few “classic” pieces in your closet, you're just not pairing them the best way you could. It's easy to get stuck in neutral, literally and figuratively. Busy schedules, daily routines, and work dress codes can really clog up the flow of your creative juices, but don't give up yet!
Remember that color wheel or cute illustration of Roy G. Biv from preschool? It helped you learn the names and hues of colors, and depending on how excited your teacher was, color families too. You may think that color theory should only be important to artists and designers (and it certainly is) but knowing the basics of color theory could help you dress better without stepping foot into a department store.
Before we dive into the closet, let's go back to the color wheel. Red, blue, and yellow are the colors which make up the primary color palette. When equal parts of this palette are mixed, the resulting colors are green, orange, and purple. Those colors belong to the secondary color palette. Next, you have the tertiary color palette, which is created by mixing equal parts of a primary color with a secondary color in the same bloodline (such as red and orange, resulting in Vermilion). Yes, I'm sure you're probably familiar with those color families, but a little review never hurt anyone!
The next thing to make note of on the color wheel is color saturation. Saturation is the intensity of a color. When a color is mixed, it loses some of its intensity, which is why neutrals are much less vibrant than primary and secondary colors. When white is added to a color, it is called a tint, and if black is added, it's called a shade.If you were to add gray, the final color would be called a tone.Tinting and shading both lower the saturation of a color by cooling it down and changing its value (lightness or darkness). For example, a green shirt's tint could be Mint, and its shade could be Hunter's Green.
Let's see how well you're paying attention, shall we? What if you added a little blue to that green shirt, would it be a tint, shade, or tone? Think hard! The answer is none of the above. The resulting color, Veridian, would be categorized as a tertiary color.
Now that we've gone over color families, let's talk about the relationships between them! This is where your wardrobe comes into play. A palette consisting of the same color in varying levels of saturation is called monochromatic (one color). A black on black suit, for example, is a monochromatic outfit. A Canary blouse and Goldenrod skirt is also an example of a monochromatic ensemble.
Next, we have complimentary colors. Complimentary colors are located across from one another on the color wheel. Red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple are all complimentary colors. This rule can be extended to the tertiary colors as well, like Coral and Teal. Being aware of complimentary colors is probably the most important aspect of color theory for a stylishly sound outfit.
If I've not confused you enough yet, let's add analogous colors. Analogous colors are right next to each other on the color wheel. Blue and green, for example, are analogous colors. Choosing an analogous color scheme for an outfit can be beneficial if you want variety and consistency.
OK, that's great...but what do I wear!?
There, there, that wasn't so bad! Plus, I'm sure you discovered some things you didn't know about color. Now, here's how to apply that knowledge. I think I may have given the impression that neutrals were not to be trusted, let alone worn in the beginning, and that's not the case at all! When paired properly, they add a richness and depth to what could have been an otherwise boring outfit. Mahogany, pink, and orange, for example, come together beautifully. All three colors have one thing in common: Red. Pink and orange are analogous, and mahogany is created through a mixing of greens and reds. Neutrals are made when complimentary colors are mixed, however, not all brown neutrals are created with red. Beige is the result of mixed yellow and purple. If you don't have a pop of color to add to your neutral outfit, mix up the browns and whites. Tan, white, and cream are subtle and classic color combos.
Other than wearing all beige, another mistake is wearing all bright colors in one outfit. The “neon” color fad of summer 2012 is thankfully over. There's no need to walk around looking like you just left the Color Run. Color will clash if it is combined incorrectly. Pattern combinations are some of the newest trends in fashion this year, but you will need to take care with the color choices. If your top and bottom are going to be clothed in two different patterns, they should not be of equal size. Preferably, your top should be printed with a larger pattern than your bottoms. As for color, choose an analogous or monochromatic scheme. If one of your patterns happens to be plaid, you may branch off into the complimentary realm.
Set up your closet like a rainbow
I've found the easiest way to make fun color combos with my outfits is to hang the clothes in my closet in a descending rainbow (from black to white). Other than helping in my color choices, this helps me keep track of all the differently colored clothes I own. It's easier to find that purple tank top when you know it's hung with all the other purple clothes. Be creative, and see what color combinations are possible in your wardrobe!