Colors and Combining Them

When I began looking in my closet to think about which clothes would come together well to make a good outfit, I thought about the criterion I had set up for the selection: “what I think looks good.” And one of the things I think of when I get dressed is “does this match?”

Actually, that’s what I’d like to be thinking. Right now I think “does this clash?” because I can recognize what looks awful, but what I need to know is how to put colors together. I found lots of opinions and a dose of science, but central to all of it is the color wheel.


A color wheel is a visual representation of how the different colors relate to each other. By looking at the relative positions of the colors on the wheel, we can get an idea of what colors will look good together. There are three simple relationships among the colors of the wheel, and two general principles that are going to guide us as we more actively coordinate our clothes.

One easy way to coordinate an outfit is to use analogous colors. Analogous colors are those that are close to each other on the color wheel.

The many shades and layers of blue all serve to support one another. Even the reds of the tie and pocket square are close together on the color wheel.

Complementary colors are those that are opposite from each other on the color wheel and are visually appealing when used together.

The bold, orange tie perfectly suits the lighter blue of his shirt, and the dark blue of his jacket.

Triads are three colors that are equally spaced along the color wheel. I think this would be the hardest for me to pull off at this point.

I’m not a fan of the bow tie or the capris, but the red sneakers and the red in the plaid shirt accentuate the dominant yellow jacket and blue jeans.

Neutral colors, like black, white, and grey, can be paired well with most anything and tend to keep the colors of our outfits from getting too out of control. Or, if we feel our outfit is too monochromatic, we can use something neutral to add contrast.

And try to keep the colors of a like quality. Try to use all bright colors or all dark colors or all warm colors in an outfit.

Of course none of this matters if we like an outfit or we look good in it. If it works, who cares about the rules?

These are the articles that informed this one: