Color Theory and Fashion. How to pair clothes for an eye catching look.

So, those of you reading this may think that you know how to match colors, while others have no idea.  Either way, I think you’ll learn something by taking a couple minutes to absorb this post.  Color theory is like a guide for how to best utilize different colors together, whether it be for figuring out everything from what shirt and tie to match with your suit, to what color to paint your house.

This blog will be for the more daring, and is assuming you’re already knowledgeable with the 7 basic style rules.  These looks may or may not take into account your accessories, depending on whether they are out of the box or not (not including crazy socks, since they have no rules).

So, for this, we will be using what’s called a color wheel, which we have included below.  Essentially, you start with all of the colors of the rainbow, and blend one color into the other until it comes full circle, so that you can see how all colors relate to each other.

The first rule for today is to avoid being monochromatic for your entire outfit.  Monochromatic means using all one color, including it’s various color shades.  You don’t want all of the clothes you have on to be all white, gray, and black.  Nor do you want to be all light red, red, and dark red.  It’s boring, and it shows that you’re aware of your color options but not socially aware of how it comes off to other people.

When coordinating, you don’t want to do too many colors either.  A noisy outfit is like having a group of people talking to you at once and you end up retaining nothing.

A good rule of thumb for basic fashion is to have 3 main colors.  For the purposes of this blog, we’ll give them 3 separate names: You’ll have your dominant color, your secondary color, and your highlight color. To know which is which think visually, as if you unwrapped all of your outfit into big squares separated by color and laid the material side by side, how do the colors compare?  The color quantities won’t be and shouldn’t be equal- your dominant color is the one with the biggest square, your secondary behind that, and your highlight/accent color should take up a small amount of space (and is likely to be any colored accessories you may be wearing).

Now, take stock of your wardrobe. Chances are, unless you already went out and bought tons of clothes, that your wardrobe in general is going to have more of one color than another.  Chances are also that you’re going to have a number of items that fall under one color spectrum.  Chances are also pretty good that you’re going to have limited pant color combinations.  This is natural, just plan around that.

What’s the dominant color of your pants?  Shirt?  And, if applicable, your jacket, pocket square, or tie?  Some of these items may be striped, so if it’s a 50/50 split, you need to coordinate around that because you have two colors on one item, and you only get three colors to toy with.  If one color stands out and dominates and takes up the majority of the space on your clothing item, then that’s one of your main colors.

Now that you know what you are working with, lets talk colors.  Take a look at this color wheel:

TLV Color Wheel


Analogous colors are those close to the other ones on this wheel.  Analogous colors should only be used for accessories.  If analogous colors dominate your outfit, it shows a lack of fashion understanding and will start any reaction off negatively.  Analogous colors for dominant and secondary colors is just as big of a no-no as having a whole outfit that is monochromatic.

Good example: varying shades of reddish brown accessories all tied together.  This works on another level below that we’ll get to also.


Some of our accessory boxes follow this guideline by doing analogous colors for the various accessories, with the lighter blue, dark blue, purple combo.

starry night set

Bad yet hilarious example: Analogous colors for too much of your outfit, and it becomes out of control.  You will not send out a good vibe:



Complementary colors are two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel (12 spaces, on this color wheel).

This is where you can start getting creative.  Whether your dominant and secondary colors are complementary, or your dominant and highlight colors, or secondary and highlight colors, this is where things start to become eye popping.  You’ll notice the first picture of the guy with the analogous accessories also had on a blue suit, complementing his look well.

Dark blues and yellows; reds and lighter blues; and for the daring, pinks and greens are all complementary colors:


Triad colors are three colors that are equally spread apart (8 spaces, on this color wheel).

If your dominant color, secondary color, and highlight color are all triads, it’s quite a bit more daring but you’ll definitely get attention.

Possible triads: blue, red, green; pink, yellow, light blue; purple, orange, teal


Who knew the Joker was such a snappy dresser?

Anyways, for the most part, triad colors will be tying in small details together.  For instance, take one of our particularly bold floral boxes from last spring:

floral set triad colors

The dark pink, the light orange, and the light blue all go together and are carried throughout the set on multiple pieces.  The dark pink/borderline purple is on all three items, the tealy looking blue is on two of the three pictured, and the light orange are on a separate two of the three.  Showing the intermingling of colors like that on various pieces is what really sets an outfit off.  See what your wardrobe has and what pieces might go together in ways you hadn’t considered before.

There are definitely other ways to pair colors, especially if you’re not feeling as adventurous as this colorful blog post is, so we’ll revisit this subject of tying your wardrobe together more in the future.

What color combos do you like?  Do you agree or disagree with our post?  Comment here or on Facebook to let us know.  Or, check out other color combinations on our Instagram.

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5 thoughts on “Color Theory and Fashion. How to pair clothes for an eye catching look.

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