Friday, October 1, 2010

Colour Theory For Non-Artists

I was recently asked about combining colours in outfits. How is it done? How can I do it? How do I avoid looking like a douchebag?

Many people find colour intimidating. There are so many colours out there! If one doesn’t have an art background or a good eye for such things, how does one know what goes with what?

Luckily, there is a ton of information available online, and I’m going to do my best to dispense some wisdom as well.

When you first start playing around with colour, you might do well to try out neutrals with a “pop” of colour. Think brown pants with a red top, a white summer dress with an aquamarine belt, or a navy suit with a deep indigo dress shirt. It’s a simple way to incorporate colour into outfits without having to worry about whether or not it “matches”. It doesn’t have to match, it just “goes”. Neutrals (black, brown, white, navy, grey, tan) go with everything.

It seems deceptively easy, but a more challenging ways of dressing when it comes to colour is to dress in a monochrome outfit. This is probably easiest to pull off with all black–because of variations in manufacturing, not all navies, browns, or other colours are the same, and often don’t even have the same base colour–but can be done with any colour. Just be careful of looking like Grimace in all-purple! With monochromatic looks, remember that you’re not just looking for one saturation* or brightness of the same colour. A red dress can look very stunning with burgundy tights and a pink bag. It is, in the words of Tim Gunn, a lot of look. Tread carefully in monochrome outfits that are not neutral.

Not a fashion icon.
Complementary colours are colours which are directly across from each other on the colour wheel. Examples would be red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. Again, a little tough to pull off, but totally doable. Let’s say you have a purple sweater dress. Like, exactly the purple that’s above in the colour wheel. Look at the yellow directly across from that–would you wear tights in that colour with that purple dress? Probably not. But if the tights were a toned-down version of that colour, it would work. Like, if the tights had more grey in them. Mmm. Mustard-y.

So, you’re managed neutrals with a pop, monochrome that’s not black and complimentary colours. “Challenge me, Jes,” you say. Fine. I will.

Split complementary.

A split complementary is when you take one colour on the colour wheel (let’s say for the sake of argument in this case, amber), and rather than pairing it with its complementary colour (indigo), you use the two colours on either side of its complementary (blue and purple). That’s right, this outfit has three colours. For example, an amber top with a blue suit and a purple bag and shoes. Hot.

As a side note to the split complementary, you can also combine colours that are one jump away from each other on the colour wheel–take the amber out of the last combo and put blue with purple. (Or red with orange, or yellow with green, etc.)

On the colour wheel, you’ll notice a triangle in the middle. You can draw this triangle between any three colours equidistant on the colour wheel. Drop one of those three colours, and you’ve got yourself a two-thirds colour combination. Blue and red for example, or purple and orange. Again, make sure that it’s not all very saturated colours!

A few other things to remember when it comes to colour theory:

* Light colours emphasise, dark colours de-emphasise. Big butt that you want to hide? A black skirt will be better than a white one.
* Warm colours emphasize, cool colours de-emphasise. Still want to hide that lovely booty? Put it in a navy skirt, not a red one.
* Play around with colour. If you don’t know if things go together, try them out! Be bold in your experiments! If it doesn’t work, there’s always tomorrow!
* If you really don’t know what colours go together, look at existing colour combinations. Look to magazines to see how ads combine colours. Use store windows not to tell you what to buy, but to figure out the colours that they put together. Even nature is full of inspiration!

For more information on this topic, Academichic has four fantastic posts (lessons one through four) on this subject, with awesome illustrations. Do check them out!

Are you experimenting with colour in your wardrobe? Let me know how it’s going in the comments!

*Saturation has to do with the amount of white in a colour. The more white, the less saturated a colour is. Red would be saturated compared to pink. Basically, the purity of a colour.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up! I've always felt that saturation was the most under-utilized, under-appreciated component of the colour theory arsenal, so I'm glad that you gave it some attention ;)