Developing Personal Style – Wardrobe Color Stories

dress-form
A bit of my wardrobe “color story” (don’t worry, I don’t wear this all at once…)

Note – browser and computer screens display colors in different ways. If you look at these images and think I must be color blind because my descriptions are way off, please consider that the color display may not be accurate.

In fashion, color stories are themes that designers and retailers put together to tell a story, but in colors. If a collection has a military theme, the color story will most likely be something like brown, khaki, and army green. If a collection has a summery island get-away theme, the color story will most likely be something like turquoise blue, emerald green, and sun-kissed orange. The colors will mix and match well with one another and set a certain mood.

Now let’s relate this to my wardrobe. Part of the reason I got fed up with my clothes was…nothing ever matched! I would go shopping and fall in love with items in a dizzying array of colors, but when I got them home, nothing went with anything else I already owned. I didn’t have a color story…I had a rainbow, and no idea what to do with it.

In an effort to build a more cohesive wardrobe, I started paying attention to the colors I really liked wearing, and bought future items in those colors, as well as the colors I thought mixed well.

For example, my favorite color is red, my favorite neutral is grey, and I think purples look good on my skin tone. I also really love saturated tones when it comes to my colors (pastels are not for me). I started focusing on buying clothing and accessories in colors that were close to, or pair nicely with those colors. I also looked through my photo inspirations to see what color combinations I was naturally gravitating toward:

Colors
My basic color palette: dark red, dark purple, navy, grey

Notice how the saturation of these colors are very similar. I find it easier to match colors of a similar saturation (dark with dark, light with light), so for my wardrobe, I tend to focus on darker, saturated colors.

Now, don’t think those are the only colors I buy. I buy other colors, but in smaller amounts, and I consider if they’ll go with my basic color palette before purchasing.

Disclaimer – These are only tips and not hard-fast rules. If you’re completely lost about color, then these tips might help get you started. If you’re a color-mixing pro, you may disagree, and that’s fine. Wear colors any way that makes you feel fabulous! :)

So…how do you choose which colors to pick?
Here is where the class I took on color theory comes in handy…

Analogous colors:
Any colors that are side-by-side on the color wheel

Analogous
Book: The Elements of Color, Johannes Itten

These colors are the easiest to mix and match and look great together. They have the least amount of contrast to one another, so are often described as being calming and pleasing to look at. If you’re going to try color-blocking, analogous colors are usually the best for this. Analogous colors are what I tend to focus on when putting together outfits, for example:

analogous
This magenta blouse (red with a little bit of purple) may not be totally analogous to the red-orange necklace (red with a little bit of orange), but is so close it works

So, if one of your favorite colors to wear is blue, look at the colors right next to blue on the color wheel. Green and violet will mix well, as well as the in-between colors of blue-green and blue-violet. Stock up on those colors in a variety of clothes and accessorizes, and then you can mix and match with your favorite color much easier!

Complementary colors:
Any two colors that are completely opposite each other on the color wheel

complementary

Complementary colors have the most contrast to each other, and can be a bit shocking when paired in large amounts, like color-blocking. Examples of complementary colors are the red and green associated with Christmas, and almost any sports team jersey (like yellow and purple…go Lakers!). Unless you’re a color mixing pro, I’d stick to pairing complementary colors in small amounts, like jewelry, for a “pop of color” to an outfit.

complementary
A pinky-orange is complementary to a blue-green
flowers
Even nature tends to use contrasting colors as a “pop” accessory

So, if one of your favorite colors is blue, and you want to add “pops” of color to your outfits, look at the complimentary color, orange. One of my favorite color “pop” pairings is turquoise (a shade of blue-green) and coral (a shade of red-orange).

Monochromatic colors:
The same color, in different tints and shades of lightness or darkness

monocromatic

Dressing all in one color can be pretty boring, but not if you do the same color, in a variety of tints and shades.

monocromatic
Purple in three different tints and shades

This is how I learned to branch out from all my dark, saturated colors. :)

Color temperature:
The feeling of warmth or coolness that a color gives the viewer

Things that are hot are usually red, yellow or orange (like fire or super hot peppers). Seeing these colors remind of us of things that are hot, so those colors are called “warm”. Looking at warm colors can make us feel alert, energized and yes, even warmer. I love wearing warm colors, which might have something to do with me being a leo. ;)

Things that are cold are usually blue, green or violet (like water or grass). Seeing these colors remind of us of things that are cold, so those colors are called “cool”. Looking at cool colors can make us feel calm, relaxed, and cooler. This is why a lot of doctor’s offices are painted blue!

It’s more pleasing to the eye to pair warm colors with warm, and cool colors with cool…but the really great thing about color temperature is you can find warm colors that are a little “cool” and cool colors that are a little “warm”. Take my red Chanel handbag for example:

Chanel

It’s certainly red, but it’s not a crazy bright, flaming red. The color is toned down by a little bit of blue in the red color, which makes it a little darker and “cools” down the red. This “cool” red is now easier to pair with cooler colors, like purples and blues.

Color Tips:

- Color can be very subjective, and everyone views colors and those that are pleasant or beautiful together, differently. Wear the colors that make you feel good and beautiful, regardless of what’s in “fashion”.

- Are there colors that people tell you look great on you? Stock up and wear them near your face, like blouses and scarves.

- Do you love a color, but it’s not a good color for your complexion? You can still wear it, just wear it away from your face, like in a skirt, handbag, shoes or belt.

- Need color inspiration? I love the site Wear Palettes, that organizes outfits from Lookbook.nu by their colors and gives you a handy color palette for each one.

- Advanced color user? Kileen over at Cute and Little hosts the Color Brigade.

 

Read More Developing Personal Style »

Does your wardrobe have a color story?

38 Comments

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Diana

    Maybe that’s why I like your blog—you have the same color taste as I do. My closet is largely full of those exact colors. One of these days I would like to buy more yellow-orange shades, but it’s tricky for me to find the right shade. I also rarely wear pastels. I think in general saturated colors are more flattering—although sometimes I see a pretty, bright pastel, like mint green. I think my love for color came from doing a lot of gardening at a young age. I definitely dress according to my mood, and the colors usually match my mood. I can’t wear gray though, at least not near my face. I love your gray Cole Haans, though!

    • Reply July 14, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Thanks Diana! I definitely like the style of other people who tend to wear the same colors I do…call me biased I guess! :)

      I’ve tried wearing those soft blush and tan colors that some other bloggers wear (like 9to5Chic) but just can’t pull it off the same way. I don’t think my skin tone works as well against those colors. And my mood CERTAINLY effects what colors I want to wear. There are some days when only mustard yellow will do. :)

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Anonymous

    This is a fantastic blog entry–I certainly haven’t thought of my wardrobe in these terms before. 

    I don’t think I have a general color scheme, but I do know there are colors I don’t have or stay away from (orange and golden yellows, for example). I love pairing corals with turquoise (I actually did it in today’s outfit–post later tonight!) and navys with yellow and I recently paired an olive green dress with purple. I suppose I’m best at mixing complementary colors…but I never saw it that way. Thanks for sharing!

    Whitney

    whitneybetweenthelines.blogspot.com

    • Reply July 14, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Thanks Whitney! I hope you can find some more fun color pairings in your closet now.

      I can only wear red-orange or orange-yellow…but those bright oranges and yellows look ick on me. ;P

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Couturecoco5

    This is SO useful and clear – thank you! I adore coral and jade too and never really understood why til now!

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    cadrommy

    This is a great post! I just realized the other day that I have NO red in my closet. I just started picking up a couple purple pieces, but I have have tons of blue.  I’ve been trying to incorporate brighter colors in my wardrobe this summer – mostly because I love the color blocking trend. I’ve mostly been pairing analogous colors – I have another post going up later today with an analogous pairing.

    Up until this summer, I really didn’t have a lot of bright colors in my wardrobe but I had a lot of very neutral, black and white. Pieces that I’m able to mix and match which is how my wardrobe seems to be so extensive, but then I always struggle with adding that ‘pop’ of color. Now,  it’s not so hard! I even bought a pair of hot pink wedges which is so unlike me! They go with pretty much anything. I read in a magazine article that a brightly colored shoe can actually be a great staple item, and I think my pink wedges are that. They add color to an all black or white outfit but also complement greens, blues and oranges. :)

    • Reply July 14, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      I remember reading somewhere that purple is a universally flattering color, and once I started buying and wearing it, I decided I really liked how it looked on me (and most other people as well!). And it goes well with blue, so maybe that will encourage you to buy some more! :)

      Bright shoes are great because they have some distance from the rest of your outfit (all the way at the bottom of your feet), so they can be a little more outrageous. My bright red shoes are my favorite to pair with plan black or white outfits, so I bet your pink shoes are fantatstic for that as well!

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Really Petite

    Great post Kelly! Since blogging- I have def branched out from my grays, earthtones/neutrals:)

    I’m loving color now that I have some to play around with!

    I always think of you when I see red…hehehe

    • Reply July 14, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Yes, I had to be mindful not to become the “crazy red lady”! I also have to buy handbags in more colors because somehow I managed to collect quite a few red bags, which isn’t the best for every occasion. :P

      • Reply July 14, 2011

        Really Petite

        I had to reply to this as I am STILL laughing  at the “crazy red lady”…..:D

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    AUBS*

    so educational.  I learn so much from this blog. 

    wanna know what I don’t like to wear?  Colors that remind me of holidays.  So I’ll try my best to fight against wearing green & red, orange & black, red & pink, etc.

    • Reply July 14, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      I hear ya! I just can’t wear holiday colors. And the inner immature grade-schooler in me can’t wear yellow and brown together (ew…poop & pee!). :P

      …or black and yellow (bumble bee)…

      …or black and red (6th grade arch-nemesis used to wear black pants & a red top ALL THE TIME)…

      • Reply July 14, 2011

        Michelle

        Lol!! I agree!  Or red and yellow…condiments!!  One of my big crushes in middle/high school insisted that blue and green did not match!  Pshh!! I wish I would have known then to tell him they were analogous! :p

        Black and red also reminds me of a Hot Topic kind of thing…just very high school-ish to me.  And goth…which is probably why I think high school. 

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Michelle

    Love this post! I love complimentary the most.

    Great tip, especially the third.  I was just talking to my mother-in-law about  colors while shopping today…there are some that I love but do not think look good on me, so I like to buy accessories or bottoms in that color.

    Btw…so many cute things at J. Crew today…I was thinking of all the blogging ladies!  I was birthday shopping for my husband, so I did not shop for myself much…just found a super discounted skirt for work.

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Sometimes if a color isn’t good for your complexion, you can find a shade of it that is. Most really bright, orangey reds are not good near my face, but cooler, darker reds can sometimes work. Its a lot of trial and error. :P

      Oh J.Crew…I want you all…

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    Flin0518

    Wow!  Great story and very helpful resource - perhaps I should go through my closet and start paring down!!

  • Reply July 14, 2011

    New Petite

    Great Post! I have to admit..Thanks to you ladies and the blog.. Im crossing boundaries (in a good way hopefully, LOL!) when it comes to dressing up… Pairing stuff Ive never done before and definitely more aware of what actually looks good on me rather than what I think looks good on me! 

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Thanks! Taking outfit photos certainly help to see if things are working together or not too. There are times where I feel like my outfit is great, and then I see it in photos and go, “Ick! What was I thinking?!”

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Callandra

    Very interesting!  I have to admit that color theory was never a strong point for me.  I’m definitely more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-colors type of girl ;)  Lol

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Some people are lucky to inherit a natural eye for color, and I’d say you’re definitely one of them! I’ve never been a very creative person (I worked in science for pete’s sake! Talk about non-creative!), so it always helps me to see the “science” behind creative things to get my feet wet. I think I’ve developed an eye for color recently, but I’m still uncomfortable with more daring color pairings.

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    PetiteAsianGirl

    I’ve identified AlterationsNeeded with red ever since I started reading years ago (maybe it was that lovely red Burb trench hmm, followed by the luscious red Chanel). I loved reading about color theory in this book my bf’s mom gave me because it made me realize pairings that I would never come up with on my own, like analgous colors. These color combos are now some of my favorites!

    And oh…our fuscia br silk top is an oldie but goodie…I just wish it didn’t flare out so much at the bottom so I can shove it into pencil skirts!

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      You would really like a color theory class! I took a cheap summer course through a local community college for fashion undergrads. Our teacher was kooky & wore crazy art-teacher outfits, which made it even better.

      Re: the BR silk top…it’s that darn side-zipper that stiffly pokes out of anything I try to tuck it into. :P

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Trendy Butterfly

    Your blog is amanzing
    Visit: http://trendybutterfly.blogspot.com/

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Sam

    wow, this is so clear and simple.  I always despair that my clothes don’t match – and the funny thing is i am a painter, so i know these colour charts very well.  I just never think to use colour theory in my wardrobe.

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      LOL! That’s too funny! You must have an amazing sense of color already. If you use your sense of color from being a painter, on your clothing, you’ll have the most amazing wardrobe! :)

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Kileen

    this is such a great post and very helpful for people who don’t wear a lot of color.  and thank you so much for the shout-out!

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Of course Kileen! I couldn’t talk about color without mentioning the Color Brigade. :)

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    SugarNikita

    Love this post! Color is such a big part of who I am…I am drawn to bright colors! Unfortunately, my extremely fair skin and bright colors do not always go hand-in-hand. But I also have a lot of bright eye makeup to make up for it. :)

    Blue is my favorite color. Periwinkle is a good color on me, and my wardrobe tends to reflect that.

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Ahhh…color in clothes, I can do. Color in make-up, I just can’t figure out. My eye-shadow collection is very sparse and boring. :P

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Petite on a Penny

    Such a helpful post! I have a terrible habit of picking the same 4 or so colors for everything that I wear, so I think this will help me learn how to branch out a bit. Also love that you’re a Lakers fan. :)

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      I’m an LA girl, born & raised…gotta love the Lakers! LOL!

      I know what you mean about picking the same 4 colors. I have to break my bad habit of buying red handbags! It’s seriously becoming a problem. :P

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Sunshine

    this post is AMAZING, kelly! so well thought out, beautifully written and super duper informative! i feel like i just finished reading a research article, but a really fun one haha. thank you!

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Thank you!!! I guess that’s the science nerd in me coming out. We love “researching” things. LOL!

  • Reply July 15, 2011

    Anonymous

    Excellent post, so informative! Now I can organize my clothing better (I think my color story is closer to the complementary colors. I wear a lot of blues, reds and greens. Disorganized I know. )

    • Reply July 16, 2011

      Alterations Needed

      Oh! Get some navy blue! It goes great with lighter shades of blue, is one of my favorite neutrals to pair with red, and looks “preppy” when paired with green. :)

  • Reply July 28, 2011

    Laura Frost

    I’m with you – I love, love, love deeply saturated colors and jewel tones. I linked to this post on my blog recently. It is so well done and helpful. Thanks!

  • Reply May 2, 2013

    Felicity

    This is the most useful guidance I have come across re: using colours to create a cohesive wardrobe. Thank you!

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