Color And Fashion. Color Matching 101: Make Great Clothing Matches by Understanding Color Theory

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Matching clothes to make an outfit may be subjective, but color is an objective reality. That being said, understanding color theory can make life easier when matching clothing. Knowing how colors are created tells us how and why they are related to each other. Since colors that are related are natural matches, understanding this relationship will make mixing and matching clothing easy and fun.

Monochromatic Color-Matching.

The easiest way to match clothes is to use a monochromatic color scheme. A monochromatic color scheme features a lighter and darker version of the same color. Pairing a light blue top with a dark blue bottom can be called monochromatic matching. A color will always match a whiter, greyer, or blacker version of itself.

An outfit utilizing a monochromatic color scheme of a deep yellow top and lighter yellow skirt.


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Analogous Colors and the “Color Bloodline”.

On a color wheel, colors adjacent or next to each other are called analogous. If we think of color as a family bloodline, the closer we are to the “parent” color, the easier the match. For example, when we add a small bit of yellow to red (going clockwise on the color wheel) the result is red-orange. Red-orange and red are easily matched because they are colors of the same color bloodline, that is, the red bloodline that is dominant in both colors.

Red and red-orange are adjacent on the color wheel and are therefore called analogous. That makes them a natural match.

An example of analogous color matching. Blue and purple are close too each other on the color wheel and are therefore an easy match.

Monochromatic and analogous color matching are the most intuitive and therefore the most popular type of color matching. But there are other more compelling methods of matching as well.

Creating Color: The Three Primary Colors. 

Red, yellow, and blue are the three primary colors. With paints and dyes, all colors can theoretically be made from these three primary colors. Mixing red and yellow will give us orange, yellow and blue make green, and blue and red will yield purple (or violet on the color wheel). These resulting colors, orange, green, and purple, are called the secondary colors.

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A Shared Color Bloodline Creates Natural Matches.

Since two primary colors create a secondary color, in the color bloodline, green can be called the offspring of blue and yellow. Green shares half of its color bloodline with blue and the other half with yellow. Colors that share a color bloodline are a natural match.

Practical Examples.

Following the color bloodline, offspring colors are a good match for their parent. A warm green skirt will match any variation of a warm yellow or warm blue top. A cool purple pair of pants will match any variation of a cool blue or red top. A warm orange dress will match with any variation of a red or yellow sweater.

This green skirt and yellow top match each other because green is an offspring of yellow.

Multiple Colors.

All of our theoretical matches have been based on solid colors. But the same theory holds for clothing containing multiple colors. For example, consider the picture below. The blue jeans and the dark blue in the plaid are a simple monochromatic match and the green in the plaid matches the jeans because green is an offspring of blue.

Sometimes clothes will have many colors that make matching confusing. If the colors are distinct, we can pick out one color to match. If the colors are to subtle to pick out, if we take a step back and look from a distance, we will notice an overall color effect. That is the color we should try to match.

Looking at the close-up on the left reveals many colors including red, brown, yellow, blue, and green. We should pick one of these colors to match with this shirt.

Matching Browns and Grays.

Browns and grays are very versatile and look great with many colors. When trying to match browns and grays, identify whether the brown or gray is warm or cool, that is, does it have more of a cool blue in the mix, or a warm yellow or red? It’s always a good idea to match warm with warm and cool with cool. Check out the next article in our Color Matching series to learn how to match complementary colors in your outfits.

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