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A Foolproof Guide to Matching Colors in Your Outfits

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colorful elle runway looks
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Let’s face it: Black is the go-to color for almost everyone. Most of us home in on the simple, classic black and white pieces on a rack while completely ignoring colors with names like fuchsia or chartreuse.

Why are bright, fun colors so often overlooked? We are secretly terrified of styling them the wrong way. Every woman has her own set of color matching rules that has been passed down – most of them restrictive, involving more “don’t”s than “do”s. But in reality, you can wear more colors together than you think. This easy guide to matching colors will have you fearlessly rocking ruby red heels without Grandma’s belt-shoe-bag rule ringing in your ear.

Introducing: The Color Wheel

color wheel diagram
Photo Credit

You may recognize this spinning little rainbow (albeit stationary for our purposes) from your many years of mandatory art classes — I know I used it for quite a few art projects back in the day. This circle of color is going to serve as a grown-up guide to matching colors. Trust me, it’s foolproof!

How to Match Colors: The Basics

Below, I’ll show you how to match different hues together for a harmonious ensemble.

Primary Colors

Red, blue, and yellow are known as the primary colors. All other colors come from a combination of these three hues. Primary colors can work great for a monochrome look, which means styling an outfit using only one color. This idea seems basic, but when executed correctly, appears modern and chic. Utilizing only one color lengthens and streamlines the body.

Monochromatic navy blue outfit
Top – Old Navy, Jeans – Macy’s, Shoes – Heels.com, Earrings – Coach, Bracelet – Macy’s, Handbag – Dorothy Perkins

If the monochrome look isn’t your thing and you want to get a little more daring, you can also mix primary colors in one outfit for a mod look, as seen below:

Mod look incorporating the primary colors: red, white, and blue
Tank – J.Crew, Blazer – Dorothy Perkins, Jeans – Miss Selfridge, Clutch – ASOS, Necklace – H&M, Bangle – Dorothy Perkins, Heels – Zara

Complementary Colors

Finding complementary colors is simple: Pick any color on the color wheel (for diversity, try a secondary or tertiary color, i.e. any color that isn’t red, yellow, or blue), and trace your finger directly across the circle to the opposite portion of the wheel. What you will find is that the colors directly line up and appear to be opposites of one another. Some complementary pairings are: orange/blue, violet/yellow, turquoise/maroon.

complementary-outfit
Top – Topshop, Shorts – Topshop, Sandals – DSW, Bag – Nordstrom, Earrings – Zara, Necklace – Modcloth

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are even easier to find on the wheel than complementary colors. Just pick any one color on the wheel, then choose the color to the right or the left of the original — you have found your palette. Hues that are similar to one another on the color wheel create a harmonious and cohesive look. Below, I created an outfit using red and pink – which many say don’t go together, but can actually be combined for a fabulously unexpected look.

Analgous colored outfit: Pink and red
Dress – Forever 21, Shoe – Charlotte Russe, Bangles – Forever 21, Ring – Miss Selfridge, Belt – Topshop, Clutch – Debenhams

Accent Color

So you’ve mastered the color wheel. You know how to pair a killer lemon heel with a navy romper. Sometimes, though, situations require more subdued and conservative looks. For example, as much as you would love to wear your summery brights year round, your boss isn’t exactly a fan of the color wheel (boo).

When you have to tone down the rainbow, try adding just a pop of color to your ensemble. Keep a neutral palette by using black, navy, or cream, and add just a hint of color in the right place. Fashion is all about self-expression and versatility.

Work outfit featuring an accent color of teal blue
Top – Topshop, Blazer – Topshop, Skirt – Topshop, Shoe – Payless, Bag – Banana Republic, Bracelet – Kohls, Earrings – Nordstrom

One Final Tip About Wearing Color

Before we go, I just want to leave you with a little reminder, in case you’re doubting your abilities to wear different hues.

Whatever you do, stop saying to yourself: “Well, black is supposed to be slimming. I cannot be caught dead in orange. Purple dress, purple shoes, purple flowers. (Oh my!)” Try refreshing your wardrobe with a little color, and a little confidence – you can do it! In reality, you can wear any color you want – it’s all about finding your most flattering shades and being willing to experiment.

Thoughts?

Do any of you have color matching rules your mother passed down to you? Do you think you only look good in certain colors based on skin tone or body type? Will you try to add more color in your wardrobe in the future? Let me know what you think!

Posted on on July 27, 2011 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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118 Responses to “A Foolproof Guide to Matching Colors in Your Outfits”

  1. 1
    July 27th, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    <3

  2. 2
    July 27th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    This is great!! I never know what colours go together and this has really hepled! :)
    Thanks

  3. 3
    July 27th, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    This left me wanting more! loved it!

  4. 4
    July 27th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Great article and cute outfits! I usually just stick to black and grays but this definitely encourages me to try adding some color into my outfits. Thx!

  5. 5
    July 27th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Great article! Super thorough. I def. learned a few things :)

  6. 6
    July 27th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I love the color wheel you included! Great article and a lot of great tips and explanations !

  7. 7
    July 27th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Fantabulous(: !! Thank you for doing this! It’s really helpful

  8. 8
    July 27th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    this is really awesome!! I will definitely be referencing this post in the future. I never studied art at school so while I know a bit about the colour wheel, this really helped. I love the teal and pink outfit, and I love just the mention of a navy romper with a yellow heel!!
    Great job, Lexi!!

    Charlotte

  9. 9
    July 27th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I love this! I also never took art so I never learned the whole color thing, not that I was totally clueless with colors, I just love this breakdown.

  10. 10
    July 27th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I needed this yesterday I had this fushia color pants wore a white top and red shoes

  11. 11
    July 27th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    This is wonderful advice! I am getting more and more brave with mixing bright colors that I never thought would go together. A reference to the color wheel can really help a girl try something new. Also love that blue monochromatic look – I would wear it in a heartbeat.

  12. 12
    July 27th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    By far one of the best posts on this site! I’ve always heard that you should look to the color wheel for outfit inspiration, but was never quite sure how to actually do it. Your post showed how simple yet effective this technique can be. Great job!

  13. 13
    July 27th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    One quick question: How do you buy Zara clothing items if you live in the US?

  14. 14
    July 27th, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    This is awesome! thank you!

  15. 15
    July 27th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    This is by far my favorite post on this site…EVER! Each outfit is gorgeous! Wow!!

  16. 16
    July 27th, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! The color wheel thing was actually new to me. Thank you! I’d love it, if you can post more of this topic.

  17. 17
    July 27th, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I love the color wheel idea. I’m also a graphic designer and the wheel is on everything!

    (Sorry for my english)

  18. 18
    July 28th, 2011 at 1:22 am

    I LOVEEE this post. I recently cut my hair off to go natural and because I no longer had long hair to hide behind I’ve had to spice up, yet simplify my style and have found myself re-working my clothes, cutting shorts, throwing earth tones and brights together and wearing multiple neutrals. For instance for work tomorrow, I’m wearing a casual lace knit LBD, a bright red shrunken sweater, a cream purse and cream alligator print heels. It looks perfectly sophisticated and elegant, yet with an edge just like me :)

  19. 19
    July 28th, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Amazing post!! This was such a great article!

  20. 20
    July 28th, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Love the complimentary combo and the analogous combo. Both are super summery and are a little more out of the box. Great inspiration as always. :)

  21. 21
    July 28th, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Brilliant article, very helpful! :)

  22. 22
    July 28th, 2011 at 8:31 am

    wow… love love love your post… great outfits…!

  23. 23
    July 28th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Great article! The color combinations are gorgeous! <3

  24. 24
    July 28th, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    @Morgan: You can buy Zara clothes from their website.

    I loved this! Exactly what I needed, why didn’t I think about it before? Thank you!

  25. 25
    July 29th, 2011 at 12:05 am

    I put the color wheel to everything I wear. It’s ingrained in my brain because of being in formal art classes since I was in 5th grade til I graduated high school. Still doing art after college! I need something yellow in my closet! Always wanted a yellow clutch. And those blue booties are fab.

  26. 26
    July 29th, 2011 at 2:22 am

    heyy ladies! sorry super delayed im on vacay currently :)

    @Shannon: thank you soo much! keep following my articles! I change it up every week :)

    @Morgan: here’s a link to the Zara US website which has the same styles http://www.zara.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/home/us/en/zara-S2011-s

    @Bee: thank you soo much! a lot more articles to come!!

    @Nessa Darling: That sounds terrific! I always say that fashion is about self expression not necessarily for garnering outward attention. I love when i compose an outfit that just screams Lexi-ness

    @Elizabeth: Instead of being an art major, I just use all the elements in my everyday life. It works out quite nicely ;)

  27. 27
    July 29th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Awesome article. And so on time as I was really out of new ideas. And I like the top in the last outfit. :)

  28. 28
    July 29th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Right, thanks for the link to the their website! I’m just not sure on how to add their clothes to a cart and buy them off their website.

  29. 29
    August 11th, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I actually paired an aquamarine silk cami with a blue skirt and the result was beautiful!! I love color-blocking :)

  30. 30
    September 17th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    besides your rules (very well explained by the way), I think of metallic as neutral colors.

    Also, how do you prefer to use your handbag? as a twist or neutral in the outfit?

  31. 31
    September 28th, 2011 at 2:00 am

    great article

  32. 32
    November 24th, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    all i want to know is what colors go with what colors is that to hard to ask the color wheels are confusing

  33. 33
    January 13th, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I really like colors. It shows that we are living in a colorful world. And God is also beautiful and colorful. I appreciate your article. thank you so much.

    Busybee.

  34. 34
    January 28th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    What is the name of the Bracelet?

  35. 35
    March 11th, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I understand the color wheel but I want to pair dark purple skinnies with a teal tank, does this go? And if so, what heel and belt go with? Thanks :)

  36. 36
    March 25th, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    ive bought a colbalt blue dress for a wedding but dont know what colour accessories to put with it any ideas

  37. 37
    March 29th, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I have found that burgundy (the deep red wine colour, not the plum tones) goes amazingly well with orange. For example, am wearing a burgundy velvet jacket, burgundy suede boots, with soft-as-butter Italian leather gloves in a ‘burnt’ orange colour, looks fabulous.

  38. 38
    April 26th, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Wow! Thanks so much! i really needed this in order to brave the new world of color this summer!

    XOXO

  39. 39
    August 17th, 2012 at 3:10 am

    A seriously helpful article. I’ve just started experimenting with colors and this newly bought turquoise skirt has been killing me!

  40. 40
    September 9th, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    what matches a dark green hat?

  41. 41
    September 18th, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    What about grey?

  42. 42
    November 14th, 2012 at 9:24 am

    You have NO idea how much you just helped me! Thank you. I’ve never had the color wheel explained the way you did and it makes so much sense. Thanks for boosting my confidence and thoughts on color!

  43. 43
    November 15th, 2012 at 10:07 am

    I find it rather awkward coming here for color matching, but it helps.

  44. 44
    November 25th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    What if u wear brown boots

  45. 45
    November 26th, 2012 at 3:57 am

    hey there…i would like to ask all fashion gurus a question
    i have this dark blue trouser and light blue slim fit shirt
    now the problem is that i dont know which type of jacket and what color would go with the combination
    pllzzzzzz help me out

  46. 46
    January 12th, 2013 at 1:39 am

    Very informative post.
    I like this color wheel so much. It is really helpful for everyone who love to wear colored and patterned dresses.\

    Thank you

  47. 47
    February 20th, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    can you send me a colorwheel to combine my wardrobe or sell me one

  48. 48
    February 28th, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Hi,

    Great post! Definitely a go-to-guide for me!
    the image for “Complementary Colors” is missing. Could you upload it again? Would love to see the outfit you assembled. :)

  49. 49
    February 28th, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Jasmine – The image is appearing fine for me. Can you try refreshing the page? Are you seeing an error message or anything? Let me know so I can troubleshoot.

  50. 50
    April 16th, 2013 at 6:18 am

    My ‘fashion personality’ is usually all dresses with the occasional tunic/skirt/romper.
    Since I became fashionably aware, I am most seen in neutral/peach/light brown outfits and bold, usually solid color shoes. I love wearing this neutral chiffon dress with royal purple heels. It’s the one outfit that isn’t overpowered by my long (goes to my lower back), thick, Portugal hair.
    This color wheel will really help me! I can already picture it- aquamarine shaded chiffon sleevles tunic/dress(slightly high-lo), small strip green belt, peach-ish leggings, and my neutral full toed heeled short boots. And I think I’d put my hair up into a super high pony tail, going a bit samurai. Haha, now let me find the money to buy it all. x)

  51. 51
    June 30th, 2013 at 4:37 am

    I would be great to include the triads color, too. The 3 colors that form the TRIANGLE. You can also wear those colors.
    Great post. Thank you!!

  52. 52
    November 13th, 2013 at 12:51 am

    I have this really pretty beige sweater, but I don’t know what color skirt to buy that will match! I would really appreciate some help!!! Thank you sooo much!!

  53. 53
    November 27th, 2013 at 9:38 am

    My son always wore unmatching colors and he was upset. Now he matches colors his way and he likes it!!! Thank you!

  54. 54
    January 9th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    this is very important for those who don’t know how to dress

  55. 55
    January 13th, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Was brought up with “Blue and Green should never bee seen unless theres something inbetween” :P

    But this seems much better :D

  56. 56
    January 15th, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    i dont think i look good in dark blue, because of my dirty blonde, slightly reddish hair, or at least not a light and a dark blue together

  57. 57
    January 19th, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    You can’t go wrong with this guide

  58. 58
    February 4th, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    This is a fantastic article,especially the color wheel.Great job well done.

  59. 59
    March 15th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    i dnt knw hw to mix clothes…..i need some advice

  60. 60
    March 23rd, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    This helped me soo much. I now have a VERY clear idea of what colors to choose. Thank you very much. :) No longer will have to listen people tell me “You’re not matching!” THXX

  61. 61
    May 9th, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    How can I own my color wheel

  62. 62
    May 20th, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    I want my wedding colors to be brown, peach and lilac.

  63. 63
    June 26th, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    What color matches with green pant?

  64. 64
    September 4th, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I thank God for this site..can I use yellow with blue

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