Color Percentages in Your Wardrobe

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What’s it like to have a well-balanced wardrobe, in terms of colors?

Well, picture it this way: you get up, you stumble through your morning routine, and you open up your closet. Eyes closed, you grab yourself a shirt, a jacket, and a pair of trousers.

If your wardrobe is pretty well-balanced, the odds are better than even that you’ve got a matching outfit. If there’s a good chance that you don’t have a matching outfit, you’re maybe leaning too heavily toward hard-to-match colors, and need to add some more basic staples.

How to Balance Your Wardrobe – By the Numbers

color-percentages-mens-wardrobe

The chart above is a breakdown of the colors, by percentage, that we’d expect to see in a well-balanced wardrobe for an adult man who dresses primarily in Western business and casual clothing.

Now, this is obviously not a hard and fast set of rules. Don’t start adding up the number of gray items you own and dividing by the total amount of clothes in your wardrobe or anything like that.

We’re talking about general guidelines here. Broadly speaking, your life is going to be easier if you’ve got a lot of white shirts and only one or two brightly-colored ones, versus having a lot of vivid colors and not much white.

Some of these colors are going to cluster more around specific items (your grays, for example, will mostly be suits and jackets), while other spread through the whole wardrobe. We’ll take you through the color families one by one and look at the clothing that’s usually found in them — and at why you might what more or less of that color in your wardrobe.

Watch the video below for a quick summary of color and the percentages that should be in your wardrobe.

20% – White

whiteWhite is going to make up the bulk of your wardrobe for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, it’s the most formal dress shirt color. If you don’t own at least one good, plain white dress shirt, get one — that’s your go-to whenever you’re wearing suit-and-tie formality for a “serious business” kind of event.

White-based dress shirts with some light patterns are going to account for another good chunk of space. They’re not quite as formal, but have a little more individual style, making them a staple for wearing with any sort of suit or jacket.

Then there’s the basics of white cotton: it gets used for T-shirts, undershirts, underwear, athletic socks, and just about every other piece of what you might call “style neutral” clothing — stuff that’s worn purely for practical purposes. And we all need some of those, so even if you’re not taking them into consideration when you dress nicely, plan on having some plain white pieces lying around the house. They’re cheap, interchangeable, and easy to bleach clean when they stain.

Some men may also include a few pairs of white trousers or a white jacket in their collection. These are generally made of light material for summer wear. (Traditionalists will tell you to only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day.) White shoes are also not unheard of, particularly the traditionally Southern “white bucks.”

gray18% – Gray

Gray breaks down into different shades: light, medium, and charcoal.

Charcoal gray is a default business suit color. If you’re going to only own one suit, charcoal’s probably your best bet, and men who own multiple suits often have several variants (pinstripes, etc.)

Light and medium gray are often used for more casual suits, frequently with patterns (glen check, etc.). They also show up in odd jackets and trousers (unmatched), ranging across the whole spectrum from almost white to charcoal.

Less common pieces include collared shirts, socks (to match gray trousers), and the occasional piece of leather (boots, belts, etc.). Gray sweaters are also not uncommon, and many are made with undyed wool from naturally gray sheep.

14% – Navy Blue

navyblueWe listed navy separate from the other blues because it has a more prominent role in business clothing: navy blue, like charcoal, is essentially a “default” color for both suits and blazers.

In terms of formality it plays an identical role to charcoal gray. Practically speaking, you’re more likely to see a navy blazer than a charcoal one, and probably a little more likely to see a charcoal suit than a navy one, but there’s no rule for or against either one.

Apart from suits, blazers, and the occasional pair of odd trousers, navy doesn’t show up much. Sweaters, matching socks for navy trousers, and the occasional casual shirt might add a bit more navy, but for the most part yours will be concentrated in the jackets section of your wardrobe.

black13% – Black

A lot of men own black suits, which is fine — it’s a starker look than charcoal or navy, and purists will insist that the color is reserved for funerals and formal wear, but these days it’s a pretty reasonable thing to have in your wardrobe.

If you do own formalwear, that will also obviously be black: the jacket, trousers, tie, and generally the waist covering (cummerbund or waistcoat).

But for a lot of men black is going to be a casual color as well as a business or formal one. Black jeans are quite common, as are black shirts, ranging from dress shirts and polos on down to T-shirts.

Black socks, while they’re sold almost everywhere as “business socks,” aren’t actually that useful unless you wear a lot of black trousers. You’re better off matching the color of your trousers, or going to something that’s a deliberate and colorful contrast.

Finally, black is, of course, the default “dress” color for leather items. Shoes, belts, and watchbands in black are fairly necessary if you find yourself in any sort of business dress situation.

blue12% – Blue

The various shades of blue (dark, light, sky, etc.) outside of navy cross over into most sections of a man’s wardrobe.

You’ve got your blue jeans, a basic casual staple that can come in anything from deep indigo to plain light blue.

Then you’ve got blue dress shirts, a wardrobe staple usually done in a soft cloth like chamois. With a soft material and a button-down collar they’re quite casual; stiffened up a bit with a point or spread collar they become suitable for the more relaxed end of business dress.

Blue (like most of the remaining colors) works fine as an accent color in pieces like neckties and pocket squares. It’s occasionally also seen in leathers, particularly shoes.

brown10% – Brown

If you include khaki on the spectrum, brown is probably the most significant player in the casual and dress-casual wardrobe.

It’s relatively neutral, which makes it easy to match, and shows up in jackets, trousers, and casual suits. Brown is also the primary color for leather accents outside of business dress. Brown shoes can range from dark, plain styles suitable for wear with suits on down to casual work boots and elaborate wingtip brogues.

The only place you’re not likely to see brown much is in shirts. They exist, but they’re not that common, and don’t flatter most men.

green7% – Green

From this point on, the colors we’re looking at are less likely to be used in “core” pieces like the suits and jackets, and more likely to appear as accents.

Green is probably the most likely to still have a role as a core piece. Olive suits and trousers are not uncommon, and on the east coast the forest green blazer is worn as an alternative to the navy blazer (with clear prep-school origins).

Apart from those uses, however, and as an accent color in the pattern on a white-based dress shirt, green will mostly appear as the base color for neckties and pocket squares. It may also crop up in overcoats, hats, and in corduroys or other soft trousers for the colorfully-inclined.

purple2 % – Purple

Lavender has enjoyed a period of popularity as an accent, showing up in ties, shirts, and even the pinstripes on business suits. It’s largely used as a more playful alternative to plain business blues.

Darker purples make good shirts for men with dark skin, and often show up on ties and pocket squares as well. Lighter purple is sometimes used as a stripe or check color on white dress shirts.

red2% – Red

Red pants and jackets are only for the truly bold, or for marching band leaders.

The most widely-used subcategory here will be pink garments, with pink or pink-striped dress shirts showing up fairly regularly in business-casual wardrobes.

Some leathers could also be classified as reds — cordovan and burgundy shoes and belts straddle the gap between red and brown, with some leaning more heavily to the red side. The brighter the red, the flashier (and less formal) the shoe, making it striking but less flexible in the wardrobe overall.

yellow1% – Yellow

Not an easy color to match, especially for lighter-skinned men, yellow is mostly used in dress shirts.

Bright yellow trousers, usually denim or corduroy, do sometimes show up in modern hipster and urban styles. If you really like them, there’s no law against having them in your closet, but if you own more than one pair it might be time to re-evaluate your style.

Deeper gold tones are a little more flexible, and are a common choice for neckties.

orange1 % – Orange

Very uncommon as anything but a necktie or pocket square, and generally used in moderation even there, orange does occasionally show up as a shirt color for dark-skinned men. You’ll know if you’ve got the colors to carry it off — it looks terrible on anyone who doesn’t.

Flexibility

All of these numbers are meant to be taken with a little flexibility.

Are you doing it “wrong,” for example, if you have more navy blue clothes in your wardrobe than gray? Obviously not.

But this chart will hopefully give you a basic tool for organizing and for planning your purchases. The more balanced your wardrobe colors are, the easier you’ll find it to make matched outfits — whether you’re planning them carefully or just grabbing clothes at random in the morning.

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About Antonio

Antonio Centeno is President of ATailoredSuit.com and the founder of RealMenRealStyle.com. He has created over 700 articles & videos on men's style, blogs over at the Art of Manliness, and is the creator of the internet's best selling personal presentation course - A Man's Guide To Timeless Style. Antonio has studied clothing design in London, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. He is a former US Marine with an MBA from UT Austin and a BA from Cornell College. He loves to hear from old friends and make new ones.

  • harry

    great article and very insightful, Antonio !

  • dclomentatur

    my own feeling is that burgundy is a VERY useful color, particularly in business attire as for example when wearing a burdundy v–neck sweater with traditional grey and blue suits. without burgundy, things get very matchy-matchy. i personally wear more burgundy than all the colors on your chart that start and are below brown. i think the exception might be ties, which for me oftentimes include not just blues, blacks and burgundy but also yellow, gold and red. a red tie is a classic. brown suits are for me simply unacceptable unless you are ronald reagan. that being said, brown has a firm place in a causal setting and in fact is the color of several classics, for example, camel sports jackets and tan chinos. green is a VERY difficult color for a great many men to pull off as it oftentimes makes the person’s pallour look sickly and so i would put it at the very bottom of the list together with orange and purple. although i have a great purple silk sweater, i would say that solid purple is almost an impossibilty though paired with navy and black in a vertically striped shirt (dressy casual), it can be amazing. orange for me is simply impossible. btw, your videos and written materials are superb. ps i am a lawyer which may explain my conservative opinions.

  • Gene

    I like to use a lot of color in my shirts and ties, they add different looks to my grey, black, navy, and brown solid suits. All I do is pick a different colored solid shirts and match a lively striped or patterended tie that goes with the shirt and wear it with my classic suits for a different look. I use autum colors in the fall and pastels in the spring and summer for versitillity and the suits never look old. I get more compliments from friends and family members about how well groomed I look. I just add new ties occasionally to feel like I have a new outfit. Color is a major part of my accessories. But be sure you pair similar color shirts with the suit you plan to wear, or the look will be disasterous. Ivory shirts work well with brown suits and berry colors look great with greys. Just experiment before you deceide what to wear by pairing shirt and ties with different suits. You can tell what looks good together and what is questionable.

  • Michael Tovarez

    Antonio, isn’t it true a wardrobe should be 100% maroon and white?

    Sincerely,
    Texas Aggie

  • menstyle

    Hi Aggie,

    Perhaps using a little more color would be nice. :)

    Respectfully,

    Antonio

  • menstyle

    Thank you Gene, and yes using a variety of color is a nice way to liven up an outfit.

    Respectfully,

    Antonio

  • menstyle

    Thank you for the kind words sir! Your choices are not conservative at all, it’s nice that you add some color in your wardrobe.

    Respectfully,

    Antonio

  • menstyle

    Thank you sir!

  • Kai

    Great guide. I recently find that I have mostly black, whites and navys in my wardobe without any real accents other than the occasional pink. Time to liven up my wardrobe.

  • menstyle

    Thank you Kai!

  • lendyl

    Thank you so much for this very informative and practical guide. I think I will need some more whites in my wardrobe.

  • menstyle

    You’re welcome Lendyl!

  • vicsuz

    Men are very loyal to black,grey,brown. Men need to be more adventurous when it comes to the color. I wear some of the most magnificent colors, olives, bordeaux, aubergines…

  • menstyle

    You’re right. A lot of men are afraid to wear color but there really is nothing to be afraid of. Adding a little color to a wardrobe makes it fun and fresh!

  • Collin

    Hi Antonio,

    I really enjoy your articles (on this site and others) and your videos as well, thanks for all the great free info!

    I’m not sure if this is the right place to ask this question but I am a recent college graduate looking to buy a second suit, my current suit is black (purchased specifically for a funeral).

    I was wondering if you still would recommend charcoal over navy to add to my suit quiver, my concern is that the charcoal would be too similar to the black but maybe this isnt a concern at all?

    Thanks for any help you can give me!

    Collin

  • menstyle

    Hi Colin,

    Charcoal would make a great addition to your wardrobe. It’s one of the most versatile colors for suits. If it’s too close to black perhaps try it in a shade lighter or you can always go with navy. Those two can be used in many occasions.

  • Collin

    Thank you for the advice and quick reply

  • menstyle

    You’re welcome, Colin!

  • Gabriel

    Hey Antonio,

    I enjoy your articles and the ebook helped me a lot. Also, the email responses helped me a lot so, thank you. A lot of people are noticing me now because of my style change. My question is: My wardrobe is majority of black and I haven’t noticed it until I read this article so, is there a problem with that? Also, what should I do? Should I get more clothes with the color duration or keep the black ?

    Thank You for Everything

    Gabriel

    Antonio Hwighting !!!

  • menstyle

    You are welcome, Gabriel! You can keep the black wardrobe and add more colors like grey, charcoal, dark blue, brown, olive and white – the idea here is to have well-balanced wardrobe. It’s easier if you have more white colors and vivid colors in your wardrobe, it can help you incorporate more colors to your personal style. Hope this helps!