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The Color Wheel – Color Coordination for Men

Understanding color to better assist a man’s outfit.

The most expensive clothes in the world will not look good if they’re not matching. Proper color coordination can help your outfit glow if it’s boring, or tone it down a bit if it’s too loud. Below are the basics about color coordination, as well as tips for putting them together to help your ensemble.

Introduction – The Color Wheel and Color Basics

Color coordination should never be overlooked by the man building a wardrobe. Wearing the right colors is just as important in an outfit as proper fit as colors have to ability to make or break and outfit. They can make a man look bland and boring or they can make a man look loud and foolish.

With this in mind, finding a happy medium is essential to developing the look men strive for. By looking at the basics of color and how to incorporate these basics into an outfit we will be able to confidently develop the knowledge necessary to match our clothes properly, allowing us to look our best whether in a custom suit or jeans and shirt.

Color Basics – The Color Wheel

color wheel coordination

Photo courtesy of R. Andrew Gilchrist http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/

The color wheel – which was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666 – is the basis for all color theory. The 12 colors are called “hues.” Adding a little bit of white to any of these colors will make them a tint lighter, while adding a little bit of black will make them a tint darker. In theory, all of these colors are connected, so coordinating them works, but knowing how to do that properly is essential.

The closer the colors are to each other, the easier they are to coordinate. For example, wearing a blue dress shirt with a tie that has blue-green strips is a good, simple coordination. On the other hand, trying to mix yellow-green and red-violet can get messy, so knowing how to mix these colors is important.

There are 3 Primary Colors:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

These are the only colors that can’t be made by adding or mixing other colors together, but you can mix two or more of the primary colors together and make any other color. Mixing colors can create two effects: harmony or disorganization. When we mix colors in an outfit, we want to use colors that compliment each other and create an appearance that’s pleasant to look at, not a mash of color that looks chaotic.

Understanding Men’s Contrast

The first things to look at when learning about contrast if understanding the colors and contrasts of your body. Your hair color, eye color, and skin color play an important role in developing the proper contrast within your outfit. These three factors, which every man has, determine whether a man is of high, low, or medium contrast.

 

A color combination for a high contrast man

color combination for a high contrast man

A color combination for a high contrast man

High Contrast Men

Men whose hair color contrasts their skin color greatly fall under this category. For example, men with black hair and white skin. The most important thing for men in this category is to try to mimic this same contrast with their clothes.

A dark suit (navy blue or black) and a white dress shirt or a charcoal gray suit with a blue dress shirt will both provide this desired contrast. As for ties, any tie that distinctly stands out from the shirt will compliment a high contrast man.

Low Contrast Men

color combination for low contrast men

A color combination for low contrast men

Low contrast men have a much more subtle, if any, contrast. Men with light hair and light skin fall into this category, and (usually) so do men with red hair, bald men, and men with little hair.

The ability for a low contrast man to look good is the the complete opposite from that of a high contrast man.

A color combination for low contrast men

A significant contrast in a low contast man’s outfit will conflict with his low contrast complexion. Low contrast men should strive for a monochromatic (single color) look.

A dark blue or earth-toned dress shirt with a dark suit will work best most of the time. As for ties, something that contrasts too much will take attention away from the face, so having a tie similar to the color of your suit and shirt will work best.

Medium Contrast Men

Men who don’t fall under either extreme usually fall into this category. Dark skinned men with dark hair or light skinned men with white or gray hair usually fit into this group. Since there is such a wide variety of facial tones and hair colors, it is difficult to pinpoint specific guidance to this group. Usually, men in this group will tend to be somewhat close either extreme.

The mentioned dark skinned man with dark hair would lean more towards the high contrast side, while the light skinned man with white or gray hair leans more towards the low contrast side. With that being said, it should be mentioned that medium contrast men could easily explore and enjoy what both sides have to offer, but should do so without wandering too far off into one of the extremes.

There are many components that go into proper coordination, such as understanding the role of seasons and what your environment is like. Taking a look at these aspects and incorporating them into your wardrobe will only help you look better.

Mixing Colors in a Man’s Outfit

Mixing colors is a very important of a man’s attire, but doing it correctly is more important. If we don’t mix colors or use any variety, the end result is most likely going to be bland or boring, which people don’t want to look at. If we mix too many colors, or mix colors in a non-harmonious way, it leads to a chaotic and disorganized appearance. This is why it is essential to know how to properly coordinate the colors of an outfit.

Let us cover 5 key color wheel concepts

1. Core Color – the dominant color in a color scheme. For example in terms of an ensemble, it would usually be the color of a jacket or sweater.

2. Accent Colors – Secondary colors used in a color scheme. Accent colors may be complementary, triad, analogous or neutral.

3. Complementary colors – colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel.

color wheel - complementary colors
4. Triad Colors – Three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel.

color wheel - triad

5. Analogous Colors – Colors that border each other on the color wheel.

color wheel - analogous

Analogous Colors
Photos courtesy of R. Andrew Gilchrist
http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com

When we stick to these specific combination’s when we’re coordinating colors, it’s hard to go wrong. Of course, not every outfit has to be 100% with the color wheel, but getting to far outside of the wheel’s guidelines can get us into trouble, so using this as a reference is key when coordinating colors.

Conclusion – Just touching the surface of the Color Wheel

Some might say that coordinating colors in an outfit is a science. To an extent, it might be, but the most important thing about clothing is how you feel. Not everything you wear has to be compatible with the Color Wheel.

The Wheel will provide guidelines and suggestions as to how to properly match clothing, but when it comes down to it, it’s about how you think you look in your clothes, and how they make you feel. Don’t become a slave to the science of color coordination, but rather use the knowledge it provides to better assist your personal style.

 

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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.