Colorblind Men and Clothing – How to build a wardrobe when you can’t distinguish color

Approximately 8% of men have some form of colorblindness.

Compare this with the fact less than one half of 1% of women are colorblind and that color blindness is rarely discussed or admitted, it makes sense that most men “deal” with the issue by adapting to the way they see the world – literally.  Traffic lights, specific jobs, and even the ability to enjoy art can present challenges to a man who literally can’t see the difference between certain colors.

Besides the obvious difficulties colorblindness causes with anything color-coded, being color blind can make the act of building a wardrobe extremely difficult.

The goal of this article is to introduce you to the disability and present a couple tactics for the color blind man to building a professional color coordinated wardrobe.  Most forms of colorblindness only limit the ability to distinguish between specific colors; a thoughtful man — who understands his limitations — can create a flexible, interchangeable wardrobe that doesn’t rely on a second pair of eyes to look sharp.

Colorblind men 8 percent

Are you in the 8%?


Understanding Colorblindness

If you’re working on dressing yourself with some form of color-limited vision, it’s important to know what the limitations are. Most men fit into two broad categories:  red-green colorblind and yellow-blue colorblind.  There are more specific diagnoses within each (and a few very rare forms with more severe limitations), but for the practical purposes of dressing yourself those are the categories to consider.

Red-Green Colorblindness

Most forms of colorblindness manifest as a difficulty telling reddish hues from greenish ones. There is no actual “swapping” of the colors — red objects do not appear green, or vice versa; red-blind colorblind men do not live in a world with red grass.  Both colors simply appear similar, moving toward each other in the perceived spectrum.


A Braeburn and a Granny Smith apple side-by-side, as they appear to normal vision (above) and red-green colorblind vision (below).

Blue-Yellow Colorblindness

The rarer blue-yellow form of colorblindness makes blues, greens, yellows, and violets all blur together into very similar perceived colors.  It’s often seen as the less limiting form of colorblindness, mostly because blue and yellow don’t have the same safety associations as red and green, but it can be more challenging to dress.


This image from shows the limits of blue-yellow colorblind vision.  Red remains largely unchanged, but other colors appear more similar and washed-out.


Buying Clothes with Colorblindness

The colorblind man’s wardrobe starts in the store like everyone else’s.  A good salesperson should be able to handle “I’m colorblind; could you tell me what this shirt looks like to you?” without any trouble, but be cautious of buying anything you need to ask about.  Unless you’re sure that you’ll remember what the piece of clothing looks like to normal-vision viewers, you could inadvertently wind up adding clash to your wardrobe.

One obvious solution for colorblind men is to primarily purchase grayscale clothing. White shirts, charcoal suits, black trousers, and so on will eliminate guesswork.  Neutral browns and grays are also usually easy to distinguish even with colorblind vision.  You can relieve the muted palette by being a bit more aggressive with patterning.  Just be sure you’re buying what you think you are — fine lines in particular may appear gray or black to a colorblind man, when in reality they are a brighter color that will register visually with normal-eyesight viewers.


This red-and-blue tattersall may appear partially or entirely grayed to colorblind viewers.

If you want a more colorful wardrobe than neutral colors can provide, try to work within a set color family.  Get opinions from other people on what colors look good on you, and learn to recognize the way you perceive them.  By double-checking with salespeople and friends and making sure that you’re primarily buying within the same color family for all your clothing of a specific type — all your shirts, or all your suits, etc. — you keep your wardrobe interchangeable and free of clashing even if you can’t make out the precise differences in shade.

Organizing Clothes with Colorblindness

Your other major weapon in coping with colorblind vision is organization.  If you can be disciplined about putting things back in the right place every time, you can buy as varied a wardrobe as anyone else.  Have a friend help you group clothing by color, and keep the groupings consistent.  A written cheat-sheet can help when things like washing mix all the clothing up — if you have similarly-patterned shirts in two different colors, make a note of their brand names, collar/cuff styles, or some other distinguishing feature.  In the worst cases, you can always take a fabric marker and make a small note on the inside of the collar or on the washing instructions tag.

If you happen to be a regular suit-wearer, you can also use your suits as an organizational tool.  Simply hang each suit up next to the shirts that go well with it, using the suits themselves to separate clusters of hanging shirts. Of course, this means that each shirt is usually only matched to one suit, but it prevents any possible mismatches. Colorblind men who wear suits regularly may want to go ahead and make that investment, since distinctly-colored suits and shirts are vital to keeping a daily suit-wearer’s outfits from becoming uniform.  That wide variety of color can easily lead to mis-matches if a colorblind man doesn’t have a strict system in the closet.

When In Doubt, Ask an Expert

The hardest part for colorblind men is often knowing what looks good on them as much as it is knowing what color a specific article of clothing is.  Don’t be shy about asking professionals.  A good tailor should be able to walk you through your color choices without any difficulty.  Remember that what looks odd to you in the mirror may in fact be the perfect colors, and what looks balanced and complementing may actually clash badly.

And little bit of faith in your tailor is going to be called for at some point.