A Quick Guide to Creating Color Coordinated Outfits

Something that I tend to get complimented on is my ability to color coordinate outfits. I consider myself to be an artist, so color is something that I’ve learned to pay attention to in art, which is a habit that has trickled into my outfit creations.

Here’s how I use the stuff I’ve learned as an artist to create color coordinated outfits:

Keep a limited color palette for your wardrobe

This is just an easy way to keep things coordinated, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about colors. I tend to gravitate to certain colors when buying clothes, and because of that the majority of my clothing is in one of six colors:

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Burgundy or Dark red
  • White
  • Mustard yellow or Golden yellow
  • Tan or Camel

Since the majority of my clothing has been thrifted, I obviously can’t have every single color match perfectly. Some of the yellows aren’t the exact same shade, same with the reds, but most of my clothing items fall into one or more of those six colors.

Because most of my closet is in a limited color palette, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to create a color coordinated outfit. Chances are I could create a color-coordinated outfit just by randomly selecting pieces, especially since gray and black make up a strong majority of my closet.

But I also have a few pieces that aren’t limited to those colors, such as a handful of blue, cream, or dark green pieces. What can I say, I like my (limited) variety. Even though blue, cream, and dark green won’t match with everything in my closet, they do match well with most of my standard six colors, so I can play around with creating interesting palettes, even if my colors are limited.

That being said, if I had access to all the clothing colors in the world, here’s how I would create color coordinated outfits:

Monochromatic, with no variations

The easiest way to look coordinated is to wear a singular color throughout the entire outfit. The easiest way to do this is with the color black, but I also got lucky and found a pair of leggings and turtleneck that match perfectly, creating a great go-to outfit for lazy days at home.

Monochromatic, with variations

The next easiest way to look coordinated is to wear different tones of the same color. For example, wearing different shades of gray can create a cohesive, but somewhat playful look. I find that doing this trick is best for colors that are typically considered boring, such as gray or tan.

I also have a dress that is made from gray and burgundy thread woven together, so from afar it looks like a lighter shade of burgundy. I like to pair it with my burgundy leggings for an almost monochromatic look.

Neutral + one color

Another way to look coordinated and classy is to pair a neutral and non-neutral color. I personally love the color black paired with a light blue, gold, or wine red color. I also love seeing cream paired with dark green.

The trick for pairing neutrals with non-neutral colors is to choose one color to be the extreme. For example, black is the darkest color, so pairing it with a neon color can be visually overwhelming. But if you pair it with a slightly desaturated color, it’s easier on the eyes.

Select colors from a pattern

When wearing something patterned, be it a whole clothing piece or just an accessory, you should make sure that one or more colors from the pattern are repeated elsewhere in the outfit. For example, I have a pair of plaid pants that have golden lines in the pattern, so pairing it with a matching gold shirt helps the outfit look coordinated.

The same thing goes for graphic t-shirts. If you have a black, gray, and red graphic tee, then black, gray, or red should show up somewhere else in the outfit.

Play with saturation levels

Sometimes you might think some colors don’t work together, but they would if they had different saturation levels. A color’s saturation level is how bright or pigmented it is, so sometimes having a desaturated color paired with a saturated one is just what’s needed to make an outfit work.

Bright red and bright green is hard to pull off, unless it’s Christmas time, but even then it can be an awkward pairing. But what about olive green and dusty pink? Wine red and a minty color?

When in doubt, remember the 60-30-10 rule

(or alternatively the 70-30 rule)

When in doubt about the colors of an outfit, remember the 60-30-10 rule (for three colors) or the 70-30 rule (for two colors).

Let’s say you’re wearing an outfit with three colors. Instead of just balancing the colors out evenly so each color makes up roughly 33% of your outfit, it’s much more visually interesting to have Color A make up 60% of the outfit, Color B make up 30% of the outfit, and Color C make up the last 10%.

If you’re wearing an outfit with two colors, instead have Color A make up 70% of the outfit and Color B make up the other 30%.

It doesn’t have to be exact (as that would be pretty difficult to achieve), but balancing colors completely equally can be visually boring. Instead, use accessories and styling trick to make the balance of colors different.

That being said, none of these rules need to be followed. But it’s always better to know the rules before you break them, so these are the guidelines I follow to create color coordinated outfits.

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