Color Coordination for Men: The Basics (2019)

Choosing proper color coordination in men’s clothing is both an art and a science. This article will offer you a simple, practical guide to matching color so you dress smarter, look sharper, and become more confident in your outfits.

What is Color?

Great question. Put simply, Color is a visual effect resulting from the eye’s ability to distinguish different wavelengths or frequencies of light. Red has the shortest wavelength; violet, the longest.

Color Theory in Brief

All color theory is based on the color wheel:

Credit: decoart.com

The color wheel has three primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue.

Within these colors are secondary colors, which are combinations of primary colors: Blue and Yellow make Green, Blue and Red make Violet, and Red and Yellow make Orange.

Each of the primary and secondary colors can be measured by three basic properties:

  • Hue – the name of a color
  • Value – the degree of lightness or darkness in a color. It’s expressed by tones, tints and shades
  • Intensity – the degree of purity or strength of a color (hue) or how bright or muted the colors are.

So, an intense red is a very strong, pure red color. We can lessen the intensity of a color by adding another one to it. For example, adding white to red makes pink.

We can visualize the term in a more in-depth chart below:

Simple Color Wheel for Color Coordination: Shade, Tone, Tint, Hue.
Simple Color Wheel
Detailed Color Wheel

Two additional terms to know are core colors and accent colors. A core color is the dominate color in your outfit- a blue suit, for example. Accent colors, then are the second and third color in an outfit.

With this understanding, we can start talking about color coordination and how to combine colors for dynamic and interesting outfits.

Triadic

A triadic is color combination of three colors that are equidistant from one another on the wheel. It looks something like this:

Color Wheel: Triadic | 3 colors that are equidistant from one another

Visualized in a outfit, you could have a blue suit, yellow shirt, and a red tie. However, having each of these in their purest forms would create quite a lot of contrast. So, playing with hues and shades is very important.

A better application for this outfit of primary colors, then, would be a darker shaded blue suit, lighter shaded yellow shirt, and a darker shade of red for the tie.

Complementary Color Coordination

Complementary colors are directly oppose each other on the colors wheel. Take Red and Green, for example.

Color Wheel: Complementary Colors

Because there’s such a stark contrast between the two, they stand out more intensely when paired together. A very intense red and intense green pairing may make for a very loud combination and elicit suggestion of Yuletide holidays. (Which may-or may not- be what you’re going for!)

The way to make these work beautifully together is by softening their hues. So, a deep, hunter green mixed with a rich burgundy can be a very classy combination indeed.

Analogous Color Coordination

Analogous colors sit adjacent to each on the color wheel. So, in the scheme below, we get: Green, Yellow-Green, and Blue-Green (otherwise known as teal).

Color Wheel: Analogous Colors

These are, frankly, more difficult for color coordination since they sit so close to each other on the wheel.

However, combining colors with cooler undertones- like blue, blue-green, and light purple- is much easier than combining colors with warmer tones like red, red-orange, and and orange.

Warm, Cool, and Neutral Color Coordination

This is an excellent segue into talking more in-depth about warm, cool, and neutral color coordination.

Families of analogous colors include warm colors (red, orange, yellow) and cool colors (violet, blue, green). Designers often build color schemes around two or three related colors.

Color Wheel: Cool & Warm

To keep your outfits both dynamic and interesting, we suggest color coordination utilizing both warm and cool tones.

On the formal end, you could build an outfit with a solid navy suit, a light, baby-blue shirt, and a deep orange tie. On the casual end, you could use a rust-colored suede jacket, a pale yellow OCBD, and some dark-wash blue jeans.

Additionally, we’d be remiss not to talk about neutral colors. Neutrals-defined here as black, white, grey, and tan- are the ‘blank canvas’ of menswear.

These blend well with just about any color, and work well color combination of their own. Some cream trousers, grey cashmere sweater, white shirt, a brown knit tie can look particularly chic for a evening out in Northern California!

Outfit Pairings: in One Chart!

To visualize this more completely, we’ve built a chart of some possible combinations you can use to create dynamic and interesting outfits.

Jacket Color Shirt (and/or Pocket Square*) Tie (and/or Pocket Square*) Trousers for Sports Jackets Belt/Shoes
Navy white, blue, yellow, pink blue, gold, yellow, burgundy, red, purple gray, tan black, brown or cordovan
Gray white, gray, yellow, pink, lavender, blue black, white, gray, green, blue-green, burgundy, navy, any primary or pastel colors gray, black, navy black, brown or cordovan
Brown white, ecru, blue, yellow tan, black, brown, rust, orange, red, gold, yellow, green, burgundy tan, gray,a different shade of brown. brown or cordovan
Tan blue, ecru, white tan, brown, rust, orange, red, navy, black, navy, gray, brown, darker tan brown, black or cordovan
Olive white, ecru, gray, pale yellow, pale blue burgundy, rust, green, tan, yellow gray, tan, navy, brown brown or cordovan
Black white, light gray, yellow, blue black, white, grey, blue, olive, burgundy, any primaryor pastel colors gray, tan black

Summing Up: Creating “Harmony”

The ultimate goal is to build aesthetically pleasing, harmonious outfits.

Two opposites of harmony are bland and chaotic combinations. A “bland” outfit is one without much contrast. Think of the all-black tuxedos at The Oscars. You can’t remember who wore what- it all runs together.

Conversely, think of the time your father tried pairing olive pants and a teal shirt. That’s a lot of contrast!

So, utilizing these tips and referring to the color wheel, you can create harmonious outfits of triads, complementary colors, and analogous colors.

And, as always, if you’re interested in learning more, our forums are open. Thanks for reading!