Color Coordination For Men

Color Me Knowledgeable! A Guide to Color Coordination For Men

“Honey, does this red shirt and orange tie look OK together?”

We don’t need a degree in color engineering, but a lot hinges on this!  Everyday you put together many elements of your attire.  Your choice of the colors you mix and match can make a significant impression on how you look to others.

Colors are like kids and employees.  Some work together, and get along just fine; others always fight.

Color is energy, if you’re wearing the colors that are right for you, you’ll look dynamic.  Color coordination not only makes you look good, but also gives you an organized and professional image.

We’ll try to put an end to those mornings that find you late for work, standing in front of the mirror, holding up six ties, and two shirts against your new suit!

Some basic color knowledge, and a lot of experience will help you coordinate those dazzling ensembles with confidence and ease, and maybe even have time for a second cup of coffee.

Men have it easier than women in the color world since most business is conducted in navy, or gray suits, white or blue shirts, and only in our ties and pocket squares are we “allowed” the freedom to get colorful (but even there one rarely sees fuchsia!).  Well maybe on the golf course, but even there we look better if the colors match!

Color Match History

The word match comes from an Old English word “gemaecca” which was shortened to “macche” meaning mate or companion!

Why pink for little girls and blue for little boys?  An old European fairly tale had baby girls springing forth from pink roses!  Blue is the color of the heavens and parents thought it would protect infant sons from the Devil!

We’re not even going to discuss here coordinating the other factors like patterns or fabric weight, and texture.  However when all the colors mesh and the patterns are not all the same design or size, you could pull off wearing all patterns!!

All that is covered in Coordination!

Note this news:

Perception of your IQ may be  reflected in your shirt color!

When others are repulsed by “loud”, do they mean the volume of your voice or the colors of your clothes?


According to Clare Spiegel, president of Your New Image, a career consulting company, bright colors and loud talk give an impression of low intelligence!

As reported in Men’s Health Magazine, speaking in a mid volume during a speech or presentation projects more intelligence than speaking too loudly.  Speaking in moderate tones presents a calm and authoritative image rather than an appearance that you are desperate to convince everyone of your point.  Too loud also can be perceived as boisterous and obnoxious.

The same goes for loud clothing colors, Spiegel says!  For example, if you’re going to don a Hawaiian shirt for an event where you need some semblance of astuteness, make sure the shade is dusty or muted, not bright.

Maybe that’s why serious business attire has always been navy or gray set off by a white shirt, and some necktie color to draw attention to your face.  And now we know it’s a consideration for casual clothes!

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side? Rainbows are visions, but only illusions Rainbows have nothing to hide.”

— Kermit the Frog, Rainbow Connection

Color’s Visual Effect

COLOR is a visual effect resulting from the eye’s ability to distinguish the different wavelengths or frequencies of light. The apparent color of an object depends on the wavelength of the light that it reflects.

In white, or normal, light, an opaque object that reflects all wavelengths appears white and one that absorbs all wavelengths appears black. Any three primary, or spectral, colors can be combined in various proportions to produce any other color sensation.

Describing Color

To describe a color with reasonable accuracy, three basic properties have been designated to identify the dimensions, or qualities, of color:

  1. Hue, the name of a color;
  2. Value, the degree of lightness or darkness in a color, can be expressed by shades, tints, and tones
  3. Intensity (saturation or chroma), the degree of purity or strength of a color (hue) or how bright or muted the colors are. For example, an intense red is one that is a very strong, pure red color.   When a lighter or darker color is added to a color, the intensity will be less bright.

A visual presentation of some color terms

HUE The pure color (for example RED)

TONE Hue + small amount of gray or opposite color (will mute or tone down the color TINT Hue + White (will lighten the color)

COMPLEMENT TINT Tint + small amount of gray or opposite color (will mute or tone down the color)

SHADE Hue + Black (will darken the color)

The Color Spectrum or Wheel

Sir Isaac Newton developed the firstcircular diagram of colors in 1666.


Some Guiding Principles to Harmonizing Colors


Core Color is the dominant color in a color scheme.  It’s the color of the principal item in your ensemble like your suit or a sweater.


Accent colors are the second and sometimes third colors used in a color scheme.  The accent colors may be complementary, triad, analogous or neutral.


The first or primary triad colors in the color wheel (or spectrum) are red, blue and yellow.  (Navy suit, pale yellow shirt, burgundy tie)  These are called pure colors because mixing them with each other and/or with white or black can make all other colors.

The second (or secondary) triad colors in the color wheel are orange, green and purple. Made by mixing two primary colors together.  Mixing red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and combining red and blue produce purple.

Complementary colors

are those directly opposite one other in the color spectrum or wheel.  That’s why hunter green pants look great with a burgundy sweater.  Blue is opposite of orange so gold, rust, and brown compliment shades of blue.

Analogous colors

Colors, which are next to each other on the color wheel, go well together, such as blue pants, a blue-green shirt and a green jacket.

Warm and Cool

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

Select two warm colors with one cool or two cool with one warm to create dynamic harmony.  Examples: navy suit, light blue shirt and red tie, or a yellow shirt, rust jacket and blue jeans.

  • Monochromatic: all one color, but different shades, tones or tints.

  • Neutral: dress in shades of white, black, gray or beige.  Khaki pants, white shirt and a gray sweater are all neutrals.  It may not be a dynamic look, but it is sophisticated.

  • Seasonal Colors: Some colors are more appropriate at certain times of year than others. Pastels are usually associated with spring/summer, while autumn colors are rust, brown, green, and burgundy. Wearing rust in the summer, or light yellow in the fall looks out of place.

  • Think contrast.  Try one light element with two dark, or one dark with two lights, such as a charcoal suit, white shirt and red tie, or tan suit with yellow shirt and green tie. Or Khaki pants and a dark blue shirt.

  • Color Value: Dark colors recede thus making you look thinner, and light colors project, which tends to bulk you up.  Dark colors are more formal than light.

Glossary of Basic Color Terms

  • Analogous colors, (also known as adjacent colors, harmonious colors, and related colors), are colors which are next to each other on the color spectrum or wheel, and are closely related, such as blue, blue-green and green.  Red and orange, blue and purple, blue and green, green and yellow, yellow and orange and red and purple.

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

  • Achromatic Color:  see neutral colors.

  • Chroma – see Saturation and Intensity.

  • Chromatic     That which is perceived as having a hue or pure color (not white, gray, or black)

  • Color Wheel: An arrangement of colors sequentially in a circular pattern so that each secondary color lies between the two primary colors of which it is an equal mixture, and opposite the primary color to which it is the complement.  Each tertiary color is positioned between the primary and secondary colors of which it is an equal mixture.

  • Complementary colors: The complement of each color is located opposite each other on the color wheel.   Blue, for example, is the complement of orange.   Other examples are red and green, plus yellow and purple. Complementary colors enhance each other.

  • Compound colors: Colors that contain all three primary colors.

  • Cool colors: (green, blue, violet) are associated with the colors of water, sky and foliage. They are calming, unassuming and they appear to recede.

  • Earth colors: Naturally occurring pigments usually metal oxides obtained from mining, such as ocher and umber that are in a subdued color range.

  • Hue: The name of a color as found in its pure state in the spectrum (with no black or white added).  The quality of a color responsible for its name by which it is distinguished from other colors, as red, green or blue.

  • Intensity:The purity of hue (see saturation or chroma). For example, an intense red is one that is a very strong, pure red color.   When a lighter or darker color is added to a color, the intensity will be less bright.

  • Intermediate colors: Also called tertiary colors, these colors include combination of two secondary colors, or a combination of a primary color and either of the two secondary colors adjacent to it, such as orange red, yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue violet, and red violet.

  • Lightness: (brightness, reflectance, value) position on the gray scale between pure black and pure white.

  • Monochromatic: having one color. All the elements of your attire, room, painting, etc. are of the same hue, but may vary by quality (intensity, tint, tone, shade, value).  All blue attire could consist of a Navy suit, light blue shirt, dark blue tie, blue pocket square, etc.

  • Neutral colors: (also achromatic, or non-chromatic meaning “without color”) are shades of white, gray or black that have no hue.  Or any colors containing a significant amount of gray.  Most neutrals are tinted slightly with a warm or cool color (beige).  These shades go with most colors.

  • Pastel:  A soft delicate hue; a pale color.  See tint.

  • Primary colors: (AKA Triad colors) Red, yellow and blue. These are colors that cannot be derived from the mixture of any other colors on the palette.

  • Quality: Refers to the aspects of a color – tint, tone, shade, value, and brightness.

  • Saturation or Chroma: (also Intensity) Relates to the purity or amount of pigment in the color and determines the degree of brightness or dullness of a color.  Color intensity or purity of tone, being the degree of freedom from gray.  A pure hue, without the addition of another color, has the highest saturation and is the most vivid. Navy blue is a “dark” blue.

  • Secondary colors: orange, green, and violet. These colors are made from the mixture of two primary colors. Their hues are midway between the two primary colors used to mix them.  If you mix primary colors red with yellow you have orange.

  • Shade: A color that has been darkened by the addition of black.  e.g., adding black to green makes a darker shade of green.

  • Spectrum: The distribution of colors, arranged in order of wavelengths, which make up the light from any particular source. The simplest example of this concept is a rainbow, a natural display of the visible spectrum.

  • Tint: A color that has been lightened by the addition of white. – e.g., adding white to red makes pink.

  • Tone: The relative strength of a hue as it approaches black or white at the opposite ends of the values scale.  Each hue has many tones. Mixed with white a color is “pale” in tone; mixed with black it becomes “dark” in tone.  The upper or lower extremes of any color would be white or gray and black.

  • Tertiary colors: see intermediate colors.

  • Value: (also see Saturation, Intensity and Chroma) The degree of lightness or darkness in a color. The quality by which a pale or light color is distinguished from a deep or dark one.  Values can be expressed by shades, tints, and tones.

  • Value scale: A series of spaces filled with tints and shades of one color, starting with white or the lightest tint at one end and gradually changing into the darkest shade or black at the other end.

  • Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) are associated with fire and the sun. They will psychologically suggest emotion, energy and warmth while optically moving the subject to the foreground.

Some Information About Color-Blindness

Color blindness, is hereditary and common enough that it affects 8 to 12 % of the male population. You can be easily tested at your eye care professional.

The human eye sees by light stimulating the retina, which lines the back of the eye.  The retina is made up of rods and cones.  Rods give us night vision, but cannot distinguish color.  Cones are the color receivers for the brain.

There are different types and degrees of color blindness; most consist of a problem seeing reds and/or green colors. The most common is a difficultly seeing difference in the red, orange, yellow, green region of the spectrum.  These colors appear shifted towards green so that the red component in violet is weakened and the person only sees blue.  Any red is seen more weakly both in saturation and brightness.    A red traffic light might look yellow.

In some cases the brightness of red, orange, and yellow is reduced so that reds may be confused with black and/or dark gray.  A red traffic light could appear to be extinguished.

If you are affected by color blindness, it’s best to find reliable assistance in selecting and coordinating your wardrobe, like a good salesperson, your spouse, or a fashion conscious friend.  If you are looking for a tie and shirt to go with a jacket, it’s easier to take the jacket with you when you shop.

— Andy Gilchrist

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