The idea of matching clothing colors for men often seems to confound even the best of us. Yet it is an indispensable skill. In this detailed guide, we cover how to match clothing colors for men - from color theory, color essentials, color combinations that work to how to match colors based on occasion - we take a dive into mixing and matching colors, so that you are always dressed your best.
Matching Colors. You would think with the anxiety inducing tremors that said words send through the nervous system of many an aspiring dapper gent could be mistaken for say, quantum physics. But no. Matching Colors. That’s right, something as ‘elementary’ as matching colors seems to have most of us gentlemen tied up in knots. Was it taught in Home Ec, we think to ourselves? Or Art Class? Or did the requisite knowledge not get sufficiently passed down from the generation prior.
Either way, we need to figure out what the hell we’re going to wear tonight for that big date, and yes, you guessed correct the largest obstacle you face since conjuring up the courage to ask said girl out. Matching Colors. It’s becoming problematic. Suddenly the world seems like a giant kaleidoscope and we legitimately start to fear that the lens we are peeking through is actually a mirror – reflecting back to us our clownish taste in color coordination. Or a complete lack thereof.
What we hope isn’t reflected back to us! Courtesy of www.ibiene.com
So how does one solve this adult’s rubik’s cube? Of bringing together colors that should be simpler than illustrating a stick man. In this detailed guide, we will cover basic and some more ‘advanced’ principles of color matching, without making it feel like you’re reading a textbook. So you know. Matching Colors.
As with any color primer, we cannot get this guide off to a start without mentioning the concept of a color wheel. Unlike other guides however, this will just be a launching point. We understand that these graphics are about as exciting as watching paint dry.
So what is a color wheel? A color wheel is largely divided into two camps, warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors , exhibiting vibrance, are represented by orange, red and yellow, while cooler colors, exuding a sense of calm, are represented by green, purple and blue.
The goal with the most striking of color combinations is to have a warm and a cool color (e.g blue and pink,a lighter and version of red), or blue and burgundy (a darker version of red). However, colors adjacent to each other (green and blue) or even in the same spoke (light blue and navy) can work together, creating a seamless, harmonized look.
Courtesy of www.theartofeducation.edu
Monochromatic Color Schemes
Monochromatic color schemes, employing the use of variants of the same color, are a fantastic way to dabble in mixing and matching of colors for you aspiring dapper gentlemen. Examples include a light blue shirt with navy pants or chinos, or a burgundy tie set against a light pink shirt.
By utilizing a darker variant of a color against a lighter variant, you are able to create an ensemble with a certain level of contrast, within the same color family. This simple concept of color matching allows one to experiment with color coordination without the concern of creating a jarring, disjointed look.
Monochromatic color schemes entail the use of tints and shades:
Tints are the mixing of a color with white, leading to a lighter variant (e.g blue + white = light blue).
Shades are the mixing of a color with black, leading to a darker variant (e.g blue + black = navy).
Tings & Shades – while this may appear as a paradox, the addition of grey to a color creates both a tint and a shade at the same time.
A monochromatic color scheme, the perfect way to dress elegant dapper with minimal fuss. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Similar / Adjacent Colors
Building on the foundation set above, adjacent colors (on the color wheel) can work extremely well together, especially with two cool colors. Hence, blue jeans with a light purple shirt, or olive chinos with a navy shirt.
Adjacent color schemes provide a sense of familiarity, resulting in a coordinated color scheme that is easy on the eyes. Hence why navy chinos with a lilac shirt, or a light blue shirt with a dark green knit tie seems to work so effortlessly.
Without a counter balancing color that pits warm against cool (such as with the examples below), a lower level of contrast creates a more soothing aesthetic.
A similar color scheme dressed to perfection. Utilizing cooler colors including navy, lilac and turquoise, this ensemble looks striking, all while being easy on the eyes. Without stronger, warm colors worn in contrast, this outfit characterizes a refined dapper look. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Triadic Color Schemes
Triadic color schemes employ warm versus cool colors by utilizing triangles on the color wheel, to create an ensemble featuring a higher degree of contrast than the color schemes mentioned above.
So how exactly would this work with the above color wheel? Blue, red and yellow form a triangle, indicating that these three colors can work together (though I’d especially stay away from a strong red and yellow – which brings me to our next point, down the line). Conversely, purple, green and orange form a triangle, and hence work together.
Examples of effectively employing a triadic color scheme include the following:
- A burgundy knit tie set against a light blue shirt. Notice how this utilizes both color and fabric variation, creating an even strong level of contrast.
- A light pink shirt paired with navy chinos, creating that ideal summer look!
- A lilac shirt paired with dark green chinos. While this takes more courage than the above suggestions, it can create a strong level of visual interest.
A triadic color scheme executed to perfection. Featuring burgundy (warm) and navy tones (cool), this ensemble creates a perfect balance between contrasting warm and cool colors. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Complementary Color Schemes
For the strongest contrast however, go with a color directly across the color wheel. Hence, blue & orange (only for the boldest), and green and red for those dubious Christmas sweaters. And not quite sure when the last time yellow was worn with purple.
As we will discuss below, the type of color one is choosing is of extreme importance. Hence, while green and red may seem like too strong of a contrast, green with a darker variant of red (burgundy) can work extremely well. Hence, dark green chinos with oxblood burgundy shoes would produce an incredibly striking look!
Similarly, a blue shirt with a rust orange tie will work far more effectively than a blue shirt with a brighter orange accessory.
A light blue shirt, perfectly complemented by a rust orange tie. This strong contrast of colors works because the orange tie is of a rust color. A brighter orange tie would have created too much contrast. Courtesy of www.kentwang.com
With so many seemingly color options to choose from, and with some of them admittedly more hideous (think purple & yellow!), how do we know what to go with? Like choosing from 32 ice cream flavors, while some are immediately written off, the balance of options remains sufficiently large so as to serve up a healthy dose of paralysis by analysis, alternatively known as the paradox of choice.
When deciding to utilize a color wheel (gasp!), paying attention to some of the below may help. Again, for the sake of simplification and to facilitate an enjoyable process, (vs a strictly rules based approach that will eventually become exhausting and lead to burnout), we would suggest the following general guidelines:
- Base Color (typically your neutrals – more on that below) : Approximately 60%
- Complementary Color: Approximately 25%
- Accent: Approximately 15%
I think a healthy way to frame your color choices, are:
1. Are you going for something bold?
If you are looking to make an impression through a bold statement, mixing and matching a warm color with a cooler color will most certainly accomplish that goal. Burgundy chinos with a light blue shirt, for example, is perfect for a casual dapper look.
For a look in a more formal capacity, a burgundy tie against a light blue shirt, or the conventional power red tie against a light blue shirt would work extremely well.
Alternatively, a darker purple tie against a light green shirt would also produce that high contrast level, desired effect.
A bolder look incorporating warm & cool colors! Note that because these chinos are a brighter red as opposed to a more muted burgundy (darker variant of red), this ensemble produces an even more pronounced effect. Courtesy of www.lookastic.com
2. Are you looking for something less drastic, but still elegant?
Are you looking to dress up to your dapper sensibilities, without looking too striking. Adjacent colors (especially using cooler colors on the color wheel), such as a pair of dark green chinos with a light blue shirt could work extremely well.
Alternatively, in a more formal realm, a navy tie against a light green shirt would certainly make an impression. A darker purple tie against a light blue shirt (both cooler colors on the color wheel) would generate an incredibly striking yet dapper look.
By opting for cooler colors of green and shades of blue, this attire produces an incredibly smooth, dapper look without being overtly loud! The key here is pairing cooler colors together, so as to create a familiar, soothing look that is not jarring. Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Pairing Colors Of Varying Intensity
In either case, what the wearer should be aiming for is to have a dominant color that is supported by analogous or complementary colors in varying ranges. The trick, therefore, is to pair colors that are not exuding the same degree of vibrancy (e.g bright green and red).
However, using olive green pants, with a blue shirt and potentially a burgundy tie could work perfectly. In this case, notice how the complementary color (burgundy, which is a darker variant of red) pairing is achieved through the use of an accessory.
Using combinations with colors of varying intensity helps create a cohesive look. Instead of pairing a bright red tie against green pants, a burgundy tie against olive green chinos creates a much more subdued, elegant yet striking look! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
While a burgundy shirt could have worked with olive green pants, the contrast would seem to jarring. By opting for a blue shirt (analogous color scheme), the utilization of the burgundy tie (complementary color scheme) allows the ensemble to produce a striking effect without being overtly jarring. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.
Color Matching Essentials
Now that we’ve got the obligatory color theory out of the way, here are some essential color matching tips that can help launch your mastery of color coordination:
1. Start small by adding color to a neutral basis (more on neutral colors below)
While we’ve been advocating introducing additional color into your wardrobe, we are referring to complementary colors and not exact color matching. Opting for socks and trousers that exactly match the hue of your shirt will result in a bland, but coincidentally overdone look. No thanks.
Instead, try adding an element of color – a blue scarf, a burgundy knit tie or an olive green pocket square. Done with a neutral base color for your ensemble (more on that below), and you’re well on your way to spicing up your outfits without looking like the country club clown.
Please note that pops of color work best when they are offset against something. The easiest and safest way to accomplish this is through the use of a base neutral color. Hence, a black, grey, navy, brown or white backdrop will provide the perfect canvas upon which to layer on additional color.
Building the foundation of your look with neutral colors (such as your shirt, jacket or pants) will help soften the impact of a bolder color, allowing it to fit in more seamlessly. A burgundy tie against a grey shirt, can often work just as well as a burgundy tie against a blue shirt and yellow pocket square, as the latter can quickly go awry if the wrong proportions of color intensity are used, and / or if the wearer doesn’t have the requisite confidence!
Starting with a neutral base, such as grey pants, can result in a sublime look when paired with a pop of color. Probably the easiest way to start dressing more coordinated! Courtesy of www.equanavietnam.com
2. Keep color coordination simple but effective by adding another piece in the same color family
For you color wheel purists out there, examples include monochromatic or adjacent colors as mentioned above. While triadic (blue, red or yellow) or complementary color schemes (blue or orange) can work, if done wrong, they can often appear overwhelming (e.g a royal blue shirt with a bright red vest!).
Play it conservative by pairing a light blue shirt with navy pants, or a light green shirt (adjacent color), for a harmonious look that is not entirely different.
Please note that by employing adjacent colors, you are often pairing cool with cool colors (e.g a lilac shirt with blue pants), which helps create a seamless, visually softer look.
3. Utilize complementary colors (most contrast)
If you are looking to create a greater level of contrast, triadic (blue, red, yellow or purple, green, orange) can create the requisite level of contrast. For an even greater level of contrast opt for one of the following combinations:
- Red & Green
- Yellow & Purple
- Blue & Orange
The trick with complementary colors, as with much of color theory, is to pair a more muted version of one color with a standard variant of the other. Hence, a blue shirt could be complemented by rust orange chinos or a rust orange tie. Similarly, a yellow tie could pop off perfectly against a lilac shirt.
A pair of burgundy chinos can work with a green shirt. Similarly, a forest green vest can work with a lighter pink shirt.
Complementary colors such as red & green work best when more muted variants, such as burgundy have been chosen.
4. Pair colors with varying intensity
As mentioned above, pairing colors with varying intensity is one of the keys to making color coordination (and a potentially bolder look) work.
Navy chinos with a mustard yellow sweater will work far more effectively than a bright yellow turtleneck. Similarly, green pants will work better with a burgundy tie than a bright red one!
Similar to above, varying intensity matters. Here, mustard yellow pants perfectly complement this navy sweater. Courtesy of www.hm.com
5. Three color rule
And finally, it is important to note that if there are more than three colors in your ensembles, achieving harmony can be significantly more challenging!
Before we delve into color combinations – finally (I understand that this article can feel like six seasons of Better Call Saul, where you’ve been eagerly awaiting the damn conclusion!), let’s take a closer look at what different colors signify. An understanding of the messaging of your color choice, can after all, largely inform your color coordination process.
While white can often invoke feelings of cleanliness and to some extent, sterility, it can also portray a sense of being open minded, well balanced and optimistic. They key, as with all color coordination, is to have it as part of your ensemble, so that you offer something more than just drab and boring!
Brown is a simple yet strong color that can transmit a sense of wholesomeness and being a team player. Be cognizant of strutting too much brown, as it is an earth tone and an abundance of such doesn’t result in the most alluring aesthetic.
There is a reason blue is the most beloved color! Blue simultaneously exudes a sense of calm while offering a feeling of cheerfulness and optimism. Multiple studies have shown that people tend to be more productive and cheerful when working in a room with blue hues and / or surrounded by the color blue.
Additionally, most style consultants seem to recommend wearing blue to job interviews and important meetings, as blue exudes a sense of loyalty and trust.
Grey is a neutral color that evokes a sense of practicality, caution, stability and success. While grey is often viewed as a safe color, an abundance of grey can certainly appear drab and lifeless.
Black is known to reflect a sense of authority and power. Black can also exude a sense of luxury and sophistication. However, when worn sans color, black can appear somber (hence why all black is reserved for funeral settings). In a negotiation setting, all black can certainly appear intimidating (any guess as to why the Kiwi rugby team refer to themselves as the ‘All Blacks’.
Its no wonder that following their ritualistic Haka dance, their opponents have lost the match before it’s even started. All Black & an intimidating pre game ritual dance. Yeah, good luck with that one! Anyway, I digress…
Anyway, back to color theory. As alluded to above, your primary color when dressing up should be approximately 60% of your ensemble, with a complementary color accounting for about 25%, and a tertiary color comprising the balance. A great way to step into the color kingdom is to utilize a neutral color as your base (thereby accounting for over half of your ensembles color).
Common neutral colors that serve as a perfect backdrop for adding brighter secondary and tertiary colors include navy, black, grey, white, beige & olive green.
Navy is a great neutral color to build your ensembles around! Courtesy of www.generationtux.com
When these colors form the base of your attire – e.g pants, shirts or a jacket, adding in complementary colors becomes significantly easier.
Neutral colors are referred to as such because they are not considered overpowering. Neutral colors provide limitless color computations (for you non nerds out there, essentially, unlimited matching potential), are incredibly versatile and complement even the most intense of colors.
So once we have our neutral colors set, what colors are ideal for pairing combinations of varying levels of contrast?
Colors that complement Navy
Navy can be worn as your neutral base, or in conjunction with other colors. If navy is one of your primary items – suit jacket / shirts / pants for formal wear and jeans / shirt / t-shirt for casual wear, along with anything in between, we would suggest pairing it with a lighter color for a more pronounced effect.
Navy & white provides for a clean, dapper combination, while light pink would also work incredibly well. Alternatively, a light blue, light green or light purple (lilac) shirt can provide a familiar, soft look that is easy on the eyes.
As such, it is best to avoid darker colors that are directly overlapping – e.g a black shirt with navy trousers. However, a navy suit with a white shirt can be complemented by a darker colored tie, such as burgundy. However, a burgundy tie on a navy shirt would be a definite no-no, given that both are darker colors.
Remember, the goal is to appear visually put together so attention is, ironically, drawn to your face, as opposed to an out of whack color scheme that keeps people contemplating your decisions!
Navy works with a range of colors, including light blue & yellow.
Colors that complement Blue
There are many a reason blue happens to be many an individual’s favorite color, and an incredible level of versatility is certainly one of them. Standard shades of blue, such as royal blue, match up extremely well with warmer colors such as burgundy and red, in addition to working well with cooler colors such as purple and green.
For lighter shades of blue, such as baby blue, that are best worn during the spring / summer months, we suggest wearing these with lighter pastels such as light pink or lilac, along with tanned brown shoes.
A light blue suit is complemented by lighter tones during the spring & summer months. Courtesy of www.dhgate.com
Colors that complement Red
Red pairs incredibly well with blue (warmer and cooler color), but only to the extent that one of the colors is darker (we suggest a darker red against a lighter blue - the converse may seem a little strange!).
Hence, a red sweater over a lighter blue shirt would work seamlessly. However, red can be paired with darker colors such as navy or black, assuming that it is not an additional layer of clothing (e.g a red sweater against a black shirt is a definite no-no, but would work against black pants).
Red & White also happens to create an incredibly level of contrast, lending to some extremely well coordinated looks!
Few looks are as crisp as a white shirt with a red sweater! Courtesy of www.hattieinheels.com
Colors that complement Pink
Attaining a well coordinated look that appears put together usually seems elusive when trying to incorporate the color pink. It can, however, be accomplished.
Softer shades of pink can be incorporated into your attire when trying to achieve that casual dapper spring / summer look. Pair pink with beige, grey, white or light blue for maximum effect.
Alternatively, pink can be worn with darker colors such as navy. Fancy strutting a pair of navy chinos with a light pink shirt? You sure bet it’ll create a look worth a double take.
Softer shades of pink tend to work incredibly effectively! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Colors that complement Lilac
Lilac, alternatively known as violet, is a lighter shade of purple that works in sync with cooler colors such as blue or even green. The trick (you guessed it) is to combine a lighter variant of violet with a darker color such as navy or dark green (especially when layering clothes – such as a navy tie against a lilac shirt).
Additionally, lilac will pair exquisitely with neutral colors such as white or a darker grey. A dark grey sweater or pair of pants contrasting with a lilac shirt? You bet it works.
A lilac shirt works exquisitely with this darker purple tie and navy suit! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Colors that complement Burgundy
As a chic and strong color, burgundy is often seen as off limits to many. However, burgundy provides the perfect backdrop for pairing a cooler color, such as blue (helping create that contrast between warm and cooler colors).
Burgundy also works extremely well with darker colors such as navy, grey or black, in addition to white. We would, however, not suggest layering burgundy directly on top of a darker color. Examples would include navy chinos, a white shirt and a burgundy blazer. Or burgundy chinos along with a black turtle neck!
A burgundy necktie against a navy shirt, though, would clash and result in a jarring look.
Other than the top button being undone with this ensemble, the burgundy jacket perfectly complements these light grey chinos! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Colors that complement Green
Green happens to be a surprisingly versatile color that can add a level of variation and interest to your wardrobe. The trick to getting the look just right is to opt for an appropriate shade to opt for an appropriate shade. Darker green hues, including olive, are ideal for pairing with other colors.
Wintery tones such as burgundy, brown and beige tend to complement green very well. For a classic dapper look, combining white and green can result in that desired, coordinated ensemble that we are all striving for!
Few colors go together as seamlessly as green & khaki. Courtesy of www.bewakoof.com
Colors that Complement Neutral colors
Colors that complement Grey
When ascertaining which colors will complement grey, knowing which shade of grey you are working with is of paramount importance. Lighter shades of grey are just paired with lighter tones, including light blues, soft pink, beige & tan.
Darker shades of grey can work exquisitely with darker tones such as burgundy or darker brown. Conversely, a darker shade of grey can also look flattering when accompanied by white.
A Dark Grey Suit, complemented perfectly by a light blue shirt and burgundy tie. Courtesy of www.thenordicfit.com
Colors that complement Brown
Similar to grey, appropriately selecting the right shade of brown can go a long way towards creating that desired look!
Lighter shades of brown tend to work best with colors such as camel & tan, along with white, cream & light blue. Darker brown hues work great with white, but can also complement richer colors such as burgundy, navy, or green.
Lighter shades of brown perfectly complement each other. Courtesy of www.fashionbeans.com
Colors that complement Beige
Given that beige is a powdery tone, this color can work equally effectively with both lighter and darker colors! Beige is an ideal neutral base to build off pops of color – especially during the spring / summer seasons!
This stunning beige suit provides the perfect neutral base for adding a pop of color (or two!). Courtesy of www.lifestylebybps.com
Colors that go with White
While wearing white is highly versatile, it pairs incredibly effectively with darker colors such as navy & burgundy.
However, for a more casual, relaxed or summer look, white can also pair extremely well with softer tones such as a light blue, light pink, or other, lighter colored neutrals such as brown or beige!
White pairs extremely well with softer colors during the summer months. Courtesy of www.suitsupply.com
Colors that go with Black
The color black is highly versatile and well loved for a reason – it can be paired with virtually any color. White balances out black perfectly, but may seem like too strong of a counter balance.
Hence, wearing white sparingly with black, or as a shirt against a black suit, works perfectly. Lighter hues work for a pronounced yet softer look, while stronger colors such as purple, red or burgundy will create a more striking look.
Burgundy & Black can often provide for an incredibly powerful combination. Courtesy of www.oliverbrown.org.uk
Matching Colors Based On Occasion
So given that we have gone through a full range of colors, what color schemes work best for a respective function / occasion?
Formal wear is typically accompanied by darker colors, implying a sense of seriousness. Hence, colors such as charcoal grey and navy work particularly well with a choice of suit, while blue, burgundy and grey ties are commonplace, exhibiting a sense of trust, authority and respect.
A charcoal grey suit with a navy tie makes for a professional look! Courtesy of www.hespokestyle.com
Flashy Semi-Formal Look
If you are seeking a more pronounced, casual or even flashy business look, incorporating softer neutral tones such as a light brown, light blue or light grey suit can work, with a pop of color in the form of a paisley or floral tie!
A softer look featuring a beige suit, light blue shirt and navy based floral tie results in a stunning ensemble! Courtesy of www.artofthegent.com
Business Casual can incorporate softer or stronger colors, whether you are utilizing navy, khaki or beige chinos and a light pink, light green or even burgundy shirt / sweater!
A burgundy sweater with dark denim jeans creates a smart casual look! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
Street Casual usually focuses more on neutrals such as black, navy, beige, white and grey colors, without incorporating too much color. Effectively blending neutrals often results in a clean aesthetic!
A clean street style look making perfect use of neutral colors. Courtesy of www.bewakoof.com
Ok, so that was a ton of information to sift through! If we had to launch off this guide with ONE salient point, we would start with a neutral base and add a pop of color from there. With that said, here is a recap of what we have discussed in this article.
- Start with a neutral color such as black, grey, brown, white or navy, and add a pop of color from there.
- When starting to dabble with mixing and matching colors, engaging a monochromatic scheme is a hassle free way to experiment. Using a tint (color mixed with white) or shade (color mixed with black) means matching a lighter variant of the color with a darker variant. Hence, a light blue shirt will work perfectly with navy chinos. Similarly, a burgundy tie will pop off perfectly against a lighter pink shirt.
- An understanding of color theory if often amplified by a recognition of warm and cool colors. Cool colors, that exhibit calmness and serenity, include blue, purple and green. Warm colors, that exhibit a more vibrant characteristic, include red, orange and yellow. Color schemes that employ both warm and cool colors are often the boldest, while schemes that employ cooler colors, such as blue, green or purple / lilac are considered softer on the eyes.
- Using a color wheel, similar / adjacent color schemes allow one to create harmony by pairing together two cool colors. Examples include pairing navy with green or navy with lilac.
- Using a color wheel, a triadic color scheme helps balance our warmer and cool colors. Hence, combinations such as burgundy and blue go well together, as do mustard yellow and navy.
- When trying to match colors, start with a neutral color. Ideally, your predominant / neutral base is about 60-70% of your ensemble - think pants, shirt or a suit. You can then accentuate with secondary and tertiary colors that will make up the remaining 30-40% of your attire.
- Varying color intensity is extremely important. Hence, while blue and red may provide a dominant, powerful look, blue and burgundy produces are more striking, elegant combination that does not feel over the top. Similarly a light blue shirt with a purple tie works far more effectively than a strong purple tie against a strong blue shirt (results in a disjointed, jarring aesthetic).
- A critical question to ask oneself when ascertaining your color choices to whether you are looking to dress bold, conservatively or somewhere in between. Bolder attire will often involve balancing a warm and cool color (e.g red and blue) and utilizing more than two colors. A conservative option could use darker color neutrals for your base (grey, black, navy) and maybe one additional color (e.g light blue shirt). If you’re dressing somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, lighter colored neutrals (light brown, white, beige) with a pop of color could work very effectively.
- When looking to match colors in a professional capacity, darker colors such as navy and charcoal grey come to mind. These colors exhibit trust, authority and confidence – traits that are critical for success in a business environment.
- When seeking color coordinating in a more casual setting, lighter colors and neutrals such as white, cream and beige can work extremely effectively. If you’re looking for a bolder look, adding in a pop of color to a neutral base will allow your ensembles to truly stand out.
And that’s a wrap for this one! We hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as we have writing it!