How to Use the Colour Wheel to Match Outfits

Since today is Holi the Indian festival that celebrates colour, I thought it was the perfect day for talking about bringing some colour into our wardrobes! Today’s lesson; how to use the colour wheel to match outfits.

Moms are notorious for wearing head to toe black. Some say it’s slimming, others say it’s easy to create outfits when everything you own is one color; I say it’s boring. (Also, if you have a really little baby – black does not hide spit up!) My best guess for all the support of the “morbid mom” dress code is; most of us don’t really know how to match colours. Sure, we all took the mandatory art class in high school that taught us a little about primary and tertiary colours, but very few of us have actually studied the concept of matching colours. I find it very strange that we spend so little time learning about a skill we are going to use everyday of our lives (well, everyday that we get dressed!) Fear not, I’m here to rescue you from boring black, and to teach you how to use the colour wheel to match outfits.

how to use the colour wheel to match outfitsThe Colour Wheel

Before we begin breaking down outfits, a quick refresher on the tool itself. The colour wheel is made up of twelve basic colours that are referred to as hues. Every time you add black or white to these colours, they change hue again (which is commonly referred to as a shade). The reason I’m telling you this is so you understand that when we talk about matching a combination (like blue and red), it doesn’t mean you have to stick to a true blue and red, you could also work with variations of those hues like midnight blue and bright pink. The colour wheel only works with 12 basic hues, it is up to you to experiment with variations of those hues.

Key Terms to Remember:

  • Monochromatic colours are all the colours (tints, tones, and shades) of a single hue.
  • Analogous colours are groups of colours that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel (sort of like good neighbours)
  • Complimentary colours  are pairs of colours that are of opposite hue on the colour wheel.

How to Match Colours

Start with monochromatic colours (tints, tones, and shades of the same hue):
If you are scared of colour, this is the place to start. Pick one hue and choose pieces that use different variations, tints, and shades of the same colour. This idea works well with purples, blues, reds, and greens. I would avoid monochromatic looks with pastel shades, that is very hard look to pull off without looking like the Easter Bunny.

how to use the colour wheel to match outfits, mom style, using the colour wheel fashion, pink chai{Left image via J Crew | Right Image via Love Maegan}

Colours closest to each other (analogous colours) are the easiest to match:
Analogous colours sit close to each other on the colour wheel and are the easiest to pair together. For example; dark blue, light blue, and violet are neighbours and easy to coordinate. Any three colours which are side by side on the colour wheel are referred to as  analogous, and can be used to created a head to toe outfit.

how to use the colour wheel to match outfits, analogous outfits, pink chai, mom style

Complementary colours (directly across from each other on the colour wheel) provide the most interest but are hard to work with:
When I was researching this post, almost every resource said that you should use complimentary colours freely; I disagree. Complimentary colours can create the most beautiful combinations, and also the most jarring and unflattering combinations (think certain oranges and blues, or vivid red and green).

I’m not trying to turn you off of complimentary coloured outfits, I’m just saying; take some time to plan them. For example, red and green together can create a very tacky Christmas-esque outfit, however, different hues of the same colours (bright pink and mint) created this fun outfit:

how to use the colour wheel to match outfits, complimentary colour outfits, pink chai

A word about neutrals:
Black, brown, navy, and khaki are all neutrals that work with pretty much every colour on the colour wheel. My advice would be to pick one base colour as your neutral (it doesn’t have to be black), and get yourself a good pair of pants, and a pencil skirt to start with. From there start building colourful outfits off of your base.

I hope this breakdown has given you some ideas for incorporating more colour into your wardrobe. There was other areas I wanted to cover, but the post was getting a little long. If you’ve enjoyed this post, and would like me to create other lessons, or have questions – please leave a comment, it makes me smile!

Happy Holi to my friends that are celebrating:)


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