Guide to Color Matching Clothes Using the Color Wheel

Guide to Color Matching Clothes Using the Color Wheel

Have you ever seen someone and thought, “Wow, I love their outfit! But I could never pull something like that off.” You’re not alone. Some people love bright colors and unique prints, while others tend to shy away from anything colorful. But why are some of us hesitant to add more color to our wardrobe? Are we afraid we don’t know how to style them? Guess what? You can mix and match more colors than you think. All you need to know is how to use the color wheel.

What is the color wheel?

The color wheel is a circular color chart. It looks like a colorful pie chart, or some people call it a spinning rainbow. The color wheel shows the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. 

The traditional color wheel is divided into 12 different color pieces: 

  • Red
  • Red-orange
  • Orange
  • Yellow-orange
  • Yellow
  • Yellow-green
  • Green
  • Blue-green
  • Blue
  • Blue-purple
  • Purple
  • Red-purple

Sir Isaac Newton invented the color wheel. He performed experiments with sunlight and prisms and discovered that when clear light passes through a prism, it’s actually made up of seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Newton published his discoveries and the first color wheel in his book “Opticks” in 1704. Since then, some scientists and artists have studied and designed their own variations based on Newton’s original color wheel. 

What’s the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary colors?

The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. You can combine the three primary colors to make numerous other colors, but you can’t combine two other colors to make one of these hues. Secondary colors are the color result of mixing two primary colors together. The three secondary colors are orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue) and purple (red + blue). When you combine a primary color with a secondary color, you get a tertiary color. In the traditional color wheel, there are six tertiary colors: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple and red-purple.

Who uses the color wheel?

Artists and designers use the color wheel to create something that’s visually pleasing. Interior designers use the color wheel when they’re designing rooms in a house. Graphic designers use the color wheel when designing online advertisements and magazine covers. Painters use the color wheel when creating their beautiful works of art. Fashion designers use the color wheel to determine what colors look best together when designing special occasion dresses, men’s pajamas and more.

How to Match Your Clothes Using the Color Wheel

Like fashion designers, you can also use the color wheel to see what colors of clothes you can mix and match. When you have a better idea of what colors go together, it makes it easier to get dressed for any occasion.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are colors that are opposite on the color wheel, such as blue and orange or red and green. Each is a bold choice, but still a complementary combination of colors. One trick of the fashion trade is, for instance, if you want to wear red and green without looking like a Christmas tree is to wear an olive green rather than a true green women’s dress  and then accessorize with a red hair scarf and handbag. 

Split Complementary Colors

If complementary colors are too bold and contrasting for your style, try a split complementary color matching look. It’s a little more subdued, but still very harmonious. In this color choice, you’d choose a color on the color wheel along with the two colors on either side of the first color’s complementary color, that is,  yellow, blue-purple and red-purple. 

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are any three to five adjacent colors on the color wheel that are in the same color family. This is a great way to start color matching outfits if you’re not used to wearing lots of colors because it always provides a soothing color combination that is rich and beautiful but not too bold. You simply choose a color on the color wheel and then choose the color to the right and left of it. In this example, you could choose blue and then blue-purple and blue-green. You could wear a blue men’s suit and put it with a men’s tie and pair of socks that have blue-purple and blue-green in them.

Other Color Matching Tips

When matching colors in an outfit, other style tips to keep in mind are to:

  • Stick within the same color family. Match pastel colors together, earthy tones together, jewel tones together, etc.
  • Match your skin tone. If you have fair skin, cool colors, like those from the blue family, look great on you. Those with deeper skin tones are better at pulling off warmer shades of brown, amber and gold.
  • Balance your colors of choice. Have you ever heard the expression, “Even good things can become bad if they are excessive?” That’s true with color matching. Choose your colors, and then be sure to proportionately coordinate your tunic tops with your pants and jewelry.

Remember, there aren’t any hard and fast rules in fashion. There are merely guidelines. But now that you know how to use the color wheel, you can more effortlessly put together a colorful ensemble that you’ll look and feel good wearing. And who knows, adding a little color may add a little more confidence to your day!

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