How to Coordinate Colors

Three Parts:Knowing Your ColorsMatching ColorsUsing Fail-Safe Combinations

Sometimes it can be difficult to know which colors you should wear with that green shirt or that blue skirt... but there are some definite rules that govern which colors look best with one another. Of course, once you know the rules you can break them, but it's good to get the basics down first. See step 1 to get starting coordinating your outfits by color.

Part 1
Knowing Your Colors

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    Use the color wheel. All the color wheel does is tell you how best to combine colors.There are particular color combinations in the color wheel that are particularly pleasing to the eye, called color harmonies. The basic primary colors of red, yellow, and blue are used to create the secondary colors. Tertiary colors are created by mixing primary and secondary colors together.[1]
    • There are warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors tend to be orange, red, yellow, etc. and cool colors are greens, blues, and purples. Mixing warm colors with warm colors and cool colors with cool colors can be a good way for a color coordination novice to get comfortable with the colors.
    • White, black, and grey are neutral colors (and are very important for properly coordinating clothing).
    • When a color is tinted that means that it's getting lighter (has white added to it) and when it is a shade it is getting darker (has black added to it). Tones in a color are created by adding grey. When you're coordinating clothes you'll need to see how different tints, tones, and shades work with one another.
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    Avoid complementary colors as much as possible. These are the colors that emphasize one another and are opposites on the color wheel (say for example, orange and blue). Don't let the name fool you, these colors are complementary to one another and that doesn't mean that they'll be complementary to you![2]
    • Now, you don't have to avoid pairing complementary colors completely, especially if you're a bold and confident dresser. A good way to use complementary colors to good effect is to pair 1 complementary color with a paler tint of its opposite color. For example, pairing a royal blue dress with a pale gold shawl and shoes.
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    Use analogous colors. These are the colors that are right next to one another on the color wheel, like green and yellow or red and orange. Because they are close to one another they appear easy on the eyes when paired together.
    • An example of using analogous colors to good effect might be a scarlet red dress with gold jewelry and pink shoes.
    • Try to avoid putting no more than 3 analogous colors in one outfit. To use the above example you've already got 3 analogous colors (pink, red, gold), so you wouldn't want to go overboard and add in orange too or purple.
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    Use primary colors. Primary colors (if you can think back to your basic schooling years) are red, blue, and yellow. These are hard to pair together unless you're really brave, although they can look great when done right. Primary colors are great, though, for the monochrome look, which means that you use only one color.[3]
    • An example for the monochrome look might be a white top paired with dark blue skinny jeans, dark blue ankle boots, and a dark blue jacket. To alleviate all that blue you might add in red or bright purple scarf.
    • An example of a good use of primary colors together would be to use it in conjunction with multiple neutral colors. So you might pair red chunky heels with blue skinny jeans and yellow jewelry, while breaking up the colors with a black jacket and grey top.
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    Don't mix certain colors together. Some colors simply were not meant to be mixed and yet people still make the mistake of pairing them together. Avoiding these fashion faux pas will help you better coordinate your outfits.
    • Black may go with everything, but there are two colors it does not go well with. Don't pair it with navy blue. They are too close, but not quite to look good together. The other is brown. Don't pair black with brown unless you're really really certain.
    • White and cream also do not go together, because it makes it look as though you were trying to match your colors and failed (cream and brown, however, go together very well).
    • Brown and grey don't go well together, either. They are both too neutral and more or less colorless to enhance one another.

Part 2
Matching Colors

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    Use neutral colors in your outfits. This is one of the most important pieces of advice for creating well coordinated outfits. The neutral colors will enhance your chosen colors and will make them look better coordinated and not overdone.[4]
    • Grey is a particularly good choice for your outfit. Pair a grey skirt with a dark purple top and pale gold scarf, or a pair of grey slacks with a white shirt, a blue blazer and a red tie.
    • Remember that a fitted white shirt is the perfect complement to most outfits and it can be dressed up with a pair of black slacks and a tie or dressed down with a sweater or blazer and a scarf.
    • Avoid colored trousers, unless you pair them with a neutral top (like red skinny jeans with grey sweater). Usually, however, colored trousers can overwhelm an ensemble and take the focus.
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    Use the value scale of color. This basically means that each color has a variety of values, making it darker (shades) or lighter (tints) or more subdued (tones). When you're pairing things you usually want to to try to pair different values of your chosen colors.
    • For example you might pair a goldenrod tie with a pale blue shirt and grey or black slacks. The goldenrod is a darker value of color than the pale blue shirt (one is more pastel, the other is more bright).
    • try to image the colors you're using as part of a black and white photo. This will help you determine the gradations of the values so that you put the appropriate values together (darker with lighter for example).
    • While pastel colors with pastel colors tends to look a little sugary, you can make a bold statement with bright colors paired with bright colors. Take the above example of the goldenrod tie and pale blue shirt. Instead of the pale blue you might choose maroon to go with the goldenrod tie, which is more intense than the pale blue.
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    Practice! You need to play with colors to find out from personal experience that you might not want to wear that bright yellow scarf with your bright blue shirt. Instead of bright yellow you might tone it down to a more buttery shade or darken it to goldenrod.

Part 3
Using Fail-Safe Combinations

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    Use colors with neutrals. When you're coordinating your outfits you'll want to make sure that you put neutrals together with your colors, so that you don't go overboard. Remember, the neutrals are there to enhance your colors.
    • Do 1 color and 1 neutral. For example you might pair a bright red blouse with a black skirt and red flats. Or you might pair your jeans with a white top and a blue scarf.
    • You could do 1 color and 2 neutrals. For example you could pair an orange dress with a white and black sweater and black converse and white earrings. Or you could pair brown trousers with a cream sweater and a golden scarf.
    • If you get braver you could try 2 colors and 1 neutral. You would want to pick two analogous colors if you aren't sure about your coordinating abilities. So for example you might do a red blazer over a white dress with orange shoes and bag. Or you could do black trousers, a dark blue sweater, and a maroon scarf.
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    Use warm neutrals. If you're feeling unsure you could stick to using warm neutrals like brown and cream which go very well together and make you look elegant. You can also put these with a more earth toned color (the colors that have been mixed with grey) like olive green.
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    Use patterns with neutrals and plain colors. Patterns can be really hard to coordinate, so you'll want to make sure that you don't overdo it with your patterns or you don't overshadow the pattern with the rest of your outfit.
    • Try doing 1 pattern with 1 or 2 plain neutrals. For example you might pair a striped purple and black knit tunic with black leggings and grey boots. You could also pair a flannel shirt with brown corduroy trousers and a white undershirt.
    • You could also try putting 1 pattern with 1 plain color from within the pattern. For example if you have a red skirt with a yellow and orange sun pattern, you might match your shirt with the orange in the pattern (although you would probably want to make sure you have neutral shoes before you get too exciting!).


  • Limit yourself to 3 colors per outfit, including your neutral colors. This will make sure that you don't go overboard with color.
  • Try to avoid going overboard with pastels. A good way to do this is to pair 1 pastel with a neutral color, or a pastel with the same color only on a darker, deeper scale.
  • A good way to create a little bit of extra color is to add a small accessory in a matching value scale of your main color. So for example you might pair yellow earrings with a green shirt or a blue tie with a red shirt.


  • Remember that you're allowed to wear whatever you want to wear. If other people say you don't match, as long as you've got the look you're going for, who cares what they think?
  • Avoid using two colors that are nearly the same, but not quite. You want to either match your colors exactly, or use a neutral tone, otherwise your outfit may look off.
  • As usual, try to avoid putting brown with black unless you're really sure about it. For example, brown shoes with a black outfit will definitely make you look like you don't know what you're doing color-wise.

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Categories: Color in Fashion