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Creating Outfits from Color Formulas & Color Wheel Combos

In my outfit formula and color formula post, I distinguished between color combos based on the color wheel (e.g., yellow + red + blue is a triadic color combination) and what I'm calling color formulas. The color formulas I discussed were:

1) Inner column: top and bottom pieces are the same/similar color

2) Outer column/"suit": topper and bottom pieces are the same/similar color

3) Modern twin set: top and topper pieces are the same/similar color

4) Matching scarf: scarf and top or topper piece are the same/similar color

5) Color blocked: all pieces are different (solid) colors

But what's great is that the color formulas and color wheel combinations can be used together in creating outfits!

For example, it just so happens that the color blocked outfit that I used in the last post has green and pink colors that work well together because of their positions on the color wheel.

Complementary colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel, and one pair of opposites is Yellow-Green and Red-Violet. Complementary color schemes balance one warm overtone color (yellows, oranges, reds) with one cool overtone color (greens, blues, purples). They are visually stimulating yet pleasing.

Bababao, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Let's see how we could take this one color wheel combination and use it in a variety of different color formulas.

First, let's utilize the inner column formula with the complementary color combination. In Outfit #1, the aloe/olive inner column creates the base of the outfit and the wine vest + pink scarf provides the complementary color. By choosing the matching scarf formula with the inner column formula, it's an outfit with a large amount of overall color and has a high degree of visual contrast and impact.

Outfit #1

Of course we could also build our inner column using the Red-Violet and then introduce the complementary Yellow-Green in the form of a topper piece. In Outfit #2, instead of a matching scarf formula, I'm going to add a neutral scarf. Adding neutrals to your complementary color scheme is a nice way to tone down the impact of the colors. Notice that the blouse and pants are not in exactly matching colors; that's completely fine! These color formulas don't require perfect matching; they work well as long as the colors are similar.

Outfit #2

Another option is to use a bridge piece or linking piece that contains both of the complementary colors to tie the look together. I am a die-hard scarf lover, so I will always argue that a scarf makes a terrific bridge piece! The way this paisley scarf is woven, many shades of wine and golden olive appear in it, which adds a richness of color to Outfit #3.

Outfit #3

Next let's turn to the outer column or "suit" color formula. In Outfit #4, the olive pants and cardigan are the base of the outfit and the wine blouse and pink scarf provide the complementary color. You may notice that this is very similar to Outfit #1, only an outer column + matching top/scarf instead of an inner column + matching vest/scarf.

Outfit #4

The modern twin set is a less common but very striking color formula, implemented in Outfit #5 with a wine blouse + vest and olive pants for the complementary color scheme. For the scarf, I am choosing a bridge piece again, this time in a bird/flower print. Notice that because the scarf's background is so similar in color to the twin set that it blends in rather than standing out like the bold paisley in Outfit #3.

Outfit #5

This outfit of the day is another version of the twin set color formula with an olive T and cardigan + a magenta scarf making the complementary color scheme. Here the T is mostly obscured by the cardigan and scarf, but the bits that show blend in with the cardigan rather than introducing another color element to the look. The bottom half of the outfit is made up of neutrals: blue jeans, black socks, and brown leopard smoking slippers.

Outfit #6 (OOTD)

Even if you're not interested in getting deep into color theory, I think knowing your complementary colors can be quite useful for choosing the accent colors in a capsule wardrobe and more generally for building outfits that use color powerfully.

If you're going to know two color combos from the color wheel, my recommendations are (1) complementary colors and (2) monochromatic/analogous colors. Why do I combine monochromatic and analogous into a single category when they're technically different? Because I think they can be hard to separate in practice and both monochromatic and analogous color schemes work great in outfits!

Monochromatic colors are the same color or variants on the same color as long as they are the same hue. Hue just means the color category on the color wheel, like Blue or Violet or Red-Orange. In the previous two outfits, the utility-player greens are variants of the hue Yellow-Green. They can be darker or lighter versions, but they're still Yellow-Green.

Analogous colors are colors that are based on hues right next to each other on the color wheel. Luckily a little memory of the rainbow color order and the hints existing in the hue names makes this pretty easy. Eliminate "indigo" from the rainbow (and really, don't we usually?), and your ROY G. BV tells you the order Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. Then you have the hues that are transitions between those rainbow colors. Yellow-Green sits in between Yellow and Green. Red-Orange sits in between Red and Orange. And so on.

Here's that color wheel image again for reference...

Bababao, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In the following outfit, we definitely have a dark Red-Violet in the wine pants and vest. To my eye, this punch pink scarf is a light Red-Violet, but you might see it as more of a light Red instead. Red is the next hue on the color wheel, which makes it an analogous color to Red-Violet. The blush pink sweater is very light (white has been added to the hue to make a tint) and muted (grey has also been added to the hue to make a tone), but I can't really tell if the hue is Red or Red-Violet. But for me it doesn't matter if this outfit includes variations of both Red and Red-Violet (analogous) or just variations of Red-Violet (monochromatic) because both monochromatic and analogous colors make great color combos! The difference is more theoretical than practical.

So for creating monochromatic/analogous colored outfits, think of two hues next to each other on the color wheel and draw on variations of 1-2 of those hues to create the outfit. But just as with complementary color schemes, you can add neutrals freely to the outfit when using a monochromatic/analogous color scheme. For example, in the outfit below, I just substituted the beige pants for the wine pants. It's still monochromatic/analogous, but it has a lessened color impact and no longer utilizes the outer column color formula.

Of course, there are about a million different color wheel combinations involving triads, tetrads, etc., but I personally think that having the complementary and monochromatic/analogous options in mind can get you pretty far.

Do you like wearing complementary colors? How about monochromatic or analogous colors?

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