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How to Create Fall Outfits Using Color Formulas Without a Capsule Wardrobe: Teal & Brown

One of the big benefits of a thoughtfully designed capsule wardrobe is that you will have sets of garments in core colors, especially neutrals, that can be easily mixed and matched and that can provide a foundation for adding statement pieces to create many distinct outfits.

But it's not actually necessary to have or make a capsule wardrobe to create outfits in this way! Today I will show how you can pull a set of related pieces from your existing wardrobe (whether it's a capsule, curated, collection, or chaos wardrobe) to form outfits using simple color formulas.

The color formulas I am working with today are:

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

To get started, we'll pull our solid garments in two colors to provide the basis for the outfits. While capsule wardrobes often lean heavily on neutrals for the core pieces, it's not necessary to do so (an example 21-piece capsule here). You are looking for a set of items in matching/similar colors, but they can be neutrals, semi-neutrals, or accent colors. I chose to focus on bright teal and brown for my two colors because they look gorgeous together and have a richness that feels right for fall.

I created a "trio" (bottom, top, and topper that can be mixed and matched) in each color. On the left, I have a skirt, pullover sweater, and puffy vest in bright teal. Down the center, I have jeans, zip-neck pullover sweater, and quilted vest in brown. I added two more pieces with the idea of pairing them for additional flexibility in creating colorblock outfits: a brown short-sleeved T and a dark aqua cardigan. You'll notice that the dark aqua cardigan does not match or go with the bright teal pieces! That's OK. While it might be ideal for that cardigan to mix and match with the bright teal, sometimes we don't have the ideal items in our wardrobes so we substitute what we have.

To reiterate, the building blocks for this are:

--"Trio" in bright teal (or whatever your first color is)...matching or similar colors you would wear together

--"Trio" in brown (or whatever your second color is)...matching or similar colors you would wear together

--Optional: Top in first color (or similar) + topper in second color (or similar)

If you don't have three pieces in the same color, no worries. Look for two pieces instead. You won't be able to create all the outfit formulas with two pieces, but you may be surprised by how far you can get with even two!

I have selected a bottom, sweater, and winter vest for my trio pieces because cold weather has hit in St Paul (as in, what many parts of the country would consider winter, with highs around or below freezing). But the outfit creation process works the same no matter the specific pieces/silhouettes you choose! No need to get too caught up on the exact pieces I'm showing here. It's the combining using the colors that we're focusing on.

As shown in the olive & rust post on selecting scarves for an outfit, it's very handy to have a "bridge piece" accessory like a scarf that combines the two colors to give your outfit a sense of cohesion and intentionality. But you don't need the colors in that accessory to be at all exactly matching your clothing! You just want something in the general color family. Below I started with the teal/brown/rust paisley scarf that is my go-to bridge piece for outfits with those colors (as seen in my mint fall outfit post, for example). Then I selected another 3 print bridge piece scarves with teal + brown plus a brown/neutral leopard print and a teal/neutral ombré print. You don't need this many, of course, but I wanted to show some variety. Don't have a bridge piece? No worries! You can still use the color formulas. I add the bridge pieces because a highly-integrated color story is a strong feature of my outfits, and I think it can be a helpful way to "sell" a color combination in an outfit as intentional. But they can be easily removed or substituted in the outfits below!

With our pieces selected, let's get started!

Color Formula #1: Inner Column

First, let's create an inner column from the top + bottom piece in brown, which creates a dark neutral base for the outfit. The bright teal vest is Outfit #1's "third piece" that adds a pop of color. That forms a base outfit that can be finished a lot of different ways! (That is the theme throughout this post, so I'll say it once now to cover all of them.) I chose to add a bridge piece scarf in a colorful print to match the intensity of the vest. I finished with gold jewelry (to draw on the rich gold in the scarf) and animal print smoking slippers for a bit of print mixing.

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Outfit #1

In Outfit #2, the colors are reversed so we have a bright teal inner column topped by a brown topper. The outfit is completed with a bridge piece scarf and soft brown accessories. (I imagine brown tights here.)

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Outfit #2

Another option is to create an inner column in one of the colors and top it with a third piece in a neutral instead. In Outfit #3, a brown column + ivory cardigan creates the base outfit, and a print scarf brings in the second color (teal) in a subtle way. I have worn this outfit as an outfit of the day, but I didn't take a photo so I reproduced it in this flat lay. This is a very neutral outfit by my standards, but having that teal in the scarf next to my face did make a difference. A solid teal scarf would be another option for a more impactful color pop.

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Outfit #3

Outfit #4 uses the bright teal inner column with a denim jacket as the neutral third piece. The ombré scarf, earrings, and bracelet are all in the teal + white color scheme. The brown is added with the brown boots (which I would wear with brown tights/leggings). Because we are used to seeing "natural" leather colors like brown one time in an outfit, I don't think you need to repeat the brown elsewhere in the outfit (though it wouldn't hurt if you did). If you have brown or brown-ish hair, brown boots would nicely bookend the look. I used dark brown boots but any shade of brown would work. With colorful fall/winter skirt outfits, it can be hard to know what color to pick for tights and boots...I think brown is a lovely (and under-utilized) option.

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Outfit #4

Color Formula #2: Outer Column/"Suit"

In this OOTD, I created an outer column in brown from the jeans and a jacket (no longer in my closet) worn over a teal top. In this iteration, the outer column has a distinctly "suit"-like quality, but you're not actually trying to convince anyone that the pieces are made to be worn together like a suit. Here the bottoms are made from denim and the jacket is made from a fabric with a slight nap definitely not a matching suit. I used the teal/brown/rust paisley scarf as the bridge piece to tie the colors together. Note that even though the shades of teal in the scarf and top don't match (the top has more blue in it), they still work very well together.

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Outfit #5

Outfit #6 uses a version of the outer column that I don't see very often but that can look really striking: a bright bottom and topper "suit" over a dark neutral top. I love the way a vest layers over a sweater or shirt, leaving the color from the top's arms visible. To me, this is especially nice in cold weather when a heavy, high volume scarf like this striped one might cover up the underlayer from the can still see the color on the arms.

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Outfit #6

Color Formula #3: Modern Twin Set

Outfit #7 uses the brown sweater + vest combination with the bright teal pencil skirt. I think wearing a dark neutral on top with a vividly colored skirt/pants is a terrific look that you don't see very often, so it feels quite fresh even though it's just a simple color formula at work. Just like in Outfit #1, I added a bridge piece scarf that contains a golden shade that I repeated in my jewelry. Don't have/want/need a topper layer in your outfit? Then you could skip the vest and still have a great outfit. I like how the vest adds warmth (for Minnesota, this is critical in the fall/winter) and some variation in tone/texture, but it's not necessary for the outfit to work.

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Outfit #7

Outfit #8 is the more usual twin set color orientation with the dark neutral on bottom and brighter accent color on top. I didn't use a bridge piece scarf this time (shocking, I know, given how it's my go-to!). Instead I chose the neutral leopard scarf to repeat the color of the pants and used my bracelet stack as the bridging element. My stack contains two teal bracelets and one brown one, and even though no single bracelet contains both colors, I think it works as a bridge because our eyes tend to read the bracelet stack as one "thing" with both teal and brown in it. (Of course if you made yourself some DIY paper bead bracelets with both colors, you'd be really killing it on the color coordination front!)

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Outfit #8

Color Formula #4: Colorblocking

Now we'll further investigate how we can use the first color (teal), second color (brown), and a neutral to create a solid colorblocked outfit. This is a color formula I use a LOT, especially in the Light Neutral + Dark Neutral + Accent version or the Accent 1 + Accent 2 + Neutral version. It's a great way to incorporate those odd one-off items that don't really match anything else in our wardrobes and so don't really work as well with the inner column, outer column, or twin set formulas.

Let's start with an easy one! Outfit #9 combines a blue denim bottom, a bright colored top, and a dark neutral topper...which are pieces we probably all have in our closets. Standard blue-based denim is an outstanding stand-alone neutral (i.e., you don't need to make an effort to incorporate it into an outfit) that I call the "ultimate neutral." I won't say that adding denim can never be wrong...but in most cases, you can add denim with whatever colors you are wearing and it will work great with no special effort. (In fact, adding more than one blue denim piece to an outfit is a questionable/fashion-forward look, depending on who you ask!) I added my go-to bridge piece scarf, brown boots (and tights), and colorful earrings to finish the look.

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Outfit #9

Outfit #10 switches the two top colors around so in addition to our denim bottoms, we have a dark neutral top and bright colored cardigan...again, an easy combination for most of us to find in our wardrobes. You may remember this brown T + dark aqua cardigan from the introduction of the garments at the beginning of the post...where I acknowledged that the dark aqua didn't match the bright teal color at all well. But with the colorblock formula, the three pieces in the outfit are different colors so matching isn't an issue. I followed the same accessorizing pattern as in Outfit #9: bridge piece scarf, neutral footwear, bright colored earrings. I put in this cute sloth necklace because it is adorable and will not be denied.

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Outfit #10

Outfit #11 is another OOTD that I am recreating in flat lay form. Now we've added ivory as our third color instead of blue denim. Ivory/white/cream is a popular color for tops and sweaters that our eyes are very accustomed to seeing, so you don't necessarily need to do anything to make it look intentional (much like with the blue denim above). But being me, I added the bridge piece scarf that has all three of these colors in it.

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Outfit #11

Here is another OOTD that is only a slight variation on Outfit #11. I substituted a cream lace-front T for the sweater, a mint cardigan vest for the teal puffy vest, and accessorized with silver instead of gold jewelry to make Outfit #12. There's nothing wrong with repeating parts of outfits or complete outfits if you've got pieces that you like together! Here you can see that I have two bridge pieces: the same paisley print scarf plus a bracelet stack with teal, mint, rust, and two paper bead bracelets with both teal/mint and rust.

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Outfit #12

Adding a Print Garment + a Second Accent Color

In the above examples, we used solid garments to build our outfits, accessorizing with bridge piece print scarves (or any other print accessories). But of course it's also possible to use a print garment as the bridge piece, substituting it in for one of the clothing items in the outfit.

For the teal + brown color combination, I am going to use this pleated floral print skirt that has dark teal, warm brown, and bright red-orange against a white background. There's also a bit of black and light pink in there, too, but it's the red-orange color that dominates the print and emerges as the obvious "new color" introduced to our color scheme. (Thrifted for $3.99, this skirt was an absolute steal; after 12 wears, I'm down to a cost per wear of $0.33.)

The choice of the red-orange in this print makes a lot of sense to me because...yep, we're going back to the color wheel and our continuing discussion of complementary colors! Blue-Green and Red-Orange are opposites on the color wheel, making them a striking, high-impact color combination.

Outfit #13 combines the print skirt with the brown jacket. The scarf picks up that "new color" from the print (Road Map styling). The tights and flats repeat the dark brown from the jacket. Note that dark brown isn't present in the skirt's print but it still coordinates nicely as a variation on the warm brown.

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Outfit #13

In another OOTD, I used the same skirt, scarf, and top but substituted a dark blue denim jacket (the stand-alone "ultimate neutral") for the brown jacket. And you can even see the teal top in Outfit #14 because I wore the scarf high around my neck. This time I chose cognac boots to match the warm brown in the skirt (Road Map styling again) instead of dark brown.

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Outfit #14

Outfit #15 is a more exuberantly colored look with the bright teal sweater + vest modern twin set, the teal/white ombré scarf (nice that it picks up the bits of white in the skirt), red-orange leather earrings, and a DIY bracelet set in teal and orange (made to match this skirt). Here the teal and the "new color" accent colors have been accentuated. The brown appears only in the print skirt and the cognac boots, and no additional neutral has been added. This is a bright but tightly-cohesive look in terms of color...which is what feels natural to me. To mix things up, you could easily substitute say the earrings and bracelets for another color entirely. You could pick up that bit of pink from the skirt or go for a completely different color using the "color not in the print" from Jodie's color recipe. For some reason, I'm thinking yellow would be a fun pick.

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Outfit #15

By the way, Jodie's "Daily Looks" posts on Saturdays are a great place to look if you are interested in getting more exposure to this "randomly colored accessory" idea because it's a styling move she makes often. For example, she adds bright pink accessories to a yellow and chambray outfit in this post (Wednesday's OOTD).

And now that we've added red-orange as our "new color" due to its presence in the bridge piece print skirt and its handy relationship to teal as a complementary color, we can use it as a stand-alone color in our teal + brown based outfits. Outfit #16 is an easy-to-create example with blue denim jeans, the bright teal sweater, and the red-orange scarf in a colorblocked look. Brown is added in the leather earrings, bracelets, and leopard smoking slippers. Solid brown shoes/boots would also work, of course, but I love the leopard here. No bridge piece here, but I actually love this outfit with the bold complementary top + scarf color combo! I'm discovering that a top + scarf in complementary colors in an otherwise neutral outfit is a look that I really like.

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Outfit #16

Even though we didn't start with a capsule wardrobe, when we put together the garments that we used in these outfits (along with a representative sample of accessories), a nice little capsule emerges from it! This wasn't my intention, but it's interesting how it turned out that way.

Do you like wearing brown and teal together? Do you think standard blue denim is a stand-alone neutral? Would you wear denim with any color?

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