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7 x Tips on how to put colours together

How can I put colours together is a question I've been asked a few times recently. I know lots of my customers are not sure how to do it, so have avoided them completely and end up sticking mainly to blues, greys, blacks and whites.

Does that sound like you?! Well here, I'm attempting to narrow down the huge subject with 7 x tips on how to combine colours in an outfit. When you next get dressed, have a think about whether any of these suggestions could work for you, and give some of them a try. (Let me know if they're successful!) Or perhaps you're already doing them instinctively with some outfits but now we've broken it down, you can repeat the process with other outfits.

I've also picked out some examples, which I've talked through to help explain how to build up an outfit and how you could think about incorporating it into your outfits.

I hope it's useful, but if you have other questions or something in your wardrobe you're not sure how to combine with other pieces, then do get in touch, and let me know if you try anything and it opens up some new outfit combinations or you buy some more colour because of it!

1. Figure out which colours go with your skin tone

Actually it's more than just your skin tone. It's the combination of your hair, skin and eye colour that influences what will look good on you. Firstly try and work out if you're warm or cool - do you have a golden look to your skin, tan easily, have a reddish tinge to your hair and golden flecks in your eyes? Then you're most likely to be warm toned.  If you're very pale, have pinkish skin or dark skin with more of an ashy look to it, have blue/grey eyes or brown eyes with no warm flecks then you're more likely to be cool toned.

If you're warm toned then go for colours that have more yellow in them like yellow greens, oranges, tans, and teals. If you're cool toned, then you're more likely to look good in greys, blues, pinks, and blue toned greens like jade.

The next thing to do is to see how much contrast you have between your hair, skin and eyes - if there's little contrast you probably look better in softer more muted colours that look washed in, and if you have lots of contrast then you'll most likely suit brighter, clearer colours.

And if you're not sure, book in for a Colour & Style Consultation.

How to wear pink and what to wear it with

Left: A bold pink works well with the contrast of dark navy trousers & bright white trainers. If I were to put a jacket with this, I'd go for a denim or maybe a grey one. And if you were to wear socks with it, I'd either go for a navy with a bit of the pink in it or burgundy which is a tone darker than the pink jumper.

Middle: I really like green and pink together and think it would also work if the tie was more of a khaki green. Personally I think the pocket square looks a bit random when you already have a lot of colour in the outfit, I would have gone for something that brings the navy of the trousers in with one of the colours from the top of the outfit - like this one.

Right: I love this colour combination - as discussed above, they're both muted tones with the same saturation. On top of this I think a beige jacket would work really well, or a camel colour for a more adventurous combination. Or navy would work, better than black which would be quite harsh and overpowering with this combination.

Mr P at Mr Porter pink mock neck sweatshirt

2. Combine three colours


Unless you're wearing neutrals like black and white or navy and cream, then use at least 3 colours together, otherwise everything will look too matched up and off balance. Whenever I have an outfit that doesn't feel right, just by adding a bit of white or another colour, it suddenly goes from looking wrong to right.

I'd suggest you don't match more than two things up completely, so you achieve more of a nonchalant but co-ordinated look.

When I'm putting outfits together for clients, I usually start with the bottom part, then add the top, then add the third colour. And finally add the accessories. Eg: Beige chinos (one colour), light brown blazer (two colours), pale pink shirt (three colours), + chocolate brown shoes / belt (a darker tone brown of the blazer).

3. Start with two neutrals and add a more adventurous colour

If you're not used to wearing colour and are a bit afraid of it and don't know where to start, then take two neutrals like navy and beige and add a bit of colour to them - eg: a navy sweater and some beige chinos may be things you're used to wearing, and you could add some orange trainers, or a yellow check shirt under the sweater, or a pink  pair of socks or a burgundy bomber jacket. These would all work with the neutral base of navy and beige.

This is definitely the easiest way to start wearing more colour - wear what you're used to - blue. black, grey, beige etc and add one other item in a colour.

What colours can I wear with yellow - how to put colours together

Left: This outfit is made up of 2 main colours - yellow and blue. The off-white trousers are like a very light version of the yellow sweater and the pale blue shirt is a lighter version of the dark navy jacket. If you think of the sliding scale of the lightness and darkness of a colour, I think it'll help to open up how you put outfits together....see tip #6 for more info.

Middle: Mustard combines really well with grey or black or dark navy. It's quite a strong colour, so I'd put a black jacket over this or dark navy to keep the depth of the colours balanced. And I like the bright white trainers with it too which give lots of contrast.

Right: Again quite a punchy combination of colours with contrasting navy and white stripes and the bright yellow jacket. I'd stick to neutrals with this jacket, so you don't inadvertently fall into children's TV presenter territory!

Outfit from Drakes Collection one lookbook

Mr P at Mr Porter yellow contrast tipped sweatshirt

Drakes yellow chore jacket

4. Use contrasts

When you wear tailoring you need to have some sort of contrast between the top and bottom, so it doesn't look like you're wearing a mismatched suit. Combine a lighter pair of trousers with a darker jacket and a lighter jacket with darker trousers. And if you only have one jacket or are going out to buy one, then for maximum versatility try and get a mid tone that goes with dark and light trousers!

You also need some sort of colour change between your trousers and footwear. Eg. If you put navy shoes with navy trousers or green shoes with green trousers, it all looks too similar. Instead, when wearing navy trousers I'd put dark brown or black (depending on how formal it is and what you're wearing on top) and for green, I'd go for tan or brown or perhaps navy. If you're wearing a casual outfit then you could also go for white or light coloured trainers but if it's more formal, traditionally your shoes should be darker than your trousers for a more elegant look.

How to wear colours for men

Left: I think the contrast looks good here, and I like how he has the pale blue shirt and the dark blue shoes. He could reverse it and have dark navy trousers and white trainers. If you've got a colour combination you like, it's worth thinking about that to see if you can use the same combination in other ways. I'd put a navy jacket on top of this too...a blazer or bomber depending on the level of smartness.

Middle: A burnt orange like this looks good with navy and grey for a contrast, and also blends well with other warmer tones like khaki, beige, dark brown. If you're a colour novice, then it's easiest to start by combining a bright colour with two other neutral colours like they have done here.

Right: This one is a brighter red which is toned down a little with the beige. Red is quite a strong colour which draws your eye to it, so it's best to put it with darker colours or a more muted tone like beige rather than bright white, which looks a bit too "red cross" for my liking.

Eddie Redmayne image from GQ

Loro Piana orange sweater at Mr Porter

Connolly red rollneck sweater outfit at Mr Porter

5. Tone in your accessories

You can use your accessories to add some interest and bring colours together or add an accent colour. When choosing a tie or pocket square to go with your shirt and jacket, look to see if any of the colours correspond with the colour of your shirt. Or if your jacket has an overcheck or some sort of pattern or fleck to it you could use that to influence the colour of your tie or pocket square. The same process would work with a scarf for casual wear.

You can tone your socks in with your trousers (rather than your shoes) - maybe going one shade darker, or pick out a colour that's in your top half - it doesn't have to be exactly the same but could be a shade of the same colour so it looks toned rather than matched exactly. Eg: If you're wearing a lilac button down shirt with some beige trousers and brown shoes you could go for a more vibrant or darker shade of purple for your socks.

6.  Use a sliding scale of depth for colours

Whilst putting together this guide, I noticed something that I think I've been doing instinctively but hadn't thought of how to explain. As I suggested above, you can use a sliding scale of depth of colour to help put together your outfit. So you use two shades of the same colour, one lighter and one darker, along with the other colour(s) in your outfit.

it's quite a good starting point to easily put together an outfit....see how the following combinations work well together following this system: Cream and camel (2 shades of warm browns) and black;  Pale pink and dark burgundy  (2 muted down shades of red) with sage green; Navy and pale blue (2 shades of blue) and burgundy; Grey and black (2 shades of black tones) and mustard yellow; Mink brown and stone (2 shades of cool browns) and dusty pink.

Camel coloured outfits for men

Left: There's lots of camel around at the moment, so I thought I'd include it here. It's very elegant when added to black and white to break it up.

Middle: I wanted to include this one as it's a good example of how lighter and darker shades of the same colour can work well together - it's a bit more adventurous but could be done in other ways like a salmon coloured t-shirt with a darker camel jacket - in fact, I bought that with a client yesterday, so will be suggesting that combination with grey or black jeans.

Right: Another great combination with camel is grey. If you're not quite as extrovert as Jeff Goldblum in how you dress, you could wear black boots or white trainers instead of zebra print shoes!

Sandro tan trousers

Jeff Goldblum - GQ best dressed list

7. Combine muted or sharper colours together

I mentioned in the first point, that it depends on how high the contrast between your skin, hair and eyes is as to whether or not you look good in bright colours or softer ones. If you have very pale skin, dark brown hair and blue eyes you have a lot of contrast, and will look good in high contrast clothing ie: very light and very dark colours together or bright primary colours.

If you have mousey brown hair, mid toned skin and green eyes you have little contrast and will look better in clothes that don't have high contrast ie: mid tones combined and muted washed in colours.

Quite often, my clients tell me they have a pair of black jeans in their wardrobe but they don't wear them. You'd think black jeans would be super easy to wear wouldn't you? But if you have the solid black ones (rather than washed in ones that look charcoal) the black does tend to overpower whatever you put it with and creates a high contrast. If you look good in sharp bright contrasts like a white, black and red combo, then that's fine but if you're better in lower contrasts and softer tones then that may explain why you're not wearing your black jeans/trousers as much as you thought you would

What colours to wear with green

Left: I mentioned this combination above.....these two warm, earthy tones work perfectly together and they've continued the theme with brown shoes.

Middle: Another winning combination in cooler blues and greens. Again, it's using the light and dark shades of blue and then adding in the green. It'd work just as well with a white shirt too, and I'd add black or chocolate brown shoes / belt to this (with a silver toned buckle if possible, as that's also cool toned)

Right: This is quite bright combined with the white but I like it! Especially with the pale blue shirt underneath to add in another colour. You could swap the white cords out for navy trousers or jeans or even reverse the combination and where mid blue trousers and a white shirt with it.

Drakes khaki & orange outfit

Drakes green and ecru outfit

Want to add some more colours to your wardrobe? Book in for a Colour & Style Consultation.....here's what one recent client said:

"I felt like I'd become a bit safe in my clothing (and colour choices) and booked a colour consult with Sarah to shake things up a bit and give me a sense of what to by (and what not to) to build a more cohensive wardrobe. It was a great session, and since Sarah has given me some great options to follow up on."

Book in your colour & style consultation here

Like this? Here are some more posts about colour:

 How to combine colours personal styling ideas for men

How to combine colours

Easy ways to introduce more colour into your outfit

Easy ways to add more colour to your wardrobe