The Beginner’s Guide to Colors in Fashion

March 21st, 2014 by Nicolas Richard 8 Comments

Suit_Colors

(Photo Source)

Hi guys, this is Nicolas from Kinowear.com. After writing about men’s biggest fashion mistakes and tackling the subject of men’s jeans, I’m back with advice on a pivotal topic…

Color.

It might seem like an easy thing to grasp, but with the wide array of shades and tones available, it’s more confusing that you’d think.

This is an obstacle for many men, who often pair colors which simply don’t go together and consequently ruin their outfits. Even if you’ve mastered the cut and fabric of your clothes, if you can’t match colors together correctly, your outfit will simply fall flat!

In this guide, you’ll learn about what colors work with what items and materials, what to avoid, and how to gradually progress to bolder colors for a more individual style.

So let’s break it down into easy, medium, and hard colors.

1. Basic colors, the foundation of your closet

These are muted colors like white, grey, beige and navy blue. You can wear them all year round, regardless of season or the latest trend. They’ll never go out of style and will always be flattering. So for all of you beginners out there, this is where to start.

Massimo_Dutti

Photo Credit: Massimi Dutti May 2013

What colors look good with what items?

There are some staple combinations that are essential to any wardrobe. It’s best to start by creating the foundation of your wardrobe before making your way into more individual style. These basic items will be useful no matter what you experiment with in the future; these are interchangeable and timeless. These items include:

  • A basic white t-shirt and the imperative white collared shirt.
  • A grey t-shirt.
  • A navy blue blazer.
  • Dark blue or grey jeans.
  • Staple beige chinos.
White_Collared_Shirt

Photo Credit: BonneGueule

Things to watch out for

Black. Contrary to popular belief that black never goes out of style, we have a slightly different opinion. It should be reserved for formal occasions. As for materials, you should only really wear black in leather; hence try to avoid wearing shirts and t-shirts in this color. Dressing in all black is boring and austere. However if it makes you feel more comfortable, limit it to jackets, trousers, belts, and shoes.

White. In less expensive garments made with lower-quality materials, white can appear see-through. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the fabric you’re buying.

All Black Attire

Photo Credit: fora.mtv.ca

In real life this just looks weird.

Colors and materials

Style is about more than just choosing the right color — color and type of material have a complex relationship. Some colors work better with certain materials than others. This is essential to ensuring that your outfit doesn’t look cheap.

  • With white shirts, look for a substantial material like poplin or thick cotton. You don’t want your undershirt or chest to show through.
    Romney_See-through

    Here the material of the shirt is too thin and the vest is visible. Plus, nobody wants to see Romney’s chest.

  • Grey looks especially flattering on sweaters, knitwear, and t-shirts. Avoid completely solid shades. There are many greys that have flecks of other colors, which will give even inexpensive materials a more authentic look.
  • With navy blue, make sure you choose a material that doesn’t reflect too much light. For example, a nice reefer coat, raw jeans, or a jacket with a deep color.
Reefer Collar

Photo Credit: Bonne Gueule

Color combinations

Here are some simple color combination rules:

  • Darker outerwear and lighter inner layers. It draws the eye towards your face and makes your outfit look easy and natural.
  • Stick to a darker lower half and lighter upper half. It’s slimming, for reasons explained above it draws attention to your face and it is easy to put together for your outfit. For example, combine dark blue jeans with a grey jacket and white shirt.

Note: This is exactly the advice you’ll find in our eBook The Kinowear Fashion Bible or in our free Kinowear crash course

Navy Jacket

Photo Credit: Gant

2. Step up your game with some more colors

Once you’ve mastered the art of the basics, you can choose more colors to add a bit of flair to your outfit. While these colors still aren’t overwhelming, they will add a bit of originality to your outfit:

  • Light blue
  • Pastel colors
  • Dark red
  • Earth tones (dark orange, dark green, brown)

How to transition from muted colors

Even though it may seem daunting to move away from your basic muted colors, it’s vital to making yourself stand out. So don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone. Start by adding one of these colors to a single item in your outfit, rather than rushing ahead and wearing an outfit entirely of pastel tones. Choose one item of a medium color and match it with neutrals as seen in the first part to add balance and contrast to your look.

Which colors look good with which items?

Even though these colors may be slightly bolder and more noticeable, there are still certain staple looks which you can quickly learn to avoid any fear of wearing them. These items include:

  • A light blue shirt is extremely versatile. Go for jeans or chinos for a casual look and blazers for more formal settings.
  • Ignore all your manly hang-ups with pink and take the plunge! Wear a light pink collared shirt with jeans to show that you’re confident in your style.
  • Dark red or burgundy can add a touch of glamour to your outfit. As said earlier, it’s important to stick to dark on the bottom, so if you want a change, try out dark red trousers.
  • With pastels, be careful not to wear too many of them at the same time and keep them to the upper half of your outfit. Pastel shirts or light-colored sweaters add a new dimension to your look.
  • Earth tones work best on chinos and knitwear.
Photo Credit: Greyfoxblog.com

Photo Credit: Greyfoxblog.com

As the colors get increasingly daring, the risk of error increases as well.

Let’s start with the color pink. This is definitely not something to shy away from, but make sure that it’s a light tone. When the shirt is too salmon-colored it can get too close to your skin tone and look strange.

Finally, don’t wear too many pastel colors all at once, or you’ll run the risk of looking like an Easter egg.

Color combinations

When wearing these bolder colors, the aim is not to suddenly grab everyone’s attention; they’re used to make your outfit more dynamic yet subtle. Combinations such as the following work well:

  • Light blue under layer with dark blue outer layer
  • Light blue and beige (light blue shirt and chinos)
  • Pastel colors and beige (light purple shirt and chinos)
  • Dark red and navy (dark red trousers and navy blazer)
  • Pink and dark blue (pink shirt and dark blue jeans)

How to incorporate color

Here’s a small demonstration on how to incorporate pink into your wardrobe while keeping the rest of your outfit neutral:

  • Decide the tone of the outfit that you’re going for. For this instance, we’ll go for a smart /casual outfit.
  • Choose your shoes. We’ll go with dark brown brogues or derbies.
Paul Evans Shoes

Photo Credit: Paul Evans

  • Choose your trousers. Go with dark blue raw denim jeans to keep it smart without being overdressed.
  • Choose your jacket. Perhaps a navy blue or grey blazer.
  • Mix it up. At this point, you’ve got a perfect casual ensemble, yet the colors are all very bland: brown, blue, and grey. So how can you individualize your outfit to stand without taking it too far?
  • Add a pink shirt. The color won’t change the tone of the outfit drastically, it will just add more pizzazz than a basic white shirt!

Photo Credit: Left Harry Shum, Middle and right Dan Trepanier

3. Advanced level : Bold colors

Bold colors include:

  • Bright green
  • Yellow
  • Bright red
  • Purple
  • Orange

The trick is to make these colors fit into your outfit seamlessly without making them seem garish — it’s easier said than done.

Photo Credit: hespokestyle.com

Photo Credit: hespokestyle.com

How to wear these colors

Even as an expert, it’s important not to go overboard with these colors, you just need to add a dash to create a truly unique outfit.

Adding small brightly-colored accessories is key; whether it be a tie, bowtie, pocket square, or suspenders. These small accessories allow you to incorporate shocking color without it dominating your outfit as a whole, and thus maintaining a sense of equilibrium. 

Socks are great for adding really bright colors. They aren’t visible all the time, but when they are people will get a glimpse of the shocking color. This is a playful addition to outfits that gives a bit of personality to how you dress.

James Marsden Tweed

Photo Credit: James Marsden for GQ

Things to watch out for

Here are some simple rules to adding bright color:

  • In general, don’t add more than one of these colors to the same outfit. They will simply clash too much.
  • Only one bright-colored item at a time. Don’t match your scarf and socks and belt in the same bright color — what will stand out is that you’ve put a lot of effort into matching everything.
  • Avoid adding one of these colors to the main garment of your outfit. Such as a bright green suit jacket.
  • If you are going to wear these colors, the products need to be and look high-quality. If they’re made from cheap materials such as acrylic, nylon and polyester, they will simply look tacky.

Understand the three different levels of difficulties for colors. The easiest ones are navy blue, white, grey, and beige. Then come earthy colors and pastel tones. Finally are bright colors, to use sparingly. Also keep in mind this simple rule: Darker outerwear and lighter inner layers.

P.S. If you like this article you should check out the Kinowear Fashion Bible — a quick and easy method to dressing timelessly and learning how to build your own unique style.

Or read Nick’s review here.

Who is Nicolas?

Nicolas_Kinowear_HeadshotI’m the author of this post and editor at Kinowear.com

At Kinowear we help men choose pieces of clothing and put together simple yet stunning outfits.

I’ve got a free crash course to teach you how to dress better and improve your look.

  1. Nicolas from Kinowear on March 21, 2014

    Hi guys,
    If you have any questions I’m here to answer them 🙂
    Nicolas

    • Matt on March 21, 2014

      I was wondering about socks. I just got Johnston and Murphy’s Tyndall single Monk strap shoes and didn’t realize how well they went with dark wash jeans. Now I’ve heard a lot of people saying be adventurous with socks in a really casual setting and wanted to know if there were any rules in place for what may be too much or what would just clash.

      Example : http://i.imgur.com/BBnQgzy.jpg

      Here’s a picture of some socks I got months ago and never wore as I tend to error on the side of caution by keeping it conservative. If I wore those shoes with those socks and dark wash jeans then is there any types or colors in a button down that I should avoid?

      • Nicolas from Kinowear on March 21, 2014

        Hi Matt,
        My opinion on accessories is that it must be spontaneous. The point is to have fun and spice up your outfit on a casual day. Therefore don’t worry too much about that and don’t try to match your socks with the rest of you outfit.

        That’s why about your button down, I would say: the socks don’t change a thing. No specific colors to avoid.

        Nicolas

        P.-S. : Cool socks 😀

    • Chidi on May 10, 2016

      I have a red blazer, red paisley bow tie, white pant, brown belt and shoe.
      1. Will that work?
      2. What color shirt would work?

  2. Patrick on March 21, 2014

    Since Spring started yesterday, do you believe in wearing certain colors by season or does that not matter?

    • Nicolas from Kinowear on March 21, 2014

      Yeah it doesn’t matter. The colors of a mens’ wardrobe are to be used all year round.

      However it’s way easier to pull off very bright and pastel colors in summer. Why is that ? Mostly because when you’re in summer, especially in holiday, most people are in the mood for it.

      Nicolas

  3. Gaurav kumar on November 14, 2015

    i wanna knw dat which colours of shirt look good wid navy blue and beige chino.?

  4. chinny on September 20, 2016

    Can a soon to be one year old wear white shirt with a red bow tie and light ripped off jeans with blue shoes for his birthday.. need help and am thinking he has worn alot of bow ties, do I loose it??