Until the last year or so, this is something that I wouldn’t have brought to the blog – it would have just been something that was floating around in my brain, bugging me. But knowing how thoughtful and intelligent you are, I thought I’d share…
Yesterday, I was looking at the jerseys worn by the rugby team Stade Francais (yes, they’re from Paris) and the colors in them got me to thinking…
It’s important (at least my opinion!) to have a core wardrobe neutral color, and a handful of accent colors – typically including a light color for tee shirts and blouses. Having this palette of 5 (approximately) colors makes shopping and coordinating your wardrobe a ton easier.
But should your accent colors ALSO work together? Do they have to?
Well… no. It can make things easier, if you like to wear multiple accents at the same time, but it’s not absolutely VITAL.
Here’s an example of what can be done with nice, compatible accents:
In the top 2 outfits, the bright sweater is perfect with the bright red shoes, while the muted blue sweater looks very at home with the softer 2-toned mules. The bottom illustrations don’t feel right to me – the shoes with the bright sweater look worn-out or dirty, and the shoes worth with the light blue top look WAY too bright… (unless you like these outfits, in which case, wear them with joy!)
But, you could of course have both muted accents, and wear them only with other muted pieces, and bright accents which only came out to play with their similar color intensities…
It’s a complicated thought, isn’t it?
Just for fun, I’ve put together some color palettes to illustrate the various possibilities…
First up, a very classic navy with brights – this would be so lovely this summer!
But this would also be really pretty – more subdued, but equally lovely:
The muted colors feel more sophisticated? These could be maddening to find in stores, but they would be striking…
But how will it work if we mix these accent colors? Assume we would take 1 bright, 1 pastel, and 1 muted color, there are 9 possibilities. (if we take 2 of one category, and 1 from another, there are lots more and I’m NOT doing the calculation!)
Does this work? I’m feeling pretty good with this palette:
How does it work with brown? I love brown with strong accents – it’s definitely a statement, but on the right woman there’s nothing better!
I think this is great too – maybe brown denim or cotton with accents in pastel linen, for warm weather?
Again, these accent colors are more difficult to find, but make an amazing palette:
And I find that this palette also feels pretty workable – what do you think?
Today I’m going to look at black too. Of COURSE I’m going to think about black….
This is an obvious wardrobe combination:
If these pieces are all in linen or silk (or something equally light-weight), I can see these working… Maybe also a black suit with soft pastel silk blouses? This isn’t as easy as the first black-based color palette, but it’s still pretty practical:
And I’ve got to admit that I adore this – subtle and rich…
However, I’m really not loving this palette… The bright accents with muted accents seem compatible, but the pastels just don’t blend it. Of course, if you’re not determined to wear your accent colors together, this would be just fine:
I’m not really sure that this accomplishes a lot, but for someone with a wardrobe that should theoretically work well, but seems to miss the mark somehow, this might explain things…
Thanks for letting me air my brain in public!
Taste of France says
This is really helpful. It can be so hard to find the right piece, in the right color, in the right size, with the right fit. This expands the options.
Zaidie Brown says
I wear browns and creams, and accent with all shades of blue, olive green, dove grey, bright orange and soft pink.
I dislike wearing olive with any blue – even navy. Grey and cream together don't work for me. Pink and orange are not mixed (anyway I prefer pink for spring/summer and orange for autumn/winter).
A little bit more thought in the morning but I pack with only one or two accents so life is still easy and pretty.
And if each accent could go with any of the other 8, and those combinations with any of the remaining 7, that's 504 combinations.
Sticking to colour a, colour b, colour c in any intensity there are 27 combinations.
Janice Riggs says
I think I love you…
Stunning. I'm so impressed. Not everything has to work together, so long as everything works with a few others. I'd be more than happy with 27 options.
To me it is a matter of which colors, values, saturation, contrast look good on YOU. While I like the different palettes on paper, I can't imagine anyone looking equally good in both a deep and a pale accent.
My accents are all bright and saturated (Red, bright pink, blue, kelly green), and while I would not wear them together (except for the blue, which might be more of a neutral), they all work the same for me.
I look good in pastels and some deeper muted colors. Both work, depending on the color. If I had to define my color category I would most likely fall into the soft summer deep leaning cool. The deep and pale are slightly softened. It’s the brights that I don’t handle so well.
I have found that what goes together in the varied level of intensities isn’t nearly as important to me as how that intensity works with my own personal coloring. In my case, muted colors are a must, anything else over powers me. As far as combining accent colors, that is only an issue with packing the least amount of clothes for the most amount of outfits , and as I usually wear a topper, they have to match in intensity whatever top is underneath it, and match exactly in hue, unless I am using two different values of a given hue together. I don’t wear complementary hues together unless both have been very toned down, and one is dark version of the hue and the other is a light version of the other hue. I do like wearing analogous colors together, again with one darker than the other.
Hummm, very thought provoking…….I am going to glance at my wardrobe with a new thought process for dressing, or at least understand why I am making a particular choice.
Thanks so much for sharing with your sisters in style.
Brown looks good with colors other than earth tones. Red, blue, etc. The brown options reminded me of the 70s. I also find that black is not a go with all neutral.
When I saw the black palettes I couldn't stop laughing because I thought of an old Dr. Who episode in which some 'creatures' are trying to dress one of the Dr's friends, and say, "Black with pastels looks depressing. Black with brights looks cheap." I agree with them re black with pastels, and if wearing bright, you really need to watch the quality. Dyes are Everything, even if you are a Dalek.
Janice Riggs says
I must find that! Although I think that the only thing a Dalek could wear would be a tea cozy?
Hugs from a Doctor Who fan…
tea cosy with three holes, or a sort of upside down balaclava (mouth hole above eye slits), or something flowing with lots of holes say fishnet, for a glamorous night out….
Zaidie Brown says
That was the Trinny and Susannah robots! On British TV, they did a wardrobe makeover programme and hated people wearing black at all. That was in Eccleston's run, so not that old by Who standards.
I wonder what they would make of your own wardrobe, Janice?
Janice Riggs says
They would hate it, which is only fair because I roundly dislike quite a bit of what they put on women! Especially pants that drag on the ground – what's THAT all about?
Dear Janice, you are a beautiful genius! Here’s a question for you: what are your thoughts about wearing black and navy together? I was shopping with a friend who recommended that very idea. I was unsure. However, a quick Pinterest search brought up some very smart outfits, especially with black bottom and navy top. I know you give the green light for black shoes with navy pants or skirts. I’d love to see an attempted wardrobe combining black and navy and white, and some other bright color (my preference is pink). In an effort to streamline my own wardrobe, I was planning to transition to just navy or just black rather than both. I never wear them together, but maybe I should give it a try?
I hope others will chime in with their thoughts.
Thank you! X and O
Janice Riggs says
I never wear them together, because I'm old enough to remember that wearing them together made everyone assume that you had dressed in the dark and couldn't tell the colors apart! That said, I know people who do it and love it, and who feel confident and chic when they do so. I'm not sure that I could ever put together a wardrobe like that for The Vivienne Files, although I do re-visit the possibility every few months… What does everyone else think?
Absolutely experiment with wearing black and navy together! To ease into the combo, try wearing black on the bottom and then adding a top that combines both black and navy or wear a navy top with a scarf or statement necklace that contains at least those two colors.
I agree it can be very smart looking to combine neutrals. I love the look of black with navy in the cooler months. When it's warmer, my favorite combo is white with ivory. It's not for everyone, but it never fails to make me feel stylish. Happy experimenting!
Thank you, ladies, for your thoughts! Since I have on black pants and a white shirt today, I decided to try out the navy as you suggested, Lena. I don’t have much navy and really only four pieces I really like. One combination that I liked when I tried it was adding a long sweater cardigan that is “navy” with very thin stripes of teal, white, and wine. Next to my black pants, the navy looked more blue than what I traditionally think of as navy. So maybe black and navy are not so smart for me. I find too that as I get older, I prefer white and bright colors near my face and darker colors for bottoms or jackets/cardigans. So thank you for suggesting this exercise. It is helping me identify what I like/dislike when I can actually think it through rather than in the dressing room with a toddler trying to escape under the door! Blessings to you both!!
Katrina Blanchalle says
Two thoughts: First, when I noticed that the navy of navy leather shoes was so different from the navy of navy fabric, say in wool pants for example, that the shoes looked almost greenish, I realized that black shoes and accessories actually looked much nicer with navy clothing, IMHO. Sometimes you can find a suede or fabric shoe that is a true navy, but mostly it is quite an off color.
Second, occasionally a designer will come out with pieces incorporating the two colors together in a single garment or collection of garments, and it is really striking. The proximity of the black does bring out more blue in the navy. Of course it's more eye-catching in luxury fabrics like cashmere or silk satin, but I think it's a lovely effect even with casual separates.
I have a few tops that incorporate both black and navy which I really like. However, I find if I'm going to do this with separates, the navy cannot be the midnight or ink navy. It needs to be a little lighter. I also find that different fabrics help.
I wear Black & Navy all the time. Dark wash "navy" blue jeans and a Black sweater or tee. Or black skinny pants with a navy & white striped top. I could not find a way to eliminate one or the other from my capsule. I also wear lots of blues and grays. It is a bit of work finding complimentary blacks and navy. It's hard to match blacks or navy's so together is a real challenge. I would love to see Janice try this combo.
Brita Graham says
I think the shade and saturation of the navy and the black can make all the difference in whether or not it looks like (as Janice says) you got dressed in the dark. If they are very close together it can look less deliberate, but if the black is a deep, rich saturated black, and the blue is a hint brighter, indigo, shading almost to royal, that blue black combo can be really stunning, especially with a little white or cream and some pretty gold accessories.
This is interesting. In general, pastels don't look good on my, so my choices are vivid vs muted. I find that I like some colors better in either. That bright blue in the navy grouping is one of my accents, but I always choose the vivid. I also have a dark pink (like berry) as an accent color, but I always choose muted. The vivid berry reminds me too much of the 1980s (been there, done that).
I actually love "clashing" accent colors, especially in the examples you provided where one of the colors is only found in the shoes. I think two major colors (pants/top) with a hint of a seemingly random third color is chic, but it's definitely a matter of the right proportions of the color for me. The more "correct" palettes you presented would feel too coordinated on me.
Yes to this. I find myself walking the pathway between totally random and too coordinated (for my comfortr). I frequently wear accent color in my shoes, but would rarely wear a solid garment in that same accent in that same outfit. It's just more matching than I can handle. But I often bring the accent in with a pattern or design in a garment, scarf, or jewelry. The same is true for an accent color in a garment. But I can deal with more matching when I am mixing two or three neutrals. – nancyo
Katrina Blanchalle says
It's definitely a personal choice, not something that should be prescribed by the fashion experts of the day, so this is very helpful to those of us who dress to the beat of our own drummers. In spite of my color analyst's best efforts, I have both brights and muted tones in my closet, but they are mostly in the tops and accessories. Generally my skirts, trousers, and shoes are in neutral tones so I don't run into an issue with my accents fighting each other in a single outfit.
Now if you want to talk about how many "navy" blues there are out there and how none of them resemble each other, that's a serious problem!
Yes there are more navy blues than one could ever imagine and many don't match at all. And this can extend to denims as well. It's not just the tone, shade and saturation either it sometimes is a matter of texture. I find myself avoiding Two Navy blues in the same outfit. The exception being dark wash blue jeans and a navy top. I use black shoes.
Ivy Bromius says
I have neutrals in black, grey, and dark blue and accents in cranberry and petrol (or dark teal) — both bright. My personal color rules are as follows:
One neutral and one accent
Two neutrals and an accent
All neutrals (either one, two, or three) — an example of the last is jeans, grey shirt, black jacket
One neutral and two accents (thoughtfully)
White shirts are 'free'
The fewer neutrals, the more put together I look
This isn't arbitrary, it's based on the specific accents I have and the way the look on me and what I like. I also have accents that don't go together because of the nature of matching accents — some teals are more green and some more blue for example.
I would really appreciate a series which includes accents that are mixed – maybe using some of the palettes you included above. It would be great to "play" some more in this space.
Thanks for airing your brain! I have embryonic ideas which I have not thought through so don't have answers just questions. Colours have sort of three properties – saturation (bright vs muted), value (light vs dark) and hue (red, yellow, blue etc). So if you have a colour and change just one aspect of that colour will it still 'go together'. Light blue with dark blue – same hue and saturation. Light blue with muted light blue – same value and hue. Light blue with light yellow – same saturation and value. What happens if two or three aspects are changed? Hugs Carol S
My basic outfit formula is neutrals plus one accent color at a time, so this hasn't been much of a problem. If the colors suit you to begin with, I don't think there's much of a problem- colors can be combined in so many ways, depending on the desired effect, and there's no one ideal look one "should" desire.
Also, the amount of neutrals used in an outfit matters a lot. A combination that would be way too loud as a shirt&pants combination may be the perfect punch of color in accessories only. Some people want their accent colors to just add a little interest while still remaining quiet, others want to be noticed and prefer bold, clever juxtapositions. Some like subtlety, others boldness, some favor classic color combinations and others want to sport something more unique. Just think of the interesting ways Hermès and the artists seen here use color!
…besides, if all else fails, there is always the option of adding a printed item such as a scarf featuring all of the "problematic" colors.
I love the black with mixed bright accents as it is essentially my wardrobe. I can't give up those three colors. I occasionally wander into the muted purple or red but never into the pastels. I would love to see a wardrobe built around them. I regularly wear any 2 of the accents together since the values are similar.
Blue Shed Thinking says
The brown with mixed intensity wheel is what I've been basing my Winter wardrobe around for a few years now – in Summer I switch and have olive/khaki as the base colour & brown as an accent.