Sunday, April 1, 2012

Color Theory In Your Closet: Analogous Color Schemes

We're almost to the fun part - outfits! First, a word about the color wheel. The color wheel illustrates relationships between colors. Any colors which stand in the same relationship to each other on the color wheel will 'work' or 'not work' in the same way. In the rest of this series we will be working with three relationships or color schemes: analogous, complementary, and triad. Colors in analogous relationship sit right next to each other on the color wheel. If you sliced a pie in four or six slices, all the colors in each individual slice would form an analogous scheme. Complementary colors sit right across from each other, they are opposite each other on the color wheel. Finally, triadic colors sit each one at the points of an equilateral triangle.

You will notice that i have changed the arrangement of my books on these color wheels to reflect their true position on the color wheel, as opposed to how many books i have in each hue.

First Outfit Colors in their Positions on the Color Wheel, including Lime
 In this post we'll look at a couple of outfits which illustrate analogous color schemes. The first outfit draws from the orange through red-orange hues. The first thing that strikes you about this look are the vividly saturated, super warm hot tomato skirt and sizzling tangerine blazer. Both pieces are made in fairly 'flat' fabrics with little texture. If you complete an outfit using similarly saturated, flat pieces the looks will have a strong graphic feel, almost 'mod'. But i wanted to show you a few ways you can play with this color scheme to add interest and to drive the aesthetic in different ways. You can also use these tricks to 'make do' when you have gaps in your first-choice color scheme.

The first way to vary a color scheme is to employ a number of different textures. The bag and cuff are both very close in hue and saturation to the skirt and top, but the bag is leather with a nice pebbley texture and the cuff has beautiful polished cabochons. You can also vary the saturation of the colors, as in the lightly saturated background peach of this lovely floral blouse. Prints work beautifully in analogous schemes. You can key the color scheme to any color in the print - a dominant color as in this example is the most obvious, but you can choose a less dominant color for a more dramatic, unexpected feel. Choosing saturation levels in the rest of your outfit that differ from the level in the print is a little more unexpected, but it works quite nicely. You can use this trick when you feel certain saturation levels are more flattering worn next to your face, or when you have restricted choices in your closet.

By now i hope you've noticed that the shoes are nothing like orange, red, or red-orange. They work because they are lime-green, a hue which is complementary to red-orange, or it's opposite in the color wheel. We'll discuss complementary schemes in the next post in this series. This is another way to add some spice to a color scheme - 'embed' a different color scheme into the dominant scheme. In this case, the bulk of the outfit is built around one scheme (analogous), but one part relates to a color in the rest of the outfit in another way (complementary). But you can mix any two color schemes you like. It sounds very complicated to explain the theory of it, but in practice it's easy and unexpected. This way of working with color will develop naturally as you become more conscious of color relationships.

Blue thru RedViolet Analogous Colour Scheme

This look is more strictly analogous. To tell you the truth i had some trouble finding enough colors to give you a variety of examples in polyvore.  This reflects my experience that within a single year or season the variety of colors offered in clothing is pretty limited. If you want to accumulate a wide range of colors to work with you need to commit to shopping over a number of years in order to accumulate a wide palette.

Anyways, getting back to this outfit, i again used patterns and pulled the dominant colors of both patterns as part of the analogous color scheme. As a rule, making sure that all of the items in your outfit are either warm or cool is a good way to keep the look pulled together and cohesive. However, analogous color schemes give you a way to get around that rule. The booties, groovy fringe bag, and scarf in this look all have warm undertones, but they work well with the cool toned skirt, blouse, jacket and other accessories because of how close they all are to each other in the color wheel. There's a lot more dramatic texture in this outfit than in the first look. In fact, using an analogous color scheme is a wonderful way to tie together a look with so many different textures and patterns going on. Traditionally you think of using a monochromatic look (one hue only) to accomplish this. But analogous schemes work just as well, are much livelier, and are a lot more on trend with this season's mass explosion of color on the fashion scene.

Second Outfit Colors in their Positions on the Color Wheel

The other aspect of this outfit i wanted to point out is the use of neutrals, in this case the silver and black jewelry and jacket hardware. Neutrals are awesome, as you can use them as much or as little as you want in any color scheme whatsoever. The true neutrals are black, white, and the range of greys (dark, medium, and light greys; warm through cool). Other colors which work as de facto neutrals are the khaki/camel/ivory range, the olive drab range, gold and silver metals, and denims. It is possible to use more than one neutral in an outfit (for example black and white). But it can get tricky, and it's hard to explain why - let me just say that it's more advanced color use. If you are just starting and want to be confident in your choices, stick to one neutral color and one neutral metal per outfit. If you just want to have fun playing around with color, go with what looks good to you and what you want to wear!

In this outfit, i pulled black from the skirt's print and silver from the jacket's hardware in choosing the jewelry to put with this look. You could switch out the blue jacket for a black one, or wear black knee high boots instead of the red-violet ones very easily and still maintain that vividly colorful effect.

Again, please ask if you have any questions. And, as you surf through your favorite style blogs, see if you can spot any outfits using an analogous color scheme! Interior design mags, fashion mags, even garden mags and all types of advertising are great to study to dissect their color schemes to sharpen your skills and find inspiration. Next up in the color series: Complementary Color Schemes.


  1. I'm realizing as I read that I haven't done many analogous outfits and I could. I like the idea of more texture...

  2. Interesting how smooth surfaced fabrics suggest mod clothing.

    I once read some advice about matching elements in a print and it was to disregard the main color of the motif and instead to match the second most prominent color of the motif. I often try to do this but sometimes it's darn hard to pick out which one is the second most prominent.

  3. Oh boy Terri you could do TONS!!!!

    you know, if you wanted you could do a big color wheel of all your clothes, or do it by chunks - blues, yellow, reds.....your color palette is so varied you could basically do just about anything you wanted to!! (eyes bugging out of head)

    Hi Vildy! That's funny, trying to 'order' the colors in a print! when it comes down to it, really you can decide to pick up whatever color you want in a print. if you have the resources, you can pick up every single color, each in a different look! The 'second dominant' advice sounds prudent - you won't look obvious by choosing the dominant color, but it won't seem twee as it can when you pick the most obscure trace of a color......

    i say go for what looks good to you at the moment!


  4. I've been craving orange recently, so I was stoked to see my favorite color featured. And funny thing - I just picked up a pair of lime-green pumps at a thrift shop to play with against said orange color. Yay - I'm on the right track!

    What you wrote about switching out the purple boots for black helped me to understand how using a neutral can tone down an outfit and, as you suggest, it can go a bit too far. This makes a lot of sense to me, as I'll pick pieces which on their own are lovely but when combined have a rather drab feel (hence, my frequent use of scarves!). I'd be mystified, and a bit frustrated, that something so nice falls flat. Very illuminating, and also inpiring.

    By the way, that blue skirt is very pretty.

  5. Yo P, can't wait to see those lime green pumps! tell me again WHY we don't wear the same shoe size?!?!?

    i am very happy that this post has helped you learn a little about color - you look so great in so many different colors it's fun to see what you come up with!! hug Sadie for me, steph