Men’s fashion is a spectrum.
Some prefer streetwear, others prefer urban, and others still lean hipster chic. No matter where your preference falls, one unifying theme reigns true for every style to come before it: color. Colors that match, clash, or stand out have played a major role in the fashion industry. In fact, we’d even go so far as to argue that the biggest names in fashion are famous because of their mastery of the fashion color wheel. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the same knowledge. Your journey to a more vibrant wardrobe starts here.
How to use a fashion color wheel
A fashion color wheel is exactly what it sounds like: a standardized wheel made up of different colored wedges. At first glance, and to the novice designer, the whole thing just looks like a rainbow gradient. But it is much more than that. It’s a guide to using colors in a way that work well together. Once you’re able to do that, you can begin to diverge and play with colors that clash or neutralize their counterparts. This is the same base principle that models - and likely any fashion-forward women in your life - use to apply makeup. It’s about time men’s fashion catches up.
Primary colors, secondary colors, and intermediate colors
Begin by identifying key colors that match. Primary colors are a good place to start. There are 3: yellow, red and blue. These are considered “primary” because they are the only colors that can’t be made by combining or mixing others. Once you’ve got those, take note of the secondaries. These are violet, green, and orange. Secondary colors are made by mixing primaries in different combinations. Red and yellow give you orange, for example. Finally, we have intermediate colors. This subset consists of every other color on the fashion color wheel. They may look like various shades of primary or secondary colors, but that’s not the case. Intermediate colors have their own complementary and triad colors separate from the other two categories. But hold that thought for a moment because we need to discuss base colors first.
Base colors, as they pertain to men’s fashion, are the colors used to lay a foundation.
"As you get better at identifying how the fashion color wheel works, you’ll be able to experiment further and further with colors that match."
But let’s stick to the basics for now. These are:
- Olive Green
- Light Blue
Start with these when building your outfit. You can then use the fashion color wheel to add accents in their complement or triad forms.
Complementary and triad colors
Complementary colors are colors that reside on opposite ends of the spectrum. Take a base color like blue, for example. What you want to do is find it on the fashion color wheel and trace it to the color directly opposite. In this case, we’re looking at orange. Sounds like it wouldn’t really work, right? Until you start to imagine yourself in a well-fitting blue suit accented with an orange pocket square. Pops, doesn’t it? That’s because complementary colors create the most stark contrast possible.
The next composition you want to know is triad colors. These are equidistance from one another. Let’s say you’re using a basic fashion color wheel consisting of 12 colors. Pick one and place your finger on it. Count four spaces in any direction. The color you land on is a “triad” for your starting point. Case in point: purple and green are triad colors. Could the artist who created the Joker’s iconic suit already have known this? We’re willing to bet they did.
Now it’s your turn to try. Take what you’ve learned about the fashion color wheel, choose a base color, and then accent it with its complementary or triad color to design your perfect shirt.