In this last of a three-part series on dressing not just with dignity but with downright beauty, we come to the most difficult topic of the three: color. I find it difficult to talk about color and matching because even up to a few years ago I still found myself struggling to resist the urge to wear colors that I knew didn't match. I don't think I'm the only one, though a lot of fortunate young ladies learn at an earlier age. It's almost like the moral life: first you learn what is right and wrong, and then you have to train your will to become sensitive to the least wrong thing.
The Color Spectrum
One of my co-workers believes that extremes serve well to illustrate a point, so I will begin with something tacky:
If you see nothing wrong with this combination of colors, please do not read on. The rest will not make sense. I want to give some hard and fast rules so that, not only clothes, but also other things in your life will not look inharmonious in hue.
Rule #1: Do not wear different pieces that are very similar in shade but do not match exactly.
I think 90% of color ugliness could be eliminated by adherence to this principle. (In fact, one of the main problems with the ensemble above is that it violates this rule.) I want to be clear: I am not saying that you can't wear light green with dark green or lavender with purple. I am saying that if you are considering pairing a pair of mid-range green checked pants with a mid-range green blouse that is not the exact same shade--and that generally means the two pieces are different brand names--don't do it! Wear a neutral instead. Examine this color wheel:
Neutral colors are those not found on our color wheel: black, gray, brown, navy, khaki, beige, silver, and white. What I'm saying in this rule is not to wear two shades that touch on one spoke. For example, the two outermost yellow shades or the two innermost violet shades. They may look good as a spectrum, but we must learn to avoid looking like a spectrum!
Rule #2: Do not pair two different bold, dramatic colors.
You will just look better all around if you follow this rule. If you wear a vivid purple top and a kelly green skirt, these two colors will technically match, because they are opposites on the color spectrum (see wheel above). Nevertheless, all that color is a bit hard on the eye. For that reason, we don't wear colors from two different spokes that are on one of the two middle grades of the wheel. This rule does not generally apply to pastels or to dark, wintry shades. Here is one tough case:
Rule #3: Do not wear too many different colors.
When I say don't wear too many different colors, I want to focus especially on limiting the use of non-neutral colors. It's usually a good idea to pair non-neutral and neutral colors rather than using all color spectrum shades (on the other hand, a tasteful outfit can consist entirely of neutral colored pieces). Perhaps three could be our perfect number here: for an outfit, do two non-neutral pieces and one neutral or two neutrals and one non-neutral--or just three neutral colors. All things in moderation. This brings up a question: what if I'm wearing a blouse, skirt, or dress with a multi-colored pattern? It's always safer to pair with a neutral! You may wear a color but it must match the pattern fairly exactly; but for heaven's sake, don't ever wear another pattern! You will not go astray by following these guidelines, but by defying my advice you may end up like the unfortunate people below:
Rule #4: Wear colors that look good on you.
This rule is so important, it could have been placed first. Each of us has our own particular skin tone, hair color, and eye color which makes the range of colors that look becoming on us unique. There is a well-known "seasons" classification that you can use as a guideline of what colors look best on you: here's a straightforward guide. Apart from that, a little artistic vision and psychology can help you find out even more quickly. You already probably favor the colors that look good on you and avoid the ones that don't, because when you wear the latter shades you look at yourself in the mirror and think, "Eh, not quite." This is your natural artistic vision. Also, your motivation to wear certain other shades might be that you have received compliments when you wear those colors--these compliments reinforce your psychological feeling in favor of those colors. All you have to do, then, is tap into that sensitivity to continue wearing the hues that you feel good about and shunning the undesired colors. Here is an example of an autumn-toned ensemble:
That's just about all the rules and advice I have on color. Of course, no rule is an absolute. Nevertheless, as with English grammar, you have to know the rules very, very well before you dare to break them. Working within some guidelines actually makes choosing outfits easier and faster. I hope this series has been helpful, and feel free to comment for more discussion!