Color Coordinating Chart

Crystal Schwanke
A lesson in color.

A color coordinating chart is based on the color wheel we all know from art class. Keep reading to find out how to incorporate your color wheel knowledge into your wardrobe.

The Basics

When you look at a color chart, you'll see the following twelve colors:

  • Red
  • Red-violet
  • Violet
  • Blue-violet
  • Blue
  • Blue-green
  • Green
  • Yellow-green
  • Yellow
  • Yellow-orange
  • Orange
  • Red-orange

Those basic, vivid colors that you see are called hues. If you add white to any of them, you're changing the tint. Adding white to violet will create lavender, for example, or adding white to red will create pink.

On the other hand, adding black (shading) to purple will create plum; adding black to red will create burgundy. You can also change the tone of a color by adding white and black for gray. This is considered changing the tone.

By making these types of adjustments, you can come up with any color you would like. Where they are relative to the other colors on the chart is what makes them easy or difficult to coordinate.

Positioning on a Color Coordinating Chart

How you know if colors match or complement each other depends upon their location on the chart.

Similar colors are side-by-side on the wheel, so yellow and yellow-green, for example, are similar colors. These are easy to coordinate. A tie with a red-orange pattern looks perfect against a red shirt. When colors are so close together on the wheel, it's very easy to pair them up. Choose one main color and then accessorize with surrounding colors.

Have you ever heard of warm colors vs. cool colors? This is where they come into play. In most cases, your best bet is to pair cool colors with cool colors (greens, blues, violets) and warm with warm colors (reds, yellows, oranges). You can create a stunning combination by choosing two cool tones and one warm, or vice-versa. Ask Andy about Clothes suggests a navy suit, light blue shirt, and red tie.

Complementary colors are opposite from each other on the wheel. Green and red, yellow and violet, etc, are a few examples. These are the hardest to pair together. Though they "complement" each other, you won't want to pair them together at their fullest strengths. You won't want to wear royal blue pants with a bright orange sweater, for example, but an orange sweater and navy blue pants (add black to blue) can look great.

There are no rules here, just experimentation. Sometimes darks and vivid complementary colors work well together, whereas at other times dark and dull combinations are best.

Contrasting colors, like red and blue, or orange and violet, have three colors between them. These are tricky to pair together. To put red and blue together, for example, a vivid red with a darkened blue (navy) works best. Vivid red and vivid blue will compete too much and confuse the eye. Pairing these types of colors together takes a similar eye as the complementary color palette.

Lights, Darks, Dulls, Vivids, and Achromatics

What happens when you adjust the tone (amount of gray), the tint (amount of white), or shade (amount of black)?

Lights

Pairing lights with lights gives an Easter egg effect. It's best to pair light colors with dark gray or black. If the color is only a step or two away from white when it comes to lightness, stick with the dark gray to avoid too much contrast.

Darks and vivids pair well together, as do darks (though not darkest) with very light colors. Dull colors, those mixed with gray, look best with darks, too. Don't pair the darkest of darks with the lightest colors, since the darks will overwhelm the lights rather than creating a balanced look.

Achromatics/Neutrals

Achromatic colors, or shades of black and gray, are some of the easiest to coordinate. They all complement each other, of course, and adding a splash of color here and there is no big deal, either. Almost every other color goes well with them. The exceptions are colors that have too much gray in them already. Brown is a good example, as it does not pair well with black or gray.

While the achromatics are all neutrals and pair well with almost everything else, other neutrals are not considered achromatics. Tans, khakis, and browns, for example, are neutral colors and still wear well with almost everything else (what doesn't go with khakis?).

Monochromatic Attire

When in doubt, you can always choose one color from the color coordinating chart and shift its tint and shade to create a no-fail combination. If you've ever seen a navy blue suit paired with a light blue shirt and a dark blue tie, you know just how polished one single color can look.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line to dressing yourself is creating contrast. Choosing colors too close together will make your attire look drab. Too much contrast, on the other hand, will look too shocking and overdone. Everything in moderation!

Color Coordinating Chart