How to wear more colour: a guide to colourful outfit pairing
People always say to me: ‘I wish I could wear colour like you, Alice’, ‘I don’t suit colour’, or: ‘I never know how to wear colour’.
I get it: wearing vibrant looks is daunting, and the risk of looking like a child’s colouring book is real. But the truth is EVERYONE can wear bold, bright and beautiful outfits. All it takes is confidence, coupled with a bit of knowledge about colour theory and WHY different colours work together.
So consider this a ‘how to wear more colour’ 101. I’ll walk you through not only how to find shades you will automatically look amazing in, but also how to use basic colour theory to put together some fabulous outfits. Let’s do this!
Colours that everyone looks good in
There are three colours that suit everyone – red, teal, and purple. That’s because in their purest forms, these colours are equally cool and warm (more on that in a minute), which means they work with all skin tones. If you’re shy about wearing colour then these three are a great place to start.
Red is a strong choice that always adds impact to even the simplest of looks. Red is amazing teamed with black and/ or white. For a stylish nautical-inspired look that is always on trend, why not try a red lip with a navy ensemble? A quick of word of warning about red: for those suit-everyone credentials, look for a ‘true’ red – like the colour of a phone box. A red with more of a ‘fiery’ quality is warmer (great if you’re warm-toned) and a more ‘pinky’ red is cooler (yup, you guessed it – good for cool toned complexions).
Teal is an unusual colour that is actually much more versatile than you’d think. Try teal with baby blue or navy for a fun colour pop, or pair with either pink or orange toned coral for a striking contrast. Other fabulous teal combinations include yellow, baby pink, white, silver, and gold.
A rich, true purple always adds ‘wow’ to any look. You could pair with black or white to really hone in on your outfit’s purple component. Tonal purple dressing is really fun too – team a rich aubergine with a soft lilac, and accentuate with either gold or silver accessories. Alternatively, purple will ‘pop’ against orange, yellow, and aqua.
When it comes to any other colour other than the ‘flattering three’ you CAN wear it, so long as you choose the right shade. That’s where ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ come into play.
How to find colours that suit you
Figuring out which colours work with your natural complexion is something called colour analysis, or knowing your colour season. Have you ever heard someone say they’re a spring? Or a muted autumn? Maybe a deep winter? That person will have done a colour analysis.
There are lots of colour consultants out there, and any good fashion stylist (like me, hiya!) should be able to tell you your colour season. I’m not going to delve too deeply into specific seasons because I don’t want you to feel too ‘prescribed’ to a small palette when trying to experiment with colourful outfits. But by understanding if your base colouring is ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ finding the right shades to wear is much easier.
Lots of people misdiagnose themselves because they don’t really understand what ‘cool’ or ‘warm’, and ‘light’ or ‘dark’ mean in colouring terms. It certainly can be confusing if you’re new to this!
Cool doesn’t automatically mean pale, and warm doesn’t automatically mean tanned. What ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ actually refers to is your skin’s undertones. That’s whether your skin is more pink or yellow. Your ‘skin tone’ (the top colour) changes with age, environmental factors, and exposure to the sun, but your undertone (the pink or yellow bit) won’t.
Your hair and eye colour also help determine which colours will suit you. Cool toned people usually have bright blue, light grey, greyed hazel, or deepest brown eyes. Warm toned eyes are most likely to be green, turquoise, or a rich chocolate brown.
Meanwhile, warm hair will have a red hue to it, and cool hair will have a more ashy quality. This isn’t always in-your-face, which is why sometimes it’s difficult to tell! If you do have naturally red hair then you’re definitely warm toned. And black? Most certainly cool. With any other shade, you need to look for warm/ red/ honey/ chocolate tones for warm, as opposed to platinum/ muted/ soft shades for cool.
I never realised I was warm toned because I am naturally pretty pale with light eyes and fair(ish) hair. In fact, I have a definite golden glow! On closer inspection I realised my eyes have a green colour through them, and my (natural) hair has a red undertone: both definite warm traits.
If you’re lucky you can just glance in the mirror and see straight away if you’re more of a yellow or pinky-bluey tone, but if it’s not obvious (like with me!) there is a few things you can do.
Here’s three methods to help you decide if you are cool or warm-toned:
The vein test – If they have a slight greenish hue then you’re warm toned. If they look more of an obvious blue then you’re cool toned. I tried to find good photos illustrating the different shades of veins for you but I nearly fainted. I’m really squeamish like that.
The jewellery test – This isn’t which you like most but which makes your skin tone ‘glow’. If gold illuminates your skin the most then you’re warm toned. If it’s silver then, you guessed it, you’re cool toned.
The white paper/ white towel test – If you place your hand on a sheet of pure white paper, or hold either white paper or a white towel to your face, hopefully either a yellow or pinky tint will be obvious to you.
There is an exception to the cool/ warm tone split, and that’s olive toned. If you’re struggling to see yourself as obviously pinky-bluey or yellowy then you might be a neutral olive. Like warm and cool, olive skin can be both lighter and darker. The thing to look out for is a slight green tint to your skin. It might take a moment to see it, but if you’ve ever found it a total nightmare to find a foundation to match your skin it’s very possible you’re olive toned! The good news is you olives can rock both cool and warm shades, which is great if you’re looking to wear allllll the colourful outfits.
Using the colour wheel to inspire your outfits
If you’re serious about wearing colour then you need to have a look at your colour wheel. The standard approach is to split the colour wheel into its warm and cool tones, and keep those colours together in your outfits. This definitely works, and if you know your personal colouring – i.e. whether you yourself are cool or warm toned – this is a great way to wear colourful outfits that really suit you. That’s why blue and green look good together, as well as orange and yellow. It’s also why my lime green top looks great against my sunshine yellow trousers. They are both warm colours, but as they are different tones on the colour wheel as opposed to shades of the same colour, they ‘pop’ next to each other instead of clashing.
You can also use a more in-depth colour wheel to keep your outfit tonal. This will demonstrate shades and tones of a colour i.e. what that colour looks like with different degrees of black and white mixed through. For example, if you owned a lot of blush pink, you could accentuate that with one hot pink piece. Or baby blue with a rich, cobalt blue. On the warmer side of the spectrum, camel looks great with orange!
Then there’s complimentary colour pairing, and this for me is when your outfit will REALLY pop. What this means is taking colours directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, like orange and blue, or purple and yellow. There’s also triadic (and tetradic – that means four) colour schemes, where again colours are equally spaced on the colour wheel. That’s why red, yellow, and blue just ‘work’ together. Triadic colour pairing can feel a bit ‘clowny’ or childish looking to most people, so proceed with caution if you’re not going for a really bold look!
Try to keep different colours in the same outfit of the same tone or saturation. Pastels with pastels and brights with brights will keep your styling looking deliberate. For example, in these photos both my top and trousers are equally vibrant. If I’d gone for a muted shade of green for the top with the bright yellow trousers then the look would have felt a bit… well, flat.
How to add colour to your outfit
Now you’ve nailed your perfect colours, and you’re a pro at teaming them together, here’s some colourful outfit ideas to get you started:
Choose comfy pieces – A colourful jumper is so easy to throw on, but you’ll instantly feel like you’ve made an effort. The top half of your outfit is also what people will see when you’re sat at a desk or a dining table, so it makes sense to start here. Plus, if wearing colour is out of your comfort zone, then at least the outfit itself will be comfortable, right?
Wear lipstick in a complementary colour – Now you’re hot on your colour theory, it’s time to show it off with some complementary colour pairing! Go for a red or orange-toned lipstick with a blue outfit, or a purple shade with a yellow outfit. A bold eyeshadow is another fun option, although I’d advise sticking with colourful lipstick or eyeshadow. A child playing in her mum’s makeup bag is not the look we’re after here.
Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise – If you are still cautious about colour, then accessories are you biggest friend! Whether it’s a hat, bag, chunky necklace, dangly earrings, or a scarf, that little touch of colour instantly up-levels a simple outfit. It’s details like this that show you’ve styled your look, instead of just thrown something on.
Pull the colours from your prints – How many of us will team a printed skirt or trousers with a plain black or white top? Well, you’re a colour queen now, so that just won’t cut it! Look for the subtle colour running through a check, or the smaller colour pops in a jazzy floral print, for example. Wearing a top or matching jewellery in this colour shows you really know your stuff, and will score you some serious style points.
Look to social media for inspiration – I still regularly turn to Pinterest and Instagram for ideas on how to wear more colour. Don’t be afraid to do the same. You can take inspiration from influencers, then work a more paired-down version of their bold shade pairings if you’re not totally confident. I’ve rounded up some of my my favourite colourful Instagrammers if you’re looking for new accounts to follow.
And that’s it! I’d love to see your fresh colour combinations – feel free to tag me in your outfit posts on Instagram @styledbyalicex
Be bold and live colourfully!