Color theory can be applied to wardrobe planning.

The Color Wheel and How to Combine Colors in Your Wardrobe

by Pamela VanderWerf

The color wheel, a circular chart that organizes and defines primary, secondary and tertiary colors, has long served as a valuable tool for artists and designers. This method of arranging and combining colors can translate to your personal wardrobe, allowing you to create an array of coordinated outfits in complementary shades that harmonize with style and impact.

Color Layout

The three primary colors -- yellow, blue and red -- are considered pure colors and serve as the foundation of the standard color wheel. They are equidistant on the wheel and form a triangle. Three secondary colors -- green, violet and orange -- can be mixed from the primaries and are between each pair of primaries. Green is a mixture of yellow and blue, violet is produced by mixing red and blue, and orange is a combination of red and yellow. Tertiary colors, also called intermediate colors, are produced by mixing primary and secondary colors. The resulting six colors are yellow green, blue green, blue violet, red violet, red orange and yellow orange.

Color Pairing

Complementary colors are directly opposite on the wheel and can provide balance and contrast. Yellow is the complement of blue, for instance, and this pairing can create a stunning effect when choosing separates. Dress up a muted teal pencil skirt with a vibrant lemon jersey top for a workday outfit that looks chic and effortless.

Warm colors, those that fall within the red-orange-yellow range, provide interesting contrast when combined with cool tones, those shades in the blue-green-violet spectrum. Let the color wheel fuel your fashion inspiration: Make an entrance in an aqua sheath paired with orange slingbacks.

Accessorize With Color

Accessories make a strong impact when you use bright colors to enhance a neutral outfit. Punctuate an outfit with a surprise pop of confident color on a scarf, shoe or bag. A bland gray business suit is refreshed with a brilliant magenta wrap; the little black dress looks new when worn with cadmium lemon pumps. From a rich scarlet to a vibrant emerald green or an ultramarine violet, the spectrum of the color wheel offers a dazzling array of choices to enhance your wardrobe and define your signature style.

A Rainbow of Choices

By studying color’s relationship to harmony and contrast, you can update your wardrobe pieces and achieve balance when incorporating new items, selecting from a rainbow of shades to pair with your everyday basics. The color wheel's limitless combinations allow you to create a wardrobe that reflects your identity and defines your unique character and spirit.


  • Color Theory; José M. Parramón

About the Author

Pamela VanderWerf is a writer and editor with experience in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism. She graduated from Indiana-Purdue University and resides in Los Angeles, where she writes on design, health, consumer issues, fashion, lifestyle and real estate, among other topics.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images