Using Color Theory to Achieve the Perfect Outfit

When asked what a silk pocket square is for, the most fitting answer is also - in many ways - the most obvious. A pocket square’s main function is to look great, and to bring a flash of color to an outfit. With color comes personality, a sense of style, and the opportunity to catch the eyes and the attention of those around you. A touch of color - whether a bold and vivid spectrum of various hues, a more subdued single shade, or a stark monochrome - can lift a simple suit and make it something spectacular, or allow your own unique approach to fashion shine through. It is, in essence, the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. 

However, choosing colors for an outfit can be tricky, and this does not merely apply to selecting a silk pocket square. The same principals apply for choosing the color of a pocket square as they do for selecting shirts and blazers, neckties, blouses, skirts and more. While it is not necessarily an easy skill to acquire, being able to wear color effectively and appropriately can make a fantastically positive impression, and help you come across as elegant, sophisticated, attractive and savvy. Failing to make an appropriate or tasteful choice when picking out two or more colors to wear together can be nothing short of disastrous (especially if you are trying to dress to impress in your professional or personal life) - colors which clash uncomfortably can be painful on the eye, and either present you as loud or somehow ignorant.  

So, how can we use color to our advantage, and achieve that striking, harmonious or stylish look which takes us away from our safe, neutral wardrobe? Here are some top tips to guide you through this colorful labyrinth.  

Understanding Neutral Colors

It is fairly likely that most of your clothes - especially your formal clothes, suits, blazers and trousers - are in neutral colors. These are the safe options, the popular options, the easy options. Neutral colors are black, white, all the shades of grey, and also navy blue and brown (not technically neutral colors, actually, but generally considered to be by fashion designers). These are clothes which go with more or less everything, and generally can be mixed and matched together very comfortably, as they do not clash with each other or disturb the eye in any way. While they are invariably sharp, sleek and sophisticated, they can be a little on the nondescript, bland side. If using color in your outfit is all about letting your personality shine through, then sticking just with neutral tones simply does not do the job.  

Using The Basics Of The Color Wheel 

If you want to stand out from the crowd and make a striking, positive impression with your outfit, you are going to have to bring in some more colors other than your neutral ones. And in order to use color effectively, you are going to have to familiarize yourself with the color wheel.  

Chances are, you have come across the color wheel before. After all, it has been around for almost four hundred years, and was invented by none other than Sir Isaac Newton as a tool to help understand the physics of light. Nowadays, it is more commonly used by artists and designers to help select sets of colors for everything from furniture to garments.  

The color wheel neatly demonstrates where colors sit in relation to each other, and is perhaps most important for finding contrasting (or ‘complementary’) colors; those colors which are opposite each other on the wheel. Using complementary colors in small quantities - for example, red and green, purple and yellow, or black and white - is a great way to bring a touch of vibrancy to an outfit, and to make it pop and catch the eye. Many high quality silk pocket squares use a pairing of complementary colors in their design, as a way of helping them lift the neutral colors of a suit. Pocket squares are perhaps at their best when in colors which both boldly stand out from and harmonize with the plain background of the jacket they are tucked into, and when their hems match elegantly with a necktie, bow tie or cravat.

From the color wheel, we can also see other sets of colors which are going to work well together. These include: 

Triad colors, which are a set of three colors, each equidistant to each other on the color wheel. These are brilliant for putting together an outfit which uses contrast, but in a less direct and vivid way than when using complementary color. These are ideal for outfits which consist of many components; for example, a gentleman’s suit which features a waistcoat, a belt, a tie, and some cufflinks alongside the jacket, trousers, shirt and shoes.  

Analogous colors, which sit adjacent to each other on the color wheel, and offer a far more subtle contrast more suitable to formal wear. These color schemes are elegantly restrained and consistent, and you will often find pairings of these in everyday office settings, as they suggest a sort of stylish conformity, and a relaxed confidence in dress. 

And more harmonious pairs of colors, which sit next to each other, and are great when you want to use accessories within a color scheme or theme, such as red-orange and red.  

Some Simple Techniques For Bringing Some Color Into Your Outfit 

An easy approach to bringing color into your outfit is to complement your neutral outfit with a single item of more brightly colored clothing. By adding one pop of color to your ensemble (and maybe by pairing this with a matching pocket square or similar accessory) you can create a look which is sharp and elegant, and yet more memorable and bold than one made up only of neutral tones.

Typical combinations could include:  

A plain white t-shirt, a pair of black jeans and a mulberry blazer 

This is the simplest of approaches, and it is a great way to put together an outfit that pops, and yet is easy to construct quickly and without too much thought. However, there is no need to restrict yourself to just one colored item of clothing, and there is loads of scope for playing with colored accessories, too.  

Once you have got the hang of using color, you can start bringing in two items of colored clothing to work with your otherwise neutral outfit. This works best if you pair up your colored items so that they belong within the same color family (for example, two different shades of green together), or have some relationship with each other on the color wheel, as discussed above. For example, you could go for a charcoal blazer worn with a pale blue shirt and navy blue pants, or be a little bolder and bring together contrasting shades of yellow and purple for a more striking effect.

A Few Final Points 

The main thing to remember when using color in an outfit is that on the one hand, this is a skill which must be learned. On the other, it is partly instinctive and subjective, depending on what you like and feel works well.

If you are looking for inspiration, take a look at your favorite pocket squares, or take some time looking at Robertto’s pocket square shop online. Which examples jump out at you? Once you have decided on which pocket squares you like the most, make a mental note of the colors which the designer has used for the hem, background and pattern, and use this palette as inspiration for your next outfit. 

If all else fails, do not forget that everybody looks great in a well-cut black suit, a white shirt and a slim black tie and a fine silk pocket square from Robertto’s to complement this outfit!