Coordinating Colors – Clothing and Jewelry

Color is everywhere, in your clothes, in your jewelry, in the advertising you see, and the displays in retail stores. Color is life. Intentionally coordinating your wardrobe (clothing) and your jewelry can make or break your carefully planned outfit, draw attention to your best features (or your flaws), and help you create an image that is uniquely you.

Here’s an overview of color theory with a “DivaStyle” flair:

What’s a DivaStyle flair? It’s the principle that whatever you incorporate into your image design and management plan should help you express what’s wonderful, special and unique about you – your most Dynamic, Intriguing, Vivacious and Audacious self – DivaStyle – within the guidelines of appropriateness for your chosen activities.

You may remember from art classes in school that “Primary” colors – as defined by Dictionary.com, are: a color, as red, yellow, or blue, that in mixture yields other colors. In theory, you can make any color from these three primaries (except white, which is really an absence of color). In practice, it depends on what red, blue or yellow you start with, but we are not mixing paints here, so just remember that the primary colors are red, blue and yellow.

The secondary colors are the colors you get from mixing equal amounts of any two primaries. (If the primaries are pure, mixing all three will give you black.)

Secondary colors include purple, orange and green.

Now why should you care?

Well, mixing primary and secondary colors together give you complementary colors. The complement of the color is the color directly across from it on the color wheel, or if starting with a primary, the color made from mixing the other two primaries.

So essentially a color and its complement contain all of the primaries between them.

Red’s compliment is green (Merry Christmas!). Yellow’s complement is purple. Blue’s complement is orange.
This is as much contrast as you can get between colors of the same value (brightness or darkness) without also including color temperature (warm or cool). If you want to make a bold statement, the primaries are a great way to start creating that statement.

The secondary colors are made by mixing equal parts of any two complementaries. The secondary colors include: green (yellow and blue), orange (yellow and red) and purple (blue and red).

Let’s start with a yellow dress and your desire to create an outfit that is a traffic stopper. If it’s for daytime, you can use bold purple jewelry and accessories. This classic combination of purple and yellow is eye catching. It can be sophisticated and definite or more playful, depending on the yellow and purple you start out with.

Since you may not always want to be the center of attention, making a more subtle fashion statements is possible by shifting what color you pair it with from the color wheel.

The yellow and purple in our example above are complementary colors, meaning that they are directly across from each other on the color wheel.

The colors on each side of our main color’s complement are the triad colors – Triad because the color you start with plus the two others make three colors total. The triads are our friends for choosing jewelry or other accessories.

Let’s look at that yellow dress again. This time, consider putting together an outfit for a business meeting. What would be appropriate choices for your jewelry? Gold on yellow is too close to the color of the dress — it will tend to wash out. The whole outfit will look less interesting because of the very low level of contrast – contrast being the difference in color between the jewelry and the dress.

Silver will work, particularly if the silver is has either a very glossy and shiny finish, or a matte finish to play off the vivid yellow of the dress. You don’t have to stick with just gold or silver for your accessories, however. There are a great many colored gems and jewels out there. Try a sapphire necklace – the unexpected punch of a deep, rich blue will contrast nicely with the yellow and both will sparkle. You could also try a red brooch or necklace. The red can be ‘warmer’ – towards orange – or cooler – towards blue – for more contrast and therefore more interest.

Now how about that vivid purple blouse you just saw in the store and fell in love with? How would you accessorize it? The purple is already such a bold color – and you could do exactly the opposite of what we have done with our yellow dress (purple is yellow’s complement).

For our purple blouse, if you want to be bold and outrageous, go for bright shiny gold jewelry.

Silver can also work with the purple – even though the blue of the silver is close to our purple color, because they harmonize. Choose a bold shape and size for your jewelry when the colors you wear are in the same temperature range (cool vs warm) as the garment you are wearing. Of course red is wonderful with purple, just showing that just about every color “rule” is made to be broken once you understand them (with discrimination and taste, of course).

You can team the purple blouse with a tan skirt (tan being a form of yellow) and dress it down for a business meeting. If you want your jewelry to be a little more subtle, rather than yellow, consider using another of the triad colors to purple — orange or green – as your preferred jewelry color. These may seem like bold choices, but remember you want your jewelry to be seen, not to blend into the woodwork.

How about an amber pendant? This would be sophisticated and would be set off wonderfully by the purple background without being garish, or an emerald brooch and earrings, or even a whimsical green frog pin. The possibilities are endless within your basic color choices. If you incorporate these color principles in addition to what you know about your profession and your personality, you will not go wrong.

Now let’s consider the classic grey business suit. You may be thinking that your grey suit is neutral so you can choose any color at all. While grey is a neutral color, combining it with some shades may dull the contrast of your look and you’ll end up with an ensemble that doesn’t quite work.

Most greys tend towards blue (cool), but there are some that lean toward the yellow/brown (warm) end of the color scale. So first determine if your suit is cool grey or warm grey. If you’re having trouble with this (and it can be tough at first), try holding it up to other grey items in your house. You’ll start to notice that it looks a bit more brown (or yellower) or a bit more blue. This will help you determine the color bias of your grey suit.

Most warm grey used in clothing is a brownish grey.

Let’s say our suit is a cool grey, so for the purposes of our color choice we’ll consider it more a part of the blue family. The complement of blue is orange.

We want to keep this a business suit, so we’ll pick the triad to each side of the orange to start with – red and yellow. Silver contains a complimentary blue, and for a more formal profession or a more subtle personality, it would be the perfect accent. You can also wear gold with a more brown-toned grey (think taupe) and would pick up the warm tones in the fabric with beautiful results.

You may have noticed that gold tends towards the red or yellow (warmer) end of the color spectrum.

If you are using more than one accessory with the gold, determine whether the primary gold jewelry you will be wearing is reddish gold (rose gold) or yellow gold.

This is done just as we did with the suit itself, by comparing it with other similar colors.

If the gold is reddish / rose gold, then keep your other accessories in the red and yellow range.

If the gold is a lighter yellow, keep the other colors in the yellow orange range.

Note, the description “yellow gold” is for any gold that is not white (silvery). Yellow golds range from a deep red to lighter rose golds to a very pale yellow, so be sure to check each piece of jewelry when putting together your outfit. A red gold and a yellow gold next to each other will look subtly wrong, unless they are carefully combined in a single piece by a master jeweler.

A lack of understanding about the tendencies of gold may result in fashion mistakes are that are hard to pin down.

So, let’s say we’ve chosen a beautiful golden brooch as our primary jewelry piece. We look at it and realize that it tends, ever so slightly, towards red. This makes the rest of our accessorizing a little easier.

We’ll can incorporate red and even some of the cooler reds (those having a blue undertone, rather than towards the yellows and oranges). With the golden brooch and a deep slightly purplish red scarf, you’ll introduce an element of contrast that will make your potentially ordinary grey business suit business-appropriate, but with a powerful feminine appeal.

When choosing jewelry to complement your outfit follow three simple steps and you won’t go wrong:

1) Determine the base color of your clothing. This is the dominant color. If you’re wearing the purple blouse with a tan skirt the purple is the dominant color.

If the outfit has a pattern, squint at it and try to see what color feels most dominant (this is an old artist’s trick). If no particular color stands out, determine if the overall pattern is cool or warm as we did with our grey suit.

2) Find the complement of this color on your color wheel. If you really want to stand out, use the complement and stop at this step — you’re done!

3) Look at the triad colors next to the complement. These are most often the colors you will use for your accessories. If you want a brighter look you can use both triads. For a more subtle look, choose one or the other and then use variations on this color (the variations on any one color are almost endless).

That’s it — three easy steps that will introduce you to color coordination of your outfits and jewelry. Fashion colors change from year to year, but laying a foundation for understanding color, color combinations, and how to put them together will help you create an image that is uniquely YOU.