To understand how to mix colours and so on, you need to learn these three words (or at least get a feel for it):
TINTS, TONES & SHADES
Tints = Has white to lighten it, where reds turn into pink with white added
Tone = Adds white or black (grey) to the colour to make it less vibrant/desaturate it
Shade = Has black to darken it, where it goes from blue to navy blue
This is important because you NEED to match the right colours to each other and understanding the undertones, tints and shades of colours will help you learn how to match them without it looking strange.
(Of course all rules are made to be broken as well …)
Not all colours go together. Just because it’s blue and green, doesn’t mean it’ll match.
- What shade is it? Is it light? Dark?
- Does it match in tone?
Every colour has its own tint, tone and shade. Not all greens are made the same, they’re so different:
Or, you can think that all of these colours go together as well, as they’re all part of the same palette – they could all make a monochromatic outfit:
That’s why items with colours that have yellow-tones to them go well with colours that have yellow tones like this palette below, all has a yellow-based tone to it.
The other three bases for the tones are blue and red. Some other colours are more blue-toned, and others are more red-toned. I personally prefer to wear items with more of a blue-tone or red-tone to it, which is why my personal preference is this sort of palette. Less muddy, clearer colours, deep, and saturated:
Now that you have an overview, here are some more examples.
Here’s an example of tints – black, with a bit of white added, turns into dark grey, so the two tints pair well together:
Here’s another example of tints – the dark navy blue leather jacket with the cobalt blue, is in the same colour family.
Here’s another colour family, more subtle:
The shirt below is a lighter orange-red version of the dark red fabric above, and it goes together so well.
WITHIN THE COLOUR FAMILY
Sort of along the same lines as tints, you also have colours that are VERY close to each other like purple and pink, and they go together as long as the tones match.
They’re in the same colour family or have similar shades. You can see how the magenta pink could just be a lighter version of the fuchsia purple, and therefore they go well together.
This is also true for monochromatic dressing – white + ivory is nice, as is pale pink with a bright pink, like this in look where you can see the duster is a light lavender+grey that goes with the ivory in the tank, and white in the jeans.
The lavender is a very pale shade of purple, but it’s so close to white (any pastel would have worked), that it looks like it all goes together. If I wanted to really push this outfit, I could wear something bright magenta to give it a real pop of colour to pick up in the lavender, or even a teal, a deep, rich peacock teal.
When the tones are not the same, you can see how the colour looks off. In this example, yes the two top fabrics are technically ‘green’, but the top left one is greyer, and the top right one is more yellow-toned or olive in colour.
NONE of these colours mix well with the bottom banana print because it’s a lighter tone that is more vibrant and suited to emerald or teal, even navy blue, or an indigo blue. The tones are all off, and it’s why they don’t work.
You can see how the top left fabric is a darker, desaturated green with A LOT of grey, and the top right green was an olive green, a very yellow-toned khaki green. The banana print however, has more greens that are blue-toned and deeper shades of blue instead of grey or yellow.
That said, even these rules can be broken.
This banana printed dress COULD work with either of those colours above if the pieces themselves were a smaller part of the outfit, maybe a belt, or an accessory, but it would be that you are looking to put tension or make a jarring, discordant note in your outfit to give it interest, but it isn’t easy to do it without it looking ‘off’.
More examples of this darker, more muted, desaturated tone NOT matching with the jewel tones below. Look at how off they all are when you see them in big pieces together:
Here are tones that do match:
(Note: this one is too Christmassy, just the way black + yellow make you think of a bumblebee, red and green are to be done very cautiously to avoid this combination even though it goes well together, AND black + orange makes you think of Halloween.)
You can see that the tones match, they’re of the same saturation, and they work together even though they’re both bright, bold shades.
Here’s an example of another red fabric against other colours that SHOULD go together but seem to not work as well because the tones are off:
The red and the fuchsia purple work together, but the muddy brownish red in the middle does not.
You can see the tones are off – it’s too desaturated versus the two bright colours
What would work would be a desaturated colour/tone that goes with the burgundy red, but this shade is hard to match as it has an undertone of brown, a shade I don’t really own in my wardrobe.
And that’s my understanding colours.