Fashion is about color, and color is more complicated than we were told, that is, the basics of everything we see boil down to three primary hues – red, yellow and blue. Master the interplay between these three tools, and you have mastered colorimetry.
This is, at least, what our elementary school teachers tell us.
New research may actually point to a slightly different set of primary colors that are based on the way that our eyes receive wavelengths in the spectrum we define as visible light. To be purely scientific and biologically precise about the whole issue, the primary colors should be defined as red, green and blue.
3 colors to rule them all?
Wait just a minute – don’t you have to mix yellow and blue to get green?
If we are talking about paint, yes, you are absolutely right. However, light works in a different way from solid and liquid pigments.
First of all, to understand color, you must understand that there is really no such thing as color of an object! It just reflects and absorbs selective components of the light. Our eyes detect the color that we see based on the three strongest wavelengths that occur within the information coming from the retinal receptors. These activations show up in our brains as red, green and blue.
Colors from paint, or pigments, are viewed differently in the eye. In order to make a color pigment, paint makers actually take real color out of the solid/liquid substance that comprises the paint. In short, you are not looking at a full color spectrum when you see red paint like you are when you see red light. This difference allows paint pigments to add to each other in your eye instead of your eye having to subtract and approximate the color it sees.
With pigments, subtracting red away from the “full spectrum” makes you see cyan (blue). If you take green away, you see a purplish red (magenta). If you take away blue, you see yellow. So if you want to be completely correct about the primary colors of pigments, you should actually say they are cyan, magenta and yellow. Culture simplifies this to blue, red and yellow.
Great. All of our kindergarten teachers were wrong. So what does all of this mean for your fashion sense? All of your efforts to find true primary colors should lead you into an effort to find complementary colors (also known as contrasting colors) and analogous colors. This is the true art of fashion, and it is what makes things look fashionable to us.
For instance, mix together yellow and blue paint. Does this give off a color that is pleasing to the eye? More importantly, does it give off the color that you and your elementary school teacher expect? Compare this hue to what happens when you mix purple with yellow.
Most people will naturally find purple and yellow paint more appealing than blue and yellow. Why? Purple and yellow paint are opposites on the color wheel, which is a tool that stylists, decorators and graphic designers use to find complementary colors. Complementary colors have hues that naturally appeal to the eye when mixed. Green is opposite red, Purple is opposite yellow, and orange is opposite blue.
Next time you are trying to “mix” an outfit, try using this professional color scheme instead of your elementary school approximations. You may find that you end up with a much better outfit. Note that a complementary combination is one of the six basic techniques for creating color schemes. These schemes are:
Analogous (colors that are adjacent to each other on the color circle)
Gold Rectangle or Tetradic
I have review them in details HERE. The good news about all of this is that color is relative. Whether or not you decide to go with the real primary colors of pigment, the fake ones or the primary colors of light, their relative complements will always give you a great look as long as you know what they are. In truth, you can start from whatever base you like. Just make sure that you are complementing the base that you choose with hues that play well from it.
In order to help you, I have produce a list with pleasant combinations of individual color.
Gray works well with…
Tan works well with…
Red works well with…
Midnight Blue works well with…
Brown works well with…
Fushia works well with…
Green works well with…
Blue Green works well with…
Orange works well with…
Baby Blue works well with…
Yellow works well with…
Purple works well with…
Keep this in mind if your artistic eye fails you, and you are sure to come up with ideas that will please!
One last tip. When you wear a neutral color scheme (gray, beige and brown) with color accessories, use TWO color accessories to make your outfit pop-up. They can be in the same hues, analogous or complementary colors. But remember: two instead of just one. Otherwise, the outfit becomes about that ONE accessory when the star should be YOU!
Photography of 3C Style by Annie Gaudreau
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