Man Suit

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Basic Color Theory

When a lot of people first think of menswear and suits, the first images that often come to mind are crisp grey and navy bespoke suit.  These items have been menswear staples for decades, but that doesn’t mean color should be excluded from a man’s wardrobe.  Those of us at The Sharp Suit are strong proponents of wearing what best fits your personal style, and if that includes touches (or entire outfits) of color then more power to you!  But a basic understanding of color theory and psychology is useful for men building and upgrading their wardrobes.  This brief overview of color should lay some basic groundwork regarding the effects color can have on a man’s wardrobe, and next week will explore how to put these ideas into practice using specific suit examples.
No basic understanding of color theory and how it relates to menswear can properly begin without an introduction to the color wheel.  The color wheel (shown below) illustrates the 12 important hues that make up the basis of visible light the human eye can see.  The origins of the color wheel can traced as far back as Isaac Newton whose color wheel also correlated the colors with music notes and planetary symbols.  The color wheel is composed of 3 primary colors (red, blue and yellow), 3 secondary colors (green, orange and violet, formed by combining primary colors), and 6 tertiary colors (red-orange, red-violet, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-violet, and blue-green, formed by combining a primary and the adjacent secondary color).

The standard color wheel, composed of primary, secondary and tertiary colors.
(Courtesy of Home Workshop)
The most prominent “missing” colors are black, white and grey.  Black and white are considered neutral colors and not normally included on the color wheel; grey is a combination of the two and therefore left off as well.  The 12 main colors identified above (primary, secondary and tertiary) make up the basic color hues.  These can then be adjusted by either adding white or black (tinting or shading, respectively) to create variations on those basic colors.  In clothing, outfits often incorporate a primary and secondary color in order to create contrast.  However, that’s not the only way pair colors effectively.  The image below demonstrates several other ways to pair and match colors.

The above color wheel includes descriptions of the color types and color combinations, and shows how tinting and shading affect the hues.
(Courtesy of Rental Decorating)
There are four key ways to pair colors effectively according to color theory (3 of which are illustrated in the chart above).  Complementary colors directly oppose each other on the color wheel.  They create the greatest contrasts and provide great accents on outfits.  A variation on this pairing, split complementary colors, combines colors almost directly opposite one another on the color wheel (see the image above).  Analogous colors are found next to one another on the color wheel.  These combinations create consistent-looking outfits, and are great in professional environments.  Triad colors (not included on the above chart) are colors spaced equal distances apart from one another on the color wheel.  For example, in the first color wheel, violet, green, and orange would be considered triad colors because they are each separated by three colors in between them.  These provide a balanced contrast, and are great for outfits with lots of pieces.
This may all seem like a lot of information to absorb, and that’s not a problem.  Next week’s post will explore specific menswear examples that utilize these color theory tools.  But before we end the lesson, let’s briefly explore the psychology behind some of the colors.  These are important to understand, because they help when selecting outfits and colors for certain situations.  For example, it would be inappropriate to wear yellow to a funeral; black and grey work better in that environment.  The descriptions below help explain why that is the case:
Blue – seen as trustworthy, dependable, calming
Green – seen as natural, tranquil, refreshing, peaceful
Yellow – seen as optimistic, enlightened, happy
Orange – seen as fun, warm, energetic
Red – seen as stimulating, action-oriented, attention-grabbing
Purple – seen as mystic, royal, creative
Brown – seen as stable, approachable, wholesome
White – seen as pure, clean, neutral
Grey – seen as timeless, practical, solid
Black – seen as overwhelming, powerful, mysterious
Obviously, these are not all the psychological associations for the colors – there are many others that can readily apply.  But these provide a basic framework for men concerned about the message their clothing sends based on the colors they select for their outfit.  We hope this introduction to color will be helpful in crafting your personal style, and be sure to check back next week for examples on how to incorporate today’s information into your wardrobe!

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