Color Basics: Part 2

A while ago I did a post on color basics. In it I outlined the three basic contrast types that men fall into and how to take advantage of your contrast type to look your best. If you haven’t read it I suggest you do so.

From there we can move on to a deeper understanding of color and how important it is in a man’s wardrobe.

 saul goodman bad clothing colors

The last thing you want to look like is Saul Goodman. The man’s clothing choices are as shady and criminal as his law practice and there’s nothing more associated with a sleezy businessman than wearing the wrong colors. Think about it, when you picture the used-car dealer or the snake oil salesman you probably have an image in your head of a poorly-fitting suit with colors that are too garish and loud.

The problem isn’t so much in the intensity or unusualness of the colors. That’s been addressed before and wearing go-to-hell clothing can certainly  make a man look better. The problem is in the color combination. So let’s go back to art class from elementary school and focus on colors and how they work with your wardrobe.


Remember the color wheel? Invented by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century, it has been used ever since as a way to show colors and their relationship to each other. We’re going to focus on a few key elements of the relationship between different colors and how they work together.

By adhering to the following rules of the color wheel you will get harmony in your colors and be able to pull off the most muted or the most garish outfit you can imagine. However, if you don’t follow these rules your colors will end up creating disorganization. Even if you have impeccable fit and are dressing to your body type in every other way, disorganized color will kill your look.

Complementary Colors


These are colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Because they are as far away as possible they create the most contrast and should be worn by men who have a stark contrast. While it may seem counterintuitive, this can still be done subtly so as to not look like the terrifying clown from your best friend’s 5th birthday party. For example, orange and blue are on opposite ends of the wheel. They complement by contrast and you could wear a solid blue shirt with an orange tie if you wanted some serious contrast. However, if you want to tone it down you could wear a blue shirt and a navy club tie with orange emblems. The contrast is still there but it’s diminished a bit by the overall amount of color you’re wearing. Think quality vs quantity.

Triad Colors


Triad colors are those that are equidistant from each other on the wheel. They work together in harmony while still providing some contrast and should be worn by stark and moderate-contrast men.

Both the primary and secondary colors are triads of each other and work together well.

The key to wearing triad colors is to do so in more subtle ways with outfits that require a lot of pieces. A pair of chinos with a t-shirt is going to be overwhelmed by having triads but wearing those same chinos with a patterned button-up, a sport coat, and a pocket square is going to provide more opportunities to wear triads without your appearance being overwhelming.

Analogous Colors

These are adjacent to each other on the color wheel and create the least amount of contrast. As a result, they should be the focus of men with a muted contrast to avoid being overwhelmed.

Analogous colors are also going to be the most appropriate in business and formal situations as they attract the least amount of attention. Note that this does not mean you can get away with wearing analogous colors when the dress code calls for black tie, rather you should follow the rules of formal wear.

A lot of men are intimidated by color when it comes to their clothing. The irony of this is that color is the most factual and logical aspect of dressing well. Fashions change, fits vary, what’s considered formal or casual has almost no basis in any longevity, but color is science. It’s as cold and logical as math and is an extremely calculated way for a man to dress better. The relationships between colors and contrast have existed forever and will continue to exist forever as they are independent of our interpretations of them. As a result, it’s worth the time it takes to learn about color and how it applies to you individually. You want it to be an afterthought when you’re getting dressed in the morning and the only way to do that is by making it a priority when you’re shopping for clothes. A little time and a little practice will give you the nonchalant appearance you’re shooting for.

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