Last week, reader Oscar sent me this question:
“I have problems when trying to combine colors. I prefer to wear only gray scales because I’m not sure how to match colors. Any tips?”
Great question Oscar. I get this one all the time and I’m REALLY excited to answer it because I get to call out another piece of dumb style.
If you search “How to mix colors” into Google, you’ll be confronted with dozens of websites showing you this:
The color wheel.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I HATE THE COLOR WHEEL
It’s stupid, confusing, complicated, and just plain useless if you’re trying to figure out how to mix colors in your outfit.
I spent 10 years working as a menswear designer and you know what? Not one company or person I ever worked for my entire career ever referenced the color wheel.
I’m starting to suspect that using the color wheel to learn how to mix and match colors is some old wives tale style writers regurgitate because they actually don’t know how to teach it.
Before I show you how the pros do it, I want you to promise me this: If you ever read a blog or magazine that tells you to learn the color wheel, close the window (or magazine), and never read anything from them ever again.
Ok. Let me show you a much simpler and intuitive way to mix and match colors.
WHAT COOKING CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT MIXING COLORS
In cooking, Chefs use what’s called “Flavor profiles”, these are groups of flavors and ingredients that are associated with certain types of cuisine.
For example, if I said “Mexican food”, you might automatically think chill, cumin, lime, onion, garlic, and cilantro.
If I said “Chinese food”, you’d think soy, ginger, garlic, and scallions.
We’re going to use something very similar to help us learn how to mix colors. Instead of “Flavor Profiles”, I’m going to show you “Color Profiles”.
They same way you think of specific flavors when you hear “chinese food”, you’re going to instinctively think of specific colors when you hear a phrase like “Americana” or “Romantic”.
And here’s the best part, they’re INCREDIBLY easy to learn and apply. You won’t need to memorize a stupid color wheel, or try to sort out what analogous, complimentary, shades, and hues mean.
MIX AND MATCH COLORS BY “INSTINCT”
Color Profile are just groups of colors that appear together often. Just like how certain flavor combinations are found in dishes from a certain cuisine.
Take a look at that photo above. Can you sort through and find outfits with similar color combination patterns? Take a few seconds and see how many you can group together.
If we sort it out, it would look something like this:
Can you see it clearly now?
Let me dive deeper into these 3 most common color profiles.
COLOR PROFILE #1: NEUTRALS
The first color profile is Neutral. This is the color profile I show my clients to use first when they’re building their essential wardrobe.
Neutrals consist of black, white, grey, navy or dark blue, browns and olive. They’re called neutral because they’re not overpowering. They’re infinitely mixable, extremely versatile and compliment more intense colors as you start adding them to your wardrobe.
COLOR PROFILE #2: AMERICANA
The second color profile is what I call “Americana”. This color profile stirs up images of classic America.
Think Army, Steve McQueen, 1950’s military.
It’s a variation of a neutral color profile, but a strong emphasis on combinations like military green, khaki, denim (lighter blues) and red. It’s a neutral palette with the addition of denim blue and red.
Browns and blacks are found too, often in the form of leather jackets, boots and shoes.
It’s classic color profile.
COLOR PROFILE #3: MONOCHROMATIC / ALL BLACK EVERYTHING
Last is monochromatic. This is when you dress almost entirely in a single color. This could be any color, but you’ll find this most often with all black wardrobes. This style of color mixing is sometimes jokingly referred to as “All black everything”.
MASTER MIXING COLORS IN THE NEXT 10 MINUTES
Mixing colors isn’t as complicated as a lot of people like to make it out to be.
Learning a color profile is like tasting mexican food for the first time and getting familiar with the flavors. Once you know what to look out for, it’s EASY to identify and use.
Your Action Steps For Today:
- Go over the color profiles I shared in this post
- Memorize these color groups and outfit examples shown (it should take you less than a day. For some practice, take a look at what colors guys are wearing in magazines or next time you’re at a coffeeshop, see if they fit into these color profiles)
- Start mixing colors in your wardrobe based on these color profiles.
Connecting these groups of colors with the names of Color Profiles and the example images will help cement them into your brain. You’ll start to see color combinations intuitively.
I want you to go into your closet and pull out an army green jacket, blue jeans and a white t-shirt and instantly think “americana colors”. The same way you would would go into your cupboard and combine soy sauce, ginger and garlic and taste “chinese”
To help you master color profiles fast, I put together a color profile cheatsheet of this post, including 1 bonus color profile that’s actually my personal favorite.