When choosing an outfit or buying new clothing, it’s really beneficial to choose colors that align with your personality and style. I’ve spent the last year researching the most classy, elegant and stylish women to try and understand how they use color in their wardrobe to reflect their personal style.
Traditionally classy colors include white, black, grey, ivory, cream, beige, tan and nude. Different shades, tones and tints of these colors are also considered classy because they are neutral and clean looking. They are also appropriate for most social situations as they do not attract too much attention while making your outfit look sophisticated and put together at the same time.
This classy color palette is strongly linked to fashion history and even though they may become trendy during different seasons they will always be considered timeless and will never go out of style. If you are in any doubt what color is appropriate for a certain time of year or occasion, any one of these colors are a safe choice that you can be sure will make your outfits look classy and timeless.
Natural and earthy colors like light blue, khaki and rich jewel colors like burgundy, navy and forest green are also considered classy. However, it’s important to say that the overall “classiness” of any outfit also depends on factors like material, fabrication quality, silhouette and fit. All of these colors can also be combined to create classic color combinations.
Because these classic colors are synonymous with timeless style, they are therefore also considered to be colors that make your clothing appear expensive and luxurious. However, this is not to say that all other colors cannot look classy, it depends how you wear them but as a general rule these neutral colors are the classiest colors that you can wear.
Color is probably the first thing you notice about an outfit whether you know it or not. It plays a vital role in your wardrobe and in communicating your personal style. It’s been scientifically proven that colors can have a psychological impact on the viewer and can evoke different emotions. Therefore, your color choices can say a lot about who you are and how you want to appear in your social setting.
However, color can definitely be an overwhelming topic for even the most seasoned fashionistas so I want to help you understand how to use color effectively in your wardrobe through a different perspective. Of course, this is not an exact science and there can be a lot of overlap between what works and what doesn’t for different people but this article will help you to look at color more confidently.
For the purposes of this article I’m going to break down colors in terms of different goals: classy (as explained above), elegant and stylish. These three things do not necessarily mean the same thing, but each of them can be expressed through color. This guide will help understand how you can use color in your wardrobe depending on what your goals are. Other important things to consider are how appropriate the color is for the location, occasion, time of year and of course, your natural coloring.
Here are four questions that can help you decide on the right color for any given outfit.
- What colors suit your natural coloring?
- What colors reflect the current season?
- What kind of occasion is it for? (professional, formal, casual, celebration etc.)
- Which of the three goals do you want to achieve? (Classy, Elegant or Stylish)
What colors are elegant?
Next let’s talk about elegance, as expressed through color. Elegant colors include white, black, ivory, cream, nude, champagne and other pastel colors with a muted or soft tone. The more saturated the colors become, the less elegant they appear as they move away from tones that are considered to be more soft and feminine.
For example, pink is usually the most widely accepted color to represent femininity. However, different shades of the same color are perceived differently so a very intense hot pink outfit will have a completely different effect to a soft pastel pink outfit. Both are considered feminine colors but if you are trying to create an outfit that is demure and elegant then you should choose the softer pink.
However it’s important to acknowledge the ambiguity here because while brighter colors are generally accepted to be more feminine and darker colors more masculine, it’s just not that black and white (pun intended) when it comes to elegance. Coco Chanel’s little black dress is a great example of this as it has become an iconic in the world of fashion for its elegance and simplicity. Therefore, it’s not impossible for bolder or darker colors to be considered elegant but if you are looking for a safe bet, then I would opt for softer colors.
What colors are stylish?
Style is not dictated by trends so all colors no matter what shade, tone or tint can be stylish. However, anyone can throw on some colorful clothes with white or black and make it work, but it takes more effort and expertise to master the art of color combinations and make your whole outfit look cohesive and put together. Victoria Beckham is a great example of this as she is known to include a variety of color in her wardrobe from neutrals to bold color palettes while hitting the mark every time.
With that in mind, let’s learn a bit about how color can be combined to look intentional and sophisticated. To understand how colors can be combined stylishly we need to first look at the color wheel. The basis of all colors are the primary colors red, blue and yellow. Secondary colors are what we get when we mix equal amounts of primary colors together which gives us green, orange and purple. Tertiary colors are made by mixing equal amounts of primary and secondary colors which gives us more variants. Each of these colors can then be made lighter, darker or muted by adding different amounts of white, black and grey respectively.
After you understand how the color wheel is made, there are a few basic patterns that can help you match colors in your wardrobe.
This is the first color pattern to be aware of as it’s the most simple and foolproof when you want to look stylish, classy or elegant. Choosing one single color is the easiest way for an outfit to look cohesive, it looks best when you have an outfit that consists of one or two pieces max. However, if your outfit consists of three or more pieces, consider using varying shades of the same color to make it look more refined and less stark unless you are intentionally trying to create a statement outfit.
This is when you choose two different colors on opposite sides of the color wheel like yellow and purple or blue and orange. Even though these colors highly contrast each other they are complementary because they balance each other out. When you’re using this method you don’t have to pick the high intensity colors represented in the color wheel, you can choose a more muted tone like navy and tan for example. If you want to add another color then keep it neutral like white or black so as not to take away from the harmony of the complementary colors.
The analogous pattern focuses on two to four colors that lie next to each other on the wheel. For example, purple, red-purple and blue. With this method its best to choose less intense colors and opt for light shades of each color so it can achieve the same effect without being too jarring. You can also choose three colors that are within the four color distance as shown in the green and yellow outfit below.
The triadic pattern takes three colors that are equal distance apart on the color wheel. For example, red, yellow and blue. Again this is a high-contrast pattern, but is supposed to create more of a balance than complementary colors. The trick with this pattern is to let one color dominate the outfit and then add accents with the other two colors.
Split complementary pattern uses three colors. It takes one color and matches it with the two colors directly on either side of its complementary color. For example, blue, yellow-orange and red-orange. The goal of this pattern is to choose colors that contrast each other but that are not too stark creating a more subtle look.
Tetradic uses four colors together by choosing two sets of complementary colors. For example, blue and orange is paired with yellow and violet. This is probably the hardest pattern to balance in your outfits without looking like a rainbow. The best way to avoid this is to not use all four colors in equal amounts, choose one or two dominant colors and then the other two colors can be introduced in the smaller details of the outfit.
What are some good color combinations.
You can really have some fun with these color patterns in your outfits, however if you’re not used to wearing or matching colors and you just want to start slow then you can use the same methods as above but choose more muted colors like navy and tan instead of bright blue and orange. The outfit below is a good example of a complementary color outfit where the colors are not so intense along with some other tried and tested color combinations that work really well together.
What are seasonal colors?
Seasonal colors are colors that reflect the characteristics of each season of the year. Spring is represented by white, cream and pastel colors, summer is represented by white, light blue, and warm bright colors like red, orange and yellow. Autumn is represented by darker warm colors like burgundy, purple, brown and khaki and winter is represented by cool and dark colors like black, grey, silver, navy and green.
This is not definitive as a lot of different colors can work well in multiple seasons and can depend on other factors too. However, it’s important to be aware of these seasonal colors anyway as they are not dictated by trends that come and go but are more to do with the underlying mood of each season.
Should I only wear colors that suit my skin tone?
My personal stance on this is that your skin tone should not dictate what colors you wear. Style is about self-expression and if there is a color that you like then you should wear it with confidence and without hesitation. That being said, there are some colors that compliment certain skin tones more than others but this varies greatly based on a variety of factors like skin, hair and eye color etc. You can take a quiz which will help find the colors that best suit you but it’s important to do your own testing and not take the results too seriously.
I hope it’s much clearer now how colors can add to your appearance when you are trying to achieve a certain look. I’d like to reiterate that I don’t believe that colorful clothing cannot be classy and neutral colors cannot be stylish. I wanted to create a separation that was easier to understand the psychology of colors in a traditional sense. Just remember that color is not the only thing that can make or look classy, elegant or stylish.
How you carry yourself and what you wear also contributes to your personal style and that’s what makes it unique to you. If you do try out the different colors and color patterns that I’ve mentioned in this article, I would absolutely love to see it so don’t hesitate to tag me on Instagram, Tiktok, Pinterest or wherever you post them so that we can all learn from each other.
About the author
Mish has a Masters in Fine Art and she has an interest in classical design, history and culture. She loves to analyze fashion and style through this lens to help people develop authentic personal style.