I remember the first time I was told that black and white should only be worn with … each other. Maybe a little gray or brown, if you’re feeling crazy. I scraped my jaw off the floor, snickered, and promptly dismissed this restrictive advice as total bunk.
But it lingered in my brain. And, over time, I began to notice that color-on-color pairings looked richer, livelier, and more sophisticated than color-on-neutral pairings. When several shades are combined in carefully crafted ensembles, the colors look their best and so do their wearers. This isn’t to say that colors should NEVER be worn with neutrals. Oh hell no. There are plenty of ways to create intentional mixes that include both colors and black or white. Or both, or other neutrals. But I believe that learning to pair multiple colors is a skill worth cultivating, especially as The Frisky celebrates New Year, New You month. Here’s why…
1. Black and white suck the life out of everything they touch. Many venerable style gurus rail against pairing these two neutrals with colors because both black and white are so stark and extreme that they can be overpowering. They simply won’t allow other nearby colors to shine. Put a cobalt blue top with black slacks and it’ll look modern and fun. But put that cobalt top with a pair of rust-colored cords or a citron skirt and it will absolutely SING. Black is eternally chic and white is marvelously crisp, but neither draw out the best in other colors.
2. Paired colors look complex and chic. You may be saying, “Yeah, those pairings look more complex because they ARE more complex.” And I hear that. Doing a color with a neutral is a quick, simple standby and some mornings, that’s exactly what you need. But if you take the time to identify a few color pairings that work for you – magenta and navy, maroon and purple, coral and turquoise – you may find that outfits utilizing those pairings draw more compliments and feel more refined. Done right, color-on-color mixes absolutely ooze sophistication.
3. Color-on-color is extremely on-trend. Take a peek at the AW11 Gucci, offerings. Now think about every catalog, window display, celebrity sighting, and street style photo you’ve seen since August. Pink with red, mustard with purple, teal with orange, bold brights in dynamic duos are everywhere right now. Even if you’re not a trend hound per se, picking a few lush color pairings to rotate into your wardrobe will keep you looking current and fresh.
4. Color lifts the spirits. It’s January. We are coming up on the long, dark, endless-seeming stretch of winter that makes many folks consider hibernation. But even in the middle of summer, surrounding yourself with color is a quick, easy, cheap way to keep yourself from feeling blue. And the more color the better, so pile multiples into your outfits.
5. Pairing colorful items gets lesser-used pieces into rotation. Which pants get the most wear? The black pants, natch. That means those navy ones you bought on a whim last fall are languishing unworn. And when you wear them with the teal sweater that’s been collecting dust under your gray and black cardigans, well, you’ll feel like a wardrobe-utilizing superstar. Colorful garments get neglected, and forcing yourself to understand and implement color-on-color mixes will help keep them in rotation.
Color pairing can seem daunting, but it needn’t be. Some of the easiest ways to identify great groups of shades is to take note of magazine and catalog spreads, or look at existing prints and patterns that feature multiple colors. No need to reinvent the wheel: Notice the colors that others have paired, and recreate those pairings using items from your own closet. Once you start, you’ll realize how powerful color can be. And you might just decide to replace those old black pants with a rich, burgundy pair. Hey, it could happen.
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.