Using Colour in an Outfit

Adding that measure of poise to an outfit is the sine qua non for the elegant gentleman of today. Balance and harmony have become important once more to the modern man and this element of sartoria can take a number of forms. One of the most common methods of attaining this equilibrium is through the use of colour.

Colour matching and complementation is a universally adopted method of balancing and is used in not just fashion, but a variety of design fields where synchronization is desired. The question is how far to go with the matching and complementation; where does harmonious elegance end and heavy-handedness begin.

Though some might claim such balancing is a science that can be taught, experimentation is the most vital thing to remember when playing with colour. Rules, such as not wearing navy blue with black, are there to be broken; if you can pass off an unconventional match with aplomb then so much the better.

Feminine colours

Pinks, purples and even oranges and yellows are often considered feminine colours. Turquoise is regularly regarded to have that jewel-like brightness that only a woman can be seen in. However, using feminine colours in moderation alongside male classics such as school blazer grey, navy blue, black and racing green will dilute the acidic effect they can often have. Playing merry hell with such colours will lead to the ice-cream-Florida-retirement-home sartorial disaster; I learned my lesson long ago about being too ‘brave’ in this regard.

Using white and black

Use white and black to take the sickly-sweet out of overly colourful looks; this will add a calm to the mélange. The pictures below show how this technique works.


Good colour companions for pinks are black, light and dark greys, navy and mid blues, dark green and, for a summertime look, ivory and white. Pink is sophisticated and friendly and is appropriate for all seasons. However, be careful not to colour match too much; if wearing a pink shirt, match it with, at most, pink socks or a pink pocket square if the mood throws you. Companion colours for pink in terms of such accessories are spring greens, navy blues and browns.


Purple is a difficult colour to manage. It’s certainly striking and regal in appearance, but it needs to be worn with outfits of a sufficient sparkle. Charcoal greys and blacks are the best companions for purple; small accessorising colours able to stand up to its dominance are bright reds, rich greens and strong sky blues. It’s best to restrict colour matching when wearing purple. The true Imperial purple of Rome is a statement in itself and throwing arbitrary colours into the mix can look messy.

How far to go with accessorising

Colour matching and contrasting is a lot of fun and the effect can be truly magnificent. However, an unhealthy mix can draw unwanted attention. Pocket squares and socks are subtle ways to support or draw upon another colour that you are wearing. Adding colour matching belts and gloves can look excessive, especially if you are wearing several references to that colour already.

Instead of perpetually colour matching, colour styling is a good idea. This is a habit of wearing certain colours with certain styles of accessories and footwear; for example, the habit I have of wearing a brown belt with brown shoes or check shirts.