Color Theory: The Creative Process to an Outfit

by Julia Porter

For some people, expressing themselves through colorful outfits is an important part of showcasing their bright and bold personality. For others, neutral or basic colors suit a more relaxed and conservative personality. For myself, I fall closer to the latter description (though in my questionable middle school fashion days, I was more the former…can someone say bright, neon pink Justice jeans?). When I open my dorm wardrobe every morning, I am greeted by a modest collection, with the most prevalent color being ivory or white, a basic color. These colors that are considered “basics” are constant and unchanging, and include such classics as black, white, grey and navy blue. The opposite is a statement color, a trend color generally consented to in the industry that often changes from season to season. As a current example, mustard yellow and burgundy have been popular in stores during pre-fall.

The goal of color theory is to create a scheme that is harmonious and appealing to the eye. This makes color theory important in many aspects of our life, including those in fashion and retail. It’s rare that someone will walk out in a clashing outfit if they are trying to make an impression. A store will pay close attention to how merchandise colors bounce off each other to keep customers coming in instead of turning them away.

My personal wardrobe is filled with mostly basic colors, with a few pops of color here and there. It’s much the same for how I create my own outfits. I will wear one or two basic colors with that day’s pop of color. This is the most common way I dress myself, but sometimes I’ll break out of my usual pattern, unknowingly using ideas from color theory as my guide. Sometimes, I’ll wear a monochromatic outfit in different shades and tints of one color, most often in blue. Other times I might go complementary, two colors opposite from each other on the color wheel (light pink and olive green has been my favorite complementary pairing as of late). Occasionally, I will go for a split-complementary scheme of burgundy and blue jeans, picking from the two colors on either side of the opposing color and creating a Y shape on the wheel.

Being the manager at the Student Body Boutique, I  work with dressing the mannequins and even customers. I will cater color harmonizing needs to each customer, but I follow a similar standard of dressing the mannequins as I would dress myself: have the basic colors and add non-basic colors to it to give it a pop. The outfits should not be too loud, which is where the basics come in to subdue the brighter colors. Color arrangement is just as important in organizing clothing in the store as it is in dressing the mannequins.

On one of our racks, we have much of our olive merchandise contrasting nicely with the brown. On another, navy blue jackets and green skirts, an analogous color choice with both colors being adjacent on the color wheel, play off each other nicely. By using various aspects of color theory, not only am I able to dress the mannequins in a pleasing way, but I can also arrange the store in a way that will make customers feel at ease.

Maybe it hasn’t caught on yet how much color theory plays a role in dressing, or maybe you’re thinking, “at least not for me.” But try it out one week, record what you’re wearing, then whip out that color wheel. You might surprise yourself, seeing that you’ve made a harmonious outfit following the guidelines that the color theory has laid out.


“COLOR THEORY basics FOR FASHION l Justine Leconte.” YouTube, uploaded by Justine Leconte, 12 Feb. 2017, Accessed 7 Sept. 2018. Gabrielle. “The Color Theory – best fashion tips to know.” The Planet Style, 29 Nov. 2017, theory/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2018. Kliever, Janie. “Color Theory.” Canva, theory/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2018.


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