Odd Colour Combinations

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There are a good few ways to stand out in a suit, almost as many as the chapters of a style book: cloth, cut, pattern, accessories etc. But one of the most rewarding and hardest to master is colour. It is so easy to get wrong – everyone can summon some lurid combination from his or her memory. I saw someone in a suit recently that had bulbous red chalk stripes on a grey/green ground. It was hideous.

Colour is also relatively easy to get right – blue suit, white shirt, blue tie; grey suit, pink shirt, black tie; grey suit, white shirt, almost any tie. What is genuinely difficult is a colour combination that is right but unusual. Something that stands out because it is not safe, and therefore is rarely worn; but that works.

Combining colours does not come naturally to many men. It is an artistic talent at heart, and one that few have pursued or developed. Most would ideally have a colour combination chart to refer to, but disliking such artifice, choose to re-wear the same few combinations.

I cycle to work most days, and keep a few suits and pairs of shoes in the office. So every morning I have to pack a shirt and tie, trying to picture how they will go with the suits, shoes and other accessories I have at work. It makes picking combinations even harder.

There are three combinations that I like particularly because they are different, and that I think stand out because they work. They are pink and green, purple and yellow, and blue and brown.

Pink and green works best as a shirt/tie combination: pale pink shirt, bright green tie. The tie I have is a sharp green polo tie, complete with small red insignia. I’m sure the red helps a little to harmonise with the shirt, but the pink and green themselves work wonderfully. Unusual, yes; but it works. I also have a dark green handkerchief with brown detailing that works just as well to complement an open-necked pink shirt. Red and green are of course contrasting colours, but they are too strong on their own to pair off well. With the red diluted into pink, it works.

Which segues nicely into purple and yellow, as they are also contrasting colours (for those who can’t remember art class, a primary colour’s contrasting colour is the result of mixing the other two primaries). Now purple and yellow are hard to match in a shirt and tie. I have one very pale yellow shirt that does work with a dark purple tie, but I think the two are best put together in bright but separated combinations – shirt and pocket handkerchief or socks and tie/handkerchief/shirt. Mostly I think yellow works best as the first of these pairings. Try a purple paisley handkerchief with your yellow shirt; or bright yellow socks with an otherwise sober purple tie.

My last combination is less unusual, but it is a perennial favourite. All too often I feel men reach for a drab or washed-out tie to go with their blue shirt – grey, black or a pale version of one of the colours above. Instead, try a brown tie, perhaps with a white stripe. The richness of the colour is unusual and draws the eye; the same works with a brown handkerchief (perhaps yellow/orange pattern) to an open-necked blue shirt. The same rule applies to brown shoes with a blue shirt, as is often said. The Italians like brown shoes they hardly wear anything else. Black is reserved for formal wear. Get a nice pair of chocolate Oxfords and you may find yourself doing the same.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Nick says:

    Simon,

    Really interesting article. I enjoyed how you took pictures from items other than clothing to illustrate color combinations. It is easy to find a great deal of interesting color combinations in non-fashion related items.

    I like how you gave suggestions for interesting color combinations to try, however you should give a warning to “proceed with caution,” as choosing the wrong hue, texture, or sheen of articles within these color schemes you suggested can be disastrous. You mentioned this before in that it is very much an art to combine colors in a way that is creative and right and I don’t think you could be more right. Sometimes it is very hard to describe why a particular color combination works or doesn’t. It often takes a really unconventional approach and great understanding of style to pull off truly great and unique color combinations. Sometimes a totally outlandish color combination will work because the fit of a suit is impeccable and the personality of the wearer adequately reflects the outfit.

    I guess my couple pieces of advice in color experimentation would be:
    Don’t try to be something you aren’t with your color selection
    Experiment with combinations you normally wouldn’t, but be careful
    Pay a lot of attention to texture and sheen of the colors (this adds totally different effects to color combinations)

    I am sure I could think of more, but I will cut this off before this becomes a full fledged essay.

    -Nick

  2. Nicola Linza says:

    Simon,

    I am very particular about color, and color theory, and you have, what I consider, outlined a terrific map for ways a man may use color in creative and interesting ways. I also like very much that you have referenced flowers. Flower and plant combinations always hold the key to an interesting and unique colour treasury of arrangements and combinations often overlooked by most people.

    Nicola

  3. I recently found the pink/green combo as well. After buying a nice pale pink shirt, I played around with a bunch of ties until I came across a green one that just worked great with it.

    I wish I had a better photo, but here’s one from an awards ceremony at which I spoke: http://flickr.com/photos/mg315/2460153656/

    (The shirt was much less wrinkled earlier in the day)

  4. Barima says:

    One of the most efficient ways to pull off these kinds of combos is actually subtly implied by this article – floral ties, which tend to pack a variety of colours to help them harmonise with different but complimentary shirts. The same can be said for certain printed ties. Lots of fun if you can work it