Last week we took a look at a common fashion mistake of building a wardrobe based on predominantly one colour. Today I want to look at the other side of the coin and investigate how one can use too much colour without enough thought or consideration. While this is much more obvious to most, rest assured that it is a very common fashion mistake that may catch you off guard – especially during a period in which colour is very much in fashion. In fact, we here at FashionBeans have been producing articles throughout 2011 encouraging you to embrace colour in order to set yourself apart and showcase some true personality. Just last week we also released our latest FashionBeans MAN editorial, which focussed on integrating colour into your upcoming winter ensembles.

I have a theory as to why so many colours are being pushed constantly within men’s fashion at the moment, and it has a lot to do with the current worldwide economic situation. Colours give off a more jovial look/aesthetic in troubled times – and don’t kid yourself, the fashion industry is one to be drastically affected by the economic dip. However, the colour selection choices of these fashion houses do not encourage us ‘to dress like a multicoloured harlequin’ – as FashionBeans reader H describes in our previous article. It is a common misconception that when you pull on bright colours you are afforded unlimited freedom so long as it reflects your personality or makes you stand out – but this is hardly ever the case.

The Faux Pas – Colour Confetti

Outfitting yourself with an unconsidered selection of colours may make you look as if you have no clue as to what you are doing. It is generally not our fault, as menswear has been dominated by neutrals and traditional pieces for as long as anyone can remember. We have really only begun to embrace colour within the last 12 months, and it has led to guys utilising some awful colour combinations as they are not aware of the basics of colour matching or coordinating. Again, we are not all graphic designers, art students, interior designers or stylists – so the everyday male needs to begin to learn the general rules and start by integrating colours naturally within their current looks.

Be aware that even if the pieces you wear may look great individually (in your wardrobe or on the shelf at the store) it does not mean that they are bound to work in any circumstance. I have seen this happen too often; a great looking piece is ruined by the overall outfit due to colour mismanagement, leading to an overall look which would be much more suited at a children’s party or back in the disco days of 70s fashion.

The Fix
Know Your Colours

For a look to work, you first need to know the basics of colour – and this is excellently described in our men’s fashion basic series. Take additional care on how similar, complementary and contrasting colours combine, and keep a simple colour wheel either in your mind or on your smartphone (save the one below now) the next time you go shopping.

The Colour Wheel

Being aware of what colours you have in your wardrobe and taking note the next time you make a purchase will give you a better idea of how to combine colours in an effective manner without going over the top. If you are regularly inspecting your wardrobe and taking an honest approach to where it needs work – as suggested in the previous article – then you should be aware of what colours/neutrals currently dominate your wardrobe and this will help sculpt your future purchases to colours that work with your current personal style.

If it is too hard to list all your colours (or you already have good variety), then why not take a picture of your items? This may sound a lot of work, but a landscape shot (or two) of your whole wardrobe will give you a visual reference of the colours you already have when picking a new item. It may take extra effort to colour coordinate your existing wardrobe but the benefit of making sure that you pick items that work together far outweighs this initial outlay.

Know Your Sources of Inspiration

While I agree that every individual has a particular style and their own personal sources of inspiration, keep in mind that others can be wrong. Looking at how stylists create an outfit, combine colours and textures, and wear clothes in general is a very good source of inspiration, but keep in mind that not all they say is gold. Likewise, looking at stylish friends and acquaintances can be a great way of picking up colour combinations or simple layering techniques but that doesn’t mean it will always be something you can incorporate into your OWN look.

For example, if you liked your friend’s recent green chino and purple cable knit combination but it is a bit too ‘out there’ for you, why not just try some great dark green olive chinos and utilise the purple through an accent colour such as a tie? You don’t have to copy; inspiration is just that – adapt it for you personally.

Also, if you like to look to celebrities for inspiration, keep in mind that their looks do not always work for the common man. Their outfits may be very expensive, tailored to their body shapes and airbrushed for the public eye, in a way that would be very difficult to maintain in the ‘real’ world. Many have been lauding the style of Ryan Gosling recently – and for good reason, as he looks SUPERB – but I do not think many men would actually be comfortable in a burgundy or green suit, and therefore even less would probably pull it off.

Finally, take note or save look book images (FashionBeans provides them in nearly every article) and grab a magazine every time you go in a retail shop to get more ideas of how to make an outfit work. Such look books are updated almost every quarter and provide a very good source of inspiration as to what is on the market at the time, as well as how to combine items and colours.

Neutralising Colours

One key way of pulling off multiple bold colours is via a technique known as neutralising. It was something FashionBeans’ own Paul McGregor introduced us to during the spring/summer season, and it can be the KEY principle that makes or breaks your look. I have pulled out some key points below, but make sure you check out the full article here:

A neutralising colour is something which cancels out the bolder colour, so drawing less attention to it. For example, by layering a black cardigan over a bright blue shirt, the black cardigan works to neutralise (and sometimes even cancel out) the effect of the bolder colour…

Pay more attention to what you’re wearing around the bolder colour, rather than aiming to make the bold colour a stand out feature.

If you try to pay more attention to what you’re wearing with the bold colour, in order to anchor or neutralise it, then it will help you implement bolder and brighter colours into your outfits a lot easier.
Paul McGregor – Neutralising Bold Colours

What you need to bear in mind when utilising bold colours is that you should be trying to anchor (or neutralise) them by integrating neutral layers and key pieces. Many of you will already have the items you need, such as blazers, knitwear, shirts, overcoats and macs, in timeless colours such as brown, grey, black, white and navy. Hint: subtle patterns or graphic prints on things like t-shirts can also draw attention away from bold colours by catching the eye.

We will be utilising this technique in a couple of the outfits below, but here are a few examples of excellent neutralising pieces every man should have in their wardrobe:

  • Camel Wool Belted Trench
  • Universal Works Grey Harris Tweed Suit Blazer
  • Selected One Tax Kean Blazer
  • Code Merino V-neck
  • Lander Cardigan
  • British Wool Grey Cable Knit Polo Jumper
  • British Heritage Dark Brown Premium Overcoat
  • Nudie Jonny Leather Jacket
  • Rhode Coat
Colour Basics: Look Book

As mentioned above, many men are not aware of how to combine colours, and this is very much half the battle. So today I am going to run through a variety of example outfits for you, give you a few pointers about how to make particular combinations work and offer you a few tricks that can help you anchor bold colours into your outfits going forward.

Classic & Minimalist

An outfit choice that works for a number of occasions is a classic minimalist look. This approach gives you clean lines and incorporates just two or three ‘colours’, which tend to be the classical neutrals such as black, brown, grey and white. Just because everyone is embracing colour right now, it doesn’t means you have to – this minimalist approach is timeless and helps create a very neat overall look that works almost every time. See Jos’ excellent write-up on the art of minimalism for an in depth analysis.

Textured items such as tweed are very much in fashion right now and create depth and interest to classic looks:

  • Fred Perry Laurel Wreath Oxford Pique Trim Shirt
  • Harris Tweed Rust Donkey Blazer
  • Chestnut Skinny Carrot Fit Trousers
Similar Colours: Look 1

Similar colours are right next to each other in the colour wheel. They are generally easy to coordinate as in theory they should be similar in tone. An easy way of doing this is by picking one colour and utilising the neighbouring colour for accessories – this works particularly well for shirt and tie combinations. In the outfit below we have picked a bold teal blazer and kept it simple by pairing it with a neighbouring lighter blue oxford shirt.

The contrast works very well, and blue always looks great with brown – meaning the trousers were an easy pick in order to coordinate with the detailing on the blazer collar.

  • Harvard L/s Shirt
  • Teal Cotton Skinny Blazer
  • Hartford Cotton Trousers
Similar Colours: Look 2

This time we wanted to use bolder similar colours in order to show you that it can still work when coming away from the safety of your blue tones. This was inspired by the first look in the latest FashionBeans MAN editorial and is a carbon copy, apart from us opting to anchor the whole outfit with some dark navy trousers – a piece you should all own in your wardrobe in some form.

  • ASOS Cable Jumper
  • Self Gold Xl Hooded Parka*
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Wide Weave Corduroy Trousers
Complementary Colours: Look 1

Complementary colours are opposite each other in the colour wheel and create a high contrast when paired together. Although they ‘compliment’ each other well, the downside to this great contrast is that the effect can be jarring – so you need to always vary the hue when utilising them together. In the outfit below we have opted for purple and yellow, but we have made sure that the yellow is quite pale and bright, whilst the purple takes on a deeper and richer form.

We also manage this stark contrast by layering over a neutral anchor piece in the form of a grey tweed blazer. This lets the yellow statement trousers shine as the main focal point, and the purple is just another small shot of vibrancy.

  • Burberry Brit Juniper Purple Merino Shoulder Check Crew Knit
  • APC Vest Tradi Grey Jacket
  • ASOS Drop Crotch Chino
Complementary Colours: Look 2

Red and green are great complimentary colours but it is very hard to manoeuvre yourself away from the dreaded ‘Christmas outfit’ if you are not careful. In the example below we have utilised a mid sage green but utilised a much darker burgundy hue in order to create the contrast. I like the half zip knit as it allows you to layer a shirt underneath to add another pop of colour or anchor the look. You could even go with another contrasting red underneath in a lighter shade – much like what ASOS have done on the model.

The beige mac is a ‘must have’ piece for most males and in this outfit it is the perfect anchor/neutralising outerwear that will break up the contrast – much like the outfit before.

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Half Zip Lambswool Jumper
  • Edwin Sage Washed Chinos
  • Austin Reed Viyella Stone Mac
Contrasting Colours: Look 1

Contrasting colours are those that have 3 other colours between them in the colour wheel. Like complementary colours, you have to be careful when pairing these together, and should always look to keep one darker than the other. Below we have perhaps one of the key red and blue combinations all men should have in their locker.

The Presidential suit combination of navy, red and white is always a winner and in this example we utilise a patterned red tie as the accent and navy as the dominate hue. A white shirt will anchor this look perfect and allow the red tie to really shine.

  • White Oxford Button Down Slim Filt Shirt
  • ASOS Slim Fit Blue Jacket
  • E. Tautz Woven Arrowhead Wool-Blend Tie
Contrasting Colours: Look 2

This time we are actually going to utilise 3 contrasting colours. Red, blue and yellow are all 3 spots apart in the colour wheel, creating a triangle if you were to join them up. This is known as a triadic colour scheme, and it can be hard to pull off due to the fact that all colours contrast against each other.

However, the way round it has always been to vary the hue – so this time we choose a lighter blue chambray shirt and layer a deep burgundy over the top of it. Knitwear layered over a shirt is a key look this autumn/winter, whilst the cable knit and shawl collar on the cardigan are also two key detailing trends. To finish it off we utilise the ‘yellow’ trousers in a mid hue – going more towards bronze in order to make sure we don’t create any jarring contrasts from top to bottom.

The best thing about this outfit is that if you lose the cardigan you still have two contrasting colours that look great together.

  • Gitman Vintage Chambray Shirt with Chest Pockets
  • Burgundy Chunky Cable cardigan
  • Bronze Cotton Skinny Chinos

There is no foolproof way of wearing colours, you have to be willing to experiment and find out what works for you. However, these guidelines will provide enough to get you started and help avoid some of the common mistakes that could of been easily avoided.

Next week we shall be taking a look at how clothes fit – in other words fashion ergonomics – and how to combine clothing shapes, fits and textures within an overall outfit.

Share your thoughts below and head over the the forums to discuss more with the community.