Men’s Colour Basics

So with men’s accessories out of the way, I think it’s time that we move on to something a bit more colourful. I’d say that probably half the e-mails that I receive from guys with questions about fashion tend to revolve around how to wear colour correctly. Most of the time it’s in regard to an item that they’ve purchased and they’re unsure of what to pair it with but occasionally it’s the simple question of “How does colour work?”. And it’s a fair one to ask.

It seems that as males we have an innate disposition compared to our female counterparts when it comes to colour. It scares us. Confuses us. Gives us that dizzy feeling not unlike vertigo. This often results in the modern day man we see who prefers to stick to neutral tones like black, white and grey which, let’s be honest… is pretty boring. But luckily, you don’t need to be a woman to understand how to wear colour, you just need to understand the colour wheel.

The Colour Wheel

The Basic Colour Wheel

When you look at the colour wheel you can see twelve main colours ranging from red to violet, green to yellow, blue all the way back to red. These are the basic colours that can be referred to as hues. If you add white or black to these then they will change in hue yet again; for example violet and white will make lavender while black with purple will make plum. By making these adjustments you can pretty much come up with any colour you want. But what’s really important is understanding the position of each colour on the wheel because how close or far away they are is what makes them easy or difficult to co-ordinate.


As I said, where colours sit on the wheel will let you know if they go together:

  • Similar colours are next to each other. For example yellow and yellow-green is easy co-ordinate. When colours are close to each other in the wheels it’s easy to pick one colour and then build accessories of neighbouring colours. It’s also important to bear in mind warm (red, yellow, orange) and cold colours (greens, blues, violets). Always remember a fool proof way is to pair cold colours together but you can create great combinations by taking two cold and one warm; such as a navy suit, blue shirt and a red tie.
  • Complementary colours are opposite from each other in the wheel. Green and red are a perfect example. These colours are the hardest to pair together. Even though they ‘complement’ each other, wearing them in their full strength is sometimes too much for the human eye to bear. What you can do is change the hue, so add white to red to make pink and you’ve got every Preppy kids summer colours of choice. There is no set rules for complementing colours, just experimenting, so see what works for you!
  • Contrasting colours have three colours between them in the wheel. For example blue and red or orange and violet. The best way to pair these together though is to make sure one of the colours is a darker tone, so for example navy and red. If they are both vivid colours they will compete with the eye too much.

It’s also important to bear mind a few other rules too. When it comes to light colours, don’t pair them together too often, they tend to have an Easter Egg effect. It’s best to anchor light colours with dark grey or black; if the colour is one or two steps away from being white then it’s best to stick with a charcoal grey. The important thing to remember is that dark colours (like burgundy and navy) pair better with vivid (not light) colours because the dark tends to overpower the light.

Finally, don’t forget your neutrals! These colours will pair well with each other and any other colour in the wheel. So black, grey and white are always great colours to have to hand. Other neutrals include brown, tans and khakis – these match well with all colours in the wheel too but not other neutrals because they already have enough grey in them as it is. It creates a sort of muddy look.

So there you have it guys, a guide on how to use colour. If you’re ever in doubt, pick a colour and vary the tint and shade. Anyone who’s seen picture of Cary Grant in a navy suit, blue shirt and dark blue tie will agreed how good one colour can look. But other than that, play around, experiment and have fun with colour!

Matt Allinson

Editor Addition: Example Outfits
Similar Colours

Here we use turquoise and blue (similar colours are next to each other) as a base for the whole outfit. We use a bold turquoise pair of chinos and then vary the blue hue slightly lighter in order to give a nice contrast and not overpower the outfit – the chino image from Ralph Lauren below shows exactly what we are going for. Tie it together with some brown boots and a belt (works beautifully with blue tones) in order to anchor the rest of the outfit. A perfect Spring/Summer casual look which requires very little effort.

  • Chino Vintage Officer's Pant
  • Fred Perry Laurel Wreath Oxford Cotton Penny Collar Shirt
  • Barbour Plaited Leather Belt
Complementary Colours

Like Matt mentions these are sometimes hard to pair at their strongest hue. The key is to lighten one of the colours and experiment with different colour combinations. In the example below I have used green and red for the base of the outfit. However in reality I used red but added white and created a lighter reddy/pink. Again this is an easy “throw-on” casual spring/summer look which will set you apart from the crowd:

  • Humor Santiago Chinos
  • Unconditional Recycled Cotton Basic T-Shirt
  • Mens Converse Jack Purcell Leather Trainers
Contrasting Colours

Contrasting colours are 3 apart on the colour wheel. In this outfit we have picked blue and red. Again bearing in mind Matt’s advice, we have to vary one of the shades darker otherwise the whole outfit becomes too vivid. We have gone with navy and red, but in an unconventional sense by using the vivid red chinos. This time we anchor the outfit with a simple white v-neck tee which will look great layered under a deconstructed navy blazer. We have also utilised navy footwear, as it ties the top and bottom half together, and gives the same colour coordination should you get hot and take off your jacket. A perfect smart casual look for spring/summer.

  • Unconditional Recycled Cotton Basic V-Neck T-Shirt
  • All Saints Koto Blazer
  • G Star Port Boat Shoes
Varying Hue

Like Matt mentions above, Cary Grant is a perfect example in showing how to create a beautiful outfit in just one colour. Below we steal his look for an everyday work outfit which oozes style and colour knowledge. Use a dark navy suit, pair it with a light blue shirt and then finish off with either a matching tie or dark blue version. I love to use brown/tan shoes with navy suits (again makes you stand out for all the right reasons) so we have picked a great pair of on trend brogues.

  • ASOS Slim Fit Navy Suit
  • Paul Smith London Sky Classic Fit Shirt
  • ASOS Slim Tie
  • Paul Smith Chocolate Miller Washed Brogue