Menswear has a weird relationship with colour. While womenswear embraces the bright and the beautiful, most guy’s wardrobes are built around the neutral trifecta – navy, grey and black. But things are changing. This anything-goes style moment, in which side-stripe joggers with a blazer has become a perfectly fine work outfit, has also ushered in a chance – nay, an obligation – to explore new regions of the colour wheel.
Now, we’re assuming that you’ve already mastered the neutrals-plus-colour formula. So it’s time you graduated to some more complex colour equations. These combinations all require a nuanced application of colour theory, as well as the careful selection of the perfect pieces, textures and environments to make sure they land.
Luckily, we’ve got two expert minds on speed dial, who’ve broken down the whats, the whys and the wheres of six surprising or oft-overlooked colour combinations that actually work.
Red And Pink
Colour theory says to avoid shades that are too close together, especially when they’re both fairly attention-grabbing. Luke McDonald, from men’s styling service Thread, disagrees. “Pink and red is a surprisingly easy summer combination. It’s the kind of thing that forward-thinking designers like Raf Simons like to throw into their collections.”
However, because the hues are so close, you need to dial up the contrast with your tones. “For the pink, try something on the pale end of things, like rose. Then the red is best if it’s almost scarlet, bordering on wine-coloured.”
Wear Tt To: A Festival
There are no neutrals here, so it’s best to minimise the amount of fabric on show, ideally in a place where skin – and eye-catching outfits – are the norm. “With a pink T-shirt and red shorts you’ll look punchy without having to fuss too much with prints or details.”
Pink And Green
Nature is like a colour-pairing crib sheet – if you spot a particular combination in your local park, odds are it will work in your wardrobe, too. Pink and green are ubiquitous in flower beds, although transferring it to outfits requires a slight shift in shade.
“I love a pale pink worn with soft military green,” says Sarah Murray, a stylist who has dressed the likes of Jonah Hill and Chiwetel Ejiofor. “Match the tone and strength of the pink to the other items in your look for a subtle interpretation of the colour.”
Wear Tt To: A Beer Garden
Think of this as your new off-duty combo. “A workwear-style cotton green jacket, worn over a faded pink T-shirt or light pink shirt, is a great alternative to a classic white tee,” says Murray. “It’s a great colour combination to take you through from summer to autumn.”
Green And Yellow
Another great-outdoors classic, this pairing works because they’re neighbours on the colour wheel. But their similarity poses its own problems.
“Because green and yellow are very close to each other, the key is to have them strongly defined,” says McDonald. “So if you go for a weak yellow, counter it with a deep green. If you’re going for a paler, grass green, then you need the yellow to hold its own in a sharp, mustardy shade.”
Wear Tt To: A Wedding
Dressing like a daffodil makes any outfit more celebratory, which is precisely what you’re after at a summer wedding. This combination is particularly good if you’re trying to get more mileage out of your work suit – just add a yellow tie and green pocket square.
Yellow And Purple
Opposite each other on the colour wheel, pairing yellow and purple technically works, although it’s generally more suited to murals than capsule wardrobes. That’s perhaps why it’s favoured by attention-loving organisations like the LA Lakers, which means it’s better worn as accents than head-to-toe.
“This is a next-level move and really requires you to take texture into account as both, even at their dullest, are strong colours that easily overwhelm,” says McDonald. “Trying these with flat cotton will be very tricky.”
Wear Tt To: Lunch With The In-Laws
Wild colours are often easier to dress up than down because you can temper them with more interesting fabrics. “Do like Italian designer Massimo Alba and use fabrics like corduroy, cashmere or linen to soften and lighten up the intensity,” says McDonald.
Red And Orange
“I would have thought that orange and red would have never worked, but that was before I saw [Netflix documentary] Wild Wild Country,” says McDonald. “It turns out that if you’re part of a charismatic cult that requires you to wear sunrise colours, you find a way to rock it.”
It’s another case of adjacent colours here, so you need to differentiate them, either through shade or texture. “The key is confidence, but also taking staples and making them fun through colour.”
Wear Tt To: The Beach
Not actually on the beach, of course, but that little bar where they pour the perfect Negroni. Because this is very much an off-duty colour combo – think a bright red tee with a rust-hued suede jacket.
Neon And Black
This might not seem all that surprising, since black goes with anything. But because this darkest of dark shades creates so much contrast, it makes brights appear even brighter. And turns neon blinding.
“On paper, neon is just about impossible to pull off unless you’re an ironic shell-suit enthusiast, but actually it’s such a punchy category that it makes an outfit on its own,” says McDonald. “The key is making a strong contrast between sober and semi-smart black items and the compellingly gauche neon centre.”
Wear Tt To: Fashion Week
Unsurprisingly, neon is the perfect way to give easy looks a jolt of something different. “A neon pink T-shirt under a black wool suit is a compelling contrast,” says McDonald. “But neon should be the frosting, not the cake. So no neon trousers with a black T-shirt.”