Dress to Impress: Menswear & Color Theory

When thinking about suits, the first images guys likely picture are crisp grey or navy suits. This makes perfect sense, since those have been menswear staples for decades. But a staple doesn't have to be boring or colorless. At The Sharp Suit we believe everyone should wear what best expresses their personal style. Touches of color make a grey or navy suit an extension of your style and personality. We prefer our color comes from wool ties, our handcrafted wooden pocket squares, and patterned socks. It's therefore important that guys understand a little bit about basic color theory: the color wheel, complimentary colors, and the like. That way, when they add these personal color accents to their suits they are both visually appealing while remaining stylish as well.

The Color Wheel. Color theory begins and ends with the color wheel. The color wheel shows the 12 hues that make up the spectrum of visible light our human eyes can see. We can trace the wheel's origins back to Sir Isaac Newton. He went so far as to correlate his color wheel with music notes and planetary symbols, which just goes to show how smart he was.

The color wheel is composed of 3 color categories: 3 primary colors (red, blue and yellow), 3 complementary (or secondary) colors (green, orange and violet), and 6 tertiary colors, which form when a primary color combines with an adjacent secondary color. People often point out that the color wheel is "missing" black, white and grey. However, black and white are considered neutral colors and therefore aren't normally included on the color wheel; grey is a combination of the two and is also not included. The 12 colors from the 3 categories make up the basic color hues. These colors can be manipulated by adding either white or black (tinting or shading, respectively) to create color variations.

The color wheel, with its primary, complementary, and tertiary colors.

The color wheel, with its primary, complementary, and tertiary colors.

Wearing your colors. Outfits often incorporate a primary and secondary color in order to create contrast and an appealing look.  However, this isn't the only way pair colors effectively. Color theory describes 4 ways to effectively pair colors.

Complementary colors directly oppose one other on the color wheel. They create the greatest contrasts and make great accents in outfits.  Split complementary colors are a variation of the first pairing, and combine colors almost directly opposite one another on the color wheel. Analogous colors are located next to one another on the color wheel. These combinations make outfits look consistent, and are well-suited (pun intended) in professional environments. Triad colors are those spaced equal distances apart from one another on the color wheel.  For example, violet, green, and orange would be considered triad colors because they are each separated by three other colors on the color wheel. Triad colors provide a balanced contrast, and work best for outfits with lots of pieces.

Color Psychology. This is definitely a lot of information to absorb about colors, but we know you're smart so we're going to throw one more thing at you. If you weren't already aware, certain colors carry different meanings, especially in different cultures around the world. Red, for example, means something different to Western cultures and Eastern cultures. It's important to have an understanding of these meanings, because they can help you selecting the appropriate outfits for specific situations. As an obvious example, it would be inappropriate to wear yellow to a funeral; black and grey work better because they denote somber attitudes. The image below help illustrate just a few meanings behind 8 common colors.

Color Psychology 1

There's so much more to color than the brief overview we've shared here. But this provides a framework for men concerned with looking sharp and presenting a specific style image to the world. More details about color will follow in future posts. For now, we hope this introduction is helpful as you develop your personal style, and provides useful details you can add to your brain's style database going forward.

Color Psychology 2