Color Wheel Theory

In my middle school art class, I painted this, the one and only canvas piece of my entire life: an elaborate color wheel.  I still remember painstakingly shading in the intricate design on each wedge with the precision of a pre-pubescent neurosurgeon.  I’m no artist (obviously), but I was insanely proud of this masterpiece, and it hung proudly in my mother’s home office for years.

And when I really think about it, it may have been all the time I spent on this piece that helped me understand the way in which colors work together.  It’s not random that certain colors seem to repel each other, while others seem to take on a symbiotic relationship.  It all comes back to one’s place on the color wheel.  And although I love monochromatic moments in life, and I relish in the sweet comfort of my neutrals, there are times that call for bold color combinations to make your outfit look fresh and artfully cultivated.

So, if you are ever looking for a quick cheat-sheet on how to pair colors, think of the Color Wheel Theory (yes, I made this up, though I’m sure it’s an actual thing).  The idea is this: colors on direct opposite sides of the color wheel look like they belong together.  I don’t know exactly why, but the English teacher in me has a sneaking suspicion it has to do with the beauty of juxtaposition, and how contrasting elements bring out the characteristics of each single entity more pointedly.  Whatever the reason, the bottom line is, look across the Color Wheel aisle.

Red and Green

No, this pairing is not just for Christmas.  There are ways to pull this off in real life without looking like a reindeer wannabe.  In spring and summer, think of red and green’s lighter shades: pink and kelly green.  In fall and winter, go for the darker versions: burgundy and olive.  Sure, you could easily throw your burgundy skinnies on with a black blazer, and it would be easy, comfortable, and adorable.  But switch out your go-to black with an olive bomber, and suddenly that outfit has character.  It’s slightly unexpected, but completely complementary.


Get the look:

     Caslon® Kelsey Zip Bootie (Women) Sole Society 'Nevin' Faux Leather Drawstring Bucket Bag  


Purple and Yellow

This one may seem to be the hardest to wrap your head around because purple and yellow aren’t necessarily color staples in most of our closets.  But I promise you, the combination is fabulous.  And this doesn’t need to be as dramatic as purple pants and a yellow top.  Think small combos: a scarf and a shoe, a bag and a belt, etc.   For warmer months, try lemon and a lilac gray.  For cooler months, think plum and mustard.  There is a reason Clue named two of its characters after this color: they’re awesome, that’s why.  I have a favorite mustard boyfriend sweater that I could easily throw over a gray or black dress, and frequently I do.  But when a plum maternity dress entered my life, I realized this pairing was heaven.


Get the look:

        Ted Baker London Illuminated Bloom Leather Crossbody Bag  


Blue and Orange

It’s not just for Bears fans.  This is perhaps the easiest of combinations to work with because blue has one of my favorite neutrals: navy!  But instead of going the expected nautical route of white and navy all the time (no hate there, I love white and navy), try adding orange for your pop of color.  In the summer, pair lighter, brighter shades of turquoise and tangerine, especially when it comes to jewelry.  In the winter, go darker with navy and burnt orange.


Get the look:

    Sole Society 'Flynn' Bootie (Women) kate spade new york 'birds on a wire - metro' leather strap watch, 34mm  

If you want to check out the original pieces from our inspiration boards, take a look at our Polyvore collection.


You should never give up on your blacks and grays, but once you start mixing up your wardrobe based on the Color Wheel Theory, you’ll be hooked.

6 thoughts on “Color Wheel Theory

  1. Hi there! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He consistently kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Quite sure he will have a good read. Thank
    you for sharing!

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