This post elaborates on the third of ten elements of my fashion philosophy, which is if I were caught on security camera, there’d be no trouble describing me.
As a guy in a small city, I’m rather limited on finding prints or subtle pattern fabrics that work for men’s clothing without becoming a flower guy. I don’t have the luxury of 75% of the local fabric store of flower patterns from which to make my garments, for example, and I can’t get myself to become a flower guy, ya know? As a result, colours and colour combinations play a big part in my fashion design, and I will translate this to garments I design and make for women as well. I just like a sharp clean look, and print pattern excess just makes me want to go have seizures.
In my previous post, I talked about how I liked to use non-generic colours. Well, using non-generic colours isn’t effective if you don’t know how to use them well. Instead of relying on colour theory to determine how I use colours in combination, I instead rely on an approach that lets others do the work for me as a starting point, then either copy, vary or spring off in a totally different direction, but inspired by something I saw.
My main approach to colour combination usage is to use sport team uniforms as a starting point. Sport uniforms are meant to be attractive and easy to pick out on a field. The former is needed to help boost sales, so they are mostly tried and true despite the occasional pretty ugly uniforms out there. The latter is to help players identify each other easily in split second decisions for actions and reactions, and to help fans follow the game from relatively far away without getting confused who is playing for which team. That’s essentially the same requirement for being easy to describe if caught on security camera where you might be small in proportion to the picture, and need to be clearly recognizable and describable. This approach is limited for women’s fashion as there aren’t a lot of pink sport uniforms out there, but there are other starting points for that which I’ll cover later.
Sport uniforms use a lot of 3 colour combinations, usually 2 darks and 1 light, or 1 each of dark, medium and light. Turn a sport uniform photo greyscale to see said intensities of grey in the photo, to see what I mean. For team identity and clarity when playing other teams, few teams in any league have similar colour combinations. That means there is also variety to be found among the ideas spawned by sport uniforms. From most major sport leagues, you can automatically get at least 15 colour combinations that work well, saving you from having to do a lot of thinking and learn all about colour theory. If you don’t believe me, pick out your favourite sport league to watch. List the teams in a column. Now list each team’s colours across from the team name as best you can. No need for exact names or shade of a colour, for example. Give it your own name colour. Eliminate half you don’t like. For the rest, imagine some garments you might make and see how colourful, nice and sharp they would look in those colour combinations.
Sport team colours are pretty specific, and are rarely generic like fire engine red, white and navy blue. It would be very hard to match them, but I don’t try to copy, either. I find similar colour fabrics and see if what I have to work with makes a nice imitation, if I am trying to copy it. Often, what I end up in this process is a nice variation.
Another favourite source of colour inspiration for me are flags. They are different from sport uniforms in that they tend to use a wider range of colours. Flags like the Bahamas come to mind, with aquamarine, yellow and black. However, they also use a lot of three colour combinations. Think of all the flags with three stripes, horizontal and vertical. Flags are also tried and true. Some will seem ugly to you, yes, but some group of people have accepted them enough to live with them as their representation. India’s flag of saffron yellow, green and white may not appeal much to you, but over a billion people proudly accept it. If it were that ugly, you can be sure they’d have change it by now!
For colours that are less contrasting, perhaps like a combination to evoke warmth, or love, I turn to the paint store and samples they give out. Just go to a hardware store and take the free handouts the big paint companies give out. They can give you any feel in just about any colour. Then do a best match or variation in shopping for your colours.
Finally, every now and then, I will see an interesting colour combination. I will make note of that some how for future reference. I recall seeing a navy, white and brown business card once and thinking how stable and classy it looked, while standing out without being all bright and flashy. I took one and still have it, and there will be a navy, white and brown dress shirt coming, you can bet on that!
Regardless of my starting point for colours, I will always think about the colours I am looking at, rather than just accept them and rush out to find matching colours. The thing I think about most often is what I can substitute one or more of the colours with for a different look. I tend to think about this in a rotation substitution, subbing one colour in after another, rather than in the format of an open question. There are only so many general colours to work with, after all. This was where I came up with another dress shirt colour combination I’m looking forward to, which will be hunter green, white and deep royal purple. I got it out of a starting point of deep red, white and slightly dark green of the Minnesota Wild sports uniform. I wanted red, white and green without a Christmas look, cause as prominent as Christmas is, one must surely be able to do red, white and green without inciting thoughts of Christmas in a look! This approach was also how I came up with colour combinations involving colours like pink that aren’t prevalent in a lot of the sources I mentioned.
Having gone through the exercises above to collect colour combinations, I currently have more than enough for garments, though I never stop thinking and looking to find more. You can try the same approach and should be able to come up with a list bigger than you need not long after you start. That list can then be your starting point for future inspirations of colour combinations to use.