How to wear colour: part 2/3

combining colours

All colours are equal but some colours are more equal than others…

When it comes to combining colours, that is. It depends on the effect you’re after, of course. Do you want certain colours to stand out more than others? Or do you want all of the colours you’re wearing to blend together? Are you using a particular colour as an accent, or is it supposed to fade into the background?

Now, compare these two pictures. The coat is very pale blue. So, not exactly a colour I would wear on its own…

But it’s the scarf that makes all the difference: the scarf on the left makes the whole outfit look very bland whereas the scarf on the right adds some colour, and some contrast. We know it’s the same coat, but doesn’t it look just a bit brighter and fresher on the right (original post)?

combining colours

So, it must be the scarf on the left that is wrong. Wrong colour, too dull, a bit blah, right? Or is it?

Look at the same scarf in the picture below. Not so dull and blah anymore, huh? (original post)
And doesn’t the scarf on the right look more subdued, all of a sudden? (original post)

colour combinations

Yep, it’s all about contrast again. 

You can have a wild array of colours creating a very calming and harmonious effect when the contrast is low, and the colours blend together without any of them standing out, like here:

colour scheme

And this is how it translates into an outfit (original post):

color scheme

Or you can have a high contrast and make the colours stand out:

colour scheme

This outfit has a few very saturated colours (original post):

colour scheme

And here the less saturated blue / green / purple tones of the dress form a calm background for the more saturated magenta bolero (original post):

how to wear colour

But in both pictures the contrast between the colours is high, and because of that the visual impact of the red-tones is bigger. In other words, the magenta top becomes the focus of attention.

But how do I decide where exactly to place the high-impact colour when I’m putting together an outfit? Well, that depends on the outfit and the wearer, of course. We all have body parts we prefer to ‘hide’ or play down. Look at these pictures: there’s a reason why you don’t see me wearing very colourful trousers, for instance…

Anyway, when combining colours you have to first ask three questions:

1) Do I want any of the colours to stand out? 

2) Which colour do I want to highlight, be the focus of attention?

3) What amount of contrast do I want between my colours?

colour scheme

When it’s done right, a high contrast between colours can be visually interesting, and it is certainly a very easy way to create a big impact.

And highlighting one colour while simultaneously playing down others is also an easy trick to focus attention where you want it, and can be adapted to many styles.

But there are colours that require special treatment. I’m of course talking about colours that refuse to share the spotlight with others… Let’s talk about diva colours another time, in a week or two, OK?

Do you wear colour, and how do you combine colours?


Read the 1st part of this 3-part series: YOUR BEST COLOURS

Linking up with: 

Not Dead Yet StyleA Touch of TartanElegantly Dressed and StylishSydney Fashion Hunter
The Pleated PoppyGet Your Pretty On 


  1. josep-maria badia
    3 May 2015 / 7:27 am

    Fine scarfs, love the scarves. I like patterns linking with the reality of the street. Nice post.

    • Tiina L
      5 May 2015 / 8:35 am

      Thank you, Josep-Maria.

  2. Mrs C
    3 May 2015 / 3:05 pm

    In my opinion which ever way is alright with colors but every way will represent differently. Like the first picture of yours. I think both left and right worked perfectly. Left of same color group but different tones appeared to be more somber, cleaner and more serious (office wear would work great in this kind of color mix) but the right have a more fun, playful and less serious approach somehow. I personally prefer the right, but I would do left too! 🙂 You seem to do bright colors very well. I especially love shocking pink on you like one of your dresses from a few posts back… stunning!

    • Tiina L
      5 May 2015 / 8:38 am

      Thanks! Yes, I don't think there is a wrong way to combine colours, just different outcomes. And it always depends on the wearer and her personality, too. Some people can get away with really wild colour combinations, and it looks totally in tune with the wearer's personality. I think that's the key, knowing what works for you.

  3. Suzanne Carillo
    3 May 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Great little tutorial. I wear colour almost all the time so I also use some of these tips. bisousSuzanne

    • Tiina L
      5 May 2015 / 8:39 am

      Thanks. Suzanne. Believe it or not, I used to wear a lot of black… I actually had to learn to use colour, step by step…

  4. Jill James
    4 May 2015 / 6:16 am

    Another fine example of why you do your colours so very well, you have great knowledge on what works and what doesn't. I know what you mean about the bright pants, a definate no-no for me too.Thank you for this insight into the world of colour.

    • Tiina L
      5 May 2015 / 8:40 am

      Thanks, Jill. Yes, I learned what works for me, but it took some time, and practice…

  5. Tine Jensen
    5 May 2015 / 8:03 am

    You really explain it so well Tiina – suddenly I realise that I'm already using colours instinctively to emphasise certain bodyparts. However I never thought about how to make a colour fade by placing stronger or deeper colours around it. I feel like I should be taking notes now – this is important stuff :-)I also have to say that you look absolutely amazing in all your photos – I especially love the one with the striped Phase Eight dress, since I have it too in my wardrobe 😀

    • Tiina L
      5 May 2015 / 8:44 am

      Thanks, Tine. I think we should trust our instincts more in these matters. If something feels right, it probably is… I'm a very analytical person, maybe that's why I want to understand how this works, and try to explain it to myself this way. And then I have guidelines that I can use to simplify my life…You have that dress, too? I have very mixed feelings about the dress, I find it a bit revealing, low cut…

  6. Dana Jo
    5 May 2015 / 4:17 pm

    A great post dear Tiina, it´s very important to know about the magic of colors. Sometimes we wear a sweater or a cardigan and think it doesn´t fit or we don´t feel good but don´t know exactly why. Perhaps it was the wrong color or the wrong shade of this color.have a wonderful and colorful week dear friendDana :)

    • Tiina L
      6 May 2015 / 3:48 pm

      Thanks, Dana. I know that colour definitely has an effect on my moods. But it depends on the day, too: sometimes one colour just feels wrong on a particular day, but it might be just fine the following day…

  7. Jessica Jannenga
    5 May 2015 / 9:36 pm

    WOndeful tips and suggestions for making colors contrast and stand out! I love how you showed it with your scarf and in the pictures! Great post!Thanks for linking up with Turning Heads Tuesday!jess

    • Tiina L
      6 May 2015 / 3:48 pm

      Thanks, Jessica!

Leave a Reply