Fashion 101: How To Combine Colors: Complementary Colors and the Two-Thirds Rule

Course Description:

It’s easy to fall into a rut and wear the same color combinations over and over again. A. and E. have put all of their art-historical training towards creating a useful color wheel of clothing, designed to inspire new color combinations in yours — and our — wardrobes. This is the first of several modules addressing different color combinations and providing examples from our own daily wear. Follow us as we navigate the color wheel and put color theory into practice.

The Color Wheel:

Color Wheel of Clothes, originally uploaded by academichic.

According to Wikipedia, a color wheel is:

an organization of color hues around a circle, showing relationships between colors

In this model, red, yellow, and blue are primary colors; orange, green, and violet are secondary colors; and red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet are intermediate colors. Color combinations can be built by using the color wheel to build particular color relationships or color schemes.

Module 1: Complementary Colors and the Two-Thirds Rule

Pairing complementary colors is something we found lacking in our daily wear. There are other color combinations, however, that show up frequently in our photo stream without us really understanding why those colors worked together. Today we want to explore how to successfully combine complementary colors and unpack the theory behind some of our go-to color schemes.

Complementary Colors:

These colors appear opposite each other on the color wheel. An example might be red and green:

Red and Green, originally uploaded by academichic.

Because they are complete opposites, complementary colors make each other seem more intense. To be frank, it can be difficult to wear complimentary colors together and simultaneously avoid looking like a page out of a coloring book. As we played with our color wheel, we found that we gravitated towards complementary color schemes that used intermediate colors, such as red-orange and blue-green:

Blue-Green & Red-Orange, originally uploaded by academichic.

We also liked how using a darker hue of a color’s complement created a more sophisticated palette:

Violet & Mustard, originally uploaded by academichic.

So, far E. has worn our lone complementary color outfit. But, hopefully that will change this week.


We’ve realized that we gravitate towards color combinations that make up two-thirds of a triad. In technical terms, a triad is comprised of three hues equidistant from each other on the color wheel. If you were to draw and equilateral triangle in the middle of the color wheel, the points would touch a triad of colors such as red-yellow-blue or orange-green-purple. Triads can be tricky to wear simultaneously (though we’ll be trying to soon!), but we’ve found that picking just two colors from a triad often results in a terrific, eye-catching palette. Our mnemonic device sounds like a pizza topping special: “You pick two!” An example might be blue and yellow, a combination that S. and E. have worn a couple of times:

Blue & Yellows, originally uploaded by academichic.

Another example might be violet and green:

Violet & Green, originally uploaded by academichic.

But, as with the complementary color schemes, we found that we preferred to mix a bright hue with its darker, more subdued complement:

Violet & Olive, originally uploaded by academichic.

Or, like A. did while on vacation, mix a bright hue (yellow) with its lighter complement (pink).


Culled: Academichic


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