One question I still get relatively often has to do with combining different colors of shirts, pants, and shoes together.
This is a fairly basic concept that we touched upon in other posts, but it makes sense to dedicate a whole article to this idea.
And so, here we are.
THE BASIC IDEA
I’m keeping this as simple as possible. Three things to keep in mind.
- Contrast is key. Light top, dark bottom, light shoes. Dark top, light bottom, dark shoes. You want a good amount of contrast among the three.
- Avoid tops that are too close to your skin tone. It makes you appear pale and washed out. Read this article for a more in-depth explanation.
- Stay away from tonal outfits (all three pieces being the same color, or close in value). It can be pulled off successfully, but also has the possibility of looking kind of terrible. It’s a more advanced style concept which we’ll cover in a different article.
A FEW THINGS TO NOTE
These are basic solids, and technically, all combinations can work. But, to make it easy when you’re starting out, focus on the top three choices I put together for you.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll no longer need this article and you’ll be able to figure out how to put together any color combination, not just the basics.
We’re discussing color, not illustration accuracy or level of formality. This visual guide contains symbols representing tops, bottoms, and shoes. These are not necessarily representative of any specific type of shirt, pair of pants, or shoes.
Use your imagination. If you can’t, and visualizing all this is too difficult for you, hire a personal stylist so he or she can dress you.
Experiment. Go to your closet, pull similar items, and put them together for yourself so you can see how they look together. It’s a lot easier than you think.
I’ve started building these combos with the pants, but you can start with any item you want.
There will be varying degrees of darkness and lightness in your clothing’s colors, so use your best judgement. You may be dealing with a darker neutral, or a shade of blue that is lighter than the representative symbol you see here. Just keep in mind that contrast is key.
Mixed color shirts—anything from a basic contrast collar shirt to a tartan or multi-colored gingham—are best handled by asking yourself what the overall hue of the shirt is.
Hang your shirt against a blank white wall and walk to the other side of the room. Does its hue read blue? More red / pink? Neutral? Base the rest of your selections on how the shirt reads.
Khaki chinos, gray trousers, and dark denim are safe bets, no matter the color of your shirt or shoes.
QUICK AND EASY COMBOS
The whole idea is to show you how easy it is to pair shirts and pants, and how to finish off the outfit with shoes.
INTERPRETING THE GUIDE
- The top section shows the three clothing types, with every color I’m using in this example.
- I started each outfit with the pants as the base.
- Read the bottom section vertically to see the combos based on each pair of pants, B1 to B5.
- The choices that don’t make the list could still work, though I’m trying to keep this simple.
- Almost every shirt / pants / shoes combo within each group of three is interchangeable, so don’t feel stuck with these exact match-ups.
- Remember: 1. experiment, 2. there are no hard-and-fast rules, 3. have fun.
If you remember the three points from the beginning of this article (contrast, no tops too close to your skin tone, avoid tonal outfits), putting together combos from these basic colors is super easy.
Why only basic colors? Simplicity, and also because if you’re following the Lean Wardrobe philosophy, you’ll have all these in your closet.
Additionally, if you’re adding mid- and top-level items based off the Lean Wardrobe pyramid, you don’t have to worry about matching those things (because it’s all about complementing, not matching).
Study the graphic FIRST, and if you have questions, would love to hear them below.