Color Blocking Shortcuts

how to color block

Oh, color blocking. You are a concept that has been floating around the fashion world for several years now, making many of us scratch our heads in confusion. You sound so simple! I mean, isn’t color blocking just wearing multiple swaths of solid color? Can’t I throw on a cobalt top and red pants and say I’ve color blocked?

Well, yes. But it helps to use a few shortcuts to make such outfits feel more finished. Sometimes a pink tank top and an orange skirt may look “mismatched” instead of “color blocked.” Here are a few shortcuts to successful color blocking:

If you’re feeling shy, try an analogous pairing

Color blocking needn’t be all about bright, blaring, borderline-clashing hues. Analogous pairings are comprised of colors that neighbor each other on the color wheel – emerald and cobalt, scarlet and orange, purple and navy. Colors that are different from each other but still have some common ground can pair beautifully because they tend to make for relatively low contrast outfits. Analogous combinations are especially helpful if you’re blocking an outfit of separates – a top with pants or a skirt – and don’t want to draw loads of attention to where those separates meet. (In this case, your waist!) Lower contrast means less of an obvious break.

If you’re feeling bold, pick complementary colors

Complementary colors sit opposite each other on the color wheel. This means they are bold and a bit challenging when worn together, but they tend to look intentional and chic when done well. When in doubt, go for dusty, dark, or subdued versions. In other words, if bright yellow and bold purple scare you, try violet and mustard instead. Sometimes analogous pairings can flop because colors seem too close to each other and clash strangely. Complementary options are definitely more daring, but any clashing will likely seem like an active choice.

Break at your favorite spots

As I mentioned above, the places where color blocked garments meet generally create high contrast and draw the eye. You can use this to your advantage, and force breaks at your favorite spots. In the outfit above, I’ve paired a zipped cobalt moto with a chartreuse dress. The jacket ends at the narrowest point on my torso, so the observing eye rests there. Consider lengths and hems when color blocking, and attempt to create contrast where you’d like attention to be paid.

If your outfit feels unfinished, add a bridging piece

I lean heavily on bridging pieces when I color block. In fact, I can’t quite imagine doing a sweater, skirt, and shoes in three different shades WITHOUT adding an accessory to tie it all together. In many cases, bridging pieces will include multiple colors from a blocked outfit within a pattern. Scarves and necklaces are my favorites, though belts and shoes can work, too. Pattern isn’t required, though, and neutral or metallic bridging pieces are great options, too. Most outfits feel more finished with the addition of accessories, and color blocked outfits are no exception. Pick a piece that will link your chosen palette.

Leave it to the pros

There are also loads of pre-color-blocked garments on the market right now. Dresses with three broad, vertical panels of color, sweaters that are half yellow, half blue. If the mere thought of consulting a color wheel makes you break out in hives but you’re anxious to try this trend, consider starting with a fully designed, color blocked item.

Originally posted 2012-07-10 06:04:49.

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18 Responses to “Color Blocking Shortcuts”

  1. Cynthia

    I’m still not sure I like “color blocking”. I mean, in a way, it’s like wearing black pants and a solid color tee, only with neon. I like putting color against color but I’m always happier with some pattern and detail in there to mix it up.

  2. Julie

    Since colorblocking became a trend it seems like the definition of the word has been stretched. It used to mean using blocks of color to highlight a particular shape. Think Star Trek: TNG uniform shirts that made everyone look broad-shouldered or those Stella McCartney dresses that gave the wearer an hourglass shape. Your outfit in the photo fits this definition because it draws the eye to a focal point. These days, anything with more than one solid color seems to be described as colorblocked even if the second color is just on the item’s trim! I have even seen rugby stripes labeled colorblocking. Today I plan to wear an olive t-shirt and blue jeans. I guess I am right on trend!

    • Sal

      Definitely true, Julie. Like everything in fashion, the definition of “color blocking” gets looser with every passing season!

  3. Anonymous

    This is my second “go around” with color blocking. I have a dress in my closet from… 1988? that has a plum tulip skirt, a teal blouson top, and is connected by a hot pink belt. I used to wear it with a hot pink clutch and plum sparkly earrings as a “bridge” piece. Not sure I could pull off that look almost 20 years later, but I kept the dress because it was of high quality. Perhaps my daughters will be interested in it the next time color blocking comes around! Fun stuff!!

  4. Julie

    And just now I got an email from “Do the bright thing in colorblocked tops and bottoms.”

  5. Linda L

    Oh, yes – I love to color block! I do both complementary and analogous pairings, but I tend to do more of the complementary. Green and purple, red and yellow, blue and orange are some of my favorite combinations. I like to add a colorful shoe (sometimes patterned, sometimes solid), a necklace or scarf as bridging pieces.

    • Sal

      I just noticed that! We’ve all got color blocking on the brain, it seems. 😉

  6. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    I like it on others, and as a concept. I love your look here, for example. But I really only like muted neutrals and soft colors near my face, so I don’t color block much. I am a big fan of adding a colorful shoe or purse to a neutral outfit — will that squeeze me into the club? : >

  7. Rocquelle

    Those colors are really great together! I LOVE color blocking! I think I’ve been doing it long before it was a trend, lol.

  8. The Waves

    Well, my color blocking for the Everybody, Everywear challenge was pretty standard, and now after having read your post, I probably should have paid more attention to finishing off the outfit with something that ties things together. Oh well, I guess there is always next time! 🙂

  9. Heather

    I’ve tried color locking, but it never makes its way out of the closet and onto the street. I’m too tall I think for such a riot of color to look natural. I do like color though, but a prefer a bit of print or neutrals to break it up.

  10. Rachel

    Colour blocking has been a part of my repertoire for ages now – I was entertained when suddenly I was on trend. 🙂 I generally prefer secondary complementary colours – varieties of orange, green, and purple are big in my wardrobe. Today it’s lime green and lilac.