Reader Request: Color Combos

Where to find color combination inspiration for your outfits!

[WANT THE SHORTCUT? I’ve got an entire Pinboard of color pairing inspiration!]

Many of you lovely folks have complimented me on the color combinations in my outfits, so first off, thank you! I’m delighted to hear that I don’t look like a circus reject. Well, at least not every day …

Many of you have also asked from whence my color inspiration springs, which made me realize that I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA. Which is to say that I don’t think about color pairings in an active, calculating way. And as impressive as I find in-depth explorations of color theory, I can’t often apply them in daily life. I’m a pretty organized girl and prefer to plan ahead, but when it comes to color, I generally improvise. I rely heavily on experimentation, my creative eye, and whatever looks interesting or compelling when I’m getting dressed in the morning.

But I can cite a few sources that seep into my psyche and influence my color combo decision making, and recommend them to anyone looking to spice up their own pairings!


Look for two things: The male of a species that relies heavily on display behaviors to attract a mate, or anything poisonous.

A performance-focused male will have bright, vibrant plumage or markings and you’re bound to see some really eye-catching colors mashed up together. Think peacocks, parrots, and other birds that engage in this type of courtship behavior.

Poisonous animals are generally brightly colored as a warning to possible predators. Frogs, snakes, lizards, and insects are your best bets, but plants do this, too. If it’s poisonous, it’s probably pretty!

(Little-known fact: I am a confirmed animal nerd. Ask me anything. No, really.)


I don’t have a graphic design degree, but the people who design candy bar packaging and laundry soap labels and boxes of cereal DO. And yes, some of those combinations are intended to be a bit garish as a way to attract consumer attention, but there are still colorful lessons to be learned. Especially from higher-end and women-centric products, non-foods, and boutique-y or handmade goods.

Graphic advertisements are another great source. Anything that is more focused on selling you a lifestyle or concept than an actual, physical product is best. But most splashy print ads will offer some inspiration. This Nike ad is a favorite of mine regardless of colors, but hey, I’m totally loving that magenta, purple, and mustard yellow mixture, aren’t you?


Again, leave it to the pros. Someone who is designing textiles has SERIOUS color-combining expertise. If you love a pattern, you probably love the colors within that pattern. Look around your wardrobe and see if you can’t recreate the grouping with solid-colored pieces you already own. And if you don’t own a ton of patterns but like this idea, cruise fabric stores, craft stores, or just Google Liberty Print and see what strikes your fancy.

I also draw tons of inspiration from my fellow bloggers, Pinterest, and from the various catalogs and magazines that land in my mailbox, but those are fairly obvious resources. And, for the record, ten years ago I was convinced that orange ONLY went with brown and that black looked great with everything. Although I’ve always loved color, my desire to explore and experiment with it has grown very slowly over the years.

Images courtesy Carl Vizzone, JK Soul Salts, Nike, and desmitten. Top image source.

Originally posted 2010-03-15 06:05:00.

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25 Responses to “Reader Request: Color Combos”

  1. Rebecca

    I covet your thought processes! I've never stopped to put into words some of the things I've learned or think are instinctual. But you do it SO well. It is very helpful.

    BTW, not just color combinations, but proportions of said colors can ALSO be observed in your examples….and sometimes that is just as important as the combination.

  2. kjlangford

    I found the academichic tutorial to be super helpful (though I cannot explain what an analagous pairing is- it mostly helped me realize that my existing knowledge about colors was useful in my style… why I never made that connection I'll never know).

    my favorite thing to do is just what you said about finding color combos within patterns. I also love wearing colors (like blue and even purple) as if they are neutrals. It causes me to be a bit more adventurous!

  3. Angeline

    I love those inspirations…I don't think I ever really stop to think about why I put colors together, but I'm guessing subconsciously it's pretty similar to yours.

  4. Fer

    you know how people tell you to organize your closet by colors (i.e., blues go with blues, greens with greens, etc.), and they tell you never to leave it messy? well, I choose to purposefully ignore this. I make a point of mixing all my colors in my wardrobe when I organize my clothes, without thinking about it too much. that way, when I open up my closet, I see colors mixed in a way I never imagined before, and whatever catches my eye, that's where my inspiration comes from.

    it's not a very traditional way of combine colors, I know, but it works very well for me.

  5. futurelint

    These are great inspiration ideas! I'm kinda the same way – I occasionally see a striking color combination I want to try, but usually it is just trial and error with the things I own. Unfortunately I don't have every color in every cut of skirt and cardigan, etc so I have to get creative sometimes!

    This website is all about interesting color palettes:

  6. Lemondrop Marie

    What an interesting idea- I need more color inspiration so thanks for the heads up on where I need to look to keep myself from being so staid and predictable. Love the tights with these colors!
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

  7. Charlotte

    A fashion book that has a think-outside-the-box section on combining colors is "What You Wear Can Change Your Life" by that Trinny & Susannah pair. The book overall is so-so, but the color section is great, with some pretty terrific & unusual pairings that work surprisingly well.

  8. Sal

    Charlotte: I completely agree. The color section in that book is dynamite!

  9. SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-a very inspirational post and great tips for choosing colour, I tend to go for dresses with different colours or prints to save me thinking what else to wear with it!

  10. Oranges And Apples

    hmmmmm, I'm a complete colour fiend, but how I choose my combinations I don't know. It's mainly that I believe that anything goes with anything, so I keep going through all the possible permutations in my wardrobe.

    I did do a post ages ago about mixing three colours, which followed the formula: one neutral colour (navy, dark purple) one medium colour (red, light purple, kelly green) and one bright colour (yellow, orange):

  11. K.Line

    First off, Wendy is not lazy with colour!

    And I just wing it. Really, if I like 2 colours, I put them together and see if the result is good or hideous. According to me, natch.

  12. Kelly

    I'm tickled to hear that you use nature as well. People giggle when I say it, but generally if I can say "these colors exist next to each other on an animal/plant/landscape" that's proof enough for me that they work!

  13. tula

    For me it's simple – if the colors grab my eye on the rack than I know it's good. Hence, the lack of black in my closet.

  14. lisa

    I totally reference ads and textiles for unique colour combos! I also check out mannequins at stores to see how the dressers have styled things; they might've thought of a colour combo that would never occur to me.

  15. Denise

    Am I the only person who hasn't seen that Nike ad? Wow. Love it.

    I often look color wheel "opposites" when I'm searching for accessories; I'll always choose the complement of the color I'm wearing. For example, I love any blue, from powder to navy, with orange. It just looks right to me. Red/green sounds weird, but if you change the shades, like plum with sage, or pink with lime, it works. Purple and yellow are more challenging, I'll admit.

  16. Eyeliah

    Great inspirations! Me too drawing from nature, alot of time I look at opposite colors or if a piece has a print I pull colors out of there and Audi (Fashion for Nerds) turned me on to looking at interior design as well.

  17. Sarah-Rose

    Ah, such an interesting post – especially since I am in awe of your fearlessly colourful outfits.

    Ask you anything, you say, well! Can a capybara be domesticated?

  18. La Historiadora de Moda

    I often use nature for inspiration when mixing colors and textures. I also drew a lot of inspiration from wedding blogs and sites that I looked at last year and continue to run with. If plum and sage green look great as wedding colors then they'll look great together in an outfit.

  19. Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    Interestingly, although you aren't thinking literally about the colour wheel, triads, tetrads, complementary colours, split complementary colours, analogous colours etc. that's what your inspirations represent!

    I find if fascinating that when you look at tropical fish, butterflies, parrots etc, their colouring is found in one of these colour combinations off the colour wheel.

  20. esme and the lane way

    I love the colours here (and the outfit itself, too, of course!)

    I am going to have a look at that colour link, I'm curious. I love colours (and I like announcing that to my friends to avoid tricky questions, hehe)

  21. Sal

    Sarah-Rose: Ah, a taker! Capybaras (relatives of Guinea pigs, as I'm sure you know) have definitely BEEN domesticated on occasion. Whether or not they should? Well, that's a different question. Capybaras have not been through the rounds and rounds of genetic filtering that domestic dogs, cats, and other pet-animals have … so they're still wild even if the ones raised from young seem tame. They can also get pretty big, so I imagine an enraged capybara could do some damage!

  22. All Women Stalker

    I get inspiration from existing patterns as well! I have lots of fabrics because I do crafts and I often check them for color combos that work. Looking at jewelry-making magazines is a great way to know what colors work well together, too 🙂

  23. Hannah

    That ad is absolutely wonderful. I'm all inspired to go exercise now!

    I've been trying different color combinations lately, attempting to be a little braver with color. Right now I'm focusing on shoes, handbags, and nails. I'm not allowed to buy more black shoes for a while and I've been playing around with fun nail colors. And my new bag is pink! It's invigorating.