Over the past few weeks, I have offered comprehensive tutorials on color theory and the different styling formulas I devised to help you with your own wardrobe. In my post on color theory, I talked about complementary styling, which means to combine colors from opposite sides of the color wheel, and gave real-life client examples of this strategy. If you haven’t already reviewed the post, it will be helpful if you did before digging into this one.

I am using the Complementary Styling strategy and creating looks using it to give you more examples of how it can be done.


Outfit #1

complementary styling

Complementary colors, Red and green sound like a combination that is way too Christmasy to use when styling outfits not earmarked for the holidays. However, the key to understanding color is that within one color there are a litany of different shades. In fact, you’ll see that just about all the outfits I created use this combination.

In this look, I am pairing a brick red t-shirt with a pair of dark olive pants from Vince, a pair of sage green slingbacks, and an olive pendant. I finished the look with a white scuba jacket from Anne Klein. Not every piece in your look needs to be part of the complementary color combination.

Outfit #2

complementary styling

One could argue that this outfit would be considered Road Map Styling and if I started with the blazer, I’d agree. However, it was quite a fortunate accident that I stumbled on this jacket when I started creating this look with complementary colors, orange and blue. I began with this dress from M.M. Lafleur, added the orange beaded necklace from Wolf and Badger. When looking for a blazer that might work for this outfit, I found this Smythe style and couldn’t resist using it. The look is finished with a Longchamp handbag.

Outfit #3

complementary styling

This is another look that could be categorized as Road Map Styling at first glance given the scarf. However, it wasn’t until I was looking for a scarf for outfit #5 below that I stumbled on this style from Fraas. Despite this outfit looking totally different than look #1, the complementary colors in this outfit are red and green. I styled these burgundy jeans with a cardigan and sweater in chartreuse from Eileen Fisher. The outfit is finished with burgundy loafers from Marc Fisher and a burgundy handbag.

Outfit #4

complementary styling

This is another combination that is red and green but looks quite different than the other looks. I styled this teal cardigan from J. Crew and bag from Chicos and with hot pink flats from Corso Como to create this combination. I styled these pieces with jeans and a white shirt from Everlane.

Outfit #5

complementary styling

Using the Complementary Styling formula isn’t just for people who like a lot of colors in their looks. It can be used in small doses as accents. You can also use colors that are subtle. In this look, I am using burnt sienna pumps from Everlane and the complementary shade in this look is a dusty bluish-green scarf. This combination straddles orange/red with blue/green. I styled these complementary shades with a pair of black wide-leg pants from Mango with a relaxed silk blouse from Vince. The outfit is finished with a warm grey tote bag.

Final Tips on Complementary Styling

  • Don’t be rigid with the exactness of the color wheel. As long as you are using opposite sides of the wheel you will achieve this strategy.
  • Remember your neutrals and how to use them. Complementary styling can be used as accents and popped off a neutral base.
  • Using complementary colors is just one way to use the color wheel. Refer to the color theory post for more ways to apply it. Perhaps I will touch on these strategies in the future

Have questions or comments about using this strategy? Leave them in the comments below.