Last week I was making shopping selections for a client for work who has a preference for color. During my pulls, I kept asking myself if I was selecting enough color for her. Color for the workplace can be tricky when you work in a professional or corporate environment. Traditionally, appropriate work colors are rooted in a foundation of classic neutrals that are peppered with accents of color to add interest. There are a few variables that determine just how much color works, like personal style preference and what’s considered acceptable, but for the most part, color usually takes a backseat compared to how people dress in a corporate environment.
STYLING UNIQUE COLOR COMBINATIONS TO CREATE CLASSIC WORK LOOKS THAT ARE MORE INTERESTING.
Instead of going heavy with color for my client, the goal became to create color combinations in unique ways that would allow me to build a wardrobe using solid timeless, and versatile neutrals while also giving her splashes of color that were unexpected. By doing this, I could help her build a wardrobe that was worthy of investing in and didn’t sacrifice bold risks.
WORKING WITH UNEXPECTED COLOR COMBINATIONS CAN BE TRICKY
I’m not going to lie. When working with color combos that look like they shouldn’t work but manage to work can be hard to navigate. It’s such a fine balance that can go south really quickly and look hodge-podge vs. harmonious. There really isn’t a formula to get it right and, in many ways, it fights against the color-combining rules on which many women hang their hats. To give you some examples of the colorful looks I could create from the shopping selections I pulled for my client, I am going to show you a few of them below and talk through how I put them together.
Burnt sienna or mahogany and soft blue is one of my favorite color combinations and I’m not entirely sure why these colors pair so well together. The same is true for soft blue and burgundy, which you will see below. I went so far as to do a deep dive to see if there was a color theory that explained why they work so well. The colors aren’t complementary on the color wheel but the depth and light do create a stunning juxtaposition. If you want to look like you know what you are doing with color when you don’t, try this combo.
To keep the look soft, instead of pairing this Rag & Bone jacket and soft blue top from Weekend Max Mara with charcoal pants from Theory. Navy or black pants would work equally well but wouldn’t harmonize as softly as the charcoal does. The look is finished with a pair of mushroom-colored pumps from M.Gemi.
The green coming out of left field is exactly what makes this outfit unique. It definitely isn’t an expected choice but it works. It’s hard to understand why at first but this one is far easier to explain than the first look. If you look at the three colors in the outfit, they are all neutral: grey, navy, and brown. Neutrals take color pairings extremely well. I always tell clients that colors you can wear with black you can also wear with other neutral shades. So while the green may seem unexpected, it works because it’s going up against a bunch of neutrals. The other thing to keep in mind is that green is often referred to as a colored neutral, meaning that it is a color that can be treated like a neutral. Green is a fantastic accent color due to its versatility.
Now, it’s not just a matter of slapping a bunch of colors together. It’s more nuanced than that. The tones of the pants, sweater, and blazer all have subdued qualities whereas the green is a lot more shocking. Basically, the green pops off the quieter base. The green is also in a small dose, so balance is also achieved by putting the right percentages of accent colors up against a larger amount of neutrals. Because of this base, any pop shoe color would work. I can imagine this look with shoes in any bright shade.
Here is the burgundy and soft blue outfit I was referring to earlier. I have said in the past that any print or pattern that is a color on a white or ivory ground can be treated as a solid. For example, a black and white striped top paired with red pants, or this outfit above. While blue and burgundy are an unexpected yet stunning color combination, it’s the additional plaid in the Veronica Beard blazer that makes the outfit really stand out. I styled the blazer with a burgundy MM. Lafleur dress and the same mushroom pumps from M.Gemi.
This outfit is probably the least unexpected look of the bunch because you have the L’Agence bouclé jacket to inform color direction. However, that doesn’t mean that the teal and brandy color combination isn’t bold. Teal is this insanely versatile shade that pairs so incredibly well with other shades, much like its cousin green. Teal has equal parts warm and cool which also makes it a universal color, which means it flatters just about every skin tone. In addition to this, the warm, cool balance gives teal a chameleon quality that sits well with just about any color.
There is a high probability that this last outfit is the least palatable of the bunch but I love it and would wear it in a minute. Orange and charcoal is a stunning combo, as is camel and orange. The combination of all three colors isn’t a terrible stretch. What throws the look is the orange paired with burgundy. This combination is anything but expected, but it works. Is it for everyone? No, but for someone who likes to take a color risk, the combination is eye-catching, similar to how pink and orange combined is a great combo.
So how does someone come to this color combination if they aren’t feeling color-confident? Well, first, the burgundy and the orange share a base of red, so the colors have some connection. Second, the amount of red compared to the amount of orange is much smaller. Unique color combinations work well when there is more of one color and less of the other. The last way to know if something works is when you put them together, even if you can’t put your finger on why the colors work well together is to look at them together and sense whether they feel like they are working together. When I added this burgundy pump to this outfit, I really didn’t know if it would work until I tried it. Even though it was bold, it felt balanced. A lot of success in color combining comes from trying it and seeing if you get a sense of harmony.
YOU DON’T NEED TO ADD A LOT OF COLOR TO MAKE YOUR WORK OUTFITS MORE INTERESTING
Adding more color to your work looks doesn’t involve building a wardrobe filled with colors in the rainbow. Instead, it’s about learning how to pair splashes of unique color combinations to make your stalwart, evergreen work basics more interesting.