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Relearning how to get dressed: Color theory

Appity Snacks How to get dressed using color theory
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As the world slowly gets back to being IRL, I’ve found myself back one of those daily struggles of figuring out what to wear when it’s not just a trip to the grocery store.

No you can’t do this.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to ‘rediscover’ my closet, reacquainting myself with my pre-pandemic stylings. Some things I’d completely forgotten about (yay), and some no longer fit (not yay). However, even with my closet in full view, it was hard to remember how I did this.

I found myself wishing I was one of those mirror selfie people; at least then I’d have something to reference. Did I really wear all these underwire bras? How many belts does one need? How many pairs of jeans does one really need?

I was overwhelmed and needed to find some entry point, some way to start, using small low-pressure, going-out opportunities to practice.

Color theory

It hit me one day while combing Pinterest for outfit ideas, which is is typically a sign I’m getting a bit desperate.

While hardly a new concept, it’s just one I’d never really thought about attempting myself before. There are a few names for it, ‘monochromatic’ style, tonal dressing, color blocking etc., but collectively the approach is to use color to help drive how you get dressed.

Now if you’re someone who has a monotone wardrobe already you’re in luck, you’re already doing it. But if you, like me, are someone who finds yourself with a closet full of clothes in various styles, colors and prints and still have nothing to wear, you might find discover that you may have more to love in your wardrobe than you thought.

Here’s a cool interactive online color wheel tool from Canva and here’s an image of a color wheel you can save to your phone for handy reference.

Save to phone

Beginner: Monochromatic approach

The place to start. If you’ve never thought about getting dressed this way before I’ll admit it does feel weird. If I end up I head to toe purple would people at the grocery store think I look like Grimace? If I went all yellow should I plan to forgo picking up bananas this trip?

What I learned while doing is that it’s actually unlikely that all your clothing items in a color are all exactly the same so the risk of looking like a crayon is less of a risk than I’d originally anticipated.

Monochromatic dressing is basically picking clothing items in a color scheme based on a single base hue like red, green, or circled here, blue.

Pretty straight forward but if we had to 3-step step this:

  1. Open your closet
  2. Select your starter piece
  3. Select the next piece based on the color of your starter piece

I have a lot of navy blue so I started with navy blue pants. So with navy blue as my ‘starter’ color du jour, I’d move onto choosing the next item of clothing. The best part about this approach is that you don’t have to worry so much about getting ‘matchy’. The tones and shades of the items don’t matter as much as you would think as long as they’re all of the same base hue, in this case blue. So with navy blue as my starter item, I’d probably look to choose a top also in navy (I have a lot of navy), light blue, cerulean or even royal blue and it would still work.

I realize that sounded this sounds like one of those ‘get the perfect winged eyeliner every time with this trick’ eye roll step-by-steps so while i’m certainly not promising easy wins without any effort, I do have some tips to share from each step that may help you.

1. Open your closet

2. Select your starter piece

3. Select the next piece based on the color of your starter piece

Always a pretty go go-to.

Here are some places where you should almost always be able to find a denim number you’ll work and that won’t break the bank.

  1. Levi’s, Essential Western Denim Shirt
  2. The Gap, Chambray Denim Big Shirt 
  3. Aritzia, The Sade Denim Shirt
  4. J.Crew – Classic-fit short-sleeve western chambray shirt

If you’re feeling like this could work for you then great. If not fine as well. If you’re interested in continuing, the real next step is to wear your newly created outfit out of the house. It’s all just make believe if you don’t actually leave the house.

Intermediate: Analagous approach

If you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of the monochromatic approach and want more ways to use color to get dressed here’s another.

Instead of staying with just colors all in the same huge, this approach start to incorporate analougous colors to the mix, the colors on either side of your starter hue color. So if you’re starter color is blue, bring in pieces in purples or greens. If your starter piece is purple, bring in some purple or blue.

Find the color of your starter piece on the color wheel then select additional pieces based on the colors on either side.

My biggest tip on this approach is to select one analygous color to start. So if your starter color is blue, choose a green or purple, not both. If you’re starter color is red, go with a red or a pink, not both.

Advanced: Complimentary approach

I found myself really getting into this and briefly ventured into what’s probably less ‘monochromatic’ and venturing into the realm of ‘color blocking’.

The rule of thumb here is opposites attract. Using our handy color wheel here, you’re looking for the color immediately across from the color of the item you’ve chosen as your starter piece.

For me personally, I found that this works best when you have clothing items in solid colors that really highlight the ‘opposite-ness’ of the look. I don’t have a lot of clothes that fit distinctly into opposites so I didn’t find this approach so successful.

Color blocking, get dressed using colors opposite each other on the color wheel.

What I did find more successful is building a monochromatic look then using accessories to bring in points of interest It could be a big leather bag, chunky gold jewelry or even a scarf in a great print.

Is all this going to work for you?

Well you won’t really know until you try but this is supposed to be fun so it’s worth a shot. If anything you’ll burn a few calories trying things on. It may also help you do a bit of that closet clean out that’s needed from time to time.

So do I go out now everyday in a monochromatic look? For sure no but I definitely do from time to time and found it’s less scary than I thought it would be. I do love a good denim cowboy look for sure, maybe you will too.

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