Different By Design

The Secrets to Mastering Color-Blocking Fashion

by Rebecca Casamayor

If you’ve been admiring color-blocking fashion from afar—maybe your favorite celebrity is sporting the look or you’ve been inspired by an alluring advertisement—you know that this look is impressive. But getting it right can feel like solving a complex puzzle. Luckily for us, there are a few guiding principles that will help make the process a little easier.

1. Remember the Rule of Three

Odd numbers have always been favored when it comes to creating interest across many different mediums, from works of fiction to graphic design to even the U.S. Constitution—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, anyone? And fashion is no different, with the number three being key to a color-blocked outfits. Wearing two colors alone doesn’t always translate to intentional color blocking, and alternatively, wearing four colors winds up being more of an eye exercise than a fashion-forward look.

2. Keep It Simple with Solids

Blue Crew Neck Sweater

Reminiscing about a color-blocked outfit you’ve admired? It’s safe to say that look probably relied heavily on solid colors. And that’s not an accident: incorporating solid colors is one of the easiest ways to execute a showstopping, color-blocked outfit. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should abandon other color schemes.

Try mixing up your color-blocked fashion with a pattern, a texture, or even a sheer, but remember the rule of three to keep it streamlined and visually appealing. This can be accomplished best through tonal dressing, where you stay within shades of one particular color family. For example, try navy blue, velvet midnight blue, and a blue floral; or emerald green, mint green, and ribbed forest green.

3. Don’t Forget About Neutrals


If donning a bold print or color isn’t quite in your wheelhouse yet, try creating a color-blocked look with neutrals first. Grays, creams, and tans all have shades that work well together, while staying within a single color family. Think camel, cognac, and tan; or charcoal, heather gray, and medium gray. Pieces from the same color family tend to play well together.

Neutrals inherently have a mix-and-match quality, and easily lend themselves to color-blocked outfits. So if three solid colors look overwhelming in the mirror, try adding a neutral to the mix as a palate cleanser. Still not confident that neutrals go in a color-blocked look? Try these combinations: ivory, mustard, and violet, and gray, pink, and red.

4. Master Color Theory

high heel suede strappy pumps

Experimenting with color combinations can take your look from one-note to wow. Here are three basic color theories to keep in mind when putting together a sharp color-blocked look:


This theory represents three colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. For example, combinations like blue-purple, blue, and blue-green, or red-purple, red, and orange-red are all analogous. In fashion, these color combinations are usually represented by more vibrant names, such as amethyst, cobalt, and teal, or magenta, red, and coral.


As counterintuitive as it may seem, complementary colors are opposites. Using this theory means choosing colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange. While that’s only two colors, using three is still your best bet when it comes to color-blocking, so this is where shades come into play. When incorporating complementary colors into your look, think navy, coral, and cobalt, or red, pink, and sea-foam. Building on this basic color theory is one way to achieve serious sophistication.


Split-complementary applies the theory of using three colors that are evenly spaced apart on the color wheel, such as red, yellow, and blue. To avoid looking like your outfit was inspired by a crayon box, incorporate sophisticated shades like navy, dusty red, and mustard. And remember, you can use accessories to bring in your third color. A navy dress with red heels and a yellow handbag looks polished, purposeful, and fashionable.

With a little practice and careful consideration, accomplishing the color-blocking fashion you admire no longer has to be a pipe dream.

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