How To Master Color-Blocking Like A Pro

August 17, 2011

Color-blocking is when a garment or outfit is composed of finite blocks of color.

You may recall the height of its popularity first in the 1960’s and later in the 1980’s. This past spring, designers revisited color-blocking techniques and ended up creating some exciting modern styles. The public and press fell head over heels with the look, so designers continued the trend throughout their fall collections. Retailers are excitingly stocking stores, as we speak.

It is not the easiest trend to pull off successfully, so I wanted to share with you five simple steps to make you feel super confident about your choices. As you will soon see, I’ve enlisted the help of some of today’s masters in fashion design. Why not look to the best for some style inspiration straight from the runway?


1. Choose An Approach

There are three techniques to styling a color-blocked outfit – select one:

Option A: Monochromatic = one color throughout entire outfit in different hues.

Option B: Separates = mix garments of contrasting (2-4) colors.

Option C: Stand-Alone = one color-blocked garment or accessory where the designer has already done all the work for you.

*Note: To open image gallery, select a thumbnail image above. To exit image gallery, click directly on current image displayed.

2. Select A Color Scheme

If you selected style Option B (above), mixing separates, then you may want some guidance with color combination tricks-of-the-trade. I’ll spare you a drawn out discussion on the complicated field of color theory and instead share with you two basic methods that are guaranteed to help you create stunning color-blocked outfits.

Complementary colors are opposite each other on a basic color wheel. This color combining method works well if you want to make something standout. Note these color combos can be jarring to the eye.

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. This color combo approach is more harmonious and pleasing to the eye.

I recommend you select an initial favored color in a hue that is flattering on you and then work from there to complete your outfit. Color-blocking does not mean your color selection must be bright – subdued hues work beautifully too. Combine a max of four colors in one outfit – two to three work best.

3. Complete The Look

Without a doubt, color-blocking is a bold and fun way to dress! The secret is to make sure the focus remains on you and not solely the style technique. You want to wear the trend and not let the trend wear you.

Complete your look with neutrals – neutral colors (gray, brown, black, camel, white, navy, etc.), neutral designs and/or neutral accessories, as necessary. These neutral pieces can be gorgeous, yet they need to be visually uneventful in relation to the rest of your outfit to best support your chosen color-blocking style technique (ie. Option A, B or C).

Check yourself out in a full-length mirror or snap a quick photo, whichever method helps you get a good birds-eye view of your color-blocked outfit in its entirety. And remember, when finalizing the finishing touches of your outfit choose the simple route!

4. Make Flattering Choices

The color-blocking technique is making a true style statement, so it is imperative to select pieces (and color schemes) that are flattering to you.

Color-blocked stripes and other architectural color-blocked patterns are very popular. The key is to pay attention to each stripes/shapes placement on your body (ie. if you don’t want to make your bust line or hips to appear voluminous, then don’t put a wide pattern, especially in a bold color, directly over them), as aptly displayed in the left image.

If you are unable to find an attractive color-blocked pattern, don’t give up! Instead choose the easier method and select Option B by mixing multicolored separates, as demonstrated in the image on the right.

5. Determine Appropriateness

Although you may love the color-blocking trend, the reality is it may not be suitable for your lifeSTYLE, or so you thought!

If you work in a creative field or casual office then, sure, it’s much easier to experiment with various color combos and/or architectural color-blocked patterns. Or maybe you just haven’t been able to find satisfying results for color-blocked weekend wear. Whatever the reason may be, don’t give up, there is a solution…try color-blocked accessories. Color-blocked (aka. bi-tonal or multi-tonal) handbags, shoes, scarves, jewelry and other accessories are a huge hit in the marketplace. No need to admire from afar, now there’s no reason not to participate in the color-blocking trend!

Share your impressions of color-blocking as a fashion tool. Do my directions demystify color-blocking enough for you to try it?

Image credits: Runway via, Yannis Vlamos, Marcus Tondo, Monica Feudi, Gianni Pucci/ + Color Wheel via TigerColor.

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  • Kristina – I love the neutrals with the pop of color. I use this technique a lot in my branding and graphic design work. Especially like the brown w/orange jacket. Do you have a favorite designer who really rocks out this style?

  • Corporate Fashionista

    Christie – I do not have one favorite; I find myself enthused by so many, but I would definitely check out JCrew’s Fall runway collection below because they really play up your favored neutral/bright mix:

    Then you might also be inspired by the following designers, who often experiment with neutrals and brights too. Note the color combos used in many of their recent print designs. Here you go: Proenza Schouler, Jonathan Saunders, Preen, Etro, Christopher Kane, Iceberg, Chris Benz, Lela Rose, Jill Stuart, and Lela Rose.

    Hope this helps!

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