I tend to think of a traditional approach, like maybe two main colors and three accent colors. But while that approach has always felt slightly limited and uninspiring to me, I’ve always used it because I love the idea of a color palette (and didn’t know what do to instead).
Until now! I’ve started reframing the way I approach color in my wardrobe. It’s less structured, and more relaxed. Plus, it’s got a lot of wiggle room, which makes the concept much more friendly to real life.
So let’s chat color! Today I’ll share:
- the color family approach: how to create a non-restrictive color palette
- my summer color palette
- outfit study: color palettes in real life
- a quick guide to creating your own color palette
Ready? Let’s talk color.
THE COLOR FAMILY APPROACH: HOW TO CREATE A NON-RESTRICTIVE COLOR PALETTE
Here’s my new approach: I select five or so colors, like usual. But then I open it up to all shades within that color family.
For example, one of my colors might be yellow. But within that color, I allow myself access to all shades of it — everything from a soft buttercream, to a punchy primary yellow, to a deep vintage marigold.
I can even push it a little more and explore the fringes, like trying out a yellow-green or yellow-orange. And I’d still count them as “yellow”.
With this approach, you can include dozens of shades and hues. And suddenly, working within a color palette doesn’t feel nearly as restrictive as it might have once felt.
MY SUMMER COLOR PALETTE
I have a year-round foundational palette of neutrals — black, white, sienna, and denim blue. But the carefree vibes of summer inspire me to embrace color, so I’m adding in lively pops of yellow, and a bit of nude-y blush as a counterbalance, plus I’m pushing my sienna tone into orange territory.
Take a look:
Any of these shades can freely flow through my wardrobe and outfits. You’ll notice I don’t have main colors and accent colors. Instead, I might categorize certain shades as “loud” or “quiet” — it conveys mood and saturation, but doesn’t dictate the role that color should play in my wardrobe and outfits.
OUTFIT STUDY: COLOR PALETTE IN REAL LIFE
For this look, I wanted to explore saturated color and a distinctively summer palette, so I balanced two loud colors (orange-y sienna and marigold yellow) with a soft white.
You may be thinking this is a pretty bold palette for a neutral-loving gal like me. And it kind of is. But since the loud shades are similar, the whole look gives a tone on tone impression. Even though there are several different shades going on, the two main colors are simply white and yellow-orange.
I wanted this Tradlands tee to be fitted, but not tight. I’m usually somewhere between an XS and S depending on the top, but this tee seems to run a little small, so I took a size small. It fits just right and I was still able to gather it into a knot to turn it into a crop top (my go-to trick when wearing looser pants).
OUTFIT DETAILS: Tee gifted by Tradlands (made responsibly, 20% off with code colorpalette) | Pants gifted by Vetta (made responsibly) | Bag by Monserat de Lucca | Earrings by Eny Lee Parker (made responsibly) | Sandals by Madewell
Ah, while I loved the last look, for me, this one takes the cake. I love all these quiet shades with the tiniest pop of bold yellow. Even though white is a neutral, it feels radiant and bright to me, almost like a statement color. To me, it’s a lovely example of how you don’t have to create a wildly saturated outfit to enjoy color.
This Tradlands sweatshirt goes with me just about everywhere. I pop it into my tote or leave it in the car for cool summer nights or to combat chilly air-conditioned air. I wanted a slouchy fit so I sized up to a medium. If you’re going for that look too, make sure to never put it in the dryer or else it’ll shrink — line dry all the way.
OUTFIT DETAILS: Sweatshirt gifted by Tradlands (made responsibly, 20% off with code colorpalette) | Shorts by Aritzia | Sandals by Nordstrom (old, similar) | Sunglasses by Madewell (old, similar) | Vintage Bag
HOW TO CREATE YOUR SUMMER COLOR PALETTE
Step one: Acknowledge your current color palette
You already have a color palette — it just may not be intentional yet. Open your closet and group like colors together. Do this quickly without thinking about it too much — just start moving hangers around.
Now, step back and take it in. What colors do you have the most of? The least of?
Step two: Get curious and ask questions
While looking at your closet, newly sorted by color — ask yourself:
What colors do I own that I never wear? What colors do I own that I love to wear? What colors do I think I’d like to wear, but don’t have in my closet?
Step three: Rough draft your new color palette
Pick around 5-7 colors for your summer color palette and include all shades within each color family.
Remember, this is a working rough draft, so there’s no need to worry about getting it perfect or making sure it will work for the next 5 years. Just focus on creating a loose palette for this summer and trust the process. You can always adjust as you go along.
Step four: Test out your new color palette and remove colors you don’t want from your wardrobe
Remember a minute ago when you asked yourself what colors you own and never wear? Grab everything that color and get it out of your closet temporarily. This isn’t supposed to be a permanent thing — just hang those clothes somewhere else out of sight for a few days so you can see what it feels like to live with this color palette you’ve dreamed up.
If you’re missing a key color you want to try, get creative — you’re still in the testing phase, so there’s no need to buy new pieces just yet. See if you can borrow something in that shade from a friend. Or try on several pieces in that color at a store and see how they make you feel in the dressing room.
Try it for a few days and see what happens. Do you actually like wearing the colors you thought you’d like wearing?
Step five: Let it trickle into your wardrobe organically, and keep building an awareness of colors you love
Now, begin to let your color palette take shape in your wardrobe. Omit colors you don’t like to wear. You can start adding in a few pieces in a new color if you like, but remember, there’s no need to rush this process or go out and buy lots of new clothes. A little can go a long way.
Keep observing and building an awareness of the colors you love. Go on a nature walk and pick up colorful stones or plants you find beautiful. Look at your home decor or a friend’s home decor. And of course, Pinterest is always a great place to look for color inspiration. (Here’s my color board.)
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And there you have it!
So tell me, how do you approach color in your wardrobe? Do you like working within a specific palette? What colors are you into right now?