What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of creating a color palette for your wardrobe?
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.)
• • •
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?
Establishing a color palette was essential to simplifying my wardrobe. I also found 5 colors to be too restrictive. I finally settled on black, white, 6 cool neutrals from ivory to charcoal and red, wine and berry for my accent colors. This is my color palette for year round. I have nothing remotely yellow or orange, because I never feel good in those colors.
I’m going to copy you. I feel the same way about yellow and orange, but I will do shades of green…grass, kelly, hunter…because I feel happiest in green.
I also want more of a year-round wardrobe.
I do too. I finally have a closet big enough for all my clothes, so I don’t have to put off-season stuff somewhere else. And the weather in Chicago is so wacky, you never know what season you’re going to be in anyway.
I’m going to need this post because I’ve realized that I only possess (well mostly) black and white items. I mean, they are “go to” colors but it can be quite boring, especially during summer when you need a bit more color in your life.
The palettes you’ve got are really inspiring, thanks for sharing.
I love this!! I always seem to gravitate towards neutrals, and bright orange-y reds! Hah! But it’s true – you can totally work with all the different shades of colors that you like. Love your photos too!
These pictures are SO precious!! And the bag is absolutely adorable. Love everything about this!
Who takes all of your pictures for you?
Ashlea | https://clothedingold.com
Thank you Ashlea! My husband takes almost all of my photos — we learned together and he’s awesome at it! :)
I found this post really interesting, as this is something I struggle with when living with a minimalist-ish wardrobe – though in truth I think my wardrobe is minimal anyway; my husband told me that when he first met me and stayed over for the first time, he thought I had the fewest clothes of any woman he’d ever met – and that was before I’d even considered the idea of minimalism!
But other than my black/white/grey clothes, I find that I am drawn to red and blue, and occasionally magenta – I’m a dark strawberry-blondish – and though these colours suit me, they often don’t really go together – so I feel like I have a split wardrobe.
I have very little space for clothes, so when people talk about creating a 33/37 piece wardrobe etc. I find that’s pretty much all I have anyway – and I live in the UK, so I deal with 4 very different seasons with that wardrobe too!
Caroline – have you any advice as to how I can pull the reds and blues together? Thank you :)
Sorry I am not Caroline, but as you described my favourite colour combinations thought I could help..I think it largely depends on the shades of red and blue you like and combine. I personally love a dark blue combined with burgundy/maroon type reds. In summer a washed out red with pale blue jeans is a great combo. Grey, black and white work with both of those as a neutral. (I am sat here typing this in a pair of grey trousers, with a blue t-shirt and a maroon jumper.)
So maybe as Caroline says try some of the other shades in the red and blue palettes and they might go together.
Hope that helps a little
I love all of those colors together, in many of their shades. The movie Pierrot Le Fou has a ton of inspiration on how to mix them. If you run an image search for it, the costuming and the sets may both be helpful! It’s all based on red, blue, black and white!
Maybe try floral prints with those colors in it: A scarf, skirt, or shirt?
I use a color pallet for a few years (white, grey, black, blue, red), but it never crossed my mind to use only one shade of each color. The only strict rule I follow is to like the shade/pattern.
It’s interesting to see how strictly you impose rules to yourself, and how you are learning to relax :)
Jenna Leigh Condon says
I love how you created a few looks with simple natural colors. Your outfits look so effortless :)
Kelly Klann says
Can’t wait to start creating mine! On another note, how do you get those awesome waves?? Seems like mine are either too polished or a hot mess, haha!
Leah Wise says
It had never occurred to me that people were restricting themselves not just by color category but by specific tone. I have a palette of yellow, sienna, blue, green, and black, but there are lots of gradations in there.
You know, when I think about it, I definitely did incorporate different shades into my palette before. But I just didn’t open it up to allll shades, you know? Like I would have considered a light buttercream and a dark vintage gold as two different colors, rather than two different shades of yellow. :)
These colors look so lovely together! I’m definitely obsessed with nudes and blushes lately. In fact, I recently dyed my nude silk Georgia to give it more of a blush tone. Of course, it took three tries, but I eventually got a color I love! I posted about it here, if anyone’s curious: http://sustainablefashionchat.com/dyeing-re-dyeing-elizabeth-suzann-nude-silk-georgia/
I’m loving this idea. Since discovering capsule wardrobes, I discovered I liked dressing in the outfit formulas. But the combination of a simple colour palette, made it a bit boring for me. This will bring back the fun in getting dressed. Now if only international shipping would be cheaper and easier, my life would be (almost) complete …
Nice post…you know how much we love color in our industry! I will have to stay it is harder with wardrobes as we get older and our hair and skin changes color. Even more of a reason to be mindful.
OH LA LATKES says
Outfit no. 2 is my favourite. I’m particularly in love with the shorts and your gorgeous vintage bag. So stunning! <3
E || OH LA LATKES
Great way to show that style can be achieved in simplicity! I have a silly question, how do you create the nice color palette? Do you use an app / web site made especially to build color palette (like for home designer) of is it a custom one (Illustrator, etc)? merci.
Hi Nadia! I used Photoshop to create the color palette graphic. :)
Thanks Caroline for the colour palette post!
It was great to see it described so succinctly. I just realised this is something I have been doing for years – as I love shades of pink and coral against a neutral backdrop of indigo/black/cream and white.
I thought it was just me liking too many colours! But they are all similar tones and DO match my couch cushions and artwork! Hee hee hee
Although, it makes for a versatile wardrobe that changes with the seasons but always looks like me.
I may do a cream blouse and apricot trench with soft indigo silk pants in the Autumn. Then the same tones with dark blue jeans, crisp white tee and a bold pink & red scarf in the summer.
Keep doing what you are doing hon! Your approach is always relaxed. Thanks for the outift and style inspo.
I love both of the outfits, but I think the first one is my fave! Yellow and orange are my favourite summer colours, really great post. I feel like I need to try and integrate some more colour into my wardrobe too xo
Nnedi | iamncxo.blogspot.com
I struggle with the idea of color palette, to be honest. I follow capsule wardrobe (not a limited number of clothes, just exchanging them every season). I don’t own too many clothes and I’m a color lover. Although there are 2-3 colors that prevail in my seasonal wardrobes (such as white, black, navy), I cannot really coordinate the rest to fit into an actual palette. Whenever I plan my capsule for a season this is the area that I struggle with most. But your tips are super helpful Caroline! I” definitely try them out :)
I approached my current wardrobe’s color palette by eliminating the colors that I don’t feel good in (yellows, oranges, lime greens, bright reds, vibrant pinks, purples) and then finding what’s left that I love. I’m happiest in black, but my wardrobe currently houses a lot of shades of white, brown, grey, blue, and green (only emerald and olive, though). For the summer, I’m surprising myself by continuing to choose lighter shades – and I don’t necessarily hate it!
Curious, though – how do you keep your whites looking pristine?
Color theory was one of my favorite classes in college (graphic design major here), so I am loving this post! I have definitely been exploring colors lately, noticing what I have an abundance of in my closet and slowly incorporating other colors that I have been curious about. I always said that I hate wearing pink, but eventually discovered pale blush and rose tones that I love. Purple was a no for me too, until I picked up a pale lavender top that was a total game changer. Loud vs. quiet, the idea of a color family instead of specific shades… it makes perfect sense now, when I had never really applied the logic to my closet before. Thank you, Caroline! :)
Hi Caroline, thanks for sharing! I wonder if there is a special trick to the knot the t-shirt? I’ve tried the same thing a couple of times but the knot will always loosen up. I also wonder if knotting the shirt does widen the fabric over time?
Your way to roll up your jeans was a total game changer for me, making me wear jeans again I thought I did not like anymore. Furthermore, I am a crazy tucking-in person now. Also, I always think about different ways of wearing an item before buying it and if it does match my life and weather reality – bad buys don’t happen to me anymore :) Just wanted to share, so you know about your positive impact on my wardrobe and consequently the environment and my bank account. Actually, I really don’t buy a lot and my outfits always feel put together without any effort. SO MANY THANKS!
These color are stunning! I love yellow for summer
Nina Dhollander says
I have always dismissed color palettes as fun to look at but way too restrictive and impractical, but with this mindset I might give it a go!
Andreea U. says
Glad you are back with these type of posts.
They are very helpful!
I would like to see a post with some inspirational looks combining summer colors and also some wardrobe tips for this summer.
Have a nice week!
I’ve been a subscriber of yours for a few months now and just want to say I absolutely love, love, love your style and use of solid colors and patterns. It’s very minimalist chic! All these images are definitely being saved on my Pinterest board! :)
I’m maybe unusual among your blog followers in that I LOVE color – esp in the summer. I keep to a 33 piece wardrobe each season (I live in Minnesota so boy, do we have them!) – but my summer wardrobe has my year-round neutrals (navy-denim/grey/white) PLUS all the crazy brights – primary orange and kelly green, teal and sunshine yellow. I’m fair with dark hair, so these all work great for me – and all play well with my neutrals. Some of these brighter colors come out in spring too – but I have more purples and deep reds in fall and winter. Which colors you like I think are a combo of personality and your ‘coloring’ – what shades look good with your skin tone /hair.
Filipa Barros says
Hi! Can anyone recommend any app or tool for creating a color pallet?
Hi there, earlier ^ Caroline wrote that she made hers on photoshop. I may give that a go! Good luck creating yours ☺️
As always, your posts and outfits inspire me, and I find myself going down many rabbit holes wanting to purchase too many things. There is such a struggle with finding balance between being inspired by others but coming back to what is right for me, my life and my budget etc. With that being said a few questions.
1-How do you like you Vetta pants? I have ES Florence pants in linen which I love but have been also looking for another pant I could use to travel in this summer that would be cool in the summer but either be worn with flip flops or dressed up a bit.
2-I have been considering the TL t-shirts and sweatshirts. Do you feel like you have found the perfect ones through TLs? I am trying to only buy a few items that are well made and wonder if these are “it.” Thank you! Katie
Hi Katie! I totally hear ya on finding that balance — YES to the idea of always coming back to YOU. I regularly have to tune out of social media for a little while to ensure I stay in a place where I can follow my voice AND appreciate the voices of others. :)
To answer your questions:
(1) I LOVE the Vetta pants, and wear them way more often than I thought I would. They are light and easy to wear and they don’t pinch in the waist at all. Plus I’m just really into this looser pant silhouette. They do wrinkle a little bit and bag at the knees a bit, especially when I wear them for car travel, but it’s not too too bad.
(2) In one way yes, in another way no. Quality-wise, yes — these are “it”. I am super impressed with the substantial fabric that’s still crazy soft (not stiff at all). However, I do wish they had a few more tee options, as I don’t want all of my tees to be fitted girlfriend cuts (I like a lot of slouchy tees too). And they must be air dried, which is just something I’m getting used to because I usually throw all tees and sweatshirts in the dryer. :) Hope that helps a bit!
Anja hennie says
I really like your blog, it is very inspiring to me. I like colors a lot, so I buy clothes with colors, but those clothes are not as frequently used as my neutral ones. I always go back to blue and grey. I have found some shades of blue that suits me really well. To my blue pants I have blouses and shirts in blue and lilac within the same color family, or from another color family, but with the right hue that goes well with my blue pants. And I also love green, but find it a bit more difficult to wear than blue, maybe because i miss some beige and brown clothes to pair my olive green clothes to.
Mademoiselle Coconath says
Such a great post dear! Sienna and Nude have been colour palettes I have been very into lately
I absolutely adore this color palette – and these picture on your Pinterest are just georgous! I’m now into almost exactly the same palette, but instead of light blue I go for rhubarb red, scarlet, cranberry, maroon and so on. I feel tempted to just buy a bunch of t-shirts and shorts in these colours, but at the same time I try to buy more consciously and buy second-hand, which takes time and effort. I really like the way you opened up for new possibilities in your style – I found your blog when your style was more restricted and minimal, but I deeply understand that it can (and should) evolve in new directions, keeping all you have already learnt with you. Great post!
I love these earrings but I’m wondering how heavy they are. Are they comfortable for a full day’s wear or can you really only get away with them for a couple of hours before they become uncomfortable / pull too much?
Hi Lauren! I’ve been so happily surprised with how comfortable they are. In fact, I haven’t worn earrings in years because they always irritate my ears — so happy to say that these do not! They are ceramic, but I’ve worn them all day a few times and they aren’t really heavy at all/don’t pull on my earlobes. :)
Ahhh so good to know! They’re the perfect summer statement piece!
I really enjoy hearing your thoughts on colors and how you use them in your wardrobe! I find as I get older (44), that color, not just in my wardrobe, but in all the things that surround me, is becoming more important. For example, I find that I really enjoy driving a black car & I never quite “loved” my green car! Being surrounded by colors you love makes life that much sweeter. The little details matter ?
Jayne Hattaway says
Love this! This is how I’ve accidentally approached my color palette – my colors are pink, blue, and green, with neutrals black, white, gray, and cognac, and just about any shade of those colors works with everything in my closet. I love that there’s so much freedom within those colors, but that’s balanced with my “color rules” that keep me from impulse-buying things in other colors that I know won’t go with anything else in my closet or make me feel my best when I’m wearing them. Plus, I’ve developed somewhat of a “signature” look – my SIL and niece call these “Jayne colors” whenever they see the combination pink/blue/green in the wild! Which is not at all intentional but kind of fun, especially when my five-year-old niece can pick out clothes in any store that she thinks I would love and she’s not wrong.
Sue deChaneet says
I recently had a colour analysis. I am a deep autumn pallet. I guess intuitively I knew this but bought into the capsule recommendation of white, black, grey tee, black blazer, white button down etc. None of these colours turned out to be my neutrals. I took all of these items from my wardrobe & was left with very little. Thanks to online consignment & thrift stores I take my colour swatches with me shopping & have been growing my ideal wardrobe on a very tight budget. In fact no one seems to like the autumn coloured scarves & coats that bring out my best appearance and the selection to choose from is great. I am not limiting my colour pallet by number. If you choose colours true to your pallet they almost always go with each other. Thanks for showing some colours in a capsule wardrobe. It is so refreshing.
Kathy SC says
I am so glad you are posting again. Missed you!! I love your taste, and you always seem to find THE best items to showcase. Simple, but classy. And just perfect. Keep it up!
Love this post! I have always embraced the fact that I will have several tones of each color – that is what makes my closet fun and unique! I have tried capsules with a specific palette and always felt discontent, because the colors were never the same shade, until I realized that’s not who I am anyways :) Thanks for the encouragement!
Sharron goodyear says
Really love your simple style. You look very chic! Thanks for this interesting blog post. Looks like you’ve put a lot of work into it. Look forward to reading more posts! :)
Thank you so much for this post! Can’t wait to reorganise my wardobe during the uni break! :)
I’m so delighted to see this post! I’ve been researching and using capsule wardrobes for several years now, and while the concepts have helped me tremendously, I’ve been so frustrated by the limited classic styles and color ranges of black, grey, white, and denim – none of which I wear. I’m a color-contrasting, prints-mixing, style-combining daredevil when it comes to clothes! Still on the look-out for sample capsule wardrobes that are colorful and eclectic, but at least now I feel like I have something to hang my (figurative) hat on. ;-)
Becca Fay says
It’s so hard for me to branch out from not just black and white!!! The other day I was in blue jeans and a white shirt with red stripes and I felt to bold!!
I just found your blog and I’ve really been enjoying it so far! I’ve been on a quest to simplify my wardrobe for about a year now. I would say my biggest struggle is finding high quality clothing that fits well.
My question is how do you find clothing that fits you well and how can I tell if it will wash well? I find myself ordering online a lot and having to return everything OR liking a piece but then having it wash poorly even after very delicate treatment! Any tips?
Love this post! When I first tried a capsule wardrobe I felt frustrated since I was limiting my palette to certain color shades and then couldn’t find pieces in that exact shade. I ended up opening it up to every shade and love the wardrobe I created! I definitely gravitate towards blue and grey and mixing color shades in one outfit usually ends up being my go to look. And organizing my closet by color has been the most helpful tip for getting dressed in a hurry! Thanks for all your helpful posts ?
golu dolls says
white, and denim – none of which I wear. I’m a color-contrasting, prints-mixing, style-combining daredevil when it comes to clothes! Still on the look-out for sample capsule wardrobes that are colorful and eclectic, but at least now I feel like I have something to hang my (figurative) hat on. ;-)
kanchipuram silk sarees says
Really love your simple style. You look very chic! Thanks for this interesting blog post. Looks like you’ve put a lot of work into it. Look forward to reading more posts! :)
I LOVE this approach and the Pinterest board you linked!!! I think this will be very helpful in trimming down my wardrobe and simplifying the daily process of selecting outfits. If there’s any particular app you recommend for creating a color palette (I googled and see there are lots of them), please let me know if you get a chance. Thanks!
Love the blog – I’m just starting to read through your posts and am mentally preparing myself for a giant closet ‘purge’ this weekend. I do have a question for you that I couldn’t find addressed in a post yet, but here goes: I have two drastically different styles between my work-appropriate clothing and my after-work & weekend outfits. I’m not sure how to tackle a capsule wardrobe when 1/2 of my wardrobe will be split between work-clothes and personal clothes. I don’t know if my weekends, or workweek, could handle only 14 clothing items – anyone have suggestions?
Is your color palette Deep Autumn (as in color analysis)? LOVE your blog!
Dinah Sanders says
I’m really appreciating what you’re sharing about style and finding a place with it where you both feel good and look good. Thank you for writing!
Something did leap out at me from this post, though.
As an ethical consciousness exercise, try relabeling the column called “Nude” as, say, “Beige”, and the one labeled “Sienna” as “Nude”.