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Understanding Color

Color is the most noticeable design element in any garment.  Designers use colors to influence perceptions of power, strength, energy, or the “temperature” of the wearer’s personality.  When colors are skillfully combined, they will turn your garments into “eye candy” for all of your observers.

Hue & Temperature

All fabrics are dyed during the manufacturing process to produce its hue. Hue is the fabric’s true color. It may be one of the primary colors — (yellow, red, or blue), or some combination thereof. A color’s tint refers to its hue mixed with white; shade, is hue mixed with black; and tone, is hue mixed with gray. Neutral colors (brown and gray) are the result of mixing all of the primary colors with black or white.

Colors may also be referred to as “cool” or “warm.” Cool colors are located on the blue/green side of the color wheel, while warm colors are located on the red/yellow side.  Designers use warm colors to attract attention and to project the perception of energy and excitement.  Conversely, they use cool colors to project the perception of calmness, power, or strength.  The use of tints  or tones tends to make colors cooler, while the use of shades tend to make colors warmer.

Color Wheel
Click to Enlarge

Color Combinations

Light is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye.  Those light rays travel in wavelengths of different frequencies, which causes us to perceive different colors when they strike the light sensors in our eyes. Similar to the way sound waves of different frequencies can be blended into chords that produce harmonic sounds, light rays of different frequencies can be combined to make color combinations that are pleasing to the eye.

Due to their harmonic frequencies, certain colors complement each other by providing pleasant contrasts. They include color wheel colors that are:

  • Right next to each other (i.e., yellow-orange/yellow);
  • At a 90° angle to each other (i.e., orange-violet/red); or
  • Directly opposite of each other (i.e., orange-blue).

When light rays strike different fabrics, they are either reflected, scattered, or absorbed.  Light rays tend to reflect off of satin and silk, while they tend to be absorbed by wool or linen.  This is why different fabrics of the same color will appear to have different hues.  Also, different dye lots of the same fabric and color may appear to have slightly different hues.

Wardrobe Considerations

One of the first things to consider when contemplating a wardrobe addition is where it fits on the color wheel and whether the garment is a foundation piece or a coordinating piece.  For foundation pieces, it’s best to start with tints, tones, and shades of the neutral colors (black, brown, or gray) that match your personality or the image you’re trying to project.  Then you can add coordinates that have complimentary colors that have been carefully matched using the color combination principles outlined above.

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