Wardrobe From Scratch, Part 2: Choosing Wardrobe Colors

Building a Wardrobe From Scratch: Choosing Colors
building a wardrobe from scratch choosing colors
Welcome to the next step of planning, part 2 – choosing wardrobe colors!  This will be really important so that you can build a wardrobe that mixes and matches cohesively.

I want to start off by saying that I am not a color theorist.  Not at all.  In fact, all the talk of color theory kind of confuses me and I just go by intuition.  But lucky for us, Academichic wrote a really beautiful and clear guide to colors to help us out!

Color Theory Guide from Academichic
Color Wheel of Clothes


Before we get to choosing any colors, I really think you should take a look at Academichic’s lesson on colors.  First of all, it is excellent…and pretty!  Secondly, I’ll be referring to stuff in that post.  Third, since it is not my primary aim in this post to help you figure out which colors will work together in an outfit, Academichic’s guide lays that out nicely.  I know some of you have questions about that, so read it!
Choosing Wardrobe Colors
Once you’ve read up on the Academichic color guide we can talk about choosing wardrobe colors.As a disclaimer, just a reminder that this series is for people who are building a wardrobe from *scratch.* A lot of you aren’t in that boat, but feel free to cheer on the peeps who have the daunting task of making over their entire wardrobe.  🙂

Today the tasks are simple: 1) decide on two neutrals for your wardrobe, and 2) decide on 2-3 accent colors.  We will worry about what to do with them once we create your shopping lists in a future post.Here are some tips for choosing colors.

Choose 1-2 Neutrals for Basics
Neutrals are black, browns/tans, greys, and navy.  They’re neutrals in the sense that they basically go with anything.  Since you’re building the foundations of your wardrobe, sticking to 1-2 neutrals for now will be to your advantage later.  When we make shopping lists, we will focus your closet basics to be in the neutrals you chose.  This kind of streamlining will help build a great foundation for a mix and match wardrobe.

My personal favorite neutrals are cognac and grey.  If you examine my outfit posts you’ll see that most of my belts, my riding boots, a few of my bags (here and here), and my faux leather jacket are a medium tan or cognac color.  And though you might be sick of seeing all of those pieces, I wear them so much because they go with everything and they coordinate with each other.  It’s just too easy.

My other prominent neutral is grey.  Some of my other closet basics in grey are: grey pencil skirt, crossbody bag, booties, sweatshirt, blazer, and v-neck tee.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t also have black and navy in my closet.  Of course you can break out to other neutrals.  However, I believe that at this beginning stage in your wardrobe, starting with coordinating basics will make getting dressed much, much easier.  You have a chance to start over!  Why not make things easy for yourself?  🙂

A Side Note About Black
Typically people default to black because rumor says it’s slimming or because it seems the “easiest,” but I would encourage you to at least explore other neutrals aside from black, as black can be very harsh on some skin tones.  I love how a dark grey or medium grey looks, and I believe it can still be very professional and sleek without being as harsh.  And a non-black, well-fitting garment can be far more slimming than an ill-fitting black garment.  We’ll talk about fit in another post.  Just food for thought!  🙂

Choosing a Color Palette
Now comes the more challenging part, choosing some colors.  Once we get some closet basics in the neutrals you chose, the rest of the wardrobe can be filled in and made interesting with pieces in this second color palette.

Many advise to focus on just 2 or 3 colors as you’re building your wardrobe.  Of course you can expand beyond those 2 or 3 later on, but as you’re starting from scratch let’s stick to just a few colors to build a cohesive foundation.  Much like with a building, a strong foundation will allow you to expand and add to it more effectively.

Anyway, now it’s time to look at that color wheel from Academichic I showed earlier.

Complementary and Two-Thirds
One way you can go about deciding wardrobe colors is to start with just 2 or 3 colors, as mentioned above.  Preferably they would be colors that are either complementary or follow the two-thirds rule (see Academichic’s guide for definitions) to make your wardrobe more exciting and remixable.  Having only purple-ish and blue-ish shirts with purple accessories doesn’t give you much variety, but when you have blues, mustard, and reds/maroons to play, that’s a different story!

Don’t feel like you have to stick to primary colors.  You can totally pick a secondary color, like teal, and build your wardrobe from there with the two-thirds or complementary rules.  It would look like this:
Alternative Suggestion:  Each of the above examples used 3 colors, but you can also just focus on just two of the colors from a two-thirds group like turquoise and the yellow-orange, or stick to two complementary colors like yellow and purple.

Color Clusters
If you don’t want to be quite so limited, another way to determine wardrobe colors is to be a little more general and go by color clusters.  We did this when I made over Hannah’s wardrobe.  Her palette looked more like this:

Please excuse the crappily drawn shapes.  One of my image editors was bugging me so I just drew them old school style.

If you look at Hannah’s shopping list you can see that we chose two colors from a two-thirds group (green and purple) and expanded the palette to the nearby secondary colors.  We started with purple because it was her favorite color, but I extended the palette to magenta/pink because I knew it would look great on her skin.  We then targeted greens because they complemented the magenta and purple.  You’ll see Hannah’s clothes are mostly purples, magentas, greens, and a bit of teal and a pop of red in her red flats.  We stuck to those color groups, and the definition for “cluster” was a little loose (because I was just going off instinct, not a color wheel), but we didn’t really touch yellows, oranges, or strong blues.  All of her clothes work well together but still give her lots of variation.

Alternative Suggestion:  You can also try clusters of complementary colors rather than colors from two-thirds groups.  Ex. the cluster of blues to purples + the cluster of yellows to orange.


Those are two ways to help you choose your wardrobe’s foundational colors.  Again, you can totally branch out to more colors later on, but this is just a place to start.  Starting with a cohesive foundation will really help you as you expand your wardrobe!

Now it’s your turn:

  1. Choose 1-2 neutrals for your basics.
  2. Determine your color palette.  A good starting place would be to observe the pattern of colors in the style board that you created from Part 1 of this series.  What kinds of colors do you seem to be drawn to and are dominant in your board?  Find that color on the color wheel and decide which way you want to build your color palette from there–with complementary colors, two-thirds, or clusters?  Identify which colors you’ll focus on for your wardrobe’s color palette.
Good luck!**For all 6 parts of the Wardrobe From Scratch Series, click HERE.


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  • Reply
    January 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I am familiar with the color theories you teach. However your application of them brought my understanding of how to use them to a whole new level. It was a real eye opener. Thanks so much for your excellent ideas and teaching us how to apply them.

  • Reply
    Tasmin Skye
    January 26, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I am seriously loving this series! I haven't decided to redo my entire wardrobe, but it has been in the back of my head. This is especially helpful. I have a hard time picking things that will go with what I have in my closet and just buy things that are cute. Bad idea. Nothing goes. Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks, Katie!

  • Reply
    January 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Thank you so much for doing this it's a real eye opener, I get very excited to see your post new stuff!

  • Reply
    Claire Lloyd
    January 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Love this, Audrey. I just wanted to say that I am so happy I found your blog! A few months ago, I was in such a rut with my wardrobe, wearing the same 5% of my clothes every day while the rest festered in there as only a small section fitted me properly (having 3 babies and losing weight in between meant I had three different clothing sizes in there!) I have now gradually weeded out the stuff I didn't wear, and basically started to build a new wardrobe pretty much from scratch. Still working on it, but your blog gives me so many ideas and I am also blogging my journey to creating my own personal style! http://polkadotsandrainbowdrops.blogspot.co.uk/ It's very new at the moment so not much to see but I hope you'll drop by! 🙂

  • Reply
    Hems for Her, a.k.a. Katie
    January 26, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    So confused! So inspired! You make me want to throw everything away and start from scratch!

    And thanks for steering women away from black- they are so many other, wonderful, awesome, beautiful neutrals out there (cognac is my favorite too!).

  • Reply
    Amy Davis
    January 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I don't need to redo my wardrobe (I need to cull it!), but I'm really appreciating this series. I'm identifying my neutrals as navy and gray, I think (and maybe congnac too), and my colors are burgundy, teal, green and mustard. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Amy Davis
    January 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    And your like to Part 1 of the series is broken.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Hi Tasmin. how are you? I was just curious about the name since my name is Tasmie. Do you know what your version mean?

  • Reply
    January 26, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Audrey and others please chime in. So I just got 2 pencil skits from the Limited (online) for 20 bucks each and I'm not sure if I should keep both. Issue is one is deep purple and the other is magenta so the colors are similar but not identical. One hits right below the knee and one above. One has expose zipper. Would you keep both or are they too similar in color? HELP

  • Reply
    January 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    My whole closet is black, haha. It just suits me so well but I'm excited to really get redo my wardrobe because I'm nineteen and I just have a closet filled with clothing I've gotten since I was about 14. :/ I do happen to love olive and dark blues. Blood red is my favorite color but it sadly doesn't look that good on me.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2013 at 12:34 am

    I love this series! I'm not replacing my entire wardrobe since I can't afford that, BUT I am finding this really helpful to define my style. Plus I'm figuring out how to use the pieces I already have and love! So thank you Audrey!

  • Reply
    jlyn pritchard
    January 27, 2013 at 2:13 am

    LOVE THIS. My mom used to work for Nordstrom & made the same suggestion to me when I started building my work wardrobe. And while I've branched (far) beyond the basic color wheel suggestions you made (now wish I wouldn't have stuck to more similar colors), I find myself wearing the same colors most of the time with a few pops of different colors.

    Any suggestions on how to choose colors for jewelry? (Maybe you are getting there in another post?). While I want my jewelry (mostly necklaces & earrings) to compliment my basic wardrobe colors, I also want it to stand out. I've found a few sites that offer consistent "statement" jewelry pieces, but can never bring myself to actually purchase something for fear that I'll never wear it…

  • Reply
    January 27, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Hi Audrey, I just stumbled upon your blog through some websurfing and I can't be more glad that I did! I've been sitting here looking around your site for probably the last hour and I've been so inspired!! My usual strategy for style is basic, boring, comfy favorites. I'd love to look more put together but it has always seemed so complicated, or expensive, or like I would end up with too much stuff and have no where keep it all. I read your remixing series and loved it! as soon as I get done writing this, I'm going to go see what wonders my closet is hiding. Thank you so much for sharing your simple, easy, budget friendly style advice and keep it coming please!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Really excellent post, Audrey! Makes me want to throw out everything and start from scratch! (Not that I would, that would be heartbreaking! But it makes me WANT to :P)!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2013 at 8:45 am

    Your blog is wonderful! It's so helpful especially now that I know what kinds of shapes fit my body! I'm a daily stalker now.

  • Reply
    Julie Madsen
    January 28, 2013 at 12:07 am

    Love this series! I've been following you for a few months. I just started Weight Watchers to lose everything I gained working at a desk for 13 years. I hope that I will need to build a new wardrobe from scratch later this year. I can see that this series will help me get the biggest bang for my buck. As a natural redhead, my favorite neutral has always been chocolate brown and I'm starting to like navy again (flashback to the 90s). I think my other colors would have to be what people compliment me on the most: peacock blue, olive green, and mustard yellow.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2013 at 3:45 am

    Great tips!! and very informative 🙂


  • Reply
    January 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Question: Denim jeans are a huge part of my casual lifestyle and wardrobe. Should navy/blue be one of my neutral basics or part of my color palette? Dumb question, I know. lol

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I think your jewelry can follow the complementary or two-thirds rules for your clothes. For example, if you search through my archives a lot of my jewelry is yellow or turquoise, and similarly for my clothes. If I'm wearing a yellow shirt, I'll often wear a turquoise necklace, or if I'm wearing a lot of blue then I'll often wear a yellow necklace.

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Yay, Jessica! Good luck with your closet. I hope you find some hidden gems. 🙂

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Haha when I redid my friend Hannah's wardrobe I soooo wished I could start from scratch too. It was when I was at the beginning stages of reworking my own closet and I would much rather have started over than try to figure out what I was missing in my closet.

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Ooh yes! Do you follow Feathers & Freckles,
    by the way? I love her blog (and she's super funny), and she's a redhead! http://feathersfreckles.blogspot.com/

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    January 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    I don't think you need to consider denim jeans when you're choosing neutrals or your color palette. I would treat a standard pair of denim jeans as a separate staple altogether. Basically EVERYTHING goes with them, so they're in their own separate category. Actually, I'd advise you to choose colors other than the dark blues so that your clothes will pop against all your denim.

  • Reply
    Julie Madsen
    January 28, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Well, how cute is she!?! Thanks for the recommendation. I will start following her now, too!

  • Reply
    January 29, 2013 at 12:08 am

    word up..i am in the exact same boat..will have to keep an eye on your blog!.. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 29, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Wow! Such a great and inspiring post. Thanks for all of this information, it is so helpful!! xo

  • Reply
    Steph @Scarves&Styles
    January 29, 2013 at 4:48 am

    Again, those tips are very useful even to non-beginners. It allows to reflect on my current wardrobe, maybe spot the flaws and the good choices, and then to keep this in mind for my next shopping outings.

  • Reply
    emma gray
    January 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Loving this! Very pretty and informative post. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 29, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    This part " Having only purple-ish and blue-ish shirts with purple accessories doesn't give you much variety, but when you have blues, mustard, and reds/maroons to play, that's a different story!" is an eye opener for me. My palette is very low on variety and this is why. Now to educate my eye to like those extra pops of color.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 10:30 am

    I have the same issue Jlyn, I have a burgundy necklace and a teal one now.. they go with most things really well! I think it's about choosing the right colours..

  • Reply
    Mochi & Macarons
    February 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    This is brilliant! I gravitate towards most of these colours and groupings naturally, so it's nice to see it laid out in a technical manner.

  • Reply
    C West
    February 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Thank you for this series. I lost some weight last year, and have a very limited wardrobe left, just bits and pieces I've picked up here and there but none of it really works together. I read this post and the previous ones and they really made me think about what I need. Today I went shopping to begin creating a new wardrobe with a list of items needed and colour combinations selected. I really loved the colour wheel advice as I tend to stick with shades close to each other on the wheel, but I've had my eyes opened thanks to this post.

  • Reply
    heidi {literate & stylish}
    February 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    this is such great information, audrey, and really awesome of you to take the time to condense it and offer some rules. i especially agree with your statement about black!

    i also reference THIS site a lot to play around with colors. i like it because you can move the dial around to see different shades of the colors you want to work with in a monochromatic, complement, triad (2/3) way and there are a couple others too. when you see it that way, you realize certain colors look great together that you wouldn't have originally thought!

  • Reply
    Rachel B.
    February 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I have NEVER been a creative fashionista. I'm more the academic Type A type of person so randomly putting things together is not my strong point. Actually, I hated it. Picking things out and saying a prayer that it matched something is my idea of a fashion h*ll. So, thanks for this post that makes color matching something very doable– There are rules to follow! 🙂

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    February 4, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Wow, congrats on your weight loss! I'm glad you're finding this helpful and I hope you discover some new favorite colors. 🙂

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    February 4, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Wow, what a cool site! It makes things so easy for you so that you don't have to go counting how far away each color is on the color wheel to make sure it's complementary or triad, etc. So cool!

  • Reply
    Debbie Flack
    February 6, 2013 at 1:00 am

    I just found your blog, linked from another list, and It is fantastic! I'm actually pleased to find out that I have been doing pretty good color shopping by instinct. Of course, being in my 40's means I have lot of chances to learn what looks good on me and what doesn't. I'm looking forward to learning more from you! I bought tights today for the first time in years, so you have me branching out. Can't wait to try belts again… 😉

  • Reply
    Caitlin @ Greater Than Rubies
    February 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    I evernoted this one to come back to! I can't wait to read the Academichic guide, but I've always gone by instinct, too. I think it'll be interesting to look at my closet now and see what I've been drawn to as well as consider what will give me the most remixing options in the future. Awesome post!

  • Reply
    Kristi Valentini
    March 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Thanks so much for this extensive guide. So, I'm thinking of black and gray as my two neutrals and for my color palette – royal blue, kelly green and pink. When I looked in my closet I found that blue and green, gray and black are what I have the most of. I also like pink as an accent color and those three colors make me happy and look good on me. The problem? I'm wondering if those three colors are going to mix well with the neutrals – gray and black – that I like the most and have the most of. Do you think mixing those neutrals with the color palette I selected is going to be tough?

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    March 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Absolutely, Kristi! Neutrals are neutrals because they go with EVERYTHING. 🙂 I personally love grey with pink, kelly green, and blue. And black will definitely go with all of them as well. I just created an outfit on Go Chic or Go Home (http://gochicorgohome.com/pub/welcome-putting-me-together-readers) with my kelly green top and a black and white polka dot skirt! That would look cute with a skinny pink belt, though I'm going to wear it with a skinny yellow belt. I also wore the same black and white polka dot skirt with a bright royal blue t-shirt. So yes, definitely, all of them will go with grey and black!

  • Reply
    Kristi Valentini
    March 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks Audrey for your feedback!

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    It's a cool and easy artwork. Can be a hobby also.

  • Reply
    Rachel Mueller
    July 20, 2013 at 12:10 am

    I've seen your outfits on pinterest before, but this is the first time I've really poked around your site. This idea just blew my mind. As I've moved from college into a career, I've tried to build my wardrobe, but realize I've been doing it haphazardly. Time to check out my closet and find a color scheme!

  • Reply
    July 20, 2013 at 7:22 am

    What do you think about buying the same piece in multiple colors? I found a re-mixable dress that comes in more than one of my palette colors and I thought about buying more than one, but wasn't sure.

  • Reply
    Angela Adam
    July 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you so much for great post.. Lots of useful info here. I am sending it to several friends also sharing in delicious.

  • Reply
    August 15, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Hey thanks for the awesome guide!! You explain everything so clearly and give great advice 🙂 Just one question: White's not on your list of neutrals. So what is it?

  • Reply
    Patsy AlGo
    September 11, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I already read all the serie, but I´m stuck on this… don´t get it. I don´t understand about "complementary colors, two-thirds, or clusters"

    This s my board http://www.pinterest.com/patsyalgo/inspiring-me/ Could you, please help me to identify my color palette?

    By the way I recently discover your blog and I´m loving it already.

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    September 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Patsy! I noticed you pinned a lot of outfits with mustard as well as the lighter yellow shade right in front of the mustard plate in the color wheel pic above. Also, you have some olive and mint pieces, which are also in the same line in the color wheel. I would balance those with maroon accents in the fall/winter (which you also have on your board) or a peachy coral in the spring/summer.

  • Reply
    Patsy AlGo
    September 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks a lot, that was very useful.

  • Reply
    Lisa-Marie Fründ
    October 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Dear Audrey! I love this post, and I implemented the complementary
    colors in my wardrobe. Even though I do not build it from scratch this
    served me well. When shopping I know (in the back of my head) which
    colors fit perfectly into my wardrobe, not that I always buy the "right"
    thing, but it makes it easier to choose.
    I mentioned you and this post in my most recent post, just pop over and look at it.

    Thanks a lot for your blog and this series!

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    October 1, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    That's great to hear, Lisa-Marie!

  • Reply
    May 13, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Hello Audrey! Today I came back from a depressing shopping session, came back with nothing, with very low self-esteem, feeling fat and with no style, and God having pity on me, guided me to your blog and oh boy, do I feel better already! I've started a pinterest board, picked my neutrals and my colors, and I already feel cheered up!! THANK YOU so much for making us girls feel better!

  • Reply
    Audrey @ Putting Me Together
    May 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Hi Vanessa! Oh man, I'm so sorry to hear that you had such a depressing shopping session, but I'm really, really glad you're feeling better about getting back to it. Thank you for taking the time to write and say hi!

  • Reply
    July 10, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I have lost 25 lbs since April. I need to build a new wardrobe before I have to start teaching again in August. Using your guidelines is going to help me really make the most out of my purchases! Since I plan to continue losing weight (fingers crossed), I need to be careful not to spend too much on what might be a transitional size. Thanks for the education!

  • Reply
    November 6, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Just so you know, Academichic’s site seems to be gone, so your links to their article are dead.

    Thanks for this info though! It’s helping me a lot.

  • Reply
    May 17, 2018 at 9:37 pm

    the Achademichic page doesn’t exist anymore 🙁 🙁 🙁

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