Wardrobe From Scratch, Part 2: Choosing Wardrobe 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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