There are a couple of approaches to choosing color palettes.
The first is what is called the Seasonal Approach. The seasonal approach groups colors together into prepackaged seasons, appropriately named Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. The basic theory behind this is to sort people’s complexions into “warm” and “cool” based on the undertones of their skin and “high contrast” and “low contrast” based on their hair and eye colors. A blue undertone corresponds to a “cool” palette, a yellow undertone corresponds to a “warm” palette.
You can get a basic idea of “warm” vs. “cool” just by looking at your skin. In general paler, fairer people are cool. Whereas tanner,browner guys are gonna fall into the warm category. To simplify, if you burn in the sun you are cool, if you tan in the sun you are warm.
Winter: High contrast between eyes/hair and skin as well as cool undertones. More contrast in an outfit is better. Darker greys, whites, navys, deep reds, all are good. Browns don’t work nearly as well for winter types.
Summer: Low contrast between eyes/hair and skin as well as cool undertones. Minimize contrast in an outfit. Once again, greys, whites, blues, are all good.
Spring and Autumn: Lower contrast is assumed. Autumns play more into the brown side of the palette with lodens, chocolates, burgundies, and forest greens. Springs play into more of the yellow side of the palette with airforce blues, yellows, pinks, reds, and more pastel-ish colors. The two are generally incompatible (pastel green and chocolate brown don’t exactly mesh), so opt for one or the other. Autumn colors tend to look a little more mature and staid, spring colors are, at the risk of sounding like a women’s fashion editor, more playful colors. Match to your personality and your lifestyle with this one I guess.
Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man opts for an approach that matches contrast in outfit to contrast between hair/eyes and skin. Flusser also suggests adding a single element to somewhere around the face that is roughly the same in color as eye color.
I think Flusser’s approach is a little better personally, as its absent a lot of the BS, but it also holds pretty true that colors tend to work best with certain other colors. The earthy autumn tones, the vibrant spring tones, the dark winter tones, and the mellow summer tones all work best if you stick to colors within that palette.
I’ll close this with a few random notes and musings.
- Avoid using more than one kind of stripe in an outfit. It can work sometimes, but it can also look really stupid if done wrong
- Blue shirt + yellow tie is pretty classic, but disastrous if done wrong. A deeper,darker yellow more akin to goldenrod and a lighter blue is the ticket here.
- Anything black at all should be a rough texture. Black knit/gabardine/slub ties are all great for grey jackets. For suits and trousers, opt for charcoal grey.
- Grey flannel trousers are the shit
- Cuffing the trousers (not the stupid roll up shit, I’m talking buying the trousers long and turning up to the desired length) is an igent quirk that works pretty well in the wild. Give you a nice transition from the pants to the shoe.
- Khaki chino jackets are everywhere and don’t really go with anything. I blame J Crew. Camelhair on the other hand is the tits and goes with tons of things.
- Lowrise trousers look like garbage with a sportcoat. You don’t have to dip into grandpa’s steez, but a more natural higher waist will look better and be more comfortable
- Too much texture makes you look like a farmer or a history re-enactor. Too little texture makes you look overly businessy. If business is not your goal, find a happy medium. I think texture in the tie and the sportcoat is enough.
- Shiny tie bars are distracting and can normally be removed from a fit. If you want to wear a tie bar, wear it far down the tie near the buttoning point.
- One madras element per fit. Life is too short to end up being photographed by the prepidemic guys.
- Slim Cargos are actually pretty cool. They are being driven into the ground by Cucinelli and co, but when the dust settles, they are a pretty nice casual pant.
- Be cohesive and holistic. The whole should be better than the sum of the parts. Build an outfit, don’t just toss together flair.
- Denim jeans with a sportcoat is overrated and overdone. Denim shirts with sportcoats look awesome. Slim chinos +denim shirt+black knit tie+soft shoulder tweed jacket + black penny loafers is gonna be my casual winter uniform come November.
- Fun socks are overrated and have been driven into the ground. No me gusta.
- Don’t be overly matchy. “Close enough” is more charming and better looking than fabric shade OCD.
- Finally, most importantly, and most frequently neglected, HAVE FUN! Don’t take menswear too seriously. It is just clothes.