A Man’s Guide to Combining Colors – Part Two

Defining Colors: The “Accent” Clothes Unless you’ve chosen a very striking base like a brightly-colored suit, the “feel” of your outfit is going to be defined by the smaller accents. The same neutral gray suit can become very different outfits when you start changing the shirt, tie, pocket square, and other accents that go with it.

  • Neckties are the most common accent for men. They look best when they are either from a similar color family as the shirt beneath them (lavender tie over a light blue shirt, for example) or a complementary color for contrast (such as a burgundy tie over a white-and-green striped shirt).
  • Pocket squares are similar to neckties in terms of decorative function, but are far less widely-used. Include one in your outfits to add a bit of stylish flash. They should pair with the suit jacket or sport coat in much the same way that the necktie pairs with the shirt: either joining it in a similar color scheme or contrasting with it in a complementary fashion. When wearing both, be aware that the necktie and the pocket square should never match — they are two separate accents!
  • Jewelry should generally be understated on a man. The basic rule of thumb is to keep all the metals matching: either gold tones or silver, never both. Watches, rings, cufflinks, and earrings if you wear one all fall under the rule. The only exception is a wedding band, which can be worn with anything — its significance is recognized to be set apart from the rules of fashion. If you do happen to wear colored jewelry (unusual on a man), be sure that the colored stone/glass either contrasts or mimics the colors of the larger outfit in the same way as the other accents.
  • Briefcases and other bags are rarely a perfect match (unless you happen to have the money for a matching bag with each suit and shirt). Most men find it easiest to own a black bag and a brown bag and match the bag to their shoes and belt. Blue-tone canvases do well with brown leather, more neutral bases go best with black, and brighter colors may go with one or the other depending on where they fall on the color wheel.
  • Glasses can be particularly frustrating if you need to wear them daily and only own one set of frames. Any kind of distinct color will be a jarring note in outfits that don’t go well with that particular color. Try to stick to narrow frames with a muted metallic or black color if you’re planning on wearing your glasses with all of your outfits. See our article on A Man’s Guide to Wearing Eyeglasses for more information on making glasses work with your outfits.
  • Putting it All Together Creating a well-matched outfit is as simple as combining the two categories above. Your “canvas” clothing provides the background that you work on. Your “accent” pieces define the color scheme. Accents similar to the canvas colors gives you a matched, single-color look.

Accents that contrast with complementing colors give you a balanced, active appearance. The real key is to make sure all your accents are doing the same thing — a few matching accents and a few contrasting ones may wind up looking confused rather than deliberate. Pick an approach — matching or contrasting — and stick to it throughout your accenting.