How to Use Color in Your Minimalist Wardrobe

A Small Wardrobe
by A Small Wardrobe

For those of you who haven’t come across my content before, I have a small wardrobe of between 30 and 40 items. Even though I have a small wardrobe, I still have a selection of colors; it is in no way strictly tonal. I manage to make these colors work in my wardrobe so that the outfits still read as pretty minimalist.

In this tutorial, I’m going to guide you through the basics of color theory. I’ll teach you how you can find the colors that are right for you and how these will inform your outfit choices.

Minimalist wardrobe color theory

Find your colors

My first tip is to figure out which colors work for you. Let’s start with my color choices as an example. My wardrobe is chiefly composed of cream, charcoal, grey, khaki, green, orange, and a little touch of lilac. I have quite a few hues from the color wheel in my wardrobe, if you think about it. So how do I keep a handle on these colors so that my wardrobe doesn’t end up reading like a rainbow? Well, I have paid particular attention to the value (i.e., the lightness or darkness of a color) and the saturation levels of the colors within my wardrobe. One of the most crucial parts about the colors in my wardrobe is that they are all mid-tones. That means that they’re not exceptionally bright, intense, dark, or saturated. They are sort of in the middle. 

Each person has a unique coloring (think: skin, hair, eyes, etc.). For this reason, there will always be some colors that complement one individual and not another. Some colors will create a sense of visual harmony or comfort when you wear them, based on your coloring, and other colors will aggravate or diminish your natural complexion.

The colors you wear can really be the difference between looking ‘meh’ in an outfit and ‘wow’ in another. I think that many of the people you see out there who look fantastic in what they wear simply dress in the right colors for their natural coloring. 

Minimalist wardrobe essentials

Find color sets

My second tip is to find a few color sets that speak to you. There will probably be many colors that look great on you, but if you want to build a concise vision for your wardrobe, you need to narrow those color combinations down to a few sets. That doesn’t mean just wearing a lot of white, grey, and black - that’s not it at all. What I’m saying is choose some colors that you know work together and replicate those formulas. 

Also, before you commit entirely to some colors, think about the moods that specific colors create. What kind of mood do you want to create in your wardrobe overall? Do you want your wardrobe to read as quite sophisticated? Sensual? Innocent? Carefree? There are specific colors that people associate with those things. If you want to be more sensual, you need to get some fiery reds and oranges into your wardrobe. If you want to look more sleek, sophisticated, minimalist, you probably want more neutrals. Remember, color speaks a language.

A lot of this will be based on your natural coloring, but also consider the tone and mood you want to create. This will help to guide those color combinations.  

Minimalist capsule wardrobe

Base color

My next tip for you is to find a base color for your wardrobe. Typically when you watch or read minimalist tutorials, those base colors are usually white, grey, or black, or a combination of them. I don’t necessarily think that’s the best approach. I believe that you should find a base color that you could imagine wearing in a monochromatic outfit. That color should be informed by the overall mood you’re trying to create and the overall success it has with your coloring. So this color is the color that you want to have most of your basics in. It doesn’t mean that you only own this color, it just means that it’s kind of like a guiding light, and any other colors that you add into your wardrobe need to work with that color. For me, that color is cream, and I can wear it in monochromatic sets, which makes everything look nice and neat. Or I can wear other colors that work with cream.

Women’s minimalist wardrobe

Accent color

If you want to give your wardrobe a little bit more variety, then obviously you’re going to add some accent colors. Notice I didn’t say match; they don’t need to match perfectly. It’s more about finding colors that interact well together. Sometimes having a bit of natural contrast or a little bit of a clash is actually very nice to look at.

When selecting your accent colors, I direct you back to those words I used earlier - value and saturation. Ensure that the value and the saturation are going to work with your base color and your natural coloring. Consider also the general relationships between the colors on the color wheel.

Minimalist wardrobe women

Left - more contrast, Right - less contrast

Contrast policy

My final tip is that you decide on a contrast policy. Overall, within your wardrobe, determine if you are going to have a lot of contrast or not a lot of contrast. I don’t have a lot of contrast. I prefer more narrow tonal values within my wardrobe. Think of individual outfits. Do you want to wear individual outfits that scream contrast, or would you prefer to minimize that? 

There are other ways to use contrast as well. If I wear something very contrasty in my outfits, it draws attention away from my natural features. However, I can use minimal amounts of contrast to create a little bit of drama and draw attention to the parts I want to draw attention to. And the perfect example of that is when I wear orange-red lipstick. If I wore an orange-red color all over my body, the saturation level would draw attention away from my natural features, and I would disappear. That outfit would be wearing me. There’s no reason that you can’t use contrast in the same way to emphasize your waist with some sort of belt in the color that you love but is a little overwhelming on you. Knowing the rules of color means that you can manipulate those rules and take some colors that might be a weakness on you and turn them into an advantage. 

I also use my jewelry to create contrast by the fact that there is a lot of detail here on my hands, unlike the rest of what I wear, which is usually very simple and calm.

In this tutorial, I hope that you’ve started to understand the basics of color. Often people buy new clothes without really considering questions such as ‘does this color really look good on me?’, ‘does it complement the other colors I have in my wardrobe?.’ Understanding how color works is vital in building a great wardrobe full of things that you love to wear.

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