Discover more from Blackbird Spyplane
How to wear COLORS well
Hue-rocking at Mach 3+ levels — "The Spyplane Way"
Welcome to another landmark installment of Blackbird Spyplane.
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Color — this s**t is all around us! Shout out to flowers & birds who rock beautiful colors in breathtaking combinations to look fly & propagate, but also shout out to piles of barf who “rock” repellent colors “in order” to look wack & warn our scavenging brains away to SAFETY on some evolutionary s**t …!!
Nine times out of 10 the wise contemporary clothes-rocker would prefer to dress like a beautiful warbler than a pile of barf (at least one time out of 10 U gotta challenge convention 😉). But how to achieve “warbler-caliber colorful swag” ?? The other day reader @danredmohler wrote in requesting some straightforward “rules of thumb for harmonizing colors in a garment tableau?”
Spyplane co-pilot Erin is a professional COLOR WHISPERER who used to work as a color forecaster and at her current job collaborates closely with designers focused on color design. She also loves a “chromatically bussin’” fit, and today Erin is generously blessing us all with some color-savant widsom….
UPDATE: the must-read “How to Wear Colors Well Part II: Tonal Swag” is here.
First up, some caveats —
🎨 Color can be vexing & perplexing even to “the pros,” because everyone perceives it differently — peace to Ludwig “Fittgenstein” Wittgenstein, who tackled the epistemological slipperiness of color time & again in his philosophical writings, all of which we’ve read and understood. Relatedly, Blackbird Spyplane is NOT a prescriptivist, rule-slinging sletter: Sometimes an ostensibly “clashing” color combo can work, thanks to a confluence of tangibles & intangibles.
🎨 In other words, we are not trying to hit U with a list of “Color Matching Dos and Don’ts.” No, baby: Far more dopely, we’re blessing you with sturdy guidelines for how to rock colors that “go” together in 2022, i.e. techniques for identifying & building color combinations that look good now, because two colors might share some simpatico color-wheel affinity but that doesn’t mean they look cool together. Cultural contingencies play a major role on that score: Some color combos evoke certain eras and bygone fads (some worth revisiting, some not); other color combos evoke swag-free holiday decorations; some evoke omnipresent corporate imagery — e.g., blue and yellow objectively “go” with each other but the question remains of whether U R trying to dress like an IKEA shift manager (you might be, and the fit might go hard, but that’s not a matter of color harmony).
🎨 Variables like skin tone, hair color, and eye color all contribute to a fit’s “color profile,” too, but in ways we think it’s a FOOL’S ERRAND to try to taxonomize, not least because there’s an impossible-to-quantify relationship between color & personality! For instance, Erin is “not a soft pastel person. That’s not what I want to convey to the world. But other people look great in pastels, so play around and see what feels good to you.”
That being said?? Groove upon these techniques.
TECHNIQUE #1: Use a neutral as yr “COLOR launchpad” and work in one other color — any color U choose.
Neutrals… O mama! They’re the heavy-lifting, journeyman staples of a wardrobe, and — as 2022 collections from The Row, Lemaire, Sandy Liang, Lauren Manoogian, ALD, Louis Vuitton, Evan Kinori, and Our Legacy (among others) demonstrate — they can also be “stars” in their own right.
With that in mind, one simple, can’t-miss way to mix colors HARMONIOUSLY is to add 1 chromatic color to a popping neutral base.
That base could consist of blacks, grays, whites*, browns or, for our money, blue denims, which — since they’re melanges of different blues — tend to hit the eye, functionally, as neutrals. (Some navies and olive- and khaki-greens work as neutrals, too, on a fit by fit basis.)
To illustrate, let’s build our neutral base using browns — mmm big, chocolatey, fresh-ground-coffee, rich-loamy-terroir lookin’ a** browns — which have been having a deserved “moment.” I (Jonah) have been going hard with brown jawnz lately, indebted in no small part to Mach 3+ brown-rocker Tyler, The Creator: “Brown really goes with almost every color,” he told me during his Blackbird Spyplane Interview . “I wear a lot of pastels, and it’s a great base for that.” Brown — a mighty SUPER-COLOR composed of MANY CONSTITUENT COLORS — looks good now and will look good forever, because even though it’s more or less “on trend” at any given time, it’s a neutral so (like black or blue jeans) it goes with everything …
So whereas Tyler (top left above ) likes using brown as a base for pastels, you can see how it works just as well with ultramarine (the Off-White FW22 runway shot top right); pinkish red (the vintage paparrazi shot bottom right of Diane Keaton chilling with an all-neutrals Warren Beatty, snagged from SpyFriend Lawrence Schlossman’s IG moodboard, linked below); and rusty orange (the Lemaire FW22 runway shot, bottom left above.)
Again, we chose brown to illustrate this principle ‘cause brown is popping, but any neutral base will behave similarly.
* White is notably unlike the other neutrals in that if you rock a white shirt, cap or sneakers the effect is as “classically unassuming” as it comes, BUT if you give more real estate to white — i.e., combine multiple white pieces OR even just rock white pants or a white jacket — you’re making more of a “statement” than U would be making with any other neutral. The easiest way to “tone down” that statement is to literally “tone down” the white — i.e. go eggshell / ecru.
TECHNIQUE #2: Set two related colors against a neutral base.
The more colors you try to incorporate, the trickier things will get, but — building on the neutral-base approach — a nice next step is to identify two related colors (meaning “related” on the color wheel) whose DIALOGUE appeals to you, and work them into a neutral ground.
We’ve laid out 3 examples below for how to juxtapose two related colors against a neutral base. These include: two primary colors against eggshell, two secondary colors against blue denim, and two complementary colors (those that are opposite one another on the color wheel) against brown.
BY THE WAY — the pale blue swatch Erin chose below is of course not strictly a “primary hue,” which illustrates the importance of tints (colors augmented by the presence of white), shades (colors augmented by the presence of black), and tones (colors augmented by the presence of gray, i.e. black AND white). These help you add nuance & escape “LEGOLAND territory” when you get dressed and they can unlock interesting harmonies between colors that might clash unpleasantly in other cases….
Recognizing and knowing how to play around with tone is a SUREFIRE way to elevate yr whole mf swag — more on this Thursday!!
A fourth option above is to pair one primary color with its secondary or tertiary color, an example of which is the Sandro fit pictured. It works great color-wise because red (a primary color) is set against orange (its secondary color), AND the brown pants and turtleneck forming the neutral base have a lot of orange in them so it all feels especially of a piece…
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TECHNIQUE #3: Layer together MULTIPLE neutrals.
You can achieve stupid-hard results by layering any number of different neutrals together into one fit — black + brown + gray + white, etc…
For instance, When Mach 7+ costume designer Miyako Bellizzi had the “internet going nuts” with her behind-the-scenes shots of Oscar Isaac tha Hot Lord looking professorial (below top right), it was because of a fantastic “neutral ensemble” of drab-green NBs, brown pleated pants, and a roomy grey knit henley with an oatmeal shirt peeking out COYLY …
U can see a different dope neutrals collage in action in Bellizzi’s recent Paris street shot (below top left) of a swaggy older French mec rocking brown shoes, beige cargo pants, brown gloves, tan shearling and grey briefcase… Spectacular.
As with the Oscar Isaac pic, the Row FW22 look bottom right above shows how rocking a pure neutrals collage can look not merely “crisp & clean” in a familiarly minimalist way but also somehow fresh & surprising; and the Paris Fashion Week street shot above bottom left, by Phil Oh tha legend, captures a successful neutrals collage built around BIG white pants, whose abovementioned “loudness” is counterbalanced by the slouchy, deep-brown overcoat. Hard!
TECHNIQUE #4. Layer multiple neutrals & add a pop of color.
This next approach ELEGANTLY COMBINES the principles behind 1, 2 and 3.
You can easily “get away” with rocking a screaming shade — e.g. the very on-trend “SLIME GREEN” or the BBSP-beloved “Robby Müller Red” (as seen throughout Paris, Texas) — by injecting it SPICILY into an otherwise all-neutrals fit.
Case in point:
Erin’s had the above pic saved on her desktop for ages — it’s Marc Jacobs tha god, of course, captured in the ‘90s killing it in a SPYPLANE HALL OF FAME FIT that unfolds along these exact lines.
O yes, this man is mixing mad neutrals — white kicks, beautifully bunchy white & grey tube socks, cuffed khakis, baggy grey pullover, tan turtleneck, black coat collar — but then two jolts of red, on the socks & the body of the coat, tie it all together POWERFULLY.
This is tightrope-level B A L A N C E in action, and if you think it’s easy, yr deluding yrself lover!!
Some other illustrations of this technique:
Top left, Pier Paolo Pasolini (spotted at the excellent Director Fits IG, link below) combining a bevy of neutrals (the olive-green pants count among them) with bright red socks that Marc might respect; top right a Sandro FW22 look where a bright green underlayer pops out from a rich brown overshirt — with some sleek black pieces doing extra grounding work; bottom left, an Aimé Leon Dore SS22 look where washed denim joins other classic neutrals to frame a CREAMSICLE-orange pullover; George Costanza putting a purple button-down into TASTY conversation with an army-green jacket and chinos; a great Apiece Apart FW22 look where a red sock spices up a variety of lovely neutrals — navy, ecru, forest green, and brown; and, finally, Color Wizard Erin herself (slightly) loosening her “please no photos” policy while rocking a similar combo. Abbondanza.
W🎨W — every member of Spy Nation is now equipped to rock colors with more harmonious panache & less anxiety than ever. Next we gotta step up the MF technique a smidgeon … and talk “tonal-swag” dressing.
When it comes to color harmonizing, this is an ill way to go “Michael McDonald singing backup on Steely Dan’s ‘Peg’” mode !!
We’ll get into it this Thursday, in an instant-classic sletter. ONLY our Cla$$ified SpyFriends will be granted access, so if you lack that level of $ecurity clearance, smash the upgrade, support BBSP, enjoy life, and don’t miss out partner !!
UPDATE: the must-read “How to Wear Colors Well Part II: Tonal Swag” is here.
🎨 Our “Master Jawn Index” — a running guide to earth’s greatest under-the-radar pieces and designers — is here.
🎨 Our recommendation-rich SpyTalk Chat Room is here.
🎨 The gem-stuffed Blackbird SpyMall is here.
The Pier Paolo Pasolini photo comes via @directorfits. The Diane Keaton & Warren Beatty photo comes via Larry Schlossman’s @howtotalktogirlsatparties2. Miyako Bellizzi is on IG here, and Phil Oh is on IG here.