Is it OK to Wear Navy With Black?: Understanding Fashion Color Theory

You’ve probably heard that wearing navy with black is a big no-no in fashion. Is that really the case or is this fashion rule just an antiquated one that needs to stay in fashion books of yore? 

To answer this question, we have to understand color theory and how it applies to fashion.

What is Color Theory?

Color theory is a core principle in visual arts. Painters and other artists use the color theory to guide them in color mixing and deciding which colors go well with each other. 

The color theory makes use of the color wheel or color circle. The color wheel looks like a pie with rainbow slices that show the relationship between all the different hues.

Red, blue, and yellow are known as the primary colors. They are the foundation of the color wheel. All the other colors originate with the primaries.

Mixing two primary colors creates the secondary colors. Red and blue make purple or violet, blue and yellow make green, and yellow and red make orange.

The combination of one primary color and a secondary color creates the tertiary colors. Mixing red and orange results in red-orange, yellow and orange creates yellow-orange and so on, for a total of six tertiary colors.

Colors are also divided into two base groups: warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors are described as “active colors” because they tend to give us an impression of energy and action. On the other hand, cool colors are described as “passive colors” because they evoke calm, soothing emotions.

In addition, we must consider tint, shade and tone. If you add white to any color, the result is called a tint; if you add black, the result is a shade, and if you add gray the result is a tone.

We’ll continue discussion of color theory in the section below as we tie these concepts into the world of fashion.

Applying Color Theory in Fashion

Painters and other visual artists have been using the principles of color theory in their works for centuries. But aside from the visual arts, color theory can be applied in many other areas of our lives.

One very practical application of color theory is in fashion, to help us pick our clothes so that they don’t clash. Here’s how you can utilize color theory in your clothing choices:

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are three colors that are adjacent— or next to—each other in the color wheel; for example: green, blue-green and blue. When using analogous colors in clothing, Color Wheel Pro advises us not to mix cool and warm colors. Tiger Color shares that it would look good to have one color dominate, a second color to support and the third color as an accent.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are any two colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel; for example: red and green or orange and blue. This color scheme is great for when you want a particular piece of your outfit to stand out. Again, it’s best to have one main color and the others to serve as accent colors.

Triadic Colors

Any three colors that are equally spaced in the color wheel are called triadic colors; for example: green, yellow and violet. The colors in this scheme are high contrast but more balanced than complementary colors. Similar to the two color schemes above, the trick is to have one color dominate while the rest support it.

Split Complementary Colors

Split complementary is a variation of the complementary color scheme. It uses three colors where one color is matched with the two on either side of its complementary color. For example, if you pick blue as your main color, accent it with yellow-orange and red-orange. Tiger Color says this scheme is ideal for beginners because contrast can be achieved with less tension. It’s difficult to mess up.

These are by no means the only color schemes out there, but the others are more complex and difficult to harmonize than those mentioned here. Familiarizing yourself with these four color schemes should help you a lot in your future fashion related choices.

One thing to remember is that the color schemes are all about harmony, bringing all the colors into a dynamic equilibrium. All the color combinations above help artists and the rest of us pick colors that are neither too boring nor chaotic.

An important tool for achieving color balance is the use of neutral colors such as white, black, grey or brown to balance out the look and achieve a visually pleasing ensemble.

Don’t be afraid to make use of tints, shades, and tones to avoid jarring matchups, like a light blue top paired with dark orange pants.

So what’s the answer? Is it really a fashion crime to wear navy with black?

Based on the principles of color theory, there’s no rule saying navy and black are not allowed together. Contemporary fashion experts concur.

“This is absolutely untrue. It’s just one of those antiquated fashion rules like ‘no white shoes after Labor Day.’ Black and brown, black and navy, brown and navy — it all works,” said’s style editor Charles Manning. “The fact is neutrals almost always mix well together, so there really is no wrong way to do it.” 


How does your fashion sense match up with the ideas of color theory? Are there any other fashion rules you’d like to see gone forever?




Juvy Garcia
Juvy Garcia
Juvy is a freelance proofreader, copy editor and writer. A nice little nook with a good book would be ideal. But concocting plans for her next drawing or DIY project will suffice while she's still busy babysitting two daughters. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Google+.