#2302 I’m a Guy, How do I Wear Colour??

JPH asks: Hi Isaac, I watched your Maybelline NY to NZ episode about colour, which was extremely informative and entertaining, but I’m a guy and I don’t think that wearing two different shades of clashing greens is quite right for me, even if I keep my high heels and accessories neutral. I’ve always worn black, navy and grey, but I want to branch out. What works? What doesn’t? Where do I start? I have similar coloring to you (aka I’m whiter than snow).

Hey JPH, how’s it going? Good question. I’ve been thinking a lot about colour recently. It suddenly occurred to me that I’d been doing it wrong for a while and now I’ve got a simple formula that I reckon works pretty well. Here it is: If you’re wearing a dark/bright colour on top, pair it with something light/neutral on the bottom, and if you’re wearing a dark/bright colour on the bottom, pair it with something light/neutral up top. Where menswear’s concerned, just because two colours go with each other, doesn’t mean that you should be wearing them head to toe. For example: That pistachio green sportcoat I wear all the time goes perfectly with khaki pants, but if I wear it with khaki pants my entire outfit looks washed out and flat. However, if I pair it with charcoal wool pants or navy chinos, the colour pops up top and I don’t look like I’m trying to win 80 bucks on race day at the local track.

Same goes for the seersucker jacket I bought recently. Sure I can wear it with pale blue pants and the colours work together, but it looks too flimsy. Throw it on with a white shirt, dark blue tie and navy pants, and all of a sudden it’s solid.

Dark on dark looks are just as bad a call. I used to rock a pair of navy pants with a maroon sweater all the time and everything was competing against each other so nothing won. Following the formula, if I want to wear a maroon sweater, I’ll do it with khakis or light grey flannel pants on the bottom, which allows the maroon to shine. The exception to this rule is navy and charcoal, which do work really well together (see Wong, Austin and Zeller, Gabriel).

In terms of which colours you should be wearing, the sky’s the limit. My favourites are pale blue, maroon, olive green, mustard yellow and fire engine red. If I’m going to wear a super bold colour I prefer to do it on the top half and keep my pants pared back (navy, pale blue, khaki, charcoal and olive green are my favorites). Some colours work better in specific garments, too. I wouldn’t wear a bright red pair of pants or jacket, but I would definitely rock a bright red cardigan or crewneck sweater. Likewise, I wouldn’t wear a beige sweater or jacket, but I’d happily wear khaki pants every day of the week.

At all times, you should be wearing something neutral to balance it all out, and I find that khaki or navy is the easiest place to start. Also, when in doubt, blues always work. Also also, you can always liven up a simple outfit with an orange tie or a colourful pocket square or a bright blue pair of sneakers. Hope that helps!

All photos: Tommy Ton for GQ.


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  1. nemo tame says

    i only wear tiger stripe brown and yellow. with silver fox greys on my snoat.. real man. real gangster.

  2. Harry says

    Wearing too many light colors together looks too Cason Kressley. Definitely better to mix darks with lights.

  3. Greg Mendel says

    You forgot to mention mixed denim blues. You can wear a bunch of different denim blues together and it still looks good.

  4. GBannis says

    Thanks for the tips. But I noticed that one color is missing from your column, and that color was everywhere the last decade or two. Yes, what has happened to black?

    And I would add one more thing, white is a bright color. Be careful wearing it with another bright color. A guy flashed down the street in front of me the other day in bright red pants and bright white long-sleeve shirt. It was too bright, and overpowered him along with the traffic and the traffic lights.

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