Organization, Project 2

Cleaning Your Closet with Color Theory

Fashion is a huge part of my life – I know it’s not really something I’ve talked about here, but it might have been my very first project.

Over the past few years, I’ve really focused on developing my sense of fashion. I constantly purge my closet and buy new pieces. As I purge again for Project 2, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to talk about how I do it.

I’ve always been really conscious about silhouette, so everything you’ll see fits me well. When you dress to your body shape everything looks a little bit more expensive – you’re mocking the tailored look! My body happens to be bell shape, which is similar to a pear – large hips, small bust. The only real difference is the ratio between the bust and hips is smaller for a bell shape. Dressing to your silhouette is actually very easy once you know what your shape is, so if that’s something you’re interested in learning more about, I’d highly recommend checking out this blog for more on your body shape. Spoiler: there’s more than 3 body types!

Anyway, dressing based on the right color is a little harder. It’s something I really struggle with and it’s difficult to master. As frustrating as it is to learn as you go, it’s the only real way to do it.

But have no fear! One of my favorite fashion channels just released a video streamlining different basic color theories. I highly recommend all of her videos, but this one in particular was an aha moment. Also, while my silhouette information about was particularly for women’s bodies, color theory applies to everyone.

So in honor of this video, I decided to test out some of her theories firsthand with my closet. I’ve been purging for the past few weeks and I’ve found that these theories pretty much correlate to what items I feel comfortable in and which ones I didn’t.

Side note: None of the pictures below have my face in it. It was early in the morning so I wasn’t looking very fresh. Also, my boyfriend’s not the most cooperative photographer when I wake him up to take pictures of me (shocking, really), so most of these photos were of me while I was talking. If you’re particularly interested in what my face looks like, you can see me here or here.

Shade Theory

Do the shades in the outfit match the shades of color on your body?

My favorite way to look at colors is through shade theory. In it’s most simple form, it looks at how much white or black is added to a color. The idea is that the shade that matches your skin tone shade is what looks best on your body.

For instance, let’s look at this pink dress:

The color complements my skin tone pretty well because my skin and the dress are similar shades. To really examine it, we can put it in black and white to see the amount of brightness in both my skin and the dress.

Now it’s very clear. Though the dress is a lighter shade than my skin, it’s close so the color pops well on my body. But be careful that you’re using good lighting if you use the black and white photo trick – you can see the difference in my skin tone between my arms and my legs. This is due to the fact that my lighting came from a window. Because of this, the arms are a better point of comparison to the dress.

Comparison to skin tone isn’t the only match. You can apply the same test with hair color as well. Let’s take a darker dress:

This dress is almost an exact match in shade to my hair. Because of this, the dress color pairs with me very well.

Complexion Theory

Does the contrast in your hair and skin match with the color of the garment?

In the video, Alexandra describes two types of contrasts: soft and clear. She describes soft as a correlation in hair color and skin tone shades. On the other hand, she describes clear as hair colors that largely differ from skin tone. In general, I find that soft colors are less harsh and vibrant than clear colors.

In reality, there are more types of contrast. Idealist Style (same blog as the body shape link!) has a great chart to compare the different options:

Credit: Idealist Style. The left column represents cool undertones while the right column represents warm undertones. For more on undertones and determining where you fit on this chart, try this.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s continue with only soft and clear. I happen to be soft because my hair color and skin tone are relatively close to one another – there’s not too much contrast. If you’re looking at the chart, I’m a bit like Katie Holmes on the bottom right. What this means is I should steer away from clear colors because it will add a sharp contrast.

Here’s an example of me wearing a clear color:

This blue is so vibrant, it almost washes out my complexion. It’s funny because I’ve had the dress for a while and have always wondered why I don’t feel as confident in it. After all, it fits me well. This contrast is subtle and if you don’t see it, it’s okay. You’ve got to train yourself to see it and it’s not necessarily something that happens right away. It’s not that I look bad in the dress, it’s just that I look better in so many other dresses.


I know this is all a bit much to take in and it can be extraordinarily difficult to piece together what this means for colors on your body. I can’t recommend the links I’ve added enough because they do such a good job at really diving into these topics and breaking them down.

For me, these theories have been remarkably impactful. I’ve found it easier to process whether to keep certain pieces that I was on the fence about. I find that using a little science in everyday areas is a key to optimization. When I go through my beauty supplies soon, I’ll take this same approach.

If you’ve enjoyed this, don’t worry, I’ll be doing a fashion project or two down the line. But for now, I’ve got to get organized!