As I’ve been a little bored lately and spending more time perusing the interwebs for fashion inspiration, I came across the 3-color rule.
Maybe for some of you, this is nothing new or revolutionary, but it was new to me.
The premise of the 3-color rule is not combine more than three colors in your outfit at any one time.
The exceptions are black and white — they don’t count, as they aren’t technically colors, so they can be intermixed without actually adding a color to your outfit.
Also, a print can have more than three colors, but it would be the focal point of the outfit. The supporting outfit components would total no more than 3 solid colors that are also in the print.
As I’m pretty simple when it comes to dressing, my first thought was: No more than three? I’m lucky if I can get to three colors in an outfit! And if black and white don’t count, Lord help me!
But this “rule” doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do a monochromatic outfit or one with with just two colors; the idea is that combining more than three colors in an outfit is where it can go wrong and start to become a bit of a mish-mosh.
So, this isn’t a “rule” so much as it is an outfit formula you can use to pull together chic and effortless outfits with items in your closet. It may be more helpful for those who struggle with overdoing it than the Plain Janes in the audience, but it has challenged me to look at some of my simple 2-color looks and add a third color for interest.
Conversely, if you struggle with going overboard and trying to bring too many colors together, perhaps this little fashion hack will help you streamline your outfit creation processes as well.
All that to say, I thought I’d pull up some of my outfits that do and don’t follow the “3-color rule” and see what we think.
Experimenting With The 3-Color Rule
By way of disclaimer, this is supposed to be fun and light-hearted. This is fashion, not brain surgery. I’m not suggesting that this is an actual Fashion Rule that we should never break; I just want to see it if it’s a guideline that might be worth paying attention to, especially when struggling with an outfit.
Let’s start with Friday’s look, since it seemed to be a hit.
I combined black, grey, denim, and white for this look. That adds up to four “colors” but since black and while don’t really count, does that mean this outfit has only has two colors? LOL! I’m already confused. What say you?
This is another outfit I like a lot. I combined camel, white, and denim, but the white isn’t supposed to count… I will admit, I don’t get that. To me, the white jeans are a big part of the outfit and what makes the color combo pop.
But I guess white, being a non-color, gives the eye a place to rest… so it doesn’t contribute to making the look too busy, which is the point of this 3-color rule?
And then I guess the tote and shoes bring in some shades of brown, so that essentially makes three colors (blue, camel, and brown)?
Okay, before anyone says it, yes, I’m overthinking things a bit here. But that’s kind of the point. Let’s keep moving… I think it will make more sense as we go on.
Here’s a look with olive, black, and grey… do we cancel out the white or the black or both? Does the brown handle in the bag throw it off? LOL! I have to say, more of an all-over black shoe might look better with this.
Okay, let’s find some outfits with more color. Here’s a favorite from this past fall…
Rust scarf, ivory sweater, and grey jeans, and the black jacket and boots don’t count. I guess that’s why I love this look!
I also love this one with the rust cardigan, ivory tank, and blue jeans. The black shoes and bag support the look without competing with it, I think.
It’s almost impossible to find an outfit in my archives with more than three colors (as long as we aren’t counting black and white) or even without black or white. Almost every one of my outfits seems to have an element of black or white in there somewhere.
Clearly I didn’t need this rule… it would seem as though I need to strive to incorporate more colors in to my outfits.
AHA! I finally found one with three colors — none of which are black or white or even grey. I do like how the brown contrasts with the green and blue. If I’d stuck with navy shoes (two colors, rather than three), it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
And here’s another. The shades of rust, olive, and oatmeal are really nice together for fall… and not an element of black or white in sight!
Here are a few more looks I really like… This one is pretty much monochromatic, and it incorporates black, of course, so essentially there are only two colors here. But the taupe jacket and boots, grey jeans, and black tank, belt, and bag add up to three shades of neutrals, which I think is why it’s so pleasing to the eye.
I also like this one a lot, but I can’t decide if it’s two or three colors. I also can’t think of any other color I would want to add to this. I think it’s nice as-is.
I think this one follows the rule, and it’s one I’ve always liked a lot. The grey tee, olive jacket, and oatmeal/beige booties add up to three, and the white jeans don’t count, but they do set off the look nicely. Blue jeans would add a fourth color, and might be too busy.
And perhaps one of my all-time favorites — pink, denim, and grey is always a winning combo, in my book.
Funny that so many of my favorite outfits are so muted, and contain so many neutrals. I feel like to really illustrate this 3-color rule, I need some outfits with more, well, colors!
This one is a little lighter and brighter than some… I assume the two shades of grey (the sweater and shoes are light grey, and the jeans are dark grey) count as two colors? And then the pink coat is the third… and the scarf has all three.
Here’s a look with a graphic tee. The black in the sweater and boots don’t count, so we have grey, red, and denim. That works!
How about a print? Here’s a summer look… the blouse has navy, medium blue, and ivory. The ivory shorts and tan sandals allow the printed blouse to be the focal point.
Sorry… these pieces are sold out, so no links. I struggled to find an outfit with a print!
And this outfit combines a few different shades of blue (denim and navy shoes) as well as grey and a taupe bag. Not sure if this is 3 or 4 colors, but I like it. The necklace also adds a nice point of interest.
Also, FYI, this Everlane cotton sweater has been restocked and it’s also on sale! It’s one of my favorite spring knits, and the shorter style works well with higher rise jeans and cropped styles, as shown here. I take the small, for reference.
Oh, and here’s a good one. The t-shirt is black and white, so it doesn’t count. Then the blue denim jacket, olive green pants, and taupe booties add up to three.
I struggled to find any outfit in my archives with more than three colors… until I came across this one. I always loved this look, but count ’em up!
The white tee doesn’t count, but we have a blue denim jacket, olive pants, and then what do we do with those shoes and that bag? Is this outfit finally more than 3 colors???
Wait. I carried this bag with these shoes in the white jeans/camel sweater/denim jacket outfit up at the top of this post, and I said how much I liked it. I wonder if the colors look different in my mirror…
Okay, so maybe here’s one, although I always liked this look. I guess the navy stripes and the jeans are both one color — blue. Plus the green jacket and brown bag, and the shoes are a mix of browns with some black in there as well.
Do the shoes and bag count as one color? Hmmm….
Now this outfit also incorporates a print, and I would say this definitely follows the 3-color rule.
I’m going to say this coat has navy, brown, and red, and those are the three colors in this outfit. (I’m counting the bag, shoes, and sweater as one color — brown. Ya think?)
Oh, well. I suppose we should wrap this up. I could go on and on…
What do you think? Is this 3-color rule something you find helpful? Will you be keeping it in mind for future outfits? Do you usually try to combine too many colors in an outfit, or not enough?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts!
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photos: Alison Cornell