Colour palette theory
If you’re someone who regularly opens a wardrobe full of clothes and thinks “I have nothing to wear” you might be making a common shopping mistake: buying pieces not outfits.
There are so many gorgeous clothes out there it’s easy to fall into this trap – I know because I’ve done it for most of my life. You see something cute that you love and you buy it and then never end up wearing it because something about it just isn’t working for you.
So you try and follow the conventional style advice and shop for a “capsule wardrobe” except then everything in it seems boring and you feel like you’re defaulting to basics and not really getting to express your personality.
I yo yoed between these two extremes for years before I invented my colour palette theory. Now the theory is helping me shape a wardrobe that’s less full of random clothes, and instead full of pieces I treasure and enjoy wearing.
So what is my colour palette theory?
It’s very simple: at least 50-70% of your wardrobe (including bags, coats and shoes) should be made up of a colour palette which consists of 4 colours, plus one oppositional accent colour.
That means that everything will go together – like a capsule wardrobe – but unlike a capsule wardrobe there’s no pressure to stick to boring basics.
For me this means I can feel confident making investment purchases in what feel like outré colours when they’re in my palette because I can be confident I’ll get the wear out of them.
If you live in a country with extreme seasonal changes, you may want to have one colour palette for winter and one for summer, as it’s unlikely you’ll be mixing the different seasonal pieces together anyway.
So how do I select my colour palette?
I recommend choosing one dark colour, one light colour, and two other colours. For your oppositional accent colour, you want one that works with all the others individually (it doesn’t have to work with all of them together). I would normally say your oppositional colour should be your favourite colour to wear, as you’ll be adding it as an accent to lots of your outfits.
I chose black for my dark colour, white for my light colour, and lilac and green for my other colours. My accent colour is my favourite – pink!
If you’re a big denim wearer I also recommend picking out a denim wash that you think works with your colour palette to make sure your denim pieces also work with your palette. I went for an old school light wash blue denim.
I chose these colours because I enjoy them, I like how they look together, and I feel joy when I wear them. You don’t need to overthink it!
If you regularly wear a lot of metallics you could also pick out a metallic that works with these colours – I chose silver but I like to mix my jewellery metals so I regularly wear gold jewellery too.
What if I can’t work out what my colour palette is?
If you’re struggling to decide on a colour palette, start snapping a quick photo of yourself every day to see the outfits you’re wearing. Don’t worry about lighting and background – these photos are just for you. Make two folders in your phone – outfits you love and outfits that you aren’t sure about. After a couple of weeks, look through both folders and see if there are any colour themes that you can pick out about the outfits.
If you’re someone who dresses in a lot of different colours, it may take a couple of passes to build your palette, and I’d suggest starting by narrowing it down a bit and maybe finding your never colours first and avoiding those before you find your palette.
What colour palette theory ISN’T
Here I want to mention what my colour palette theory isn’t: and that’s about finding “flattering” colours for you.
There are a lot of services out there promising to find “your” colours. If you want to do this then go ahead, all power to you. But don’t feel like you need to! If a colour makes you feel good then it is your colour, regardless of what any so called experts might say. A lot of these colour theory services are hugely bound up in traditional ideas about what is flattering, age appropriate, and professional etc. I don’t believe in any of these concepts so I personally reject that as a way of choosing your colours.
Add some “never” colour
Once you’ve chosen your colour palette, you can also select some “never” colours. This is pretty self explanatory – these are colours you never wear, because they clash with your core palette and don’t speak to you.
Mine are: red, orange, brown, navy, beige, and especially grey!
I don’t know if it’s having worn a grey school uniform or just hating the influencer grey/beige trend but wearing grey just makes me want to cry. So I don’t wear it!
Make some notes!
Make a little table in the notes app on your phone of your colour palette and your never colours to remind you of them when you’re shopping for new pieces.
Don’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe!
Colour palette theory is intended to help you build a sustainable wardrobe filled with pieces you keep for a long time and wear a lot. So going out and buying a whole new wardrobe isn’t part of this!
Instead, use it when you find a gap in your wardrobe that you need to fill to help you choose something that will work for a long time. And conversely, use it when you see something new and shiny you want to decide if it works for you and you’ll wear it for the long term.
You can also use the colour palette theory to thin out your existing wardrobe, donating or selling pieces in your never colours. You can keep the money in your vinted account ready for when something exciting in your colour palette comes along.
Rules are made to be broken!
Obviously, anything too rigid makes your wardrobe feel constrained. So you’re allowed to break the rules! I’m aiming for around 70% of my wardrobe to fit my colour palette over time, and the other 30% is totally “off palette”.
That includes a classic tan trench coat which works with everything, a tie dye tshirt I can’t stop wearing on casual days, and a completely over the top delightful leopard print dress I just got.
The trick is to be conscious that you’re buying “off palette” pieces when you choose to buy these, and to make sure they’re no more than 30% of your new buys so that you don’t end up back where you started with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t go together.
Enjoy your new wardrobe!
Hopefully this gives you the tools to choose your colour palette and begin selling/donating your never colour pieces.
I started doing this in January 2023 and now in October 2023 I’m opening up my wardrobe for winter and feeling the joy that everything is going together! It’s making me feel way more able to get dressed and feel like I’m making outfits and looks and not just wearing clothes.
It’s also really making me enjoy autumn dressing! I always like summer dressing because the outfits are so easy – no matching required, but now I have my colour palette I’m enjoying layering a lot more!
How do I incorporate this into The Daydreamer?
I see all the pieces I sell at The Daydreamer London as being investment purchases that will form part of your wardrobe for years to come. I want you to wear them loads! It’s part of the reason I offer the same shapes in different fabrics over multiple seasons; then if you find something you love and want to run with it, you can!
I don’t stick as closely to my colour palette when I’m picking fabrics for my brand, because I want to be able to work for lots of people’s colour palettes, but I am working to move over time to sticking more closely to a limited range of colours so that you can mix and match my pieces and get maximum wear out of them!
Some combinations I designed and love are:
The songbird set (this is ideal to mix and match)
The Sausalito dress is specifically designed for layering! It makes it a great wardrobe building block and with the multi coloured floral embroidery it goes with lots of colour palettes!