Color theory is a foundational principle in fashion design that explores how colors interact with each other to create visually appealing combinations. It helps designers understand the relationships between primary, secondary, tertiary, and other color schemes.

The color wheel is a visual representation used in color theory to showcase the organization of colors. It illustrates the relationships between different hues, facilitating designers in creating harmonious and creative color palettes for their fashion collections.

In essence, color theory empowers designers with a comprehensive understanding of how colors interact with one another. It serves as a visual representation, elucidating the relationships between primary, secondary, tertiary, and all other color schemes.

Color Theory in Fashion Design
Color Theory in Fashion Design

What is Colour Wheel?

The colour wheel is an invention attributed to Sir Isaac Newton (1706) and remains a fundamental tool for artists. It is based on the Red/Yellow/Blue model with secondary colours of orange, green, and purple. This wheel, also known as a colour circle, visually represents colours arranged according to their chromatic relationships. Primary hues are evenly spaced from one another, forming the starting point of the colour wheel, and then bridges are created between the primaries using secondary and tertiary colours.

In the 19th century, the French artist Michel Chevreul further developed the colour wheel by introducing secondary and tertiary colours. This innovation profoundly influenced many artists of that time. Chevreul's colour wheel laid the groundwork for contemporary colour theory and became the foundation of colour education. One significant advantage was that colours could now be optically mixed in the eye, rather than being pre-mixed on a palette.

Moreover, the colour wheel can be divided into visually active or passive ranges. Active colours tend to appear more prominent when placed beside passive hues, while passive colours seem to recede when positioned alongside active ones. This understanding of colour interactions enhances artists' ability to create captivating and harmonious colour combinations in their work.

Primary Colours in Fashion Design


Primary colours are the fundamental building blocks of color, representing colors at their most essential state. They cannot be created by combining other hues. The three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. They serve as the cornerstone of the color wheel, and in theory, all other colors can be derived from them through mixing. Understanding the positions of these primary colours on the color wheel and the relationships they form is crucial for working effectively with colors in various artistic and design endeavours.


Red, as one of the three primary colors, exudes a sense of drama, emotion, and vitality. Its effects are remarkably versatile, infusing dresses with excitement, warmth, and elegance. The use of red suggests a bold and confident attitude. When tinted, it gains distinctiveness, and when deepened, it becomes even richer and more masculine. Combining red with yellow creates a cheerful family of hues, while blending it with blue results in the dreamy and mysterious violets. The complementary color to red is green.

Cultures around the world view red in diverse ways. For instance, the Chinese have always cherished red, using it traditionally for bridal gowns as a symbol of longevity. In India, red is considered the color of fortune and is favored as a wedding hue. The Romans employed red to symbolize power, a tradition that carried over into the rituals of the Catholic Church. Many nations have also chosen red for their flags.

In nature, red is associated with the potent life-sustaining fluid, blood, and with certain types of soil and rocks that possess its distinctive hue. This powerful and dynamic color holds deep significance across various cultures and aspects of the natural world.


Yellow is a potent color, possessing both a high light value and incredible intensity in its purest form. Its brilliance often brings to mind the radiant energy of the sun, evoking a sense of vitality and excitement. Emotionally, yellow exudes optimism and brightness, uplifting the spirit with its cheerful demeanour. When combined with red, it forms the warm family of oranges, and when blended with blue, it gives rise to cooler greens. Its complementary color on the color wheel is violet.

The inclusion of gold within the yellow family contributes to the perception of richness and opulence associated with this striking hue. Across Eastern cultures, yellow has long been revered. The Brahmans considered it sacred, and in India, brides adorned themselves with yellow attire, much like in ancient Rome. Additionally, the Chinese associated this color with notions of royalty and divinity, further enhancing its esteemed status in various traditions.


Blue is often regarded as the color most universally associated with beauty, retaining its popularity across cultures and throughout history. This timeless hue effortlessly bridges the gap between tradition and the present, embodying enduring values. As one of the three primary colors, blue boasts remarkable versatility in its expressive qualities. When mixed with yellow, it forms analogous families of greens, while its combination with red results in captivating violets. The complementary color to blue is orange.

The connection of blue with the sky and the sea is profound and evocative. It has the unique ability to convey the airy essence of clouds and the sturdy solidity of slate. Blue can effortlessly depict the serenity of a clear sky and the electrifying energy of life. It has the power to evoke emotions ranging from clarity to mystery, from joyfulness to sadness, from the brightness of broad daylight to the depth of a serene night. Psychologically, blue is strongly associated with feelings of tranquillity and contentment, calming the mind and soothing the soul.

Primary and Secondary Colours
Primary and Secondary Colours

Secondary Colour in Fashion Design


Secondary colors are hues that are created by mixing two primary colors together. The secondary group of colors consists of orange, violet, and green. These colors are formed by combining equal parts of two primary colors: red and yellow combine to make orange, blue and yellow blend to form green, and red and blue mix to create violet.


Green possesses a unique duality; when leaning towards yellow, it takes on a warm and inviting character, while a greater presence of blue renders it cool and tranquil. Remarkably, green effortlessly complements every other color, making it a natural and harmonious addition to any palette. Our eyes are drawn to the captivating beauty of this versatile hue, associating it with soothing shades, a sense of tranquility, and the freshness of youth. Bright yellow-greens evoke the wondrous miracle of nature during springtime, while deep greens suggest an air of elegance and a feeling of security.


Violet is a color that exudes emotional contrasts. Its lighter tints portray a delicate, fragile, and exquisitely feminine aura. On the other hand, deeper shades of purple symbolize power and royalty, evoking a sense of regal elegance.


Orange showcases remarkable versatility, capable of emanating tremendous energy in its purest state. As an earth tone, it exudes a comforting warmth, evoking a sense of coziness. When rendered as a pale tint, it becomes the most flattering color for human skin tones, accentuating and enhancing natural beauty.

Tertiary Colours

Tertiary colors are achieved by blending primary and secondary hues. When the three primary colors combine with the three secondary colors, a third set of colors known as tertiary colors is formed. These tertiary colors result from a simple mixture of one primary color with one secondary color.

For instance,

  • Red can be mixed with orange to create a red-orange
  • Red can be mixed with violet to form red-violet
  • Yellow can be combined with green to produce yellow-green
  • Yellow can be blended with orange to make yellowish-orange
  • Blue can be mixed with violet to yield bluish-violet
  • Blue can be combined with green to create blue-green.

These tertiary colors offer a wide range of nuanced shades and add depth to the color palette, allowing for even more creative possibilities in various artistic and design applications.

Tertiary Colour Scheme
Tertiary Colour Scheme

Color Scheme in Fashion Designing

Color schemes in fashion designing refer to carefully curated combinations of colors used to create a harmonious and visually appealing overall look in garments, accessories, and fashion collections. Designers strategically select and arrange colors to convey specific moods, emotions, and themes, enhancing the aesthetic appeal and impact of their creations.

There are various types of color schemes commonly employed in fashion design

Complementary Color Scheme in Fashion Design

Complementary colors in fashion are colors positioned opposite each other on the color wheel. These pairs of opposite colors create a fascinating effect on the human eye. If you gaze intensely at a bright color for a few minutes and then shift your gaze to a white wall, you will experience an after-image. This after-image will fade after a few seconds, during which time your eye will perceive the same shape, but in its complementary color.

This phenomenon occurs because the receptors in the eye, which were initially exposed to the first color, become fatigued, while the receptors responsible for perceiving the complementary color remain refreshed and respond immediately. As a result, complementary colors intensify each other when placed side by side, creating a vibrant and dynamic visual impact. In fashion design, utilizing complementary colors strategically can enhance the overall appeal and make certain elements of an outfit stand out more prominently.

Complementary and Analogous Colour Scheme
Complementary and Analogous Colour ScHeme

Analogous Colour Scheme in fashion Design

In fashion design, it is crucial to use colors that harmonize well together, creating a sense of cohesion and balance. Achieving color harmony involves understanding which colors complement each other and how to blend them effectively. However, there are instances where exceptions may be necessary for specific design purposes.

Analogous colors in fashion refer to colors that are situated close to each other on the color wheel. When colors are adjacent on the color wheel and share a primary color in common, they create what is known as "analogous harmony." This harmony arises from the seamless transition between these related colors, producing a pleasing and unified effect.

For added visual interest, a contrasting color can be introduced within a group of analogous colors, injecting vibrancy and energy into the overall ensemble. Examples of analogous color groups include blues and greens, reds and violets, and yellows and oranges. By skillfully incorporating analogous color schemes in fashion design, designers can create outfits that exude a sense of coherence, sophistication, and artistic flair.


We look at a colour wheel to understand the relationships between colours. Analogous colours are positioned in such a way as to mimic the process that occurs when blending hues. The colours that are positioned opposite one another are complementary colours. To call those hues in direct opposition to each other “complements of each other” is appropriate. Complementary colours bring out the best in each other. When fully saturated complements are brought together, interesting effects are noticeable. This may be a desirable illusion, or a problem if creating visuals that are to be read. 

Every colour on the colour wheel has an opposite, or complementary, colour. The opposite colour pairs are red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and violet, but every other colour on the wheel also has an opposite. Take any tertiary colour, and its complementary can be found facing it on the other side of the wheel. By laying a colour next to its opposite, the effect is to make both appear more vibrant than they would be if perceived separately. They create a tension through strong contrast as well as an attraction. Combined in less intense hues, complements form subtle colour balances that are enormously pleasing to the eye. However, when both colours are used in equal amounts, the effect can be counter-productive. The two colours compete and may even be uncomfortable to look at.

We learn from the relationships displayed by a colour wheel that every colour has an opposite. Every colour has both a colour wheel opposite as well as a perceptual opposite. Without a colour wheel, it is still possible to find the opposite of a colour and this is due to a phenomenon of our eyes. Due to the physiological differences between individuals, everyone’s perceptions do vary.


It is always important to use colours that go well together, or are in ‘harmony’. To achieve Colour harmony, it is important to know which colours go together and how to mix them. It is also important to know when an exception is required. Analogous Colours: Those colours located close together on a colour wheel. colours, which are adjacent on the colour wheel and have a primary colour in common, produce what is referred to as’ analogous harmony’. Sometimes a contrasting colour can be used in a group of Analogous colours to brighten up the effect. Examples of analogous groups are blues and greens, reds and violets, yellows and oranges.


Pastels are simply lighter tints of any hue, white added to red yields pink and light pink is a pastel. When colours become so light that they almost seem to be white, or seem to suggest a mere hint of colour, they are pastel.

Colour relationships may be displayed as a colour wheel or a colour triangle.

The Colour Triangle consists of colours we would often use in art class— those colours we learn about as children. The primary hues are red, blue and yellow. Colours which remind us of the sun, fire and desert stands, are warm colours – the oranges, reds and yellows on one side of the colour wheel. Warm colours are being, flamboyant and aggressive. More than any other colours, they catch the eye and excite our emotions. Warm colours can make a colour scheme look cheerful and energizing. 

On the other side of the wheel are the cool colours – the blues and greens that are associated with cool subjects such as ice, water, snow and wintry skies. cool colours have exactly the opposite effect as warm colours. cool colours make a nice change; they give a clean and inviting look.

The world around us is made up of both warm and cool colours, and even those subjects which are very cool or very warm contain contrasting colour temperatures within the main colours. Colour temperatures vary within the same named colour group. For example, although red is generally thought as warm, some reds are much warmer than others.

Cool blues, violets and greens are brought to life whenever they are used alongside their complementary – warm oranges, yellows and reds. Similarly, the warm colours appear brighter and more effective when seen against their cool counterparts.

Just as choice of colour is largely subjective and varies from person to person, so the response to a particular colour varies according to the individual. For example, most blues and greens are ‘quiet’ colours and evoke a feeling of tranquility, white oranges and reds are more imposing, seeming to demand attention.

Basics of Colour

Colour is the perceptual characteristic of light described by a colour name. Specifically, colour is light, and light is composed of many colours—those we see are the colours of the visual spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Objects absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others back to the viewer. We perceive these wavelengths as colour.

A colour is described in three ways: by its name, how pure or de-saturated it is, and its value or lightness. Although pink, crimson and brick are all variations of the colour red, each hue is distinct and differentiated by its chroma, intensity and value.

Chroma, intensity, and value are inter-related terms and have to do with the description of a colour.

Chroma: How pure a hue is in relation to grey.

Intensity: The brightness or dullness of a hue. One may lower the intensity by adding white or black.

Value: A measure of the amount of light reflected from a hue. Those hues with a high content of white have a higher luminance or value. 

Shade and tint are terms that refer to a variation of a hue.

Shade: A hue produced by the addition of black.

Tint: A hue produced by the addition of white.

Learning about colours is like wanting to enjoy a musical instrument, or a game of football. The real enjoyment comes after one has begun to learn some basic rules and skills. If one doesn’t know how to co-ordinate colours, one generally lands up mixing colours which may not give a desired effect. However, once the basic principles are learnt, colour co-ordination becomes simple and automatic.


We generally take our inspiration of colours from nature. We delight in the colours of the world around us: the evening sunset, a rainbow, a spring meadow in bloom. Colour acts as a seventh sense. It communicates loudness, softness, moods, fashion trends, energy etc. Colour gives vitality. It has always been a vehicle of expression in our culture. By becoming more sensitive to the colours around us, we can have the courage to bring the vitality of colour back into our lives.

Generally, in fashion, we follow trends according to forecasts, but colours are also chosen according to the changes in season and mood.

An assortment of colours is associated with various seasons. For example, before winters, in autumn, we prefer warmer tones of brown, yellow, red, orange, maroon, violet, amber etc.

n winters, surroundings become cold and dull, and that is the time we experiment with dark bright colours. So colours like indigo, grey, burgundy, Indian red, purple, violet, turquoise green, cobalt, emerald green etc. are preferred.

With the arrival of spring, bright colours are displayed by nature. Brighter shades of yellow, orange, green, lemon, crimson red, rose, blue, magenta etc. are generally found in clothes.

With summer and the heat arriving, colours tend to get lighter, with people preferring whites, pastels and tones of the spring season.

However, these colours are not applicable as a rule in all conditions. Preferences change according to geographical locations, trends, moods and cultural backgrounds.


In order to be able to choose right colour for the design it is very important to understand colours.

1. COLOURS: Before selecting which colours to use, one should be familiar with the various colours as discussed previously.

2. PURPOSE: A colour scheme should always reflect the purpose of design. The following points should be kept in mind before choosing colours for the design:

  1. Effect
  2. Most suitable colour
  3. Alternative colours
  4. Appropriate colours and eye-catching 

3. USE COMPATIBLE COLOURS: The colours, which are used, should be compatible with each other. One can even use contrasting or complementary colours as long as there isn’t too much contrast.

4. LIMIT THE NUMBER OF COLOURS: Another way to increase colour harmony is to limit the number of colours. Two or three colours generally enough, but if more colours are being used, they must be selected with great care.


  • Accent colours are those with a small relative area, but offer a contrast because of a variation in hue, intensity, or saturation (the figure)
  • Placing small areas of light colour on a dark background, or a small area of dark on a light background will create an accent.
  • If large areas of a light hue are used, the whole area will appear light; conversely, if large areas of dark values are used, the whole area appears dark.
  • Alternating colour by intensity rather than proportion will also change the perceived visual mix of colour.


When in doubt, use achromatic colours: black, grey or white. Black, grey of white have a simplicity and elegance that attract our attention just as much as the bold colours. In addition, you won’t have to worry about a clashing Colour scheme, since everything goes with these colours.


Colour schemes that use uncommon colours can sometimes look jarring and ugly. This rule does not apply for the latest and trendy clothes, but for conventional dresses, use conventional colours.


Last, but not he least, be original. Originality might mean using a colour combination that no one has ever used before. Or it might be a combination that is just subtly different from what we might expect.

What is Colour Harmony?

Watch the below video to understand colour harmony in fashion design. We have already learnt different types of colour pallets and color schemes. Now let us learn how to apply them on real life. This is useful not only for apparel designers but also for every shoppers who buy clothes. Buying or making clothes according to the color schemes gives us the best look. We will understand how the colour schemes are harmonious and soothing to human eye. Also how to choose clothes according to these colour schemes.

Understanding How Color Impacts Fashion Design

Effects of Colour

Colour has a profound effect on our mood. A colour can change a mood from sad to happy, from confusion to intelligence, from fear to confidence. It can actually be used to “level out” emotions or to create different moods. Particular colours have different effects on each individual. The hope is that we will learn to “tune in” to our individual colour response and begin to create colour palettes, which will indeed nurture and inspire us.

Colour Combinations

Colour combinations may pass unnoticed when pleasing, yet offend dramatically when compositions seem to clash. To determine whether or not we are successful, we need to critically assess the visual balance and harmony of the final composition—balance and harmony are achieved by the visual contrast that exists between colour combinations. Planning a successful colour combination begins with the investigation, and understanding, of colour relationships.

The only way to discover what effects can be achieved by combining two or more colours is to work through all the available colours. With experience, this becomes instinctive and it becomes simpler to choose specific colours for specific results.

As all good chefs know, unlimited quantities of the very best ingredients do not amount to good cookery. A tasty dish is a delicate balance of a few select ingredients combine in the correct quantities, and the most successful recipes are often the combined in the correct quantities, and the most successful recipes are often the simplest. Exactly the same is true in combining colours while designing. To combine good colours is the ambition of many designers, but combining a vast number of colours in a dress does not ensure an eye-pleasing dress. Ironically, too many bright colours can be counter-productive, because they tend to cancel each other out when used indiscriminately. Like the chef, a designer chooses the appropriate ingredients, a few colours, carefully selected to combine successfully in the finished garment.

Using a colour wheel and a template, the relationships between colours are easy to identify.

  • Monochromatic Relationship: Colours that are shade or tint variations of the same hue.
  • Complementary Relationship: Those colours across from each other on a colour wheel.
  • Split-Complementary Relationship: One hue plus two others equally spaced from its complement.
  • Double-Complementary Relationship: Two complementary colour sets; the distance between selected complementary pairs will effect the overall contrast of the final composition.
  • Analogous Relationship: Those colors located adjacent to each other on a colour wheel.
  • Triad Relationship: Three hues equally positioned on a color wheel.

Colour & Contrast

Every visual presentation involves figure-ground relationships. This relationship between a subject (or figure) and its surrounding field (background) will show a level of contrast; the more an object contrasts with its surrounds, the more visible it becomes.

Proportion & Intensity

When colours are juxtaposed, our eyes perceive a visual mix. This mix will differ depending on the proportions of allocated areas.

  • The colour with the largest proportional area is the dominant colour (the ground).
  • Smaller areas are subdominant colours.


Every colour has a tone, and the simplest way to understand this is to imagine a black and white photograph. In the black register black, the whites as white. All other colours show up in varying degrees of grey, ranging form very dark to very pale.

An awareness of tone is crucial to a designer. The overall tones in a dress should relate accurately to each other. The lightness or darkness of each colour should be correct in relation to the neighbouring colours used. If these are not correct, the dress will lack a sense of space and three-dimensional form.

All Topics on Elements of Design in Fashion

To delve into all the subjects about elements of design in fashion, simply navigate through the list of blog posts below. Click on the headings to access the articles you're interested in reading.

Impact of Color Psychology on Fashion Design: Exploring 12 Transformative Role of Color

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To explore all topics on principles of design in fashion, browse the list of blog posts below and click on the relevant heading to access the articles.

The Art of Contrast in Fashion: Unveiling the Power of Juxtaposition

How to Contrast Colors for Clothing | 8 Ways to Create Colour Contrast in Fashion

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