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Friday, May 30, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 7: Split and Dual Complements

Having tackled complementary colors in our last article, let’s move on to the related topics of split and dual complements. We’ll see that the tools required to utilize these objects are very similar to those we developed for complementary colors. Later on, we’ll see that there is also a relationship to analogous colors.

Recall that a set of split-complementary colors consists of three hues; a base color and a pair of colors symmetrically placed about the complement of the base. A set of dual-complementary colors consists of four hues; two pairs of complimentary colors. We also have a special case of split-complementary colors, called triadic colors, in which the colors are equally spaced so that any of the three colors could serve as the base.

Note that by adding additional distinct hues, we are forced to increase the total number of contrasts in our outfits. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing, but one should certainly be cognizant of it. It would be difficult both to create a very simple dual-complementary outfit, or to successfully add additional layers of complexity to a split-complementary outfit.

In working with dual-complementary colors, the name of the game is contrast-minimization (in the sense of number of contrasts). If have the four colors going everywhere, interacting with each other all over the place, the visual system will be overwhelmed with contrasts.

One method for doing this is to manage proportions, another is to introduce significant white or black space. If we allot one color a large portion of the visual field, while giving the other three colors significantly smaller portions, we can decrease the frequency and intensity of the contrasts. Consider the dual-complementary colors blue, red, green and orange. These are seemingly difficult to piece together in a subdued fashion, as we saw above. Begin by segregating all of the blue to the pants, say a pair of navy slacks. To minimize the presence of the other colors, choose a white dress shirt with a red, orange, and green vertical stripe (I admit, such a shirt may be difficult to find, as forays into four-color outfits do not occur so often as to be very profitable). This minimizes the overall intensity of the contrast, though it is still perfectly visible. The added subtlety is another good way to generate interest in the clothing (always a reasonable fashion goal).

More outgoing combinations of dual-complementary colors (and schemes with even more colors) can be achieved, but there are so many variables involved that I can’t really give a framework to them. My best suggestion is to try things out and see what you like. I’ll be posting many specific examples in the future, from which you should be able to gain some intuition.

Let’s move on to the less complex system of split-complementary colors. Given that we’re only working with three colors, it’s much easier to combine them, even in a single region of the body. For instance, we could pair a blue suit jacket with a yellow-orange shirt and red-orange tie (the pants would of course match the suit jacket). Especially when the pair involved revolves closely around the complement of the base color, we can follow similar patterns to those of complementary colors. One important caveat here is to ensure that the base color has the majority of the visual field. If one of the near-complements dominates the field, it will still contrast nicely with the base, but its interaction with the other near complement may seem like a mistake. It will be difficult to perceive the color difference, and will likely appear as if one intending to simply use the dominant color.

Now, when dealing with split-complements with less overall contrast (such as triadic colors), we have a bit more freedom. Given the decreased overall contrast, and the inherent symmetry, we attain a nice balance of contrast. I find that if we corral the saturations and values sufficiently, nearly any combination of triadic or near triadic colors will work. Again, our work is made easier if we relegate one of the colors to accent level, giving it only a small portion of the visual field.

One particularly nice application is to apply triadic or similar split-compliments to a pastel color scheme. The high value and relatively mild saturation, again paired with the color symmetry, gives a nice amount of coherence, while maintaining a subtle contrast. Start with a pair of jeans with a light-blue wash. Then, the triadic split-complements are yellow and red. Now, red generally has a fairly strong intensity, so we’ll subdue it by significantly increasing the value while decreasing its proportion by choosing a soft pink undershirt. The pop of the outfit comes from a yellow polo, with all buttons undone to ensure that the pink shirt is not lost in the relative strength of the yellow.

Go forth, and experiment with multi-color outfits yourselves! The best way to really understand these concepts is to see them in action. Try on a few outfits you know will look terrible, by then reason out why they look terrible. The field knowledge you gain is invaluable in building a color intuition, which becomes more and more important as we increase the complexity of outfits. Good luck!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 6: Complementary Colors and Contrast

As we’ve discussed earlier, the greatest hue contrast we can create is with complimentary colors. Thus, applying complimentary colors to an outfit is going to be an efficient way to generate contrast, providing some visual punch and complexity. In this post, I’m going to go over some basic rules for using complementary colors, as well as utilize complementary colors to achieve another fashion goal.

Many combinations of complementary colors simply create too much contrast, putting strain on the visual system. This, of course, leads to a poor aesthetic interpretation, which leads the viewer to not like your style. If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few examples.

Worse still, complementary colors can often create Itten’s simultaneous contrast, an even more unpleasant visual experience. Therefore, we must find ways to appropriately bring complementary colors together, highlighting the good aspects of the contrast (interesting combination of hues, sharp edges, grabs attention), while mediating the bad aspects (simultaneous contrast, excessive vibrance, visual strain).

Let’s revisit some of the examples of bad use of complimentary colors from above. One similarity between them is consistently intensity, coming from moderate to high value and very high saturation. We see that even having one such color is generally unpleasant.

How about some examples in which the colors have decreased saturation, especially those which have medium value levels?

This is certainly an improvement, but let’s take it a little bit further. Our last step will be to introduce a second high contrast, this time in value. In general, we’ll make the color with the higher saturation have the lower (darker) value, in accordance with the above results. As we see, this yields some nice results:

We thus have a useable set of rules for applying complimentary colors:

  1. First, ensure that at least one color does not have excessive intensity (characterized by medium to high value and very high saturation), and if possible, make sure both colors have a reasonable intensity.
  2. Decrease saturation as value increases. In general, the darker color should have significantly more saturation than the lighter.
  3. Introduce a strong secondary contrast (typically with value) to mediate the strong hue contrast.

Why don’t we look at an application? This time our goal will be to generate interest in our inner layers of clothing. We often lose much of the value of certain pieces of clothing when worn underneath other layers. As I mentioned in Practical Post 1 – Silver Sharpie, graphic tee shirts are wasted when they’re design is hidden beneath a polo shirt or a sweater; things we wear rather often! It then behooves us to generate interest in these inner layers, both to extract additional value from them and just to generate interest in what we are wearing in general.

A simple way to do this is with a polo shirt and undershirt of complementary colors. In both cases I’m wearing black pants, though in each case the outfit would work with brown or blue pants. I decided on black since we haven’t covered analogous or triadic colors in detail yet. We have two examples, a yellow polo with purple undershirt and a green polo with red undershirt.

Note how attention is brought to the neckline, and therefore the undershirt, especially in the green/red case. Can you figure out why the effect is diminished in the yellow/purple example? It relates back to the ideas of proportion and intensity discussed in Chapter 4; the yellow is both more intense and occupies a (much) larger portion of the visual field, making it difficult for the purple to attract attention. This example shows that for this particular application, it would probably be better to use a purple polo and a yellow undershirt. Although it is not always necessary (or optimal), a fourth “guideline” (not quite a rule) is the following:

  1. When there is a large contrast in value and proportion, make the larger proportioned color the one with lower value.

We can apply this rule to achieve the same goal in a dressier setting. Here we pair a white and green striped dress shirt with a maroon sweater, creating a very nice contrast. The difference in hues is mediated by the difference in values, and the large proportion of the dark value allows the accent color to draw attention to the neckline and face. The stripes add to the interest in the inner layers as well!

Accents and manipulations like these are beginning to fill our sartorial tackle-box. We can already see more complicated and interesting outfits emerging! Our quest continues next time when we consider split and dual complements. Until then, embrace your natural contrast. (If you don’t like that, you’re welcome to insert your own sendoff.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 5: Monochromatic Combinations and Coherence

Alrighty, let’s take on some actual fashion goals. Today we’ll look at how monochromatic color combinations can be utilized to achieve a common fashion goal:


We say that an outfit if coherent if all of its pieces follow some theme, combining to form a singular visual image. Basing an outfit around a single hue seems a pretty reasonable way to accomplish this. But why should we desire a coherent look? Well, it stems from the most nebulous fashion advice each of us has ever been given: things should match. Of course, this seems like we’re just passing off the question; why should things match? This is the real heart of the goal of coherence.

Coherence tends to imply that thought was placed into the construction of the outfit. It’s a simple application of the concept of entropy; things with order are much less likely to occur by chance. This means that what people see your outfit, they will tend to infer (subconsciously in all likelihood) that you spent some time “designing” the outfit. A reasonable conclusion (though not necessarily true) is that you care about your appearance, and this reflects well upon you. Further, in general it is easier to create an attractive outfit with like colors than with high contrast colors. The rewards are not as high (in that most people expect your clothes to match), but nor are the risks. Especially for beginners, this is a great fashion goal to begin with, as it will ensure at the very least a presentable style and build confidence in mixing colors and articles of clothing.

Now, we’re only looking at monochromatic combinations, which makes our job a bit easier, but certainly not every such combination will be effective. First, let’s recall what a monochromatic combination can consist of. Monochromatic colors are those with a very close relationship, with no restrictions on value or saturation. This means we have a base color, from light to dark, gray to vibrant, including white, black and most grays (as in general, it’s difficult to discern the true hue of a gray). We’ll also allow (but not rely on) browns, especially dark ones, since they are seemingly hue neutral, (this is, of course, not technically true, with most browns leaning towards orange or red).

Before we embark on construction, we should probably consider a few things that just won’t work, right off the bat. Rarely does an outfit composed of exactly the same color work. The pieces of clothing tend to run together as one entity, often obscuring the human form beneath. We also lose a bit of the “implied thought,” given the complete lack of complexity. Similarly, try to avoid using two colors which are very nearly identical, especially if they appear adjacent to each other in the visual field. When colors are almost the same, but not quite the same, it seems like a mistake, that the intent was to use the same color, decreasing the overall coherence. The name of the game is intentionality. The effect can occur when the near colors appear in different parts of the outfit as well, but it is not nearly as drastic. Finally, when creating a monochromatic outfit (for that matter, any outfit), there should not be an overabundance (really, even a dominance) of very powerful, bright colors. For example, an orange-monochromatic outfit, using consistently high value or saturation, would be a bad call. The problem is overloading the visual system. Strong colors are best taken in reasonable doses, otherwise they either lose their effect or create an unpleasant viewing experience.

Excellent. Let’s put together two monochromatic outfits, one casual, the other a bit more dressy. We’ll start with a color most people have an abundance of clothing in: blue.

Casual: We begin with a staple piece of clothing, the denim jean. I’m using a relatively dark wash jean, which will closely match a pair of blue, white, and gray sneakers, but contrast with a shirt with very high value. The shirt has a dominant color which is nearly white (a very, very light blue), with thin vertical blue stripes, also with high value. Note how we’ve placed the weight of the outfit, the darker colors, at the bottom, forming a base of sorts. Now, the undershirt is a more standard blue, not quite as dark as the jean. This provides another layer of complexity. Buttoning the shirt about halfway, we safely separate the two darker colors, creating some nice contrast. If we were feeling a bit more adventurous, the undershirt would be a good choice to stray from the monochromatic scheme (perhaps with a light pink, matching in value but contrasting in hue).

We can add a nice Duke football hat as well, since the colors remain analogous.

A closer look at the shirt and undershirt.

Finally, a closer look at the denim and the shoe.

Dress: Now begin with a pair of navy blue slacks. In more formal situations like this, we need a belt and “nice” shoes. Brown is the way to go here (recall the problems we had pairing navy and black), so we use a simple brown belt with matching shoes. The socks will also be navy, as a light color would create unwanted jarring visual attention at foot level. Let’s pair the navy slacks with a distinguished looking gray dress shirt, tucked in, and buttoned nearly to the top. Underneath is the flair, a light (in value), bright blue undershirt which brings energy to the overall look, without being overbearing, or detracting from the formality of the rest of the clothing. Pictures here are forthcoming (I need a new pair of navy slacks, having torn a hole in the knee last semester!).

So there we have it, our first real foray into outfit construction, and look what we can do with just a single color! Try some of these techniques out on your own, using some other colors. Good places to start are green and red, both of which work well with blacks or browns. Good luck!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 4: Proportions and Intensities

This time, we’ll look at how varying the proportion and intensity of colors in a visual design can change how both the individual colors and the entire visual field appear. We often call the different ways a color can appear (in context of other surrounding colors) different “readings” of that color.

To interpret these phenomena, we borrow from the printing world. We denote the color with the largest amount of area the ground, or the dominant color. Those with a smaller proportion of the visual field are called subdominant colors. Typically, the color with the smallest (still significant) portion of the visual field has high contrast with the ground, and is called the figure or the accent.

Now, in general, the ground color will carry the most weight in determining the characteristics of the overall visual field. For example, if the dominant color has low saturation, the surrounding colors will appear grayer, as if they also have lower saturation. Conversely, if the dominant color is very vibrant, it will seem to raise the saturation of the surrounding colors. This is especially true of the subdominant colors; in some cases the effect may be opposite for accent colors, especially if they have a very strong contrast with the ground. Here are a few examples using the above colors:

Let’s apply this to a practical example. Suppose that I’m wearing a black suit (black jacket, pants, socks and shoes), with a white dress shirt, and a red tie. Here, black would be the ground, red would be the subdominant color, and white would be the accent (though one could argue that the red should also be an accent, I label it subdominant because of how it behaves with respect to the black, as we’ll see). I recommend taking these (or similar) items out and looking for the effects yourself as well. First, put on just the shirt and tie. Study the color of the tie for a moment, then put on the jacket and study its color again. You should notice (unless you have an especially light or vibrant red tie) that the tie now appears darker, given the drastic change in dominant color value from white to black. Now, this is a very common combination to wear, and it works well because of the deliberate strong contrast between all three elements. The contrast between white and black creates sharp edges which frame a flash of very visible color. The red is more striking if it is of slightly high value and of high saturation. This contrast is not accidental, and in some respects, not optional. Let’s see what happens if we neglect the effects of the ground color on our accents:

Take off the red tie, and put on a dark blue one. Now there is no ambiguity over whether the color of the tie is subdominant or accent, given the lack of contrast (due to the lower value). Again observe the effect of changing the ground color from white to black by removing and replacing the jacket. Now, the already dark tie appears even darker, approaching, but not quite reaching the color of the jacket. This destroys the “clean” edges we had before, introducing a region of ambiguity where the tie meets the jacket. The result is not terrible, thanks to the region of white which remains behind a portion of the tie, but much of the excitement generated from the red tie is lost. We also have created a bit of visual confusion between the dark blue and black. This is the same reason that it is generally a bad idea to wear black shoes with navy trousers. Well, how can we remedy this? Consider what made the first example successful; clearly defined edges and strong contrasts. This generated a very clean look with a region of visual excitement (which actually leads the eye upwards towards the face: bonus). The problem with the navy tie was the lack of contrast between the ground and the subdominant color. Let’s increase the value of the tie while maintaining high saturation, approaching something like a sky blue (despite my moral hatred for the color). This maintains a strong contrasts with the white (given the hue), and creates a stronger contrast with the dominant black, owing to the increased value, leading to a much more vibrant, exciting look.

Now, these principles can be applied to many situations, and the available contrasts are, as I said last time, nearly limitless. Keeping both contrasts and proportions in mind when designing a look will both allow you to avoid bad results from seemingly safe combinations as well as create interesting and attractive designs from unusual combinations.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 3: Simple Color Combinations

Now, in most cases, we tend to wear multiple colors at one time, usually multiple hues as well. The major exceptions I can see are some swimsuits, wedding dresses, and the occasional suit, but with standard clothing, footwear, and accessories, it’s really quite rare to see an outfit with absolutely no color variation. In this piece, we’re going to look at basic relationships between colors, which will become the building blocks for creating outfits which utilize colors well.

We looked at a few basic relationships back in Chapter 1: analogous colors and complementary colors. Let’s add two new designations, monochromatic and triadic colors, giving us a near continuum of hue contrast.

Monochromatic Colors technically no hue difference. All variations are in value and saturation. For our purposes, we’ll consider monochromatic to be any group of hues which are very close to each other (that is, not closer to any adjacent primary, secondary, or tertiary color). This is because, in general, two different pieces of clothing rarely have exactly the same hue.

Analogous Colors exhibit slightly more hue variation, in which a color is combined with neighboring hues on the color wheel, with any value or saturation changes. The small variation in hue contributes a relatively weak contrast.

Triadic Colors are sets of three colors equal spaced around the color wheel (that is 120 degrees apart). This generates more contrast, though there is balance given the equal positioning (we’ll see that this is a special case of a split-complementary relationship). In general, triadic colors do not seem to be strongly related to one another, yet harmony can still exist because of the strong mutual balance.

Complementary Colors provide the maximum possible hue variation, being directly opposite each other on the color wheel (180 degrees of separation). The colors are in a sense, mirror images of each other. In fact, if one stares at a high saturation block of color for a while, removing the color often leaves an afterimage of the complementary color. The large variation creates the strongest hue contrast possible.

Now we can extend the idea of a complementary color to a pair of colors which is symmetric placed about a true complement. For example, the complement of green is red, so that red-orange and red-purple would be a pair of colors equally spaced from the complement of green.

Split-Complementary Colors are sets of three colors, composed of a base color and a pair of colors equally spaced about the complement of the base color. We see that triadic colors are a special case, in which any of the three colors could act as the base color of the construction.

Dual-Complementary Colors are sets of four colors, composed of two complementary color pairs. Also called tetradic colors.

This essentially exhausts our methods of hue variation. Any further combination of colors can likely be characterized as one of the above or a combination of the above. The likelihood of using more than four or five colors is also small. Since we plan on using multiple colors in creating outfits, we then need to examine various types of contrast. In truth, all color combinations create some level of contrast, and managing these visual contrasts and their effects is at the center of color design.

Our work differs from print-based color theory in that we often do not have a particular figure which is to take the dominant position against some background visual field. More often, we have a set of adjacent visual fields, sometimes solid color, sometimes patterned.

Johannes Itten (author of the Art of Color) cites seven different contrasts which can be used in color theory:

Contrast of Saturation: As it sounds, this is the contrasting of colors with varying levels of saturation. More effective when the colors share monochromatic or analogous hues (in other cases, it may seem as if the hues are monochromatic or analogous, given our general difficulty in perceiving the hue of many grays).

Contrast of Value: Similarly, this is the contrasting of colors with different value levels. Can be used with different hues or similar hues.

Contrast of Hue: This is what we discussed above, creating contrast using different “colors” on the color wheel, technically, different hues. This is typically the contrast people are most familiar and comfortable with.

Contrast of Proportion: This is the contrast associated with giving different colors unequal parts of the visual field. Different effects occur when we give areas proportional or anti-proportional to the visual weights of the colors. This will be especially important for us in taking advantage of colors.

Contrast of Complements: This is the strong contrast generated by complementary colors, which I would characterize as an example of contrast of hue, rather than another category.

Simultaneous Contrast: This occurs when borders between colors seem to vibrate. It often occurs with complementary colors or with colors with very little hue contrast, but some large value or saturation contrast. More likely to occur if the length of the boundary is large in relation to the area of the color region, such as with text.

Contrast of Warm and Cool: Essentially another specific case of hue contrast, this is the contrast of hues which are warm (reds, oranges) and cool (blues, purples). One could also consider contrast of light and heavy (color weight) and the contrast of dull and energetic (color intensity), cases of value and saturation contrast, respectively.

As we already see, beyond a few measures of contrast, we are forced to repeat ourselves. The complexity comes from the fact that these contrasts are rarely in isolation. Nearly all images exhibit each contrast to some degree, and the lack of a particular contrast can be interesting itself. This gives an immense number of “contrast profiles."

It will be our work to sift through these profiles, to find those which satisfy our fashion goals.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 2: Effects of Individual Colors

Before we consider how best to mix colors, it behooves us to understand how each particular tool we have works. All colors are not created equal, in terms of their changes as we modify saturation and value, in terms of their psychological effects, or in terms of their fitness for achieving particular fashion goals.

Color psychology isn’t exactly “hard science,” in that it isn’t a theory derived from some set of axioms. It is, however, based on at least a body of empirical evidence. Since we’re not building lasers here, I’m alright with that.

Let’s begin with a simple observation about value. Given any starting hue (and saturation), we can range from zero value (black) to maximum value (white). In our journey, we’ll pass through black, dark-“color”, regular-“color”, pastel-“color”, and finally to white. Going from dark to light in our na├»ve color sense, we see that the color “looks” as if it changes from heavy to light in a mass/weight sense:

Similarly, we can consider the saturation. Again, with a fixed starting hue (and value), we can range from zero saturation (gray) to maximum saturation (no gray, pure color). In this process, a single color is at first not present at all, then becomes increasingly stronger until it is a pure tone. As we pass from gray to color, we see that the image seems to transform from low energy to high energy:

Now, the hues are a wee bit more complicated. I can’t see a simple relationship in our perception of color as we move around the color wheel. If you have any theories, I’d love to hear them! This is where we move a bit further into the world of anecdotal evidence. Fortunately, as our certainty declines, so does the relative importance of the results.

One of the major difficulties in coming up with a good catalog of color psychology is the influence of cultural difference, both international and interpersonal. For example, in modern western cultures, red is the color of the devil. However, in the Middle Ages, the devil was often represented with yellow or green. Green is also believed to be very lucky in the Irish culture. I prefer the Blue Devil. We see that things can get mixed up pretty easily. For this reason, I’ll try to stick to the more universal interpretations, with the disclaimer that I am a male U.S. citizen living in the 21st century.

Black: Black often symbolizes power or control. It’s widely regarded as a formal color (e.g. black-tie affairs). In contexts, it can mean mourning or death (funerals), or submission (priests). For our purposes, black is a weighty color that signifies power and commands respect.

White: White represents light, purity, and innocence. It is notably clean and light in weight. Other connotations include simplicity and reverence. Very much considered a summer color (via the “rule” don’t wear white after Labor Day), though it can also be very formal (especially when paired with black) as in weddings, or from the fact that the most common shirt worn with a suit/tuxedo is white.

Red: Red is likely the heaviest of the hues. Its color is very bold to the eye, though not necessary displeasing. A range of meanings include love, anger, fire, power, respect and leadership. One of the most noticeable colors, even a small amount of red is easily noticed. Photographers are rumored to carry red soda cans with them to add a flash of red to pictures. Studies have shown that red actually has a physical effect, increasing heart rate and breathing rate.

Blue: Blue is one of the most popular colors, both in and out of the fashion world. Important meanings include calm, cool, cold, confident, and loyalty. The last of these is an oft-cited reason to wear blue to job interviews. Blue can, however, be interpreted as cold (in a sad/emotional way), so we should be careful to ensure that enough energy is present in the color to avoid this (if we wish to avoid it, that is).

Yellow: We often think of yellow as a happy color, associated with sunlight and optimism. However, its hue is the most “annoying” to our visual system. This may be the reason that yellow is actually the color which makes people angriest. In general, this effect can be tempered by reducing how striking the yellow appears by choosing lower values and saturations.

Green: Conversely, green is the easiest color for the eye to accept, likely due to the abundance of it in nature. This color is associated with growth, relaxation, fertility, and vigor. Of course, we also know it can symbolize jealousy, though I think this is more figurative than literal.

Purple: Often symbolizes royalty, ergo, wealth and success. Can also refer to delicacy in light shades (high value), or sensuality in darker shades with high saturation. Given its relatively infrequent appearance in the natural world, which accounts for its connection to wealth and rarity, purple can also seem unnatural or artificial.

Orange: One of the least used colors, orange is a tempered red in terms of intensity from a purely physical perspective, but its rare use also makes it easily noticeable. Similar ties as red; anger, desire, fire, danger, autumn, earth. People often connect “brown” most closely to orange.

Brown: Element of the earth, related to nature, stability, simplicity and tradition, and dependability. A very nonoffensive color, making it a common safe choice for fashion, especially with men.

Pink: Despite being technically red, pink, which is just red with very high value, is viewed very differently. Often represents femininity, softness, spring, flowers. Emotionally can represent love, admiration or gratitude. A very peaceful color, unlike the powerful and sometimes angry “red.”

Gray: Often viewed as a lack of color like black, when in reality it is just a lack of saturation. Commonly, gray will actually be a red or a blue with very low saturation. The difference is noticeable in some cases if you hold up the gray to some red or blue items. Depending on the underlying color, there are additional “readings” of the gray, but in general it represents wisdom, respect, neutrality, formality, or balance. Also interpreted as dull or boring.

Wow, what a whirlwind! Soon we'll apply these things to the mixing of colors, and look at some general properties of color combinations, before attacking actual fashion applications (coming soon, I promise!).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Color Theory Chapter 1: Basics and Definitions

Let’s begin with a basic overview of color theory. Much of the information here will be from the helpful site: http://www.worqx.com, or from the Wikipedia article on color theory. Because we are concerned with color applications to fashion, we will be considering subtractive color theory. What’s the difference?

Subtractive Color Theory begins with white, and adds colors until black is reached. The more color we add, the darker the resultant color is, until we approach black. This is applicable here, because fabrics typically begin their lives without color, and are then dyed with color, and is similar to printing or painting.

Additive Color Theory, typically used in computing and electronic color, begins with black and adds color until white is reached. Here, the more color we add, the lighter the result becomes, until we reach white. This makes sense because color monitors begin as black. The pixels are then lit up with colors, and the more color we add, the lighter the pixel appears.

The difference is important because the primary colors of the two systems are different. In subtractive color theory, the primaries are red, blue, and yellow (often in printing we consider magenta, cyan, and yellow), while in additive color theory we have red, blue and green (you might recall this from RGB values for coding colors on the internet).

Now, the primary colors (red, blue and yellow), provide a basis for creating the commonly known color wheel:

Primary Colors are given by axiom to be red, blue and yellow.

Secondary Colors are given by mixing equal parts of any pair of unique primary colors: red and blue make purple, red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow make green.

Tertiary Colors are created by mixing equal parts of any primary color and an adjacent secondary color. They are typically named according to the nomenclature primary-secondary. For example, mixing red and orange gives red-orange. Mixing red and green doesn’t produce a tertiary color, as green is not adjacent to red.

We can then define relations between colors:

Complementary Colors are those found directly across from each other on the color wheel. If we’re considering only primary and secondary colors, these are the combinations which do not form tertiary colors. Mixing these colors generally brings the overall color towards neutral (browns and grays), while juxtaposing them tends to create high contrast.

Analogous Colors are those found adjacent or nearly adjacent to each other on the color. These tend to create low contrast, and flow almost continuously from one color to another.

We could consider other angular relations between colors on the color wheel, but we’ll save that for some more specific applications (and there really isn’t that much farther to go). Let’s now consider the three aspects of a particular color:

Hue is the actual “color” of the color. One can think of this as the angular position on the color wheel (in fact, many computer programs let you define the hue as a degree value from 0 to 360).

Saturation refers to how pure the tone of a color is. More rigorously, we think of gray as being low saturation, and pure colors as being high saturation.

Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. The darker (closer to black) the color is, the lower the value.

Finally, let’s touch on the idea of warm and cool colors. I’ve not been able to find a technical reason for this, but we perceive colors like red and orange as warm, colors like blue and violet as cool. Often we see that warmer, brighter colors have a greater weight in whatever canvas we’re looking at.

Now that we’ve set ourselves up with a good range of definitions, we’re ready to start looking at how to apply color knowledge to achieve some fashion goals.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Color Theory Introduction

As I stated in my initial post here, General Fashion Philosophy, one of the five things we have control over in fashion is color. This may be my favorite aspect of fashion, that is, playing with colors and their mutual interactions. Given the billions of colors that our eyes can perceive, the sartorial possibilities seem endless. Unfortunately, many people are afraid to stray from their safety nets of blacks, browns, blues and whites. Worse still, many people don’t understand even how to utilize these colors effectively. Thus, I’m going to spend an indefinite number of posts describing my thoughts on color theory, and how best to utilize colors to achieve your fashion goals.

Remember that our focus here is going to be selecting clothes (in this case, colors) with a specific purpose. I can’t tell you what purposes or goals you should have, I can only give guidance on how to achieve the goals I personally choose. I hope that you can apply the techniques I use here to your own fashion goals. Do not be intimidated by this process. In reality, it doesn’t take long to come up with a reason for what you’re wearing, nor does it take long to implement it. Plus, once you’ve designed a few outfits, they can of course be reused later on, without all of the thinking.

For those interested in the theory of colors in its own right, I must refer you to Itten’s The Art of Color. It really is the best thing out there on the subject. Even those with more ancillary interests in color (like mine) should pick up a copy. There are, of course, more basic introductions available freely on the web, which you might want to check out first, so;

I’ll keep this pst updated with links to the newest related articles both from my blog (as I crank them out) , and any other materials I find on the subject out on the web:

On fashionablemathematician:

Chapter 1: Basics and Definitions
Chapter 2: Effects of Individual Colors
Chapter 3: Simple Color Combinations
Chapter 4: Proportions and Intensities
Chapter 5: Monochromatic Combinations and Coherence
Chapter 6: Complementary Colors and Contrast
Chapter 7: Split and Dual Complements
Chapter 8: The Intermediary Contrast
Chapter 9: Analogous Combinations

Outside Links:


Friday, May 9, 2008

In the Style of Radiohead

Recently, Radiohead (one of my favorite musical groups) released their latest album In Rainbows without a record label. For free (for a limited time). They allowed fans to pay “what they felt was fair” for the album, and managed to generate one of the “best-selling” albums of the year.

Being a huge Radiohead fan, I decided to show my support for their music, as well as their eschewing of the “standard” way to produce. Thus, it was back to the drawing board again with Sharpies. After a few minutes, an upside-down pot, coffee mug, and a ruler, I came up with this attempt at a Radiohead logo.

It definitely didn’t come out perfect, but that’s kind of the point with this sometimes. Certainly a unique, yet recognizable shirt. Like a good inside joke, those who get it will appreciate it greatly. Besides, the logo looks pretty cool even if you don’t know who Radiohead is (if you are such a person, please take 5 minutes of your life and watch this). I especially like how the brown shirt combined with the scruffy black marker makes it almost look like a cave drawing. If this stuff washes out well, I think I’ll give it another shot in a few weeks, to try and nail down the proportions a little better.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Practical Post 1 - Silver Sharpie

In general, graphic tee shirts are overpriced. Think about what you’re getting; a low-to-mid quality fabric with a design on it. This design is likely;

  • Cool and interesting, though rarely worthy of comments like, “nice shirt!”
  • Not beyond your own creativity level (though possibly beyond your artistic level)
  • Being worn by hundreds, if not thousands of other people

Now, consider what you’re using it for. Assuming it’s a shirt that you hang on to for a while, and depending on where you live, you’ll probably be wearing that shirt underneath something else 50-60% of the time. So five out of ten times you’re wearing that witty slogan (note that the effectiveness of said wit diminishes greatly with each use), it can’t be seen, and that cool upside-down tree you bought is now just a trunk at the base of your neck.

There are, of course, exceptions to this general trend. Many people enjoy wearing tee shirts that support a favorite band or sports team, there are some truly unique (and awesome) designs out there, and some of these rare gems don’t cost an exorbitant amount. Unfortunately, these are few and far between. So how can you get the upper hand?

Go to your local store which sells things to write with (Staples/Rite Aid/Art XTREME, whatever) and pick up a few sharpies. Nowadays, you can get these markers in just about any color, even specialty colors like metallics, like the one I used to create this shirt:

Now, the shirt itself is a plain black tee shirt which I picked up on sale from Old Navy for $6.00, and the sharpie came in a two-pack for $2.00, so overall, a $7.00 total. Far less than your standard graphic tees, even from more cost-friendly locations. A quick aside, whenever solid color tees are on sale, make a point to take advantage, especially if you can score colors you don’t have. A diverse arsenal of undershirt colors expands your wardrobe exponentially. (That is of course a figure of speech, in reality, assuming you can wear only one undershirt at a time, the addition of a new undershirt color multiplies your number of outfit choices by a factor of (n+1)/n, where n is the number of undershirts you previously had…but this isn’t the math blog.

Of course, if you create your own graphic tee, you have to come up with and execute the design yourself. Fortunately, a design doesn’t have to be complex to be interesting, and there is inspiration everywhere. Even if you have trouble creating an image in your mind’s eye, there are probably many designs you already know of; an favorite band’s logo, a design scratched into the sidewalk, an icon on your desktop screen. All of these things are often simple enough to reproduce, as long as you take your time.

Once you’ve chosen a design, you need to select your color(s) and draw the thing. Some tips for execution;

  • First, make sure the color you’ve chosen is appropriately visible. Flip the shirt inside-out and draw a test swatch near one of the side seams. (where you do it is really only important if the shirt is white, so that it’s less likely to been seen, should the ink show through)
  • Unfold the shirt all the way, and find the horizontal center of the shirt using a ruler or a piece of string. Typically, it’s much easier to notice if a design is poorly aligned left-to-right, as opposed to up-and-down.
  • When drawing the actual design, use physical guides as much as possible. For circles, use a mug or a pot. For lines, use a ruler. This will take a lot of the guesswork out things and make the end product look a lot cleaner.
  • Use short, controlled strokes. It’s much easier to maintain a correct path when you only move short distances. It cuts down on the complex physics your arm has to navigate in keeping your fingers, wrist, and forearm working as a team to move your marker. The overlap between strokes is very difficult to see on the shirt, since the marker cuts a fairly wide path and multiple strokes don’t make the ink appear noticeably darker.
  • Take your time. There’s only so much you can fit on the shirt, so even if you’re patient and take it slow, doing this usually won’t take more than 15-20 minutes. Slow down. It’s a lot easier to do it right the first time.
With any luck, you should now be in possession of a brand-new graphic tee shirt with an interesting, one-of-a-kind design. Let it hang dry for a little while before you show the world, to let the fumes from the marker dissipate. Don’t worry about the ink rubbing off. If you wait more than thirty seconds to wear it, that just won’t happen. Sweet. For less than ten bucks (.4-.8 store-bought shirts, depending on your exchange rate), and about twenty minutes, you’ve got a shirt that nobody else does. A shirt that reflects your individuality, and will have people asking, “hey, where’d you buy that?”

General Fashion Philosophy

If I’m going to be writing a fashion blog, I really need to give you an overview of how I look at fashion. Many people view fashion as an art form, which to some extent is a fair statement. Obviously, people often overstate this with unnecessarily grandiose and pretentious statements;

  • “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
  • Fashion is as profound and critical a part of the social life of man as sex, and is made up of the same ambivalent mixture of irresistible urges and inevitable taboos.” – Rene Konig
  • Fashion is so close in revealing a person’s inner feelings and everybody seems to hate to lay claim to vanity so people tend to push it away. It’s really too close to the quick of the soul.” – Stella Blum

Now, finding these ridiculous gems took about two minutes and a Google search. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find many, many more. But these statements don’t really get us anywhere. I’m a mathematician, so I am naturally inclined to look at things from a more rigorous perspective. Dictionary definitions won’t do, they’re not constructive enough, rather, we need a working definition. Coming up with a definition for fashion closely parallels definition writing in mathematics. If the definition isn’t precise enough, we risk having to use judgment (highly non-rigorous) to determine if something that fits the definition really should be called fashion. If the definition is too restrictive, we can’t use it do anything interesting. Any information we’d like to derive about fashion would either be tied up in this definition or contradictory to it. Our work is certainly cut out for us.

Let’s begin by looking at what you and I have control over in getting clothes on to our bodies. First, we have control over what individual products we decide to purchase (or construct, though most of us make very few of our own articles of clothing). We do not have any control (unless you’re in the business) over what products are made available or for what price they are made available. Second, once we’ve built a wardrobe of individual items, we have control over which permutations of these items we decide to wear on a given day, and in what configuration. We’ve got an incredible number of choi.ces. If you’re building a wardrobe and decide to purchase 10 shirts, and you go to some stores and see 50 shirt choices, then you can create a staggering 10272278170 [math: combinations], [math: permutations] sets of ten shirts! Then, say you wake up in the morning and look in your closet which contains 10 shirts, 8 pairs of pants, and 4 pairs of shoes. That’s 320 distinct outfits right there.

Now, if all shirts were the same, all pants were the same, and all shoes were the same, this would be an easy decision (and fashion would seemingly become trivial, as we’ll see when we get to our definition). Of course, there are large numbers of distinct clothing items available for purchase. We need to examine what factors allow us to distinguish among different pieces of clothing. I claim that there are five:

  • Color: Fairly self-explanatory, this refers to the color(s) of the garment.
  • Texture: Refers to the physical texture of the fabric the garment is composed of.
  • Pattern: Refers to the arrangement of distinct colors on the garment.
  • Shape: Refers to the shape(s) the garment takes when worn.
  • Fit: Refers to the way in which the garment adheres to the body.

I argue that if two garments have the same color, texture, pattern, shape and fit, then they would look exactly the same on you. Thus, these five things provide the information we need to decide what pieces of clothing to purchase and to wear.

But what’s the point? Why do we invest time and money into making these decisions? What makes us move past the utilitarian need for clothing to protect our bodies from the elements and fuss about whether to wear the black or blue suit today? Well, that fashion. And that’s a really unsatisfying explanation, so allow me to elaborate. For us to spend resources (both mental and physical) on deciding what to wear, there must be some motivation, some goal. Of course, these goals are not the same for each person, or the same for you each day! In the example above, if you wear a suit to work everyday, normally you probably don’t pay much attention to which color you wear each day. But the day you interview for a promotion, you may very well spend thirty minutes trying to figure our which color will give your potential new boss the best first impression. A more basic and universal goal is abiding by social norms. I bet that most of you put on matching socks today, out of a habit grounded in the goal of not being found wearing mismatched socks (and thus avoiding potential embarrassment). However, some goals are more difficult to unravel; such as why people are often told not to wear brown shoes with black pants (to be covered another time). It is often this kind of confusion which causes people to be put off by the idea of fashion. In reality, fashion is nothing more than the following;

Definition: Fashion is the selection and organization of garments to be worn, based on the color, texture, pattern, shape, and fit of each garment and the relations of these qualities among the garments, to achieve some goal(s).

Of course, the hard part is figuring out what combinations of garments achieve a particular set of goals, and why this is so. It is this somewhat scientific approach that underlies my philosophy of fashion. As this blog progresses, I intend to write about the following things;

  • Why I have particular fashion goals.
  • How to achieve these fashion goals.
  • How to understand the governing dynamics of fashion goals.
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