Connecting Dots. The Importance of Intermediary in an Outfit

One of the most frequent problems in creating contrast in an outfit is putting together garments with no obvious connections. Items with opposite characteristics placed next to each other often produce excessive contrast which can not only be bold and unflattering but also disintegrate the outfit’s composition. For example, neon-green chiffon skirt and lemon yellow bulky jumper quite seldom will be a part of a balanced look on their own.

When an outfit consists of unrelated and disjoint colours, textures or patterns, to unify them it’s essential to make a “bridge”, create an intermediary. Its purpose is to strengthen the connection between garments and create complete story. It’s predictable that to be effective this “bridge” item requires similarity with the elements which are meant to be linked.

Where to use?

Areas of intermediary’s use are usually identical with fields of contrast. Thus, if we use two unrelated colours to create a contrast it will be logical to balance it out by another element of colour. The same is true to patterns or textures. Let’s go into details for each of them.

Colour

Colour is the most usual area for applying an intermediary.

  • Colour temperature. It is popular opinion mentioned on many style blogs that warm and cold hues should not be used together. While I agree this is good general rule to avoid imbalance, the dots can still be connected.

    The harmony of two different colour temperatures could be created with an intermediate that will tie the opposites.

    A brief example can be seen in the sketch below. The top and the skirt are from different colour families – cold and warm. Together they look discordant and even conflicting. It is obvious that a link is needed. By bringing in shoes that support the pattern of the top and skirt’s hue the puzzle is solved and outfit regains its lost harmony.

    Dress shirt in cold hues paired with warm red skirt.

    Shoes as an intermediary for blouse and skirt

  • Hue. In the case of hue the contrast is usually created by complementary colours. They are opposite on the colour wheel, therefore have nothing in common. Placed next to each other they produce maximum vibrancy and contrast.
    colour wheel showing complementary colours

    Adding the intermediary softens the contrast and creates a perceptual bridge between two colours. For example red and green could be linked by brown-red or brown-green as they are the exactly colours that will come out if red and green are mixed.

    Complementary red and green linked by brown-green

    Red skirt and green blouse could be linked by brown-green clutch

  • Colour brightness. Too much difference in brightness can cause undesirable dramatic contrast. Employing in-between shades can help soften the look.

    In the picture below the top and the skirt on the left create sharp dramatic contrast which overbalances girl’s gentle complexion. Following the same trail that helped us to unite hues before, we rely on the intermediary item. Here we introduce a jacket which adds third tonal characteristic and brings the look closer to perfection.

    Jacket in in-between shades acts as intermediary for contrasting top and skirt

    Sharp contrast of top and skirt is softened with in-between-tone jacket

    Pattern

    This is the second area where the intermediary could be used.

    Selecting in-between patterns requires a bit more sartorial funds as patterns consist of many different elements meant to be coordinated. In one of my previous posts I have explained the levels of pattern mixing. Therefore, I will only touch on the topic of setting an intermediate.

    To improve the look’s aesthetic “bridge” patterns should resemble those already in use. Similarity could be either in style of lines, chromatic characteristics, or other levels of pattern coherence.

    For example, if we combine geometric print with intricate abstract design linking pattern might remotely resemble both of them.

    Jacket as a "bridge" for differently patterned garments

    Striped dress shirt and floral skirt share nothing in colour scheme; their style of lines is also different. As intermediary, the plaid jacket incorporates skirt’s rich red-brown colour and shirt’s geometry

    Texture

    As I have mentioned before there are no common rules for texture mixing. However, the transition textures are expected to have similar attributes to those already in use.

    Shape and volume

    Shapes and volumes seldom require an intermediary. This means, as long as common sense is taking into account, it is difficult to make mistakes in this area.

    Final touch

    As you have already noticed the process of “linking” parts of an outfit is not a subject for sweeping generalizations. It is not easy to set strict rules and provide common instructions to follow. All I can do is to outline the problem and set trend of thoughts. The rest is entirely up to you.

    I’m sure, if a person knows about relations between elements described in this article they will tend to pay a little more attention to the sophisticated ritual of dressing. That will certainly produce noticeable and pleasant changes.





    You may also like to read about:
    Cherry on the top or contrast principle
    The Timeless Principles of Pattern Mixing
    Basic Principles of an Outfit Layout: Focal Point

  • Cherry on the Top or Contrast Principle

    Why is contrast important?

    While putting an outfit we aim to create a composition where all details are in their place and the whole look is complete and pleasant to the eye.

    There are a number of subjects to keep in mind when arranging a composition. The important one that I would like to talk about here is contrast.

    The abstract idea of contrast is one of the fundamental principles of our Universe. Mountains and plains, oceans and dry lands, positive and negative charges, high and low pressure – they are all contrasting in their state or force, and it is through this interaction the word exists.

    Recognising contrast is natural for humans. We differentiate objects because they are contrasting , we use this difference as a reference point.

    For example, Eiffel tower (300m high) is quite lofty for an average human, but it is dwarfed by Burj Khalifa building (828m) in Dubai when two are put together.

    Contrast and outfit layout

    Back to the subject of clothing. Being curious human beings it is our second nature to look for new experiences. A visually interesting item in this regard would be something that induces our eyes to explore or as Diane Vreeland put it: “The eye has to travel”.

    Introducing layers of complexity into the look by adding various textures or using multiple colours gets our attention. Put it another way, contrast is used to enhance an outfit by giving tedium an appeal, a life buoy, reducing the repetitive impact.

    Contrast can be created in several areas

  • Colour. The same colour can look different depending on surroundings. It could be vibrant and bright next to complementary hue, or become subtle and dull whilst surrounded by analogous colours.
    Illustration of the same red necklace on contrasting and analogous backgrounds

    The same red necklace looks radiant and vivid on mint green background, but it mutes on cadmium red mannequin

  • Brightness is our perception of the colour luminance, how bright we see it. It is quite an interesting topic on itself, but I’ll explain it briefly below.

    Ideally the difference of brightness in an outfit should be in direct relationships with wearers’ complexion. What I refer to here is the natural contrast created by skin, eyes, and hair tones. The more contrasting features woman has the wider brightness range in garments she could afford to wear. And on the contrary, the less contrasting appearance demands for the lower brightness contrast in clothes.

    Back in the real world, the illustration below shows outfits made in contrasting colours. The sangria and blue dress on the left have low brightness contrast while the pink one at the right is much lighter than the jacket and so it will do great on person with high contrast complexion.

    Two identical jackets paired with red dresses in different tones

    Steel blue jacket paired with equally bright dress (left) and lighter one (right)


    Desaturated image above

    The desaturated image shows clearly the difference in brightness level between two sets

  • Shape (volume). Arrangements of shapes that are slightly varied and irregular tend to hold the interest of a viewer longer than those perfectly even. Different forms can not only produce different moods but can also create an optical illusion. Anything will look bigger surrounded by smaller objects. And vice versa.

    For example big bag would appear even bigger if it is carried by a petite girl. Or, speaking about moods, imagine fitted stiff coat with bulky scarf thrown upon it. Strict lines of a coat are perfectly unbalanced by the casual style of the scarf.

  • Texture. Creating contrast in textures is a great way to add an extra bit of interest and an elegant way show sartorial consciousness. It is a must for monochrome outfits. Whilst lacking the colour component the certain degree of excitement could be, nevertheless, created by using surface properties.

    The simplest way to make texture contrast is to use fabrics with straight opposite characteristics: glossy – matt, sheer – opaque, stretchy – firm and so on. There is, unfortunately, no proven recipe book on how to mix multiple textures. Some experimentation and observation of what works is a way to go here.

    Few notes to consider about textures:

    1. Various textures reflect light differently. Nap fabrics (like velvet, fleece and felt) make colours appear more rich and saturated because of their fuzzy surface. In contrary, smooth and shiny ones reflect more light. That creates gloss and bleaches the surface. Therefore, the same colour in silk will appear lighter than on velvet.
    2. Moreover, fabrics hold dyes differently. The colour on cotton gabardine will look a little bit lighter than on wool as wool tends to retain dye better.
      Even though lack of variety can be tedious, contrast should be used with care. Too much of it and there will be several focal points competing for an attention and affecting unity of the overall look.

    As you can see contrast is the ultimate attention grabber. It can work on many levels and is to be used with comprehension taking into account person’s style and personality.



  • How to Coordinate Colours in Outfit, Designer’s Method

    How often while putting together the outfit do you limit your use of colour to just a few or rely on neutral hues only?

    We all know that choosing colour palette for an outfit could be a time consuming process. A lot of heroic attempts to conquer the colour reel end up going back to a simple traditional combination or, at worst, looking like an over-decorated Christmas tree.

    I suppose, perfect sense of colour is possessed by relatively small amount of people, rest of us (myself included) have to content with our own sense of beauty, intuition and, at best, with some knowledge of the colour theory.

    There is no doubt that understanding either consciously or unconsciously the basics of the colour theory is essential for creating a balanced set.

    To successfully use different hues in an outfit your own personal preferences will need to be in an agreement with certain rules. However, all these rules for creating colour schemes, hierarchy of colours, colour discords, value keys, etc. require a significant investment of time.

    Working with my clients I often feel a need to explain principles of colour mixing in brief, so they will be able to use it in real life. Theory itself is a bit dry and I found a good approach that is much easier and more fun.

    Extra bonus, it’s handy for other colouristic tasks like composing flower bouquets, choosing napkins for dining room or creating a landscape design for the backyard. It is very versatile and can be a great tool for finding unusual yet pleasant colour combinations.

    It is easy, intuitive and always works. Well, you‘ve got an idea, let’s get to it now.

    What is it all about?

    Did you know that designers quite often set up their colour palette from a single picture?

    We can do the same. That’s where landscape photography could be a great source of inspiration. Think of the picture as a set of colours that are combined into a single composition.

    Intrinsically, people tend to perceive all nature combinations as harmonious. The nature knows exactly which hues and in what proportions to use to create a masterpiece. To illustrate that, let’s take a classic sample of 2 complement colours such green and red. They are rarely used next to each other as put together they produce maximum vibrancy. However, when we see a strawberry garden patch or big flowerbed covered with red poppies it is always pleasant to the eye, isn’t it? The secret lies in proportions! Let’s get to the practical examples of how that can be used.

    How it works?

    Say, we have a sky blue dress and would like to find a perfect pair to it.

    Now, let see if we can find something that will give us an idea of what colours could work here. While browsing my personal collection I came across a beautiful photograph of the autumn sky. It is much the same colour with the dress and is opposed by strikingly bright red leaves. Blue and red combination does not look too bright here, on the contrary, it looks well balanced.

    Blue sky with red leaf
    Autumn sky

    With this in mind we can start to assemble the outfit looking for reds and different shades of greys. Let’s start from very light and pale (Battleship Grey like clouds) and continue to deep grey, a tree’s branch-like colour. There is no need to use all colours in one set, just choose a few.

    Another example is inspired by marcescent fern foliage.

    Marcescent fern leaves

    Combination of green and pink is quite vernal and dynamic and might be too much for an office dress code. Paying attention to proportion, intensity and hues of mixing colours, however, we can get quiet and restrained look with subtle allusions of wearer’s energetic personality and good taste.

    The third set is monochrome one.

    It is generally assumed that putting together similar hues is the safest way to create a nice looking attire, when in fact, even a small detail, such a wrong colour temperature of one piece, can offset the whole balance.

    Thus, to set a mind in the right direction we will use a picture with subtle colour differences for inspiration, as the one of a summer meadow below.

    Summer Meadow

    You can see it incorporates not only different shades of green and brownish-grey, but also tiny amounts of purple and yellow which are perfect as accent colours.

    This is another great benefit of analysing photos, it gives proven examples on how to use more than 3 colours, an area which usually requires experience and good knowledge of colour theory to get it all right.

    As you can see, you don’t need to go far for inspiration and for the tools to create a well-balanced colour palette. It’s all within a hand’s reach, be it a bouquet of wild flowers or a Google search.

    There are some great web-sites that can generate colour palette from images on-line. You can also search through existing palettes for inspiration and hints. My favorite one is COLOURlovers with it’s vast range of palettes and patterns.



    Colour of The Year 2013

    Pantone has revealed the colour of the year 2013. And the winner is Emerald, a graceful green-blue hue.

    Pantone swatch of Emerald colour
    Picture courtesy of Pantone

    Well, this choice was quite unexpectedly anticipated as different shades of green were showing up across every fashion retailer since October. And more blueish green shall be awaited considering the jewel-toned colours took off on fashion runways for Spring-Summer 2013. Can bet a dollar, winter collections will be no exception.
    Appropriate for every occasion as stated in the official report and, indeed, Emerald is not such overpowering hue as its predecessor Tangerine Tango is. It is versatile and will flatter considerably more people than orange. And that’s the best thing I like about Emerald: it looks as good on a background as it does being an accent colour.

    So what to pair the Emerald with?

    I suggest to wander away from traditional combinations of green, orange or red. Yes, they do work well together, but why not to try something just tiny bit different?
    The rich redish-brown hues are perfect substitute for red shades. They are close enough to the classic, yet distinctive to be considered a specialty. For example, Burgundy, Firebrick, Oxblood Red or Rosy Brown are still vigorous and energetic, but more noble than plain Red or Pink.
    Colour swatches of Emerald with Burgundy, Firebrick, Oxblood Red, Rosy Brown

    For subtle and airy look the analogous colour scheme will be a good choice (read using shades of green or blue with Emerald). I especially like how colour of 2013 looks next to Blue Gray (first swatch below). But try not to overdo it with greens unless it is St. Patrick’s Day.
    Colour swatches of Emerald with different shades of blue and green

    If I had to choose just two pairs, my personal favourites will be emerald with grey and nude. Imagine a jewel-green knee-length dress teamed with nude patent leather heels and half an inch thick belt. Elegant and crisp! *Shall I consider this to be my Christmas party outfit?
    Colour swatches of Emerald with nude and grey
    And don’t forget, we can always use textures to add some extra creativity into the emerald sets (e.g. leather and lace, or jersey and silk). With this trick even classic green + red will get another chance to shine.
    One more thing to remember: green makes red hues appear brighter (as it is a complementary colour for red). In practice this means that people with a redish skin undertone might need to opt for green accessories rather than a full green gown (e.g. wearing green bracelets or an emerald scarf around the handbag, point is not to wear green shades close to the face).




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    The Timeless Principles of Pattern Mixing

    Every season style blogs are filled with reports of trendy prints and the ways to mix them for the perfect outfit.
    There is a myriad of tips like “Look for patterns that complement each other” or “Limit patterns to two” and even “Leopard goes with everything.”
    These might be great examples of what works, but in this article I will cover the logic behind it, why it works. And why it doesn’t when it doesn’t.

    “So, what principles considered the base of a perfect pattern combination?” you might ask.

    First of all, in a well-designed outfit you would straightaway notice the strong, active print (or a color, shape) that sets the theme. The other details are working to reinforce that. An outfit needs to be structured to make it easier for the viewer to perceive the parts of composition. A glance will go to one part after another, starting from the most active (accent) to the quietest and neutral one creating the feeling of agreement and consistency.

    That’s why an outfit that contains two or more identically intensive patterns causes visual confusion. The observer will be switching between them unable to identify the main and the subtle one.
    fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patterns

    Two identically intensive patterns

    At first glance the garments above are combined according to the basic rules of mixing patterns. The scale is right – polka dot on skirt goes well with large circles of the top. The color combination is fine, complementary hues are used. But something just doesn’t feel right, isn’t it?

    That’s because they doesn’t follow the main principle of print mixing: to achieve the harmonious look patterns should be of different intensity.
    Below are the rules that will help to identify which of two patterns is dominant.

    The balance in pattern mixing could be achieved through

    Levels of pattern coherence:

  • Size. Bold patterns are dominant over fine ones. That’s why they say “pair same patterns in different scale”.
    fashion illustration of top and shorts with different scaled floral patterns
    Colorful floral print mixed with subtle organic pattern

  • Complex (structured) forms dominate over simple ones – paisleys are usually more eye-catching then dots. Other examples of potentially active prints include bold florals, detailed damasks or compelling geometrics.
    fashion illustration of floral jacket and polka dot skirt
    Jacket’s floral print is more complex so it becomes the centre of attention for this set

  • Color saturation. Pure hues are more prominent then gradations – pure red stripes are more eye-catching then maroon ones.

  • Color temperature. Patterns in warm hues dominate the ones in cool.
    fashion illustration of orange top and light blue shorts
    The warm orange top is dominating blue shorts

  • Color intensity. Tints dominate shades, the lighter color is getting the attention first.
    fashion illustration of dark top and light coloured skirt
    Light-patterned skirt paired with dark top

  • Contrast. High contrast objects look more fascinating then low-contrasting ones.
    fashion illustration of high contrast hounds tooth jacket and low contrast floral skirt
    Hound’s tooth jacket has higher contrast and dominates skirt

    These rules of pattern mixing work well considering all other characteristics are equal. In other words, between two patterns of equal size the lighter one will dominate. Between warm and cool ones of similar brightness conspicuous will be the one which is more pure and “warm”. Few visual examples below:

    fashion illustration of jacket slightly darker then skirt fashion illustration of two tops of the same design with different patterns
    Here are two organic prints both of a similar size. The dominant one is a skirt as it appears lighter

    Out of these two patterns zigzags are more noticeable due to a higher contrast and more complex geometry

    Q: If we have two dramatic patterns of a similar color shade and tone, would it be possible to wear them together and still have a balanced look?
    A: The answer is yes.
    Q: In that case which of them will be accent?
    A: Neither. Our vision is very good at noticing objects that stand out. Have one butterfly printed on the shirt and it will be the first thing everyone will see. Have a hundred of them and a tomato sauce stain and guess what people will look at. Same is here, we would need something to stand out. It could be plain color or accessory, e.g. nude shoes, a tan leather bag or big brown sunnies.

    Now, let’s get back to the example described at the start of the article and think how we can fix it.

    fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patternsprevious illustration with switched colour on patterns

    The set on the left feels a bit “undecided”. And indeed, it breaks the main principle of mixing patterns of different intensity. The polka dot, in spite of its size, is conspicuous by color while top’s circles dominate by size. So these garments are disputing on the level of color and scale. Two active prints are clashing and cause viewer “to jump” from top to skirt and back again while being unable to decide which of them has the priority.
    If we simply swap the colors, – make a polka dot pattern in shaded blue, and circles on of the top in pure red, the harmony will be achieved. Now bigger and warmer print has full control over the smaller and cooler one.
    In real life where we cannot easily change the color of our clothes (tomato sauce aside). I would then suggest to find another pair to either skirt or top. Or, try to add the accessories to improve the look. More shopping to be done in any case!
    fashion illustration of top and skirt with equally intensive patterns with accessories supporting one of them

    It may seem difficult at first to keep all these things in mind. But it’s like learning to drive a car. When you first get behind the wheel you are overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to do at once: following the rules, checking the signs, keeping the speed and changing the gear (if you unlucky enough to have a manual). Once you get a bit of experience it becomes too simple. Suddenly you are a pro driver ready to show anyone few tricks, think you can do it with one hand while drinking a coffee with another. At the end, it is all about few simple rules and a bit of practice.




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