The Role of Neutral Colours in Colour Combinations

Black, grey and white might be the oldest and most acknowledged neutral colours around, but many others have joined the fray over the years.

More and more colours, including neutrals, are created each day for various purposes, but it is interesting to note that the fashion and design industries share similar colours that are considered ‘neutrals’. Take any neutrals from a paint company catalogue (like the pic below) and you’ll see that when you wear them, they’re still considered neutrals.

Whatever neutrals might be to you in your fashion context, we agree that generally, the neutrals below are the popular ones we see:

  • shades of black
  • shades of white
  • shades of grey
  • shades of brown and some blues and greens
  • denim

And the list goes on….

How do we define ‘neutral colours’ then? 

In my definition, neutral colours are those that ‘take a backseat’ in a colour combination and allow other colours to advance.  Let’s take these examples.  Notice how a couple of colours pop out from the combination, while others form the backdrop.

Our focus is drawn to the brightest colours – fuschia and green. The rest of the colours form the backdrop.

The blue and purple flowers get the attention.

The inclusion of accessories in brighter colours distracts us from the neutral colours. When these brighter colours are worn with neutrals (not all together of course), they add interest.

If I could personify ‘neutral colours’, they would have these character traits:

  • Reserved
  • Undemanding
  • Reliable
  • Hardworking
  • Humble
  • Versatile
  • Non-assertive
  • Might be perceived as a wall-flower by those who underestimates her worth
  • A team player

As colours, neutrals are:

  • Easy on the eyes
  • Easy to match
  • Understated
  • Provides a backdrop for accent colours to add interest
  • composed, unassuming

In short, neutral colours may seem boring, but they are necessary.  In interior decoration, they are an asset to those who find solace in  a cozy and relaxing place.  In fashion, they are a staple that give you mileage for your money, and works hard to present your in whatever way you choose – to stand out with bursts of colour, or just to stay understated, but composed and elegant.

Photos of living spaces captured from

  • Home Colour Visualiser,
  • Dulux  ‘The Color Guide’ 2012,

How To Combine Colours for Your Outfits

Before we get into colour combinations, let’s cover some basic things about colours and colour theory:

The Colour Wheel

……is the organization of colours (also called ‘hues’) presented in a circle.


Primary Colours……refer to red, yellow and blue (in their pure forms). Image

Secondary Colours……are created by mixing 2 primary colours together.

Blue + Yellow = Green

Red + Yellow = Orange

Red + Blue = Purple


Tertiary Colours……are created by mixing a secondary and a primary colour.

Purple + Blue = Blue-purple

Orange + Red = Red-orange


Tertiary colours are usually identified by the primary colours that are added to them, ‘blue’ purple (not just purple) or ‘blue’ green.  Sometimes, you’ll also find that these colours have exotic names assigned to them too – aquamarine, azure, teal…..

How to Combine Colours:

The trick to looking good in the colours you wear is in getting the right ‘HARMONY’.  In Personal Colour Analysis, the ‘right harmony’ also includes the colours found in ourselves – our hair, skin and eyes.  However, not to complicate matters, let’s consider some common colour combinations that are seen to be harmonious.

a)   Monochromatic

One colour, different shades  – light brown, medium brown and dark brown.  This is easy to do, and is a colour combination preferred in many corporate settings.


b)   Analogous –

Putting ‘neighbouring’ colours on the colour wheel together.  Eg.  Green with Yellow, or Green with Blue, or Purple with Red, Purple with Blue


c)    Complementary –

Think Christmas – Red and Green, Purple and Green, Orange and Blue

They are colours that are opposite each other in the colour wheel, and they bring attention to each other too. Image

d)   Triadic –

As the name suggests, this is a combination of three different colours, but they are equal distance one from another.  Eg.  Red, Yellow and Blue / Orange, Purple and Green.Image

e)    Split Complementary –

Two analogous colours and one complementary.  Eg. Red and Purple, Green


f)      Tetradic (Rectangle) –

Four colours – two pairs of complementary colours. Eg. Blue and Orange, Purple and Green.  The proportions used for these colours in one colour combination are rarely equal, unless one wants to risk looking like a clown.


These are some suggestions for you to combine the colours of your outfits and accessories.  Which combination do you sport most often and why?

In the next post, we’ll post some illustrations on these colour combinations.


Colour Wheel images from