Capsule wardrobe masterclass: Colour and pattern

Today, we’re moving on to the capsule wardrobe masterclass where we’re going to look at how to pick out the best colours and patterns to make you look great. The daily activity here is to read through the tips and ideas, and think about how you can apply them to your own clothing.

There are other things to consider as well, such as your personal body shape and the way fabric is cut in different garments, but there’s so much to include there that it’s going to have to wait for another day. Meanwhile, let’s make a start by looking at colours first as these seem to give rise to the most questions and worries.


Picking out your best colours can really help you to put a great capsule wardrobe together with ease. If you’re a beginner it’s best to try to start with the colours that really suit your skin tone, and stick with colours from the same colour palette as they’re more likely to look good and harmonise with each other.

Warm and cool colour palettes

We’re all unique, but most of us have either a warm or cool skin tone and it’s best to start there. If you have a cool skin tone, wearing warm colours next to your face might look ‘murky’ as they reflect off your skin, and if you have a warm skin tone then wearing cool colours next to your face can make you look tired or drained. The right colours and shades naturally flatter you, and make you look healthy and glowing.

Cool colours include black, darkest navy, indigo, charcoal grey, pure white, royal blue, candy pink and icy pastel shades. Warm colours include brown, light navy, cream, tan, most shades of green, wine, orange, and flame red.

To work out whether you have a warm or cool skin tone, look at your face without makeup in a mirror in natural daylight and drape different-coloured pieces of fabric around your neck and shoulders. Try cool colours such as black and then white, and compare the different effects against warmer cream, brown and khaki. One of these colours will probably suddenly make your eyes and skin look great, but if not then keep looking.

Take your time, and remember it’s a trial and error approach for everyone as we’re all individuals. Remember, too, that not every colour in the main cool/warm colour palette will suit you – for example, some cool skin tones suit light shades best, and other cool skin tones suit dark shades best.

Did you get stuck at the warm or cool stage?

Don’t worry. Some people, myself included, are not purely ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ and may find that they can wear some of the colours from both palettes. That’s even more reason to try the trial and error approach! If you get really stuck, many department stores offer a free stylist service, and they can point you in the right direction with great colours to suit you as well as helping with body type analysis.

Next steps with colours

Most of us will find we each have a reasonably large range of shades that suit us best. That gives everyone enough choices to vary their colours as fashions change, and can give you a welcome change of mood or look as you change over from your summer wardrobe to your winter wardrobe.

So let’s move on from the basics of warm and cool to look at other aspects of colours. The next things to look at are:

  • Light/pale versus dark – some of us look good in one or the other, some of us look good with both, and some of us suit mid-toned colours best
  • Clear shades versus muted/soft – Clear shades look strong and bright or jewel-toned, muted colours look a little more faded or ‘vintage’ and some have a touch of neutral mixed into them

Keep trying out different coloured fabrics by your face to see whether you look better with dark / light / mid-toned colours, and then work out whether bright or muted is the most flattering.

You might also want to think about metallics. Most people look best with either gold (warm tone) or silver / platinum (cool tone). If neither looks great, try copper (very warm), or pale old gold, matte silver or oxidised silver (more neutral).

Choosing your capsule wardrobe base colours

It’s best to start by choosing your base colours first. Base colours are often plain, sober or neutral, which makes it easier to mix and match them without the risk of colours clashing too much. They also tend to be darker colours, especially handy if you’re creating an autumn or winter capsule wardrobe. However, if you’re very fair skinned you might prefer to try a mid-toned base colour instead.

Classic cool toned base colours include: black, dark charcoal grey, dark navy, indigo denim.

Classic warm toned base colours include: dark brown, warm mid-toned grey, light/French navy, washed denim.

Classic mid-toned base colours are a bit lighter could include: medium taupe or mocha (neutral), dark tan or khaki (warm), or icy medium grey (the hint of blue makes it a cool tone).

It’s usually really easy to find lots of options for clothes in all the classic base colours mentioned above, whatever your price range. You don’t have to start with classic base colours the first time you put a capsule wardrobe together, but it does make it so much easier. There are other base or dark colours that come in and out of fashion, such as olive, wine and rust (warm), or pine green, dark purple and royal blue (cool) – but they might be harder to find in the shops and more care is needed when mixing and matching.

I have seen some capsule wardrobes that have just one base colour in them, but this can get very monotonous so you might like to pick out two to four main base colours from the classic colours for your current capsule wardrobe for more variety.

Pick out your best light neutral colour

Moving on, it’s also good to work out which light neutral colours suit you best. Again, the neutral nature makes it extra easy to mix and match your garments in a capsule wardrobe because there’s less risk of clashing with the other colours accidentally. The classic cool light neutral colour is pure white, but you could try a pale icy blue for a change. Think about how chic and versatile a crisp white shirt is!

If you have warmer skin tones you might have to hunt around a bit more for your best light neutral colour. Try off-white, cream, buttermilk, oyster white or palest beige.

It took me years to work out that my best light neutral colour is light oatmeal, so give that a try if you have no luck with the warm or cool tones. For something a bit less classic, you could also try nude or pale blush.

For a classic 5-day week capsule wardrobe I usually pick just one light neutral colour, but you can pick two if you want.

Choosing your accent colours

This gives you the chance to have a bit more fun, and to follow the new season’s fashions or just express your personality. Step away from the base colours and light and mid-toned neutrals for a moment, and play a little to see what works.

For a small capsule wardrobe you can pick one, two or three accent colours without making things too complicated. It’s up to you how eye catching you make them – some people like to grab attention, others prefer something more subtle. One easy option is to pick a couple of mid-toned colours that look good together, so there’s nothing too dark or too bright and they don’t clash. For example, you could have green and blue, or pink and purple, or yellow and orange. I’ve also seen capsule wardrobes where only one accent colour is used, often a shade of red, and that seems to work quite well if you have fairly minimalist tastes.

If you don’t feel too confident with accent colours then keep them to just your accessories. They’ll still create interest, but it’s harder to make a mistake as they won’t be sitting right next to another accent colour. Also, if you’re really, really stuck with colours then don’t worry too much. You could avoid accent colours altogether, and pick a simple, palette with just your base colours and neutrals.

Using colour to create effects

Accent colours tend to draw the eye, so you can use them to bring attention to your favourite features or draw attention away from your least favourite ones. In addition, lighter and brighter colours tend to make an area look bigger, and darker colours tend to make an area look smaller.

Do you always have to stick to the rules?

The advice above is for beginners, but once you have the hang of colours you might want to start bending the ‘rules’ a little. For example, I really don’t look good with black clothes next to my face, but black is a very practical base colour so I will happily wear black shoes and trousers, and carry a black bag during autumn and winter. I pick my accessories, tops and jackets more carefully though.

There are also your personality and your preferences, and trends to take into consideration. You might find that your favourite colour is one that really doesn’t suit your skin tone, for example – you can still wear it next to your face if you like, but you might need more makeup so you don’t look washed out. Alternatively you can wear it as an accent colour somewhere like your shoes, or as one of the lesser colours in a print or pattern. However, it can be quite difficult to create a mix and match wardrobe using colours that don’t go too well together, so be careful.

The other thing to remember is that there might be a different shade of a your favourite colour that you can wear well. For example, if bright purple doesn’t suit you then you could also try lilac, mauve, plum, burgundy or blackcurrant and one of those might look great.



Patterns are sometimes tricky to work with, especially if you aren’t feeling very confident. The best advice for a capsule wardrobe is don’t include too many patterns, and maybe start out with simple patterns as well.

For example, you could keep a pattern to two colours only. You could also have a garment that is mainly one colour with second colour that creates small or subtle pattern on it. Classic examples of this are pinstripes, thin-striped Breton tops, small polka dots and tiny ditsy flower prints. They’re all usually very easy to mix and match with other clothes, and aren’t too overpowering in themselves.

You can also prevent patterns clashing by keeping them just to your accessories, or limiting prints to tops or bottoms only. That way you’ll never be wearing two different patterns at the same time so there’s nothing to worry about.

If you’re feeling braver, go for patterns that have more colours in them, or larger motifs. Take a few steps back from one of these garments and you’ll usually be able to spot the main colour in there, which makes it easier to work out whether it will go with your base colours.

There might be one or more of your base colours in a pattern, which can help to make coordinating your outfits more simple without getting a ‘matchy matchy’ effect. It’s okay if it tones in rather than matches. For example, if I’m picking out a patterned top that’s going to be worn with jeans and navy trousers, I often look for a print that has a bit of medium to dark blue in it. The printed shirt I chose for my Autumn 2016 capsule wardrobe is mainly green, but it also has off-white in it (my light neutral colour), and a little denim blue and black (base colours).

It’s often said that large or busy patterns can swamp people with tiny frames, but if you’re petite and have a big personality and / or you like to stand out then go for it anyway. Hold it up to yourself in a mirror and try it out.

If you’d like to refresh your memory, have a read of my capsule wardrobe tips for beginners too.

That’s it for today, but if you’d like more articles about capsule wardrobes or things like choosing clothes to fit your body type then let me know.

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  1. Had another rummage in my wardrobe, found a few more suitable items. Then I didn’t walk past the £1 rail at my local charity shop quick enough and scored a tunic, a dress and a t-shirt (twing!) They are in the lighter end of my warm palette with a touch of red as an accent. Earlier in the week I found a couple of scarves. Total spend for my autumn wardrobe – £7.50.

  2. Well done Jackie! Hope you’re all set up now for the coming season.

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