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This post breaks the color blocking formula to look effortlessly stylish down, and explains the origin and changes of this perennial trend. Read to create non-clashing minimalist outfits. 



What Does Color Blocking Mean in Clothing?

In fashion color-blocking means wearing blocks of solid bright or bold colors. The blocked colors can be either both loud or clash. Typically, two complimentary colors or three colors that together are complimentary occur in one outfit. Note that combining blocks of black and white counts as a perennial trend of its own.


Who Invented the Trend?

Color blocking in fashion is a perennial trend. Fashion experts debate whether its origin lays in the paintings of Piet Mondrian. The trend took off in the 1960s when Yves Saint Laurent to create the so-called Mondrian Dresses. The trend resurfaced in the early 2010s and again in a new way in the early 2020s.


three mondrian dresses in the 1960s color bloccking formula
Spiegel 1966 The Mondrian Look” by genibee is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.



Which Color Combinations Are Great for Color Blocking?

Of course, to look your best, you have to choose non-clashing colors. The easiest way to do so is to use two colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel. This means complimentary colors like

  • Blue and orange
  • Red and green
  • Yellow and purple


color wheels explaining complimentary colors
Examples of complimentary colors. “Color Wheel – Complementary Colors” by thirtydaysweater is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.



How to Color Block with Three Colors?

Instead of the complimentary color you take the three colors that form a triangle of 120o on the color wheel (see below). Note that using the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) may look like a box of crayons, i.e. not very stylish.


color wheel with traingles at 120 degree for good color blocking combinations
RYB Color Wheel rgbcoded” by Sean Hillmeyer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Alternatively, on a color wheel with only primary and secondary colors, pair two analogous color with their opposite on a color wheel that includes also tertiary colors. On this type of color wheel of primary and secondary colors, green and yellow are right next to each other. Adding red-violet creates a complimentary color-blocked outfit.


color blocking rule purple with the tertiary analogs yellow green and yellow orange
This look uses purple with the tertiary analogs yellow green and yellow orange. Outfit details: Calvin Klein dress, Christian Louboutian pumps, Lonchamp bag, Hermes collier de chien, watch c/o Nordgreen, sunglasses c/o SUNGAIT


Use a square on a color wheel with primary, secondary and tertiary colors to create color blocking outfit ideas with four colors.

>What Is the New Color Blocking Formula?
Besides the above described traditional (read classic) color blocking formula, a new way to color block occurred on the 2021 runways. This formula uses different shades of the same color family nearly like creating a monochromatic outfit. Think the color and its pastel like light blue and blue, or pink with red. In other words, the two colors differ only by their tint.


light blue and blue outfit in the new color blocking rule
Outfit idea in the new trend. Details: Top and wrap skirt c/o Coolibar, Prada satchel, Ivanka Trump pumps, Hermes collier de chien bangle, watch c/o Nordgreen watch, sunnies c/o SUNGAIT



Unusual Color Blocking Combinations to Try

Instead of using a color and its pastel, try the color and it muted color like red and burgundy or blue and navy. Or try analogous colors.

outfit idea with blocks of analog colors
This look uses analog colors to create the blocks. Outfit details: Skirt c/o Coolibar, Rebecca Collins necklace, top c/o Chico’s, Hilfinger sandals, Dooney & Brouke bag, Ray Ban sunglasses, Nordgreen watch


outfit idea in new color blocking formula plus clashing color
Outfit idea with the new rule plus a clashing pastel (salmon pink instead of a light orange. Details: Rebecca Collins necklace, skirt and cardigan c/o Coolibar, Very Fine Dancesport Shoes sandals, Coach bag, Ray Ban sunglasses, leotard c/o Femme Luxe



Can You Wear a Color Blocking Outfit over 50?

This trend has a bold minimalism vibe because all it takes are two items in contrasting colors. Consequently, it is great to wear when you have to be more minimalist on a budget. Many women over 50 still support their kids in college, and save for their retirement. Women who retired already, have a lower budget than during their time in the work force.

Yes, you can wear bold fashion colors at any age. Especially, when you have gray hair, color blocking the fashion colors of your flattering palette avoids to look washed out.

Color blocking is a great alternative to the Coastal Grandmother Style trend. When living in a resort, it is also a great dressing option other than wearing resort style.

Color Blocking Formula Wrap Up

This trend is easy to create from your wardrobe from solid pieces in complimentary colors. Multiple color blocking is risky because we traditionally dress in not more than three colors. Read how to look great in more than three colors.


Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2022 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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