Color Theory For Costuming

I wrote the original article Color Theory For Costuming years ago. I heard from many of my students and several clients that they felt as if they were getting stuck in costuming ‘ruts’, choosing the same color combinations and pairings year after year. It’s one thing when you have simply love and adore a specific color palette and enjoy using it often. It’s another thing altogether when you find yourself feeling bored and uninspired by your costuming colors.

Another issue that seemed to come up with dancers I consulted with was a difficulty in adding in interesting accessory and accent colors to their look or problems creating a cohesive, and yet dynamic, look for a group of performers. Some felt their choices were too bland and predictable, whereas, others noticed their combinations seemed chaotic and distracting.

Having a worked in the visual and movement arts most of my adult life, I instinctively knew how to guide dancers to new color combinations that complemented pieces already in their wardrobe, thus helping keep costs down and creativity up. I started offering costume consultations to my clients, students and local dance companies, guiding them on how to build individual or troupe looks and this article grew out of that.

While I was updating the website thought it be good to give it a ‘fresh coat of paint’ with new and more relevant color images and wee bit of expansion on some of the concepts.

I hope you enjoy the newer, revised version!
~Jennifer

 

Color Theory and You

Whether you are looking for a new color combination for yourself or a set of colors that work well together for a group of dancers on one stage, having a basic understanding of color theory can help.


Warm Colors

Yellow, Orange and Red family of colors, convey a feeling of warmth, associated with fire & the sun. Often viewed as powerful or energizing, these hues tend to feel as if they are moving forward toward the viewer and create a sense of closeness.

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Yellow Skirt
Yellow
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Yellow-Orange Skirt
Yellow-Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Orange Skirt
Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red-Orange Skirt
Red-Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red Skirt
Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red-Violet Skirt
Red-Violet

 

 

 

 

 


Cool Colors

Green, Blue and Violet family of colors, conveys a feeling of coolness, associated with the sea, sky & plants. Often viewed as soothing or calming, these hues tend to feel as if they are moving away from the viewer and create a sense of distance.

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Yellow-Green Skirt
Yellow-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Green Skirt
Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Green-Blue Skirt
Green-Blue
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Blue Skirt
Blue
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Blue-Violet Skirt
Blue-Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Violet Skirt
Violet

 

 

 

 


Color Symbolism

Color Symbolism refers to the conscious or subconscious association of a color with a state of being or a type of person, place or thing.

For example, White can symbolizes purity or cleanliness. Red can symbolize power or blood:

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, White Choli Top
White
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, White Skirt
White
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red Choli Top
Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red Skirt
Red

Symbolism can vary by region, country or religion. For example, to a Westerner, wearing all white conjures up images of a bride or wedding, while to many in the Far East it is a color symbolizing mourning.

Of interesting note here, the color white has the same basic meaning in both places, purity. While the Westerner uses the purity of white for a bride, those in the Far East would have the same meaning for the color white, but, instead associate it to the purity of the recently departed soul. Therefore, in the Far East, you would often see red as a color choice for the bride, due to the color red’s association there with good luck.

Another example would be the color green and its association to nature in the west (the Green Party, the Green Movement, Green Buildings & Construction), while in places, such as Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it is viewed as a patriotic color due to its association with the national flag (much in the same way as the colors red, white and blue are identified in the U.S., U. K., France, Thailand & Paraguay as patriotic).

Color Symbolism Is Used Everywhere

Color Symbolism is used in marketing and advertising everyday. Look around at the places you visit. What color choices have they made and what association are they trying to convey?

What do you want to say with your colors? How has color symbolism consciously or subconsciously effected your costuming color choices already? As you move forward with these color theory for costuming concepts I’ve laid out pay attention to how your subconscious mind may be leading you to choose certain colors. It’s quite fascinating!

Did you know different personalities are more inclined to choose one color over another? It is one of the more interesting aspects of color theory with volumes and volumes of books written on the subject. Check out your local library for more on the subject.


Color Value

Tints, tones and shades are all words used to describe a color’s value. A color that is tinted has had white added to it and is a softer more, pastel version of the original color. A color that has had grey added to it is often referred to as a tone and has a more neutral color value. The deeper shades of color are made by adding black.

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Dark Red Skirt
Dark Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Red Skirt
Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Light Red Skirt
Light Red

The color value can have a huge impact on a color’s symbolism. For example, darker shades of red symbolize power or energy, while the softer tints of red have an association with sweetness and gentle actions.

 

 

 

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Dark Blue Skirt
Dark Blue
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Blue Skirt
Blue
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Light Blue Skirt
Light Blue

The same goes for blue. Deeper shades are associated with royalty and have a authoritative value, while the softer tints of blue convey a sense of serenity and calmness.

 

 

 

 


Quantity & Placement

Jennifer of Tribe Nawaar & Lisa Goodrich of Desert Rain
White Accents
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, All White Costuming
All White Costuming

How much of any certain color you use will also effect it’s symbolic impact.

For instance, adding a few accents of white to a costume’s color scheme is unlikely to have your typical audience member make an association with brides or the recently deceased.

However, using an all white costume may.

Additionally, how you place your main & accent colors can effect how the color is perceived. Take the following examples:

 

 

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Yellow Background
The center accent color appears to be a slightly darker hue and smaller in size when surrounded by this bright yellow color…
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Violet Background
…whereas, the center accent color in in the violet box appears to be slightly brighter and larger.
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Combined Background
When this color is extended between both the yellow and violet colors, it becomes clear it is indeed the same size and hue.

 

Therefore, when choosing your costuming colors for yourself or your dance company, you may want to take into consideration the background and surrounding colors. The same holds true for choosing the accent colors for an individual’s costume.  Will the accent color you are considering appear darker or lighter when paired with the main costuming color? Will it appear larger or smaller?


Combining Colors

There are many ways to combine colors. Some combinations create a mood or stimulate the eye. Too much color chaos and the viewer becomes over stimulated and looses focus. On the opposite spectrum, if the colors are too monochromatic and not varied enough, the viewer becomes bored and uninterested.

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Chaotic
Chaotic
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Monochromatic
Monochromatic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Quantity & Placement: Balanced
Balanced

As you can see, choosing a good balance and harmony of colors becomes extremely important for professional stage work. You want your audience to be drawn in to your presentation by a balance of color combinations in your costuming, backdrop and props. If you overwhelm them with a chaotic color palette it may make it difficult for them to focus on the dance and too little visual interest and their attention may wander.

 

 

 


Color Harmonies 1: Complementary

 Each of these colors are opposite of each other on the color wheel and pair nicely when you are looking for a vibrant two color combination for yourself or for dynamic duet costuming. For duet costuming, each dancer could choose one of the two complementary colors, then add her (or his) accent colors based on one of the other color harmony charts.

All of the these examples of complementary color harmonies can be tinted, toned or shaded to create a variety of hues:

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Yellow & Violet
Complementary Harmonies: Yellow & Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Blue-Green & Red-Orange
Complementary: Blue-Green & Red-Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Yellow-Green & Red-Violet
Complementary: Yellow-Green & Red-Violet

 

 

 

 

 

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Blue & Orange
Complementary: Blue & Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Green & Red
Complementary: Green & Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Complementary Harmonies: Blue-Violet & Yellow-Orange
Complementary: Blue-Violet & Yellow-Orange

 

 

 

 


Color Harmonies 2: Triadic

These colors are all spaced equally apart on the color wheel and work well for troupe or individual costume schemes.

For an individual costume, choose one color as your main color theme then add the other 2 colors as accents.  For troupe costuming, each dancer could choose one of the 3 triadic colors, then choose her (or his) accent color(s) based on one of the other color harmony charts.

All of the following examples of color harmonies can be tinted, toned or shaded to create a variety of hues:

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Triadic Harmonies: Blue, Red, Yellow
Triadic: Blue, Red & Yellow
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Triadic Harmonies: Blue-Violet, Red-Orange, Yellow-Green
Triadic: Blue-Violet, Red-Orange & Yellow-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Triadic Harmonies: Violet, Orange, Green
Triadic: Violet, Orange & Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Triadic Harmonies: Red-Violet, Yellow-Orange, Blue-Green
Triadic: Red-Violet, Yellow-Orange & Blue-Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Color Harmonies 3: Tetrad

A tetradic scheme is based on 2 sets of complementary colors created by charting out the four points of a rectangle that is set within the color wheel.

For troupe costuming, each dancer could choose one of the 4 tetradic colors, then choose her (or his) accent color(s) based on one of the other color harmony charts.

All of the following examples of color harmonies can be tinted, toned or shaded to create a variety of hues:

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies: Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Red Violet & Blue Violet
Tetradic: Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Red Violet & Blue Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies: Orange, Yellow, Violet & Blue
Tetradic: Orange, Yellow, Violet & Blue
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies:Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Blue-Violet & Blue-Green
Tetradic: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Blue-Violet & Blue-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies: Red, Orange, Blue & Green
Tetradic: Red, Orange, Blue & Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies: Red-Violet, Red-Orange, Blue-Green & Yellow-Green
Tetradic: Red-Violet, Red-Orange, Blue-Green & Yellow-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Tetradic Harmonies: Violet, Red, Green & Yellow
Tetradic: Violet, Red, Green & Yellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Color Harmonies 4: Split Complementary

A split complementary scheme represents a color and the two colors next to its complement on the color wheel.

For an individual costume, choose one color as your main color theme then add the other 2 colors as accents. For troupe costuming, each dancer could choose one of the 3 split complementary colors, then choose her (or his) accent color(s) based on one of the other color harmony charts.

All of the following examples of color harmonies can be tinted, toned or shaded to create a variety of hues:

Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Red-Violet, Yellow & Blue-Violet
Split Complimentary: Red-Violet, Yellow & Blue-Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Red-Yellow, Green & Violet
Split Complimentary: Red, Yellow-Green & Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Red-Orange, Green & Red-Violet
Split Complimentary: Red-Orange, Green & Red-Violet
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Orange, Blue-Green & Red
Split Complimentary: Orange, Blue-Green & Red
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Yellow-Orange, Blue & Red-Orange
Split Complimentary: Yellow-Orange, Blue & Red-Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Yellow, Blue-Violet & Orange
Split Complimentary: Yellow, Blue-Violet & Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Yellow-Green, Violet & Yellow-Orange
Split Complimentary: Yellow-Green, Violet & Yellow-Orange
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Green, Red-Violet & Yellow
Split Complimentary: Green, Red-Violet & Yellow
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Blue-Green, Red & Yellow-Green
Split Complimentary: Blue-Green, Red & Yellow-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Blue, Red-Orange & Green
Split Complimentary: Blue, Red-Orange & Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Blue-Violet, Orange & Blue-Green
Split Complimentary: Blue-Violet, Orange & Blue-Green
Tribe Nawaar's Color Theory For Costuming, Split Complimentary Harmonies: Violet, Yellow-Orange & Blue
Split Complimentary: Violet, Yellow-Orange & Blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Closing Thoughts On Color Theory For Costuming..

Feel free to use this info as a guide or inspiration… or branch off from these theories and create your own unique look. Some of the greatest artists of our time have used basic color theory as a spring board for creating entirely new combinations. So, get out there, express yourself and dance!

If you feel like you could benefit from my personal suggestions on your next purchase thru our online marketplace or in the studio. Just email me your costuming dilemma. I am always happy to help a fellow dancer out with color suggestions and pairings and often can help with other weird and random costuming issues that come up.

~Jennifer

 

Text & images © 2002- 2017 Tribe Nawaar, Content written by Jennifer Secrist Goran of Tribe Nawaar. If found elsewhere, either in pieces or in entirety, it has been stolen from our site.