Color Blocking for Every Body: Color, Theory, Proportion, and Placement
We’re on a mission at Interweave to help you love the clothing you knit. We know you’ll best love garments that make you feel beautiful. So after posting two series called Focus on Fit, it seemed only natural to reprint Daniela Nii’s wonderful tips for color blocking.
Note: Daniela employs a slightly different set of terms for body types from the ones used in our recent series.
Color blocking is the simple but high-impact technique of combining large, straight-lined blocks of mostly high-contrast colors. Because of its boxy aesthetics and silhouettes, we often shy away from trying our hand at it. After all, who wants to look like a box? Luckily, by following just a few simple rules, you can make color blocking work for you, no matter what your body type may be.
First of all, let’s remember that color blocking isn’t new. Color blocking was very popular in the 1960s, and it re-emerged in the 1980s. Now, it’s our turn to make color blocking work for us. Fortunately, color blocking isn’t a garment style for just one body type; in fact, its color schemes can simply be layered on top of current dress styles. The bright color-block jackets with big shoulders of the 1980s wouldn’t work with the free-flowing deconstructed garments you now see on fashion runways all around the world.
Ease Into Color Blocking
The general rules are that the blocks are of a single color, that they have no graphic patterns or textures, and that they’re basic geometric shapes, rarely curves. No ruffles and frills, just straight lines.
There are two main ways you can add color blocking to your wardrobe. You can combine multiple single-colored garments into an outfit or integrate color blocking into a single garment.
The first approach (Figure 1) involves using items you most likely already own. It’s quick, but it runs the risk of coming across as color “stacking,” and the result may seem a bit boxy unless you pay close attention to body type and garment style. The second approach (Figure 2) will most likely require investing in a new garment, but it also offers many more options to flatter your figure.
For the three main elements of color blocking—color use, body type, and garment style—to work for you, you’ll need to understand
• how to combine colors effectively,
• what your body’s strong and weak points are,
• and how the cut of a garment supports your figure’s strengths.
The most basic color blocking is done with two colors, but the best results are usually achieved with three to four colors. Traditionally, the color palette uses high-contrast colors, often opposites on the color wheel. However, using complementary colors isn’t always required to achieve a fabulous look.
To help you navigate the fundamentals of color selection and to ease you into the spirit of successful color blocking, I’ve outlined a progression through levels of color blocking for you to try. This progression starts with adding just a splash of color to an otherwise neutral palette and ends with combining the most adventurous high-contrast colors, the combinations you may have seen on current fashion runways.
COLOR BLOCKING LEVEL 1
If you’re just starting out with color blocking, I suggest you pick a neutral color and pair it with a high-impact color that flatters you. Neutral colors include grays, browns, black, white, and navy, colors that round out an outfit and don’t distract or interfere with what you want the eye to be drawn to. Place your focal, high-impact color—perhaps yellow, orange, red, or green—on the part of your body that you would like to highlight; place the neutral color on the area that you would like to have recede into the background.
COLOR BLOCKING LEVEL 2
If you feel like you’re ready for more color, you can expand on your neutral + 1 high-impact color in a couple of different ways. You can add one or two shades of a single color from the same color family, or (in color wheel-speak), choose a monochromic scheme (e.g., to green, add light green and dark green). Or you could add one or two colors that are neighbors to your high-impact color on the color wheel. You would then have what’s referred to as an analogous color scheme (e.g., you could pick pink, red, and orange; or blue, green, and yellow).
COLOR BLOCKING LEVEL 3
The next level of color blocking—on your way to using colors picked from opposite sides of the color wheel—is achieved by adding a complementary color to your analogous color palette. This third step in our four-step progression to color-blocking nirvana creates what’s called an accented analogous color scheme. For example, if your color palette consists of pink, red, and orange, you would add a green to the mix. Many people find that this level strikes a good balance between traditional color choices and more daring color-blocking combinations.
COLOR BLOCKING LEVEL 4
Now that you’ve left the security of neighboring colors and made the jump across the color wheel for your daring accent color, it’s just a matter of spreading out a set of colors so that they’re spaced evenly around the color wheel.
If you’re color blocking with only two colors, you would pick complementary colors, colors on opposite sides of the color wheel. For example, you would pair blue with orange or purple with yellow.
Color blocking with three colors involves a bit of “triangulation.” Start by imagining an equilateral triangle (all sides of the triangle are the same length) drawn inside the color wheel, with each tip pointing to a color. For example, if you start with green, the other two colors in your triangle would be orange and purple. This method of color selection creates what’s called a triad color scheme.
Even though colors for color blocking are mostly picked from the primary, secondary, and tertiary parts of the color wheel, you can adjust the shade (by mixing a color with black; for example, maroon is a shade of red, and navy is a shade of blue) or the tint (by mixing a color with white; for example, pink is a tint of red, and light blue is a tint of blue—all pastels are tints) to your personal taste.
Color Placement and Body Shape
Now that you know how to pick your colors, it’s time to look at where to place them. You want the colors to draw attention to your body’s favorable areas and to de-emphasize your body’s trouble spots. In general, you would place the brighter colors on the parts of the body where you want people to look and the darker and neutral colors on the parts of your body you want them to ignore. Here’s how that principle can be applied to the main four body types:
• For round, apple-shaped bodies, the trouble area is mostly around the midsection. Place bright colors around the top and bottom, with the darker or more neutral colors around the middle.
• For pear- and triangle-shaped bodies, the trouble area is mostly around the hips and upper legs. Highlight the upper body with bright colors, drawing the eye away from the lower body, where you would use darker or more neutral colors.
• For inverted triangle-shaped bodies, the trouble area is wide shoulders and a large upper body. Place bright colors on the lower body and the darker or more neutral colors on top.
• For rectangular or hourglass-shaped bodies, highlight the waist by placing bright color there. Just make sure you don’t split your body into equally sized upper and lower body color blocks. No one looks good in a garment with that proportioning.
After choosing your colors well and knowing where to place them according to your body type, you should also take advantage of color blocking’s ability to use size and shape to trick the eye into perceiving your figure in the most advantageous way. By changing the proportions of the different color blocks, you can change the perception of your body’s proportions. For example, you can change the perception of where your waistline rests by using larger color blocks to create a drop waist.
If these typical color-blocking arrangements still look too boxy for your taste, you might want to venture into single garments that incorporate color blocking. Doing so lets you manipulate block shapes and arrange horizontal and vertical elements to radically change and diffuse shape outlines. For example, instead of simply stacking different-sized rectangular blocks, you could break up the width into smaller blocks or even place blocks off-center, which tricks the eye into seeing a slimmer figure (Figure 3).
And by adding triangles and slants, you can truly transform your apple-, pear-, or triangle-shaped body type toward what you wish for. In the same way that a zebra’s stripes diffuses its outline, color blocking can diffuse yours and present the viewer with a new shape. Explore and slice and dice your “canvas” and reassemble the pieces into a new shape (Figures 4 and 5). Paradoxically, color blocking uses boxes to create “out of the box” new looks!
Garment Style & Body Type
After having so much fun with color and playing a fashionista version of Lego, you’ll still need to pick a garment style that flatters your figure, or you will end up looking boxy.
Just as color, block size, and placement can manipulate the viewer’s perception, a garment’s cut and style also help balance a figure to approach the beauty ideal of an hourglass figure. Here are some basic guidelines to help ensure that you choose the most flattering styles for your body type. For a more detailed and in-depth explanation of these guidelines, you can choose from a wide assortment of articles and books written about how to dress for your body type.
• For round, apple-shaped figures, introduce lines and angles that mask the roundness. Free-flowing tops in an empire or A-line style help create a new silhouette, quite different from the apple shape. Deep V-necks, scoop necks, and wrap tops break your upper body into smaller pieces visually, and vertical lines draw eyes away from your extra curves.
• For pear- and triangle-shaped bodies, elongate and add volume to the upper body. You can do that by wearing tunics for a new drop waist or tops and jackets with interesting necklines to draw the eye upward while keeping your lower body in darker background colors.
• For inverted triangle-shaped bodies, emphasize the lower body by adding volume with A-line shapes or flared bottoms. And just as for the pear- and triangle-shaped body, a drop waist works to balance the wider shoulders with the appearance of an elongated body.
• For rectangle- or hourglass-shaped bodies, emphasize the curves and define the waist. You can wear wide belts to emphasize or “create” your waist. Garments that have darts or a V-neck create the illusion of a V-shaped upper body and flaring bottoms create an inverted V-shape for the lower body.
For knitters, I’ve found two books that address these garment style fundamentals well. The first, Mother-Daughter Knits (Potter Craft, 2009) by Sally Melville and Caddy Melville Ledbetter, has an insightful chapter titled “Knit to Flatter” that looks at optimal sweater lengths for different body types. The second, Knitting Plus (Interweave Press, 2011) by Lisa Shroyer, has a chapter called “Common Sweater Elements + What They Mean for You” that explores in detail the interaction of body type and sweater style.
Color Blocking for All!
Armed with these simple rules, you have an effective road map for introducing color blocking into your wardrobe. By following the four-step progression I outlined, you can begin your adventure in color blocking by adding a single, bold color to an existing neutral palette and ultimately develop your color-blocking instincts to create a look that would grace any runway. You’ll discover that the right colors, the correct placement, and smart garment shaping let you participate with pleasure in this high-fashion, head-turning runway trend. Color blocking done well can be your friend!
All illustrations by Katie Himmelberg.
Learn more of Daniela’s color-blocking secrets!