How to Match Colors and Patterns For Classic Spring Summer Outfits

How to Match Colors and Patterns For Classic Spring Summer Outfits

Spring and summer are seasons for all the colors that we see in nature when flowers are blooming, and fresh green leaves and grass are growing. Red, yellow, violet, purple and bright green.

These colors are so strong that they can easily be overwhelming. Thus it is advisable to use them only as a part of the outfit or for its details. Cotton trousers in grass green are wonderful with a blue linen blazer, but a grass green linen suit would be too much for most of us. This doesn’t  mean that a grass green suit is totally out of the question, but the majority of men wouldn’t invest in a garment that can only be worn once in a while.



The Gentleman himself

The man himself, Bernhard Roetzel

Bernhard is the author of many menswear books, we highly recommend these three:

  1. Gentleman – the classic menswear book that sold the most copies worldwide (over 1 million)
  2. Bespoke Menswear – great if you are interested in custom clothing
  3. Gentleman Look Book – his latest book full of pictures of well-dressed real world, modern day gentleman

Matching Spring Colors

The colors of spring are ideally matched with the colors that form the backdrop for them in a garden. The petals of a flower are usually surrounded by petals in other colors and by green leaves. Different shades of brown are also always around. Think of the twigs that you see at a blossoming apple tree and their colors, some are of a greenish brown, others are very dark. And on the ground, the color of the soil and of sand are in the picture too. The blue sky is the backdrop for all of this. Think of this palette when you put a spring or summer outfit together. Use different tones of brown and sand for the bigger pieces of the outfit like jackets, pants or suits. Smaller pieces may have stronger colors to add some spice to the mix.

In businesswear, spring colors are usually restricted to shirts, ties, and handkerchiefs because the dark blues and grays are compulsory all year round. This makes it relatively easy to inject some spring into officewear. Brightly colored ties look best on white shirts. If you prefer shirts with stripes and checks in lively colors you should pick ties in solid colors to create an appearance that is not too busy because of too many colors and patterns. My favorite solid colored ties are made of knitted silk. They look simple yet sophisticated. The question remains, how you match these colors. Say, for instance, you find a shirt with a gingham check of purple on white. How do you find the right color?

The Principles of Color Matching

Some people seem to have a natural hand for finding matching colors. There is nothing wrong to use some easy to follow principles instead.

Classic Dark blue suit

A classic dark blue suit paired with other shades of blue

Principle #1: Use similar colors in lighter and darker shades to create harmony in an outfit. 

The easiest and most popular way to find a matching color is the principle of using similar colors in a lighter or darker tone to create an impression of harmony. If your shirt is light blue, you can match it with a suit of dark blue and a tie with stripes of mid blue and dark blue. If you apply this idea to the aforementioned purple gingham check shirt, you could match it with a knitted silk tie in dark purple and a navy suit pinstripe suit. Likewise, a navy chalk stripe suit for business wear can be paired with tonal purple accessories and a small checked purple shirt. A sport coat made of mid blue with purple overcheck or even a bold check of two tones of purple would also work well with other tonal purple accents.

Chalk stripe suit by Ralph Lauren Purple Label with Hydrangea Silk Petals & Wool Pocket Square Large Paisley - by Fort Belvedere

Chalk stripe suit by Ralph Lauren Purple Label with a hydrangea boutonniere & a wool paisley pocket square by Fort Belvedere

Matching different tones of one color is relatively easy. It works best if you restrict it to shirt, tie and pocket handkerchief using neutral solid colors for the jacket as a backdrop. If you add different colors to a frame or backdrop your outfits will move up one level. A light blue shirt and a tie with dark blue and light blue stripes will look perfect with a navy blazer or a navy suit. The same shirt and tie would work well with a chocolate brown linen sport coat with a light blue overcheck or a dark brown fresco suit with white pinstripes.

If you match blue and brown, the outfit will automatically look more sophisticated, especially when it comes to shoes. Black shoes are always the correct choice for business wear but whenever possible replace them with brown shoes.

Beutiful green suit with orange knit vest and purple knit tie, brown hat and gloves as seen by

Color can be an excellent way to create contrast in an outfit, like this bold green suit with an orange knit vest, and a purple knit tie, as seen by

Principle #2: Add color to create contrast. 

Harmony is not always what we look for in an outfit. Sometimes the occasion allows for more contrast, and our mood may call for a bit of flamboyance, especially in spring. In this case, it is advisable to add color to create contrast. In businesswear, the suit is always chosen in sober grays or blues that may be a bit lighter in spring and summer. The contrast would usually be created by using a tie in a slightly more striking color on a white, light blue or pink shirt or a shirt with multi-color checks or stripes with a solid tie that picks out one of the colors in the shirt’s pattern. It can be fun to wear socks that repeat the color of the tie or one the shirt’s colors. For the bold, a variety of solid colors can be also employed to create visual contrast.

Color wheel

Color wheel

Principle #3: Use the color wheel to select complementary colors. 

It can be difficult to work with color if you find it challenging to envision the whole outfit. If that is the case, I recommend using a color wheel. In its most basic form, it contains only red, yellow and blue, which are the colors that cannot be created by mixing other colors. Other color wheels also show the colors that are created by mixing red and yellow (orange), yellow and blue (green) and blue and red (purple). It may seem like a strange idea at first to use this tool that reminds us of art lessons at school, but it is really very helpful and easy to use because the colors that lie opposite in this wheel are complementary. This means that they enhance each other perfectly and look good together. The color will show you, that yellow looks great with purple, green with red and blue with orange. In fact, you will find these color pairings in many club and regimental striped ties.

The Principles of Pattern Matching

Mixing patterns & textures creating understated elegance

Mixing patterns & textures creating understated elegance

Principle #1: Patterns should always differ in size.

Various patterns have been mentioned, but nothing has been said so far about how to match them. Mixing patterns is actually very simple if you follow two rules. The first rule says that patterns should always differ in size. A small gingham check must be matched with wide stripes or a big window pane check. A tie with big polka dots should be worn with narrow pencil stripes.

Principle #2: Pair busy patterns with quiet patterns. 

The second rule to remember is similarly easy to apply. Busy patterns should be matched with quiet patterns. Busy patterns are dominated by the pattern with very little solid color between pattern repetitions, while quiet patterns have much more space and background between the pattern repetitions. For example, a busy paisley patterned tie with a shirt with fine stripes or a check with lots of space in between. These two rules always apply to patterns that lie next to each like of the shirt and the tie, the jacket and the shirt, the pocket handkerchief and the jacket. So don’t worry about the patterns of the shirt and the pocket handkerchief because they will never be seen close together. It is more important that the pocket handkerchief has a pattern that differs in size of the suit’s pattern.

Testing the Principles of Color & Pattern Matching

Let’s see how all this theory works if we think of three typical spring and summer outfits.

DB navy blazer with red tie, grey flannel trousers and Panama Hat & SB blazer with madras tie, chinos & Panama hat

DB navy blazer with red tie, gray flannel trousers and Panama Hat & SB blazer with madras tie, chinos & Panama hat

Outfit #1: A navy blazer with gray pants

Take for instance a double breasted navy hopsack blazer with gilt buttons. Hopsack is a fairly open weave that allows the air to pass through. The fabric is not flimsy and hardwearing. If the blazer is unlined or half-lined, you could wear it even on rather hot days. What could we choose to wear with this blazer in spring or summer? The blazer is part of the smart casual wardrobe so you wouldn’t wear it in the office unless there is no strict dress code. The blazer is good for business travel though because it looks very smart and but less formal than a dark suit.

Dark gray pants of light wool are the most formal choice. Solid navy and gray are the perfect backdrops for a number of spring colors. You could pick a pink shirt and match it with a patterned tie including navy, red or pink. The pocket square could be of white linen or red with pink and blue. Alternatively, you could choose a patterned shirt with lively multicolor stripes or checks and a solid tie. Knitted silk is available in various colors, for a change you could choose an unlined tie of Shantung silk which has been very popular among aficionados lately. If you are wearing Shantung silk which has been very popular among aficionados lately. If you are wearing loafers, you might want to wear colored or patterned over the calf socks picking up a color of the shirt or the tie.

The same blazer would look completely different if you wear pink cotton slacks with it, a white linen shirt and a bow tie in vivid colors. You could even consider spectator shoes in brown and white and a Panama hat. The resulting outfit would be a mixture of English summer wear and preppy style, it would be perfect for a sunny day no matter how you label the look. If pink slacks are a bit too eccentric for you a pair of cotton khaki pants might be a better choice. A fine denim dress shirt with a cutaway collar, a striped silk rep tie in orange and green, orange socks and chestnut brown suede tassel loafers would create an outfit far from the standard blazer and chinos combo.

Outfit #2: The Olive Green Suit

The second group of examples is built around another very basic item of the spring and summer wardrobe, the olive green cotton suit. It is still not seen as often as cotton suits in beige or sand but in my opinion olive green looks better on most men including the very pale type with light blond hair. In Italy, olive green is a standard color for cotton suits. Olive green also has the advantage that is darker than most cotton suits and looks slightly more formal than beige, and it looks good with brown and black shoes.

The most common choice of shirt to match the olive cotton suit is light blue either in oxford, pinpoint, end-on-end or chambray. Light blue is the color of the sky in spring and summer and the ideal backdrop for any color. Nevertheless, I would refrain from choosing something too vibrant to go with the olive green, dusty pink or wide stripes of brown and navy Shantung silk would be more sophisticated. You could wear black tassel loafers or brown suede lace ups, that is a matter of taste and occasion. If you feel like wearing a tie that shows more color, you should choose a white shirt. Tradition suggests white popeline, but personally, I prefer white shirts in weaves with a bit more structure like Oxford or even Giro Inglese. Olive green and white would allow for very colorful ties. You could choose unlined printed silk in a number of patterns or motifs, an unlined linen tie would be my personal with this shirt. A coral red linen tie with white polka dot would look very much like Spring, the pocket handkerchief could show patterns in greens, red, gold and white.

A third shirt option for the olive cotton suit is a check shirt with a white collar. The check could be composed of dark purple, green and white, a solid tie of knitted silk in gold or purple would work well. Remember what we said earlier about matching colors and patterns. I would always wear colored socks with this type of shirt, probably in the color of the tie. With this busy shirt, I would probably pick a white linen handkerchief for the breast pocket with just some color on the hand-rolled edge.

John Cooper Sportscoat in Plaind & Blue

John Cooper Sportscoat in Plaid & Blue

Outfit #3: A lightweight sports coat

The third garment that I would like to use as an example for matching colors in spring in summer is a lightweight sports coat. The cloth collections that weavers and cloth merchants put together for spring contain a huge selection of checks and weaves in fine worsted wool, linen, linen and silk and cotton, many of them being very bright or even loud. A jacket made up from one of these will automatically a lot of attention to it which means that all other elements of the outfit will stand in its shadows. This has the advantage that you can use solid colors to great effect. A busy jacket will limit the choice of patterns for ties and shirts. Personally, I prefer sports coats with simple, larger scaled patterns with two colors. The two most versatile colors for a spring sports coat are blue and brown. You could choose a mid blue mixture of linen and silk with a broad brown overcheck or mid brown cloth with a broad overcheck of brown. The first example would look best with a white and pink shirt or with slightly darker blues like fine denim. The latter would be my favorite because it works good white, pink, yellow and green and also with light blue, my favorite color for shirts and the easiest one to match with ties.

Yours Truly in Firenze wearing a vintage brown flannel glencheck suit

Sven Raphael Schneider in Florence wearing a vintage brown flannel jacket with a bold blue overcheck

So let’s imagine we have found a brown sports coat with a bold overcheck of blue. You could take one of your Royal Oxford shirts and then through in a tie of almost every type of pattern. The bold overcheck of the jacket will not collide with any sort of pattern or motif because it will always be larger in scale. So you could even pick very busy patterns for the tie like houndstooth or Macclesfield neats. Of course, a solid tie would also be good. Simple matches are seldom a bad choice because they will not stand out and you don’t get tired of them. This sport coat would also pair well with wool pants in gray, brown and beige and cotton pants in dark brown, navy or colors like orange or pale green. The beauty of this type of sports coat lies in its versatility. It can look very Italian with gray wool trousers, a denim shirt with cutaways collar and a sand linen tie. Or very flamboyant with rust cotton pants, a pink shirt, and green silk grenadine tie.


Matching colors and patterns for spring, summer or any other season is great fun with the help of a few key color and pattern matching principles. There are lots of rules that helps us to turn ingredients into something delicious and tasty, never forget to use your intuition of imagination because the result may be much better than the one from the “recipes” in the books.

Have fun matching colors!

How to Match Colors and Patterns For Classic Spring Summer Outfits
Article Name
How to Match Colors and Patterns For Classic Spring Summer Outfits
A comprehensive guide to the principles of Color and Pattern Matching with Bernhard Roetzel.
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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11 replies
  1. dee bishop says:

    Can some one please tell me where in the world men would wear these types of clothing. I live in Canada and have not see this style. My Doctor wears jeans as does my accountant, dentist and banker. You would be hard pressed to see a CEO wear this or some one on TV? Mather of fact the local weather doesn’t wear a tie. I would love to dress this way, but would feel out of place in this City,

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      You can wear all of this, anywhere in the world if you have the confidence to do so. You have to be ok with being better dressed than others. When you generally compare yourself to others, you don’t always look at the average or bottom line, otherwise, you would strive to make minimum wage…

      • Simon says:

        Sven is correct – you can wear most of these outfits in major cities around the world and not get a second glance. A few of the outfits shown are a bit “dandy” and overly colorful and would raise a few eyebrows. But they are there because the article is about patterns.

  2. Chris says:

    They all look terribly camp styles. Overblown car crashes of colour. It is how we think of Americans in the UK ie just hopeless when it comes to style and class. True style is ALWAYS understated, subtle, never flaunted or in your face. Few know how to carry it off but when achieved it looks superb, elegant, timeless and knocks this pile of overpriced tat into a cocked hat.

  3. Andrew Gregg says:

    Mr. Bishop’s point is well-taken.
    In line for a prescription, the technician asked, “Where do you work that you have to dress like that?” From her perspective, she could see a hound’s tooth grey suit, white pocket hank, light blue dress shirt, and a navy tie with small medallions.
    While moving away may not be an option, confidently wearing one’s personal style is every man’s prerogative.
    Andy Gregg.

  4. Gregory Edwin Yim says:

    Excellent article! All men should dress in this manner. I think many are not doing so due to lack of knowledge, or lack of confidence! Thank you, Raphael, for your use of photographs to illustrate your point, and the color wheel! My only wish is that I could find some of these garments, with this variety of material and colors, locally. For me, the only option may be bespoke!

  5. Alexander_F says:

    Thank you again for another insightful article. It’s the first time I see that an olive suit is reccomended as a basic, but the more I think about it, the more I see the point.

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