Continuing our series on how to wear certain colors, we move from two underrated menswear hues, green and orange, and one overrated one, black, to one that some men are reluctant to use because of its brightness or tone: yellow. As an accent, yellow pairs exceptionally well with classic menswear colors, and the range of tones it includes makes it quite versatile when featured as a larger article of clothing such as a sports coat.
Yellow includes a range of colors with vivid names: buff, butter, gold, mustard, ochre, and even tan, which necessarily must contain some yellow. Depending on its tone, yellow can either be a strong accent or treated like a neutral, so it remains a possibility for multiple seasons and climate conditions. In the spring, a pastel yellow tie would pair well with sky blue, for example, while in hotter weather, a true yellow knit tie or mustard linen jacket might be chosen. In winter, rich yellows that contain some brown are ideal, as in an ochre sportcoat.
Here are 5 classic ways to pair other colors with yellow.
The classic (and easiest) color to pair with yellow is blue. Matching yellow and blue is a no-brainer as they are at opposite quadrants on the color wheel, meaning they are generally complementary. The dominance of blue in tailored menswear (think of the classic navy suit) invites the addition of yellow. Be sure to match tones of both colors, however. For example, a bright yellow tie would work better with a royal blue suit than with dark navy where the contrast may be too high. Overall, bright yellow and blue pairings most frequently appear in warm weather while more muted combinations of the color suit cooler temperatures.
Yellow is an excellent way to brighten up gray, which is a prominent color in menswear. For those who find gray to be a bit drab, yellow accessories can lighten up otherwise very gray outfits. A lighter to mid-gray suit and pastel yellow pairing seem to work best. Alternatively, a warm yellow sportcoat and gray trousers are even more unique and sophisticated.
When it comes to muted background colors, for yellow accessories I prefer the warmth of a brown suit. Because they are closer in tone (brown can be made using yellow with other tints), brown still allows yellow to shine without creating too much contrast; brown remains the background without totally disappearing.
Green is made from a combination of yellow and blue, so it isn’t surprising that green is another option to pair with yellow, though the earthier versions of these colors look best together, and usually with green as the accent color. For example, a sport coat in the ochre or camel tone looks good with a forest green tie in winter. However, an olive green sport coat can be equally accessorized with an earthy yellow knit vest for autumn flair. Both colors are excellent choices for pants when paired with accessories of the other tone.
A second excellent pairing for colder weather is wearing a sports coat in a warm yellow tone with burgundy or maroon trousers, tie or waistcoat. This is a combination I like in the fall going into winter.
Not convinced that yellow is worth adding to your closet, or just need a few more ideas? Read on.
Most men will probably begin wearing yellow in the form of a tie or pocket square. These give you an opportunity to start small and experiment. An important piece of advice is to avoid shiny satin silks or bright gold as well as wide ties. With yellow accessories, less is more, and subtlety is the key to success. Any bright tie risks distracting people’s attention from your face where you want it to be. Pastels and soft yellows are especially nice tones when choosing with a solid yellow tie.
If you prefer a pattern, this buff ancient madder printed silk tie from Fort Belvedere works perfectly with a variety of blue jackets from sky blue to navy as well as with gray. The yellow here is quite restrained.
Keep in mind that you can start even smaller by choosing a tie with some yellow stripes accompanying a more subdued ground color you already used to, like this navy tie, also from Fort Belvedere.
A white linen pocket square with just a shoestring border in yellow or gold similarly adds a hint of the color and can be paired with a tie containing some yellow touches as well.
For a unique approach, you might try adding yellow in the form of a floral boutonniere, such as a yellow carnation boutonniere. It’s an inexpensive investment that adds a touch of spring to your lapel.
Lastly, don’t forget socks as a yellow accessory. While some may like to wear brightly colored socks as a statement, a more elegant and subtle choice would be something like a fil d’ecosse shadow stripe that incorporates yellow and navy together.
Whether you’re dressing smart casual or in highly formal morning wear, yellow has a place in the form of a waistcoat or vest.
A pastel yellow knitted vest or cardigan is a solid transitional piece to wear in early spring weather when it’s still cold out, but you want to bring in a color of the season.
On the other hand, if you find yourself at an occasion for morning wear, like attending Royal Ascot in the UK or your own wedding, a yellow or “buff” waistcoat is a completely acceptable way of brightening the charcoals and grays within a highly regulated dress code. The color is perfect for the spring and early summer events season of garden parties and horse races during which you might put on morning dress, perhaps worn with a pink or pastel blue tie like Prince Harry.
In the United States, many people will be familiar with yellow sports coats from the iconic jackets worn by football Hall of Famers, though the NFL is insistent on calling them gold for the association with excellence implied by that precious metal. Interestingly, these are made-to-measure by Haggar with wool woven in India that is dyed with a secret combination of pigments; the “gold” is meant to look good on television. Whatever it’s called, the color is useful as an example from the yellow family that isn’t too overwhelming and that can be matched with trousers and ties of various colors.
I own a yellow hopsack sports coat that is one of my favorites in warmer weather, as I can wear it easily with navy tropical wool trousers, blue chinos or white cotton trousers with or without various blue ties. Similarly to the Hall of Fame jackets, it’s a subtle yellow.
However, when the weather is hot and sunny, that is really the only opportunity to wear equally bright tones in yellow jackets, such as ones in linen, with or without patterns.
Conditions of strong sunlight tend to beat back the yellow and make it less visually shocking, though, admittedly, the look is still bold and not for everyone. A strong yellow does pair nicely with solid indigo denim or blue gingham shirts.
On the other hand, in cold weather, browner yellows like ochre and camel are the best choice and are quite restrained. Because the yellow tones are already muted, they act like neutrals. As discussed above, these enable pairings with other winter colors like forest green, brown, and burgundy while brightening up your seasonal look.
For an Italian summer look or to achieve the style of the “go to hell” pants worn on the US East Coast, give yellow chinos a try. Depending on where you live, bright trousers may get a lot of attention, but they’re perfect to wear in places like Rome or Naples, Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons, and at a resort.
Again, blue is the way to go with yellow chinos, in the form of a shirt and/or sports coat. A blue jacket will subdue the yellow of the trousers more than a shirt alone. My personal preference, if wearing yellow trousers, is to choose a pastel rather than a hotter yellow, something closer to the color of lemonade than the lemon itself. Remember that, as a rule, pastels or lighter yellows go with lighter blues while hot yellows require richer blues.
At the Pitti Uomo winter show held each January in Florence, you are sure to see at least one Casentino wool overcoat in yellow. It’s a bold move that leans toward peacock style, but it is often said that what is would be outrageous in a suit or sportcoat can be acceptable in an overcoat, such as wide lapels, strong patterns, and brilliant colors. If you find it too forceful, camel is an easy fallback option, where the yellow is softened by brown, which is appropriate in cold weather where you would wear an overcoat.
In spring or fall, a shorter hip-length raincoat in yellow canvas could work for a more casual look, again, especially with blue denim or chinos. Interestingly, a deep yellow raincoat like this one from Luciano Barbera seems appropriate for rainy conditions just as a bright yellow sports coat would be in strong summer sunlight.
Most of our emphasis in this article has been on yellow as an accent color or in pastels and subdued tones when worn as clothing. There are a number of reasons why yellow dress shirts are rare. An important consideration when wearing a yellow shirt is how it will match your complexion, as with any brightly colored shirt, since it represents a large swath of color so close to your face. I used to wear a yellow dress shirt when I was younger and when I went into an Italian haberdasher in Rome, I was told bluntly that it didn’t suit my complexion. It was a wake-up call, and the lesson was to avoid brightly colored dress shirts altogether. It’s definitely not classic style. If yellow is worn as a shirt, choose either a very pale pastel yellow that suits your complexion or a casual polo or golf shirt.
This may go without saying, but unless you want to look like Big Bird from Sesame Street or a lightbulb, it’s best to steer clear of wearing multiple yellow articles of clothing simultaneously. Except with small accessories like a boutonniere flower and necktie, one article of yellow at a time is a good rule. Following this, one should never wear a yellow suit.
Expanding on the advice above, it should be said that wearing even two items in yellow can be tricky since there are so many different variations on the color. If your yellow items are close in tone but not exact, the difference will be jarring and clash visibly. This is true of any two colors, not just yellow, so care needs to be taken to coordinate properly.
This is a great rule for almost all bright colors in menswear, with a few exceptions. Avoid shiny fabrics, loud or irreverent patterns, and yellow shoes. These over-the-top fashion choices are a cry for attention, and they tend to look gaudy or cheap.
A guiding principle in this guide has been thinking about seasons and weather. A pastel yellow sports coat would look out of season in the middle of winter just like camel would be unusual in summer, so be sure to follow the rhythm of the year.
Yellow may be thought of as a color for warm weather or for spring and summer, but it has such variety that it is suitable for all seasons. If you are new to yellow, start small but don’t hesitate to try it, first with an accessory then with a single article of clothing; it will add a sense of energy and brightness to your outfits.
How do you wear yellow? Share your uses of the color in the comments below.