How to use the 3-color rule with a striped sweater

When I posted last week about the 3-color rule, many of you had questions about ways to interpret and apply it. So I thought I’d show some examples of how to use the 3-color rule (tool), this time starting with a striped sweater.

How to style a striped sweater using the 3-color rule

I love stripes, and this sweater is no exception. I decided since many of us wear some version of navy, to start with the same sweater & jeans combo I wore here, and style it using various interpretations of the 3-color rule.

If you want to apply a very strict interpretation of the 3-color rule, I’m wearing 3 above: cream, navy/blue and brown. (And not counting the lipstick.) But let’s add some layers…

Keeping it simple

How to use the 3-color rule: Susan B. wears a cream and navy striped sweater, navy jacket, green scarf and bracelets, jeans, cream ankle boots.

There are a multitude of ways to interpret the 3-color rule, from very literal to a bit more loosey-goosey. The goal is for the overall look to be coherent and intentional. Above, a more literal interpretation: the 3 colors are cream, navy/blue, and green.

Scarves are a great, low-commitment way to experiment with color. Using analogous colors (here blue and green) is a great starting point if you’re hesitant about clashing or prefer a more subtle impact.

One of the questions I was asked was how closely two pieces have to match to be considered one color. I think if they’re either neutrals or very close (e.g. two shades of red/coral as below), then you can probably count as 1 color. Above, I’m including the stripes in the top, the jacket, and the jeans all under “navy.” And below, I’m counting both camel blazer and the medium brown boots as “brown” in the 3rd look. To me, they read as two versions of one color, others may interpret differently. It’s really up to you, and how much you prefer to match or not.

Regarding eyewear, I think as long as your glasses are neutral, you don’t need to count them as a color.

Adding pattern

Here, the 3 colors are cream/ivory, navy/blue and brown. Yes, there are more colors in the scarf, but I’m counting that one as my print (so as one color), rather than the stripes. I’ve thrown in a little pattern mix, but the colors in the scarf tie back to the coat, jeans, and boots, so it holds together.

A looser interpretation

I’ve seen some versions of the 3-color rule that say you don’t count black or white as one of the colors. If a strict 3-color rule feels too constraining, you could experiment with that option. Above, I’m not counting the cream in the sweater, so the 3 colors would be navy, brown and coral/red. I think it still works here. (And adding brown to an otherwise red-white-blue outfit helps keep it from looking like I’m wearing a flag.)

Sizes: I’m wearing size Small in the sweater, 28 in the jeans, 6 Petite in the topcoat, and 8 Petite in the blazer. Some of the items linked are currently marked down in the Black Friday sales.

I’ve used neutral jackets and top layers here, as that’s what I have on hand. If you have a colorful coat or jacket, that can work with this formula too. Again, “tools, not rules.” This or any other style tool or guideline I share is mean be a support, not a straightjacket.

What guidelines have you found helpful for incorporating colors in an outfit?

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  1. I think this tool can be very helpful and I’d love to see you explore it further for different seasons. You are so amazing in your spring color palette, esp that red! You shine in those lighter colors with the bright navy being the darkest. I’m a fair skinned dark winter, and I’ve long worn neutrals with a pop of color. Winters need contrast, so for me the three are usually light neutral, dark neutral, saturated cool color, such as black/gray/burgundy or deep navy/gray/teal. I’d love to mix it it up with one neutral/two colors but that can feel like a lot in a winter palette. Would also love for you to discuss finding the right white. It’s so hard when shopping online.

  2. Hi Susan. Loving your look, and especially your hair. Kudos to gray these days. Do you think the ivory j creer would work for a late summer?

  3. Hi Susan, love the outfits with that gorgeous sweater.

    Can I ask you about jeans or pants? I’m on the taller side (5’7”) with a smallish waist but curvier hips and upper thighs, what Jean or pant should I consider? Many seem too straight for me. Looks and comfort are key. A couple of years ago you had a pair of pants from Chico’s which I bought and worked but they don’t seem to offer those anymore. Any ideas would be great! Many thanks!

    1. Hi Gretchen, thanks! Have you tried the “Curvy” jeans from J.Crew? There are several different styles and washes, and most seem to be available in Tall lengths (as well as regular & Petite). Many seem to be very well reviewed too.

    2. Old Navy has curvy high-waisted and extra high-waisted jeans. Their Higher High-Waisted Velvet Flare Pants also work for me. I’m 5’7″ with a small waist and curvy hips. High waists and the curvy silhouette are my best fit.

  4. The middle, patterned scarf is a really interesting choice. It’s got my vote if you drape it loosely around the jacket collar. Around your neck, all three scarves have a strictly outdoor, “bundled up” look. (Maybe that’s what you were going for. It’s 29° where I am now for Thanksgiving, so I can relate to that.)
    On the other hand, my favorite look is actually the “unstyled” preview picture. You look effortlessly pulled together and comfortable. ( And happy.)