• Team DesignerShala

Colour as a Design Element

Updated: Jan 15

As a fashion design student or professional, your job entails a lot of studying, analysis, and play with colours. And, when we say colours in the design industry, we’re not just referring to primary and secondary colours. Fashion is an industry that is largely dependent on not only hues, tints,

and shades but also their emotions, mood, and overall personality. Yes, colours have personalities and that aspect is very dominant in the fashion industry. From considering the prevalent seasons to identifying the vibe one wants to set, a fashion professional takes their colour palette too seriously and for good reasons.

As a fashion designer, you work with certain elements that form the crux of your designs. Colour as a design element is one such element that plays a massive role in your final designs and the end product that transpires from it. This may sound a little too much as well, but the colour palette you choose can either make or break your design and its whole visual appeal. But, when it comes to this element, it is important to consider a few more complementary factors like cultural relevance, the psychology behind it, the current trends, the season, etc.


Source: Laura Adai on Unsplash

How Colour Plays a Role in Fashion

As a designer, you don’t simply pick colours as per your preference and go ahead with the design of the garment with that. There is a strategy involved in the same. And, although there is no set of steps to follow when it comes to picking the right colours, it involves a thorough understanding of the below. With these insights, you’ll be presented with all that there is to know about colour as a design element in fashion, and you can then make a choice.

Colour Psychology

Yes, colours are not just used to convey a visual appeal but also evoke a mood, a change in thoughts, mood, or perception. In short, colours can have a strong influence on people’s perception and thinking. There’s a reason why there are colour temperatures and intensities like warm and cool. It’s because they exude that exact kind of emotion – warmth and lightness respectively. Although some perceptions can be subjective, these ones are fairly universal. In fact, based on research, the colour of your clothing can also effectively showcase your individuality, status, and other aspects of your personality. It can also alter your own perception of yourself. So ideally, colour psychology is not just about influencing others but also yourself. They also evoke a particular mood and vibe. Say, warm colours like red, yellow, and orange inspire a range of emotions and feelings, right from comfort to anger. The Colour red, in particular, denotes strength, power, confidence, and authority. Cooler tones like green, purple, and blue are associated with calmness. Blue, in particular, is said to evoke a sense of loyalty and trust along with serenity.

When you use different colours as a design element, it has different effects on your mood, perception, and overall mental energy. This effect of colours psychologically is also linked to their association with nature and universal things. Say, the colour yellow is instantly linked to the sunshine, in turn, taking the form of a warm hue. Similarly, blue is associated with water and the sky, standing for calmness and serenity, also known as a cool hue. These associations are subconsciously capable of inviting certain moods and emotions in us, and that’s what makes colours such a wonderful element to use in fashion. The right colour or combination can transform any design and make the look a wonderment! That’s the power of fashion and colours combined.

Cultural Relevance

Different colours may have different meanings in different countries and cultures. They can also be associated with symbolic meanings and different personalities/phases in history. They are also often linked with a specific religion, organizations, festivals, groups, sports teams, etc. All these relevancies combined affect your selection process of colours for your designs as a fashion professional. Especially now that we know how it also has a psychological influence. So, when choosing a colour palette for your designs, it is imperative to consider the cultural context along with the region, religion, and other factors.


Say, the colour white represents death in the Chinese and Hindu cultures but it stands for celebrations like weddings in others. Similarly, the colour black represents death in western culture. Some colours that may be a sign of welcoming and special occasions may be a colour of disappointment for others. So, as a designer, it is important for you to study the target audience thoroughly – the religion, culture, region, preferences, lifestyle, etc, and then curate the colour theme for your designs.

Source: Annie Spratt on Unsplash Colour Wheel

A basic reference point for designers and creative professionals, the colour wheel is an illustrative spectrum of the many colours and the relationship they share. This is usually served as a guide for you to curate the colour scheme that you need. The wheel shows a range of colours and their families along with the relationship every colour combination exists. Created by Sir Isaac Newton in the late 17th century, it is also the source of colour theory, which is the practical guide to the visual effects of certain colours and their combinations. So, the colour wheel ideally represents these three families of colours – primary, secondary, and tertiary.

1. Primary Colours


This group includes basic colours like red, yellow, and blue. All three colours can be mixed with one another to create the second group of colours, which are secondary colours. Say, red and yellow when mixed, create orange, red and blue creates purple, and yellow and blue creates green.

2. Secondary Colours


As mentioned earlier, secondary colours are ideally the result of the mixing of primary colours. Colours like orange, green, and purple are labelled as secondary colours and when these are mixed with primary colours, they lead to the third group of colours – tertiary colours.

3. Tertiary Colours


When you mix the basic primary colour and secondary colours, you get colours like coral, aqua, and other striking shades. Here is how the colours are paired and mixed to create this third group – red + orange, red + purple, blue + green, blue + purple, yellow + orange, and yellow + green.

Seasons and Such


Lastly, what makes for another important consideration for using colour as a design element, is the season. Different seasons demand different colours, and this has a lot to do with the temperatures and the weather. Say, wearing dark colours like black only makes you more attractive to the sun rays and UV rays, which is why the summer season is usually associated with light colours. Similarly, colder months are linked to a darker palette – brown, berry, black, and more. This is also one reason


Now that you know what role colours play in the fashion industry and how they hold so much value, you’ll curate your colour schemes better. It takes some understanding of colours, a deep dive into the region, religion, gender, season, and other factors that you’re catering to, and creativity. With this, you can say you are well-equipped to use colour as a design element.


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