A Guide to Visual Grouping


Visual Grouping
Snakeskin Sammy Pants from Bella Lido – Queensland designer Claire Lonergan

Here is how I came to think about it : being a dark-haired, cool person, I decided to “break my style rules” and bought a leopard faux-fur coat – I love it on your lovely colleague Jill Chivers -. I chose a not too warm background (sand). The spots are dark brown and I would like them to appear more black so as to reach a higher colour contrast a I need. I chose to wear it with black knee-high boots to reach this effect (instead of the sand ones the coat was displayed with in the shop). I can’t explain why ? I guess there must be a visual optical effect in action.

Visual Grouping – our brain organises visual information into wholes, rather than parts.  When we repeat colours from such as hair colour and shoe colour, we create a boundary around our body and it creates a cohesive whole.  Repeating a colour in different parts of your outfit will also move the eye from one part of the body to the other as it notices the colour, making our brain realise that there is some similarity occurring.    You will notice that in the picture above when I’m wearing the black shoes, I look more ‘whole’, whilst in the nude shoes, my body doesn’t end in the same way and the eye drifts off.

Visual Grouping

The black boots you’re wearing will not only help you look more whole, but will also work with your high level of contrast.

Want to wear red shoes?  To make it work well, then you need to put some red up near your face.


Using Visual Grouping


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  • This is so true. And it’s true for rooms, too. I decided I couldn’t buy a cute felt ball garland, precisely because I had nothing to group it with…

  • Thank you Imogen, I think I’ve just had one of those “A-HA!” moments! I am a tall (5.11) woman with dark brown hair and medium-light warm-toned complexion. I’ve just flipped through my pictures and verified many interesting things. Black and dark brown shoes always work unless my hair is completely covered by a hat in a lighter brown. I often rock colored shoes, because being tall with long legs I can pull off a broken leg line and am keen to create multiple focal points, but I’ve just realised they look incongrous unless I’m wearing lipstick, glasses or a scarf in the same color :O Tan (medium brown), which I thought was a universally flattering neutral, actually looks hideous. OMG I’ve been wearing tan/medium brown shoes forever hahaha! On the contrary, light taupe, nude and cream shoes work alright, I guess they pick the color of my skin and eye-whites?

    • Maria – how exciting that you’ve figured out what is working and why! So much easier to replicate when you know the reasons. Taupe/Nude will also blend with skin and be less noticeable too.

  • Another fantastic post. I appreciate both how you give insightful concrete suggestions (e.g. the larger the items of connected color, the fewer repetitions of that color you need to give a sense of cohesion) and how you break down how and why we perceive as we do (e.g. our brain’s instinct to take in the whole vs parts, and how color can mimic and enhance the boundaries of silhouettes). For a science-oriented brain like mine, it’s so helpful.

    You look quite happy, radiant and playful in the pictures, and that turquoise spin chair looks chic and fun!

  • This is very insightful. Thank you. I also have dark hair (dark/medium brown), but how should I wear a very lovely comfy pair of nude shoes I have. with nude tights? Would that be enough and not make me look incongruous?

    • Susie – you can wear with nude tights, it’s not that you can’t wear nude shoes if you have dark hair, the fact I own nude shoes with dark hair should tell you that! It really depends on the look you’re after.

      • Thank you so much! One very prominent feature of my style is seeking harmony, so much so that the one piece of fashion advice of yours which I flout is sometimes wearing matchy-matchy necklaces and earrings. But I also get a real thrill out of colour coordinating my outfits and people always compliment me on it!

        I have a beautiful pair of nude shoes and in the spring/summer I do wear nude tights (although I prefer black/black patterned whenever possibly and make my legs ‘half-hero’), but from the pics above I can see how the dark shoes do complete the look better and it’s the same with me too, checked some outfits in old photos and dark shoes just seem to look more harmonious than nude shoes!

    • Marie – yes -if you have short legs, then wearing an alternate colour shoe will shorten your legs, a nude shoe will elongate you more. As your hair is pale, a nude shoe provides visual grouping to it and also will elongate your legs.

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