The colours are a classic combination that celebrates summertime in all its glory, say style experts, and it's infinitely more wearable than the other pairings that define other specific days on the calendar. Together, the shades are chic not costume-y, a much higher risk with, say the orange and black of Halloween, red and green at Christmas.
"Red, white and blue are iconic," says Tommy Hilfiger, who weaves the colours into seemingly every collection no matter the season or trend. "These colours reflect freedom, optimism and a youthful spirit. ... I've always been inspired by iconic people and places, and my American heritage is one of the most recognizable influences in my designs. The brand has always drawn inspiration from our classic, American, cool heritage and signature preppy style."
And, adds Tim Baxter, executive vice-president and general merchandise manager of apparel at Macy's, the colours aren't just a source of American pride. The Brits and French also use it for their flags, he notes: "It's a very bold and powerful colour combination."
The crispness of the colours — and the sharp contrast they offer — works in their favour, explains Alia Ahmed-Yahia, chief style director of the Loft. It's not the same with other holiday-specific palettes.
First of all, she says, it's grounded in white, which is an easy base for any summer outfit Memorial Day to Labor Day, and even longer if you're willing to break some outdated "rules." White is flattering to most people, it's polished but not severe like a black would be.
Baxter says navy is getting its due as a fashion colour, too, and shoppers are using it as they would a black. "I think we're shifting into a period of fashion where navy will become a more influential base colour throughout the year."
Whatever it is, choose "a hero colour," says Ahmed-Yahia. "You don't have to be equal parts red, white and blue."
A red headband or scarf ties an everyday white T-shirt and jeans into a barbecue outfit.
Costume designer Eric Daman often put Leighton Meester's "Gossip Girl" character in red, white and blue, but, he says, he also was keenly aware of balance, which doesn't mean even. Stars are OK, stripes are OK, and sometimes they're even OK together, but it's easier to wade into overkill territory.
His favourite trick is a nautical theme: It could be a blue-and-red striped bateau neck top with white jeans, or a blue-and-white striped rugby with washed-out red chino shorts. "It's a very Nantucket way to do it," says Daman, a style adviser to retailer Century 21. A navy blazer, red tank and white pants offer a slightly dressier look.
And then he kicks it up with accessories, maybe a red shoe or red bag, but probably not both.
Colorblocking remains a strong trend in fashion now, too, and that works with red, white and blue. Think mod — and use white as the ground.
There's a way to keep it all feeling fresh, even if it's familiar, says Hilfiger. "Over the years I've looked at the iconic colour palette in so many ways — we used rich burgundy and deep navy for fall while royal blue and 'Tommy' red defined the spring collection. There are an endless number of ways to work with these colours."
Men can pull it off, too, especially with increasingly popular colored denim.
"Our most savvy customers know how to add a piece of red, white and blue to their existing wardrobe to make their own look that suits them. It's not a stretch," Baxter says. Others like the cue they get from runways and displays, he adds, noting particularly strong sales of navy-and-white and red-and-white dresses this year.
There's a spike in red before Valentine's Day and dark green before Christmas, Baxter says, but those colours have so many other colours and symbols — glitz, snowflakes and hearts, for example — that the message is a little more diluted.
Novelty prints can be dangerous, anyway, especially the ones that are cute in very small doses but quickly become kitschy, according to Daman. "Prints are where it's easy to go over the top and become cliche. I'd say that for the moose sweater at Christmas or head-to-toe stars and stripes."