There’s no question: choosing wedding colors is one of the earliest, trickiest tasks a bride has to cross off the list. You can’t even talk your florist until you’ve worked this out. And even if you’re getting the cake from Ron Ben-Israel, he’s not going to ask you whether your wedding theme draws elements from 14th century Venetian court dress … he’ll ask you about your colors.

A mere generation ago, planning the wedding was a lot easier. It expressed your social class, and your parents’ tastes. Even if they had particular ideas, the market couldn’t offer much in terms of individual design. But these days, your wedding expresses your personal style in a way it never has before. Translation? The pressure’s on!

Sussing Out Your Style

Some brides can solve the color question without thinking too much about style. They might have a life-long love for purple. Or, their venue might have strong hues they need to coordinate with. Or, when they picture their wedding, they already see their bridesmaids awash in certain colors. Easiest of all: sometimes they already have a theme in mind.

For others, it’s not that simple. Still, you can quickly pin down the styles that get your heart beating almost as fast as your fiancé does. Does Martha Stewart’s relaxed, preppy look command your undying devotion? Do you pray you can someday actually subscribe to H&M magazine? Did Vera Wang’s modern, moody Bolshevik collections incite heavy breathing? This gives you some major clues.

Destination: Home, Sweet Home

Still, even if you don’t consider yourself a fashionista or a Martha devotee, all’s not lost. Instead, let’s turn our eyes back to home and hearth.

Many brides aren’t just looking forward to a wedding, they’re also buzzing with anticipation over the dream house they plan to share with their beloved. And in the process of hunting down this love nest, most spent lots time mulling over their personal style. What did you picture in your mind’s eye as the right setting for your new life together? A rangy colonial with a gabled roof? A warm, log-sided farmhouse with a wood stove in the kitchen? Or did you dream of finding a downtown loft bursting with recessed lighting and monochromatics, and flip through the new IKEA catalog to pick out your cabinets?

Or consider: do you dream of filling your home with antiques you can pass down to your children? Look to seasonal-inspired color schemes and ballrooms. Plan to drape your bedroom ceiling in yards of mosquito netting? A fairytale wedding drenched in candelabras, gold braid and gauzy swags might fit the bill. Collect exotic objects from all over the planet? Try an art museum for your setting, and a sophisticated or daring palette.

And if you’re one of those eclectic types who pairs Amish rocking chairs with aboriginal artifacts, use this old designer trick: think of the last bit of art or furniture you bought to spruce up your house. That tells you what’s on your mind lately.

Your Secret Romantic Style

So, you know your domestic style is Eclectic Contemporary. Congratulations: that means you’re holding a black-and-white wedding with chartreuse accents and ostrich feathers in a huge SoHo loft, right?

Hold it: not so fast. Why? Because many brides have a special romantic style that exists in a universe by itself. You might be thrilled picking out Art Deco style spaceships for your pendant lighting. And yet, when it comes your wedding, you might picture something a lot more traditional.

So even if you’re the most fashion-forward girl on the block, take a moment to consider whether your wedding vision doesn’t actually go back in time by few hundred years. You might secretly harbor a special place in your heart for New England autumns, Victorian elegance, English cottage style, or even timeless fairy tales. And if that’s true, rest assured you’ve got plenty of company.

The Gown’s the Guide

But how do you tell if this stylistic gotcha’s operating in your case? Here’s the secret: go get your dress.

For many brides, The Dress is a journey that starts with many preconceptions, but ends in the unexpected. Finding the dress is usually a case of recognizing it once you’ve tried it on, not knowing ahead of time what you’ll wear.

And once you’ve found it, the dress will offer some big clues about your Romantic style. Captured by a demure ivory gown covered in Alençon lace, with a button-back closure? Start your search with pastels and neutrals that suit a 1930’s vintage or feminine garden wedding. Fell hard for a sleek, diamond white v-neck that’s all about the lines? Investigate the crisper, more playful palettes we see today, such as black and white, aqua, bright pinks, lime green and corals.

Adjust for Geography, Venue and Season

Now that you’ve unearthed your personal style, it’s time to look outward. If your style’s traditional, for example, start with a hotel ballroom. If you want a strong seasonal feel for fall, try a rustic barn. Cultivated gardens go well with traditional, Martha-esque tints. Tents weddings are a blank slate: you can make them as classic or brazenly modern as your heart desires.

Geography, too, plays a role in your colors. Tropical affairs in the blinding sun are often showcases for the brightest hues of all: coral and orchid, for example, or aqua and orange. Evening white-tie affairs in New York City? Not so much.

Many brides are in the middle, and want to weave in at least a seasonal hint. Fortunately for them, most seasons have palettes both traditional and modern. For example, a classic summer wedding might feature cornflower blue or sage, where a modern one draws on fuchsia and lime green, or orange, pink and black.

Even flowers help set the style. For example, a profusion of pinks in a bouquet of roses and peonies says English cottage. Mini-sunflowers and chrysanthemums says New England country. On the other hand, the color blocking in a hand-tied bouquet of purple callas is strongly modern.

Essential Color-Choosing Tools

Now you’ve got a style in mind, let’s get to the art of actually picking colors. Here are a few can’t-miss tools.

Color Schemer

You’ll need to create a free account, but this wonderful site has user-created palettes aplenty that you can search by keyword. Once you’ve registered, hit the “search schemes” button and enter words that fit your vision, like “fall,””garden,” “sunset,” “winter.” Or free-associate with adjectives like “nautical,” “peaceful,” “modern,” “preppy” or even “trendy.” We promise, you’ll be hooked.

Sherwin-Williams Color Generator

Hit their site, and choose “FIND COLOR.” Click on any color that draws you, and you’ll automatically pull up two accent colors that complement it. Cool.

Big Huge Labs Palette Generator

Have a photo on your hard drive that seems to capture your wedding’s heart and soul? Upload it to a palette generator, which will kick out most of the main hues involved. Unless you’re on the beach, use one of the more neutral, calming colors as a primary (e.g., use it for bridesmaids or table linens), and the more nervous, high-energy colors as accents (use these in table napkins, chair sashes, ribbons, and some of your flowers.)

Make a Mood Board

Once you’ve narrowed down some favorites, start grabbing photos (for your own personal use, of course). Make a special folder on your hard drive, and save photos that seem to fit the colors, setting and season you’re going for. If you’ve got any photo editing software, start putting them together in one big image. This will tell you more than thousands of words how your look will play out.

Making the Most of Your Choices

Now that you’ve got your colors, how can you really make them shine? A problem that plagues some brides is an oversized fear of chaos. Although it’s simple, most weddings aren’t at their best when the groomsmen’s vests and ties exactly match the bridesmaids’ gowns, which in turn match the bride’s sash.

So, choose your colors wisely and stick with them, but strive for designing more than matching. Brown and ivory are neutrals when chosen thoughtfully, so use their many shades for a sophisticated, monochromatic look. If the bridesmaids wear mocha or persimmon, the men will look great in chocolate brown. And even if the flowers call for a palette of orange and yellow, let a little green or cream sneak in for dimension. Check for too much of a good thing: when the entire wedding party wears matching brown or black, the effect can be overpowering.

And They Lived Happily Ever After …

When all’s said and done, you’re sure to have a great feeling about your colors, and how they fit your personal style. Even if the scheme you hit on isn’t “I’ve loved that all my life!”, it might be “I never would have thought of that, but I love these together!”

Picking your colors is a journey, just like finding the dress, or knocking all those planning items off your checklist. But hitting on the right colors, theme and setting for the ultimate expression of your own Romantic style? That can be the pleasure of a lifetime.

Chime In!

Stuck on colors, and looking to chat? Upload some starter pics that shows us your venue, your dress or whatever you’re working with. Tell us the season or theme, tell us about you … then post away!