There could be cases when you want to apply a certain styling for the previous element in CSS. But can that be achieved? I’ll try to break it down in this article.

The previous element selector or the previous sibling selector is not available in the CSS (see list of all available selectors). However a possible workaround exists, and you can imitate such behavior using the flex property.

The most common example could be a label with an input. On input :hover or :focus state, we would like to highlight the label as well, which in this case is comes before the input

HTML:

<div class="field">
  <label class="label" for="email">E-mail:</label>
  <input class="input" type="email" id="email">
</div>

To implement a workaround we’ll need to change HTML a bit. We’ll switch input and label places. That way we can target the label element via the sibling selector (+).

HTML:

<div class="field">
  <input class="input" type="email" id="email">
  <label class="label" for="email">E-mail:</label>
</div>

As for styling, we can set the visual order of label and input with flex-direction: row-reverse rule.

CSS:

.field {
  display: flex;
  flex-direction: row-reverse;
  justify-content: flex-end; /* to pull content to the left */
}

.input:focus + .label {
  color: #5a6cce;
}

Result:

In case there are more than two elements in the container you can set the order property to each one to visually allocate them one after another. In this case, don’t forget to remove the flex-direction: reverse on the container element. 

.label {
  order: 1;
}

.input {
  order: 2
}

The last tip, if you’re operating with inputs and :focus state, you can utilize the :focus-within pseudo-class to select the desired element. In this case, you can leave the HTML as is:

<div class="field">
  <label class="label" for="email">E-mail:</label>
  <input class="input" type="email" id="email">
</div>

CSS:

.field:focus-within .label {
  color: #5a6cce;
}

However, if you’re going beyond just :hover and/or :focus states the flex-direction and order properties are your main way to go to select the previous sibling element.

Tags:
css