What’s Your Color Contrast?
And why does it matter?
Happy day, dear reader,
When I help a client style an outfit, or tweak what they have to make them look their best, two places I look first are at their Value Contrast and Color Contrast. Getting these two right, and working with them can make all the difference between a look that makes you shine and one that drags you down or overwhelms you.
The concept of color contrast is really quite simple, but how it plays out is more complex. (Like so much of life, right?) Color Contrast is merely a verbal way to explain your personal coloring, as reflected by your hair, skin, and eyes. It describes how many of your personal coloring traits are colored and/or neutral.
Let’s clarify the basics! Hair: Brown, Grey, and some Blonde hair is neutral. Redheads and very yellow-haired Blondes have colored hair. Hair dyed “unnatural colors” (green, pink, unicorn, mermaid, etc.) is also colored hair. Eyes: Brown and grey eyes are neutral; blue, green, violet, and hazel eyes are colored. Skin: Skin is a little more nuanced… Most people I meet have neutral skin, but some have very pink or very yellowish skin; these read as colored for Color Contrast purposes. Some people confuse having a dark complexion with having colored skin, but dark complexions–like fair–can be neutral or colored.
All Neutrals, AKA: Low Color Contrast
Low Color Contrast means that your hair, skin, and eyes are all neutral (3N). Someone with brown hair, brown eyes, and neutral skin would be Low Color Contrast (LCC or 3N). Some people think that if their personal coloring is all neutral, that they can’t wear color. This is sooooo untrue! Everyone can wear color! It’s all in how many colors, and how you combine them.
LCC/3N’s can wear color, and look their best in an outfit that combines a neutral + one color, or in monochromatic looks (shades of a color, such as a variety of blues, or reds and pinks combined). Low Color Contrast people have the good fortune to be the only ones who look good in all neutral looks! Not sure about colors versus neutrals? Colors are found in the rainbow. Neutrals are not!
Neutral + One
This woman or man has personal coloring with one color, and the rest neutral. The color could be hair, for example a redhead with neutral skin and brown eyes, or colored eyes with neutral hair. The lady on the left is N+1 with light brown hair, neutral skin and blue eyes. N+1 is also my Color Contrast; I have grey hair, neutral skin, and hazel green eyes. There are LOTS of us N+1’s out there!
N+1’s look best in color and dull or washed out without it! N+1’s look best in monochromatic looks and prints, like the LCC’s. When looking for patterned clothing, steer clear of multicolored prints. A print in multiple shades of one color, or a color combined with a neutral (like pink and white gingham, for example) will be more flattering than a green and purple check. Wearing that color near the face is best. If you want to wear that multicolor print down below, compensate and up your own coloring with a bright lip. You can also add colored eyeliner if you’ve got lots of color going on…
Neutral + 2
This coloring combination is less common than the N+1 or 3N. Here, the personal coloring combines two colors, and one neutral; in the photo below, you can see red hair, blue eyes, and neutral skin. This colored hair, colored eye combination is how we are most accustomed to seeing N+2, but it’s not the only possible mix. The hair could be neutral, with colored eyes and skin, or the skin and hair could be colored, combined with neutral eyes.
N+2’s look their best when wearing two colors. If a colored top and bottom doesn’t appeal, choose a neutral base and add two colors. N+2’s look washed out or unwell in all neutral looks.
All Colors, AKA: High Color Contrast
This is the most unusual, and hard to find photos for! High Color Contrast means that the hair, eyes, and skin are all colored (3C), vice neutral. Colored skin may be natural, medical, or even artificial. People with rosacea, and other medical conditions may have very pink skin, and some skin can be very yellow; sometimes naturally, and sometimes from too much beta carotene… In the artificial family, think about those really orange fake tans, or faces with highly colored tattoos.
High Color Contrast is least common coloring in the general population, and finding a photo of a HCC/3C man or woman is tough! Most stock images have Photoshopped the skin into “correctness.” There is nothing wrong with colored skin! It doesn’t need correcting! It just needs dressing in the right colors. The woman above has yellow blonde hair, blue eyes, and pink skin, so her Color Contrast level is High; I think of it as 3C. Like the other coloring combinations, the High Color Contrast woman or man looks best in color combinations that mirror the natural coloring already present. Most of us would look like clowns dressed in three colors, but 3C coloring is up for the challenge, and thrives on it! Highly colored patterns are made for the 3C, as are outfits with a colored top, a different color bottom, and a third color accessory. It doesn’t come across as clownish on the 3C, but harmonious!
If you want to create harmony in your outfits, or correct an outfit that is wearing you, try looking at the Color Contrast. Need more color? You can easily add one or two colors with accessories, or the bright lip I mentioned above! Need less? Swap out one of your colors for a neutral, and see if that looks more “you.” And if the sales clerk says “You just need a bright lip.” you might want to think twice…
How about you? What’s your color contrast? Have a play in your wardrobe and experiment with different ways to wear your contrast! I promise another post will be coming soon with examples! In the meantime, let me know if I have cleared or muddied the water in the comments below. Ask away!
I wear my glasses all of the time. I have worn glasses for a long time and due to expensive lenses I only have the one pair. I have adopted each of the attitudes towards glasses at one time or another. The current pair are magenta, gold, and brown camo. Personality wise, I’m a relaxed creative with feminine and rebellious tendencies. If I understand you correctly they make me an N +2 so I can wear more color? (My creative heart loves that idea!) Thanks for your help!
There would need to be a LOT of the magenta in those frames to affect your color contrast, Kathi! I would suggest a solid colored or two-tone frame for more color impact. One that doesn’t combine with a neutral.
I am a N+1 – neutral hair and skin with blue eyes. I have worn glasses most of my life and I’ve tried a lot of looks. Currently my glasses are darker with a little bit of color. How does this play into my color contrast and how does color contrast play into choosing frames?
I LOVE this question, Kathi! Sounds like your N+1 is correct. You say your glasses are darker with a little color. What colors are your glasses? And do you wear them ALL the time, or just for certain tasks? Choosing frames depends on your personality style and your attitude towards glasses. If you wear a colored frame all the time, it becomes part of your coloring, so if you wore a pair of magenta glasses all the time it would add another color to your contrast. If your glasses are blue, then you’re not adding another color, so your color contrast would stay the same. Does that clarify things at all? Or did I muddy the waters further?
I am a N+1, Grey hair, neutral skin and greenish eyes. I am coloured as Moonlit winter by mycolorguru. So the idea of colour contrast is more about number of colours worn at a time than it is about what colour? For example I would look best in the winter colours which are clear and deep next to my face with the rest of the outfit being more in the neutrals?
Color Contrast is all about the number of colours that make up your personal coloring. It works with your palette, not instead of it. It does sound like you are an N+1, so you will look your best in outfits that have one color from your palette combined with your neutrals.The key is to remember that shades of a color are still simply one color. You could wear 3 or 4 shades of blue at a time, or pinks and reds together–both are one color. I prefer to see the color near the face, because that draws attention to where it belongs! If you wear color on the bottom (or as shoes like I often do) then repeating that color with jewelry, a scarf, or makeup brings the eye back up. There is also an important personality piece to the equation. People who are very high energy, outgoing, or Dramatic or Creative personalities often look more themselves in more colorful combinations than someone more subdued.
Thank you! That helps me a lot!
Glad to be of service!
I am an N+1 who is always attracted to striped Breton tees, but they are never a good look on me. Even when I find one with my preferred v-neck and flattering colors, something is just off. Are stripes in a different category than other prints? Too contrast-y? The only one I have been able to wear somewhat successfully is a very soft gray/white combo.
Hi, Nancy! Thanks for the visit! It may be that your value contrast is too low for a bold Breton stripe. If a soft grey and white works, I suspect that’s the issue. It could also be as simple as needing a color. If you are an N+1. then you will look your best in color, hopefully near your face. A navy and white Breton is technically not colored. The pattern is made of two neutrals, so a colored neckerchief by your face could also do the trick.
Hi, my eyes are blue to gray, my skin is pale (a bit pink) and my natural hair was very dark brown, now as I have grayed I color it chestnut brown. I know I looked washed out in creamy color neutrals. What would you classify me? Lise
Hi, Lise! Thank you for coming back! If you have colored eyes and skin, you will look washed out in all neutral looks. It sounds like you need to wear at least one color, maybe two. A colored scarf or jewelry (not in neutrals) near the face is a great way to get in a second color without feeling overwhelmed. With fair skin and chestnut hair your value contrast is higher than those creamy neutrals will provide. I was trying to add a link to my last post about Value Contrast for you, but the site won’t allow it. You might want to check that post out, as well!
Hi. I was born a blonde not very light and around 10 years old got brown . my eyes are grey blue. I dont know what contrast i am?
Hi, Iulia! Thank you for reading and commenting! Your color contrast depends on the color (or neutrals) of your hair, skin, and eyes. It sounds like your hair is neutral. If you feel your eyes look more grey than blue, you would count them as neutral. If you think they read as more blue, count the as colored. You didn’t say anything about your skin color. Skin can be neutral or colored. Usually those with colored skin are very pink. If you think your skin is neutral then you sound like you would be 2N=+1C (If your eyes are blue.) Or 3N if your eyes are grey. If your skin is colored, then we add a C to each of those and take away an N. Does that help?