Gorgeous reader Abi had this request:
I’d love it if you could explain colour for me – how do I know what colours suit me, what goes, what clashes, etc.? I know other people have written articles about this, but they’re complicated and confusing. No one just seems to break it down in a way that works.
It’d be great if you could write something simple and practical so everyone can understand and use it, even those of us with no knowledge of art or fashion 🙂 Pretty please?
Oh, Abi, I feel ya. I do. I am a color addict, truly fascinated by the theories, and curious about which colors look good on a certain complexion, and which colors look good paired together and …. and … yet part of me kinda hates all that stuff. The same part that will read the first three pages of an instruction manual and then wing it.
The two resources you’ve cited are, in fact, thorough and invaluable. And the advice I’m about to give is slapdash and half-assed. But I think it works, and it’s simple, and it’s not terribly intimidating. What it lacks in accuracy, it makes up for in ease.
Let’s break it down into the two major components of colors and color flattery: The colors that suit you, and the colors that suit each other.
I’ll level with you: I have no idea what my complexion is. OK, OK, I know I’m some sort of “winter,” but there are all sorts of warm tones that look good on me, too, so it’s hard to say for certain. And the bottom line is – just like the charts that show you what body type/shape you have – all that stuff is just meant to get you in the ballpark. If you can get as far as “MOST colors that work for wintry complexions work for me,” you’re golden.
So, do try to get that sorted. Utilize Gala’s post for starters, or track down any reputable guide to determining your complexion type. Otherwise you’ll be starting from scratch, and THAT will be overwhelming as all get-out.
Once you’ve got your ballpark complexion, you’ll know which color families to try first. But you’ll inevitably see a pretty dress in a color outside your ballpark, and want to try it on. It is well worth putting that dress to the color-flattery test! Don’t go thinking that you have zilch for wiggle room. Evaluate on a garment-by-garment basis.
You are mainly interested in how colors affect your face, so hold a solid block of color right up next to your gorgeous visage. If you can, wrap it all the way around your head with a thatch of your hair peeking out. Look in a mirror in a well-lit room – ideally a mix of natural and artificial light so that you’ll know how it’ll appear both indoors and out. Then ask yourself these questions:
1. How does it affect your eye color? Does it brighten or dull it? In other words, do your eyes sparkle and twinkle, or look matte and lifeless?
2. How does it play off your hair color? Does it bring out your natural highlights or lowlights? Does it clash? Does it make your hair appear drab and subdued?
3. How does it influence your skin tone? Do you look healthy and robust, or wan and sickly? Does it bring out the dark circles under your eyes? Does it bring out a bit of a blush in your cheeks?
That last one is the biggie, of course, and is worth expanding upon. So then. Does this color overemphasize the dominant color in your skin tone? Meaning if you’ve got yellowish skin, does it make you look like a dandelion? If you’ve got ivory skin, does it make you look like Snow White? If you’ve got dark brown skin, does it make you look matte and flat, or even grayish? You want a color that creates balance with your skin, NOT one that brings out its color extremities. A color that flatters you will make you look, more or less, like someone who has put on a light amount of makeup. You’ll have a hint of rose on your cheeks, your lips will look warm and natural, and you’ll appear rested and nourished.
Now, all of these questions are HIGHLY subjective, so don’t go thinking that you’re gonna guess wrong. Most people base clothing choices on the colors that appeal to their eyes, and don’t even bother to see how those colors interact with their eye, hair, and skin tones … so you’re already one jump ahead. And the bottom line? If you put a color to this test and that color is wrong for you, YOU WILL KNOW. Because you’ll wrap that blouse around your noggin, look in the mirror, and see a LIFELESS ZOMBIE. Put me in coral, butter yellow, or beige and I become LIFELESS ZOMBIE SAL. It’s that extreme.
Colors playing together
Short answer: Screw theory, just put colors together and see what you think. Again, you’ll know when colors don’t work as a pair because you’ll get an insta-migraine. It’s that extreme.
Longer answer: If the prospect of matching colors willy-nilly makes you want to run screaming, start with like-to-like combinations. Pair warms with warms (cream, brown, tan, orange, orange-y reds, rust, mustard, warm grays, periwinkle, purples, deep blues, olive green) and cools with cools (white, black, grass green, bright blue-red, teal, neon colors, hot pinks, electric blue). Basically, if a color is extremely bright, it can go with other brights, black, and white. If it’s muted, it can go with other muted tones and browns.
Once you’re comfortable with likes, start messing around with the colors I consider to be “bridging” colors. Reds, yellows, and grays are some of the most versatile. Turquoise can also cross over – looks great with white, but also with brown. Use those colors as a platform, and start playing. Once again, if a color combination doesn’t work – neon yellow and ivory, mustard and grass green – your eye will know. Trust yourself.
Once you’re comfortable pairing colors, start introducing a THIRD color. Then challenge yourself to ditch the black, gray, white, and brown altogether and utilize non-neutrals only. Play, play, play.
If you forget about rules and just start experimenting with color combos, you’ll be absolutely astonished to find that most colors look fantastic together. Really.
Again, this is your Cliff Notes to color flattery. Nothing scientific about it, and it might be even more confusing to some of youse than the more technical guides. But if you’re interested in a quick-and-dirty way to check if a color flatters your complexion, or want some minimal guidance on matching color to color, give these a whirl!
Image courtesy Lucy Nieto.