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Color contrast

To help you understand the color contrast concept and apply it to yourself, there are two videos. The first one covers examples of women and what their colour contrast is. The second video has examples of colour and neutral mixes in outfits and accessories.

You also have the chart with examples, that you can work your way through.

Color contrast (people)

Color Contrast (outfits)

We will also be applying your knowledge of colour mixing options as part of the challenges for this month. The activities are designed to help you explore the concepts of advanced colour and colour contrast.

Ultimately, you will be aiming to combine your new colour contrast knowledge with your personal value contrast, working within your seasonal palette!

References and tools that you may find helpful for this unit

If you are interested in the academic underpinning knowledge for this unit, then you will find the book Timeless Beauty is one I highly recommend. The chapter on colour and the sub-section on “The five basic harmonies of color” is particularly relevant to Color Contrast.

It is not necessary to have these tools to diagnose your personal contrast levels, though some people may find them helpful so I have listed them in case you did want to explore them.

Color selector wheel.

This colour selector wheel is the basis of how to mix colors and the principles of color theory.

Identify colors. This was designed for selecting colors for quilting but will work just as well as an aid for analyzing your personal colors. It has cut outs you place over the color and then make a comparison to the nearest match.

This is a low cost color wheel that has lots of useful information in the leaflet it comes with too. You can use it to identify the color of you hair skin and eyes to see if your coloring is complementary, analogous or monochromatic.

Colour matching guide

This color matching guide also has the cut-outs to help you identify colors. It is more expensive than the simpler quilters’ color tool but it does have a broader range of colors.

Value contrast checker

This grey scale value contrast checker is something you may find useful to identify you value contrast levels.

Colour Contrast

To determine your colour contrast, I suggest you take a close-up picture of your portrait area in good natural light. You will need this to identify the colour of your hair, skin and eyes. You should aim to wear your usual make-up.

If you are having difficulty working out the colors of your features, then please post in our private member community and Ruth will be happy to help you.

The overall concept of color contrast is to identify what is the balance of neutrals and colors in your outfits, that will harmonize, and therefore compliment your current coloring.

You could also look at this as a way to consider how many colors you can wear before you look overwhelmed?

It's important to look at your CURRENT colors while doing this, because if you chose to significantly change the color of your hair, or your skin tone, then this balance is likely to change and you may want to revisit this exercise.

For example, you may have gone from a natural mid brown, to bright red hair and now find some of the clothes you used to look good in, don’t seem quite so flattering anymore. That is because your color contrast has changed. With your new brighter hair you are likely to need more color in your clothing to feel in balance again.

Essentially you are trying to determine whether your hair, skin and eyes are either a neutral or a color. That balance will give you your current ratio of color contrast. I think it is often easier to judge by comparison, so I will use myself and a few other people to demonstrate the concept. You can then use the table to identify your personal color contrast recipe.

Color Contrast and how our features change over time

This is a picture of me, and my brother Ian from the early 1970’s when I was about three.

Although it is an old photograph, my eyes are bright; as are most children’s at this age. The iris is clear and distinct in comparison to the whites of my eyes. My hair, skin and eyes are all neutral. My lips also have a rosy pink color to them.

I am wearing neutrals and some color and of course I have accessorized with a very colorful paisley handbag, Despite having all neutral coloring, it is my bright eyes and rosy pink lips that allow me to wear these colors without looking overwhelmed.

I was around 14 years old in this picture. I have my natural mid brown hair color, a neutral color, neutral skin and as my eyes are dark brown they are also neutral. I was wearing a clear lip gloss, but you can see here that my lips are still a rosy pink color.

The pink dress I am wearing is a bright cool color that jars with my warm coloring. It is only my lips that save my neutral coloring being completely overwhelmed by the cerise, cool, bright pink dress. The diamante jewelry is also cool toned and does little to flatter me either. But it was the 1980’s when glamour was all the rage!

This picture of me in the orange scarf is from my late 40’s and shows that my skin color has remained relatively unchanged, or certainly there is not a noticeable difference; it is still a creamy ivory beige colour. My eyes are still dark brown and I have added some warmth and color to my face through the tortoiseshell coloring on my spectacles as I wear them all the time.

My hair looks like a warm brown in this picture, from what you can see of it. I had copper highlights in my hair at this time and therefore my color contrast combination is neutral eyes and skin, with colored hair.

As I am wearing lipstick, and often wear a medium deep color lipstick, this adds additional color to my features which can amplify my color score. Those who usually wear a nude color, may find your lips amplify your neutral score.

I change my hair color quite often, within a range, and sometimes it is more honey blonde highlights, like the picture on the left. These tend to be more noticeable after being in the sun, as it lightens my highlights.

On the right it is a light auburn brown. Again, in both pictures I have neutral skin, and eyes, colored hair and the orange lips amplifying the color balance. Therefore for color contrast, my best combination would be two neutrals and a color, though with a brighter lipstick I could go to two colors and a neutral.

Stripped of makeup you can see that my lips no longer have such a strong rosey tone to them compared to when I was a child; they are paler than they were. So, for my personal colouring, as it currently stands, I have neutral skin, neutral eye color and colored hair, hence I usually look best in a combination of two neutrals and a color.

An example of this could be navy and white as the neutrals and then red as a color. It might be a camel coat and black jeans with a russet animal print scarf to add the color. These are all combinations that follow my combination of two neutrals and a color.

Let’s look at some more examples:

All neutral

Two neutrals and a color

One neutral and two colors

All color

If you prefer, you can use the chart below or the color wheels to help you draw your conclusion.

Using myself as an example, I have:

  • Colored hair as I have copper highlights in my mid brown hair.
  • Neutral creamy skin with no prominent freckles or rosy cheeks.
  • Neutral dark brown eyes.
  • In addition, I frequently wear colured lipstick.

This gives me 2 neutrals (skin and eyes) and one color in my hair.

This means I usually look best in:

  • One or two neutrals and a color
  • Monochromatic color scheme e.g. a red dress

And with the lipstick, I could wear:

  • Up to two neutrals and a color.

Least flattering options:

  • All color would overwhelm me.
  • All neutrals make me look flat

All neutral outfit examples

These are outfits of either one color, or a combination of colors, drawn from black, brown, tan, grey, navy, white, cream and beige. Some people include olive green, or burgundy as a neutral too.

Monochromatic outfits

This means wearing mainly one color. It does not have to mean black and white which is achromatic, though people with high contrast coloring are likely to look good in this combination. It can also be colors that are within one color family like the outfit made up of differing blue shades above. You can find examples on your color wheel.

One or two neutrals and a color

How much color you include in your ratio will be personality driven, and an outfit of one or two neutrals and a color will be a good choice for most people.

Two colors and a neutral

The colors in these outfits will be driven by where the colors in your hair skin and eyes sit on the color wheel. If you have blue eyes and copper highlighted hair, then these are basically the blue and orange complimentary colors on the color wheel, so you might wish to explore complimentary colous, or split complementary colors.

If you had copper highlights and hazel eyes then this is like red and orange and hence these are analogous colors, so you could explore these colors to add to your neutrals.

All color

If you have color in your hair skin and eyes, then you are likely to be complimented by triadic colors. For example, auburn hair, green eyes and freckles. This approximates to red, green and yellow which are triadic colors and an area you could explore. You could also draw from tetradic (rectangular) or quadrilateral (square) color schemes.

A reminder of the different color schemes is listed below.

Using the color wheel

If you have a color wheel you can use it to help you to identify different color combinations you might like to experiment with. As a refresher, these are the basics of color theory.

Monochromatic colors are colurs in the same color family but in lighter and darker shades, such as an all green outfit.

Warm colors have yellow undertones and sit to the left of the wheel in the reds and yellow section. Cool colous sit to the right of the wheel and are in the purple to green section. They have a blue undertone.

Complementary colors sit opposite each other. This would be blue and orange, red and green or purple and yellow for example.

Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel. Such as red and pink; green and blue or pink and purple.

Triadic Colors are in a triangle shape to each other. The primary color example would be red, yellow and green, the secondary colors would be purple, orange and green.

Split complimentary are colors that would be complimentary, e.g. opposite on the color wheel, but rather than using the directly opposite color, it is the color either side of the opposite color. E.g. green with orange and pink, rather than green with red. Or it could be blue with yellow green and yellow orange, rather than orange.

Tetradic colors. Similar to split complimentary, but you take a set of complimentary colors such as blue and orange, then take the two colors either side of the complimentary colors. This would be red orange and orange yellow on one side and blue green and blue violet on the opposite.

These types of color combinations are often used by fabric or wallpaper designers to ensure the colors work together in a pattern. These color schemes offer a very large range of color combination possibilities however they tend to work best when one color is moredominant that the others.

Quadrilateral. That is using colors that work in a square on the color wheel. These are colors that are two shades away from the next one. Again these tend to be used in pattern design unless you wish to wear a high level of color in your outfit.

To find the depth of color that suits you best, use your color wheel to select colors within your zone.

For example:

#1 Those with bright winter coloring tend to look best in pure saturated hues so would use the 1st outer layer of the wheel or top right in the above diagram.

#2 The second layer is the tint which is the pure color plus white; pastel colors that suit those with summer coloring.

#3 Summer colors have grey added to them to make the color muted, in the third layer and are referred to as tones.

#4 The inner circle is the shade where black has been added to the pure hue. These rich colors belong to the autumnal palette.

It is generally more harmonious if you mix colors within the same hue, e.g. in the same circular line around the color wheel. This is the basis for the color swatches given to clients after a color analysis.

Color and Personality

Whilst understanding your color contrast will help you understand what suits you on physical level, it will not tell you what suits you on a physiological level.

Only you know what you truly feel good in. Some people have strong extrovert personalities and therefore love bold or colorful outfits. Iris Apfel would not be the same in head-to-toe beige, with no accessories.

If you have a more introverted personality and do not like drawing attention to yourself then you might be drawn to a neutral outfit. Those who generally prefer to have some color in their outfit may also chose a more neutral based outfit when they do not want to attract attention or wish to feel calmer. For example, they may be feeling unwell, stressed, grieving or anxious.

An outfit consisting of two neutrals and a color is a fairly safe option for most people. The amount of color used can be altered to suit your mood. These are red, white and blue outfits, consisting of two neutrals and a color, and yet the percentage of color varies considerably. It is down to personal taste and preferences.

It is a feeling rather than a formula that dictates what equates to good for you.

And bear in mind that this can vary with what is going on in your life generally, or even on a particular day. You might feel brighter than usual or more subdued.

Most of the time, we sit along a spectrum and are somewhere in-between. It takes time to lose the social conditioning and put the rules and guidelines to the side-lines and truly follow our heart, as children are so good at doing. They wear sparkles when they want to and they might choose their favorite green jumper every day until it falls off their body.

It may take a while, but it is worth finding your inner child when it comes to color, and following your heart.

The workbook

You learn the most through doing so download the workbook and complete the exercises.