Color can be a cruel mistress. Most of us know that we could stand to win a few style points by giving hues outside our comfort zone a go, but — like finding the right haircut for your face shape — selecting the right hues for different skin tones is often easier said than done.
With such a kaleidoscopic spectrum of shades on offer, it’s no wonder you’re scratching your head and wondering ‘what color looks best on me?’. Now, some of you are bound to disagree, saying it’s not exactly rocket science, but simply a matter of trying something on and sizing it up in a changing room mirror before you buy. And to an extent, you’re right.
But if you want to shave some time off your shopping rounds or buy more confidently online, then it’s worth acquainting yourself with a few fundamental rules when it comes to knowing how to dress for your skin tone.
What Are the Different Skin Tones?
The first step to this daunting question of ‘what color suits my skin tone’ is to delete the bookmarks you made for those online quizzes based on supposedly sophisticated algorithms. There are three different skin undertones, and yours has nothing to do with whether you like rock music or rap.
Secondly, take a look at your arm. To help identify the best colors for skin tone and the core of your wardrobe, you’ll need to determine whether your skin has a warm undertone, a cool undertone, or a neutral undertone. If the veins on your wrist are more blue than green, you have cool-toned skin. If they’re more green, your skin is warm-toned. If it’s hard to tell, you likely have a neutral skin tone.
It’s important to note that skin shade (i.e. pale skin, olive skin, or dark skin) don’t necessarily determine your skin’s undertones. A guy with dark skin can have a cool complexion, and a guy with pale skin can have a warm complexion. And all the vice-versas.
Now that that’s out of the way, read on for a blow-by-blow guide to finding the skin tone palette that will work best for your wardrobe.
A lot of light skin guys will also find that they have cool-toned skin, but darker skin can have a cool undertone, too. Ask yourself these questions to figure out if you have cool-toned skin. Are your veins as blue as they come? When you look in the mirror, does your skin give off a bluish undertone? Does your skin often burn in the sun? If you answered yes, chances are you’re the proud owner of cool-toned skin.
What colors look best on cool undertones?
If you’ve got pale skin and light features, then hues that clearly contrast with your skin tone will — quite literally — bring some color to your complexion. “I’d recommend basing your outfit around darker colors, which you can combine with lighter colors,” says Selfridges personal shopper and stylist Daniel Rhone.
Darker colors like grey, brown, burgundy, bottle green, navy and bolder shades of blue will all work well as these shades contrast with your skin tone. People with cool undertones generally look great in colors in the cool range of the spectrum: think purples, greens, charcoal gray and deep blues.
What colors should I avoid?
People with cool undertones to their skin will want to avoid soft, pastel shades or bright colors. The same goes for neutrals; rather than white, light beige or stone, choose richer shades such as sand, camel, khaki and slate grey.
“This doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself through color. It just means you have to mix light colors with dark ones,” adds Rhone. Red, though not best suited to the ruddier, rosy-cheeked pale person, can work for more alabaster pale skin tones when worn in bold shades like crimson.
If you’ve got skin that tends to tan rather than toast in the sun, then you likely have what’s known as a warm complexion, which suits a much wider spectrum of colors than those with fair skin or cool complexions. If your veins have greenish tones instead of blue, and your complexion is more yellowish, you probably have warm-toned skin. Guys with an olive skin color or dark skin men tend to fall into this camp, though not always.
What colors look best on warm undertones?
While most colors will work with a warm skin tone, you can ensure you look your best by opting for shades that are either a little brighter or darker than the middle ground. What does that mean exactly? Choose pale beige rather than warm sand if you’re opting for light neutrals, or try a bolder shade of purple (such as magenta) rather than mauve, for example.
“I’d recommend a lighter color palette, with white being the obvious choice to accentuate your skin tone,” says Rhone. It’s good news, then, that the stark shade is no longer limited to linen. Outside of the sunny season, try a pair of white jeans with a dark jacket for a standout look.
What colors should I avoid?
Since your skin will likely have yellow or green undertones, it’s wise to avoid wearing shades of these colors that are too close to your skin tone. What you’re trying to avoid here is ending up looking nude by having your skin blend in with your clothing.
Hues you should probably give the heave-ho include pistachio, mustard, olive and mocha brown. For trickier looks like all-white or pastels-on-pastels, make sure you’re tanned enough (closer to black rather than green olive, if you will) to carry it off without looking washed out.
Neutral Skin Tone
Much like those with medium skin, when it comes to finding colors that suit you, guys with a neutral skin tone have won the genetic lottery and can try their hand at pretty much any hue without much need for trepidation. You likely have a neutral skin tone if it’s hard to tell whether your veins are blue or green, and you can see both colors in your skin’s undertone.
What colors look good on neutral-toned skin?
The world, gentlemen, truly is your oyster. The color of your skin is perfectly positioned to marry well with the vast majority of hues and shades, as it doesn’t run the risk of being washed out like comparatively pale skin tones. With that said, there are a couple of caveats.
“Having a license to wear bold, bright colors like jade green or cobalt blue is great, but be mindful of adding balance to your outfit with a color that will hold the look together,” advises Rhone. In practice, that means not spinning the color wheel like a mad decorator who just spent half an hour huffing chemicals in a paint shop. Instead, choose a single pop of color or two that complement rather than compete with each other. Bright red is a winning shade on men with a neutral skin tone.
What colors should I avoid?
Yellow is pretty much a no-go. Much like how pastel shades wash out paler skin tones, yellow won’t contrast clearly enough with your skin. While black and navy are two key colors in any man’s wardrobe (making up the majority of formal and corporate wear), it’s worth keeping these to a minimum to really make the most of your especially versatile skin tone.
What is the best color for my skin tone?
“Personally, I don’t subscribe to a color chart that dictates how you should dress based on your skin tone,” says Rhone. “Style is, and always has been, about self-expression, and I always advise my clients that if there is a color you like, go and wear it with confidence. That said, it’s worth being mindful of colors that work together.”
So, there you have it. Wear any colors that make you feel good, and the mirror is your friend. The general rule of thumb is that skin with cool undertones look best with greys, browns, blues, greens and purples. Skin with warm undertones look best with either bright or light colors. And skin with neutral undertones looks great in bold, bright colors.
How do I know my skin tone?
The vein method is the tried-and-true approach most people take to discover their skin tone. Blueish veins indicate cool undertones, whereas green veins mean warm undertones. Neither or both means you likely have neutral skin.