In The 3 Pillars of Style, the first Pillar states that your clothing must draw attention to your face. A key way to do this is by coordinating the colours of your outfit around your personal contrast. Contrast is basically the difference between two colours; more specifically, it is determined by the difference in colour and brightness between colours. For example, the colours black and white have a high level of contrast whereas gold and yellow have a low contrast level.
How do you determine your own contrast? The two main factors that determine your level of contrast are your hair colour and your skin tone. Generally speaking, men can be grouped into 1 of 3 contrast classifications: high contrast, low contrast, and medium contrast.
Co-ordinating your outfit’s colours to draw attention to your face is actually quite simple: the key is have your outfit’s colour contrast mimic your own contrast. Let’s take a look at each of the contrast groups and how to colour co-ordinate for each:
High Contrast Men
Men with this contrast have hair colour that is contrasts their skin tone; specifically, a person of this contrast would have dark hair and light skin. Men who typically fit into this contrast profile consist of Asian men with black hair and light skin tone, white men with dark hair and light skin (such as Jon Hamm) and all but the lightest skin black men. The reason black men are considered high contrast is because any type of light coloured shirt worn by them produces a great contrast between skin tone and the shirt.
If you are a high contrast man, the best way to bring attention to your face is to wear an outfit that also consists of high contrast colour pairings. To understand why this is, think about your hair and your outfit act as breaks or “frames” around your face. If you produce a high contrast colour combination in your outfit, the lightness of your face will pop out when it is framed between your dark hair and your high contrast outfit. If your outfit consists of a muted colour combination, no frame is created – your face ends up blending in with your outfit.
Take a look at Jon Hamm for example. On the left picture, he is wearing a high contrast outfit with the dark navy suit that is contrasted by the white shirt and pocket square. In this picture, it leads us to his face and makes his face “pop.” However, on the right side, his face blends into his outfit making him look washed out:
Low/Muted Contrast Men
Men with this contrast have hair colour that does not differ greatly from their skin tone. Men who typically fit into this contrast profile consists of men with light hair and light skin, redheads with light skin, and bald men.
If you are a low/muted contrast man, you have a different strategy from the high contrast man. Because there’s no dark hair to act as a frame around the face, any outfit that consists of high contrast colour pairings will greatly detract from your face and bring jarring attention towards your outfit. Your strategy would be to adopt a monochromatic or a “muted” look. This would consist of you putting together an outfit whose colours have little contrast from each other.
Take a look at Conan O’Brien. On the left, we are drawn to his face because there is little contrast between his suit, shirt and tie. But on the right side, we are drawn to his suit and away from his face because the contrast of his suit and shirt overwhelm his lack of natural contrast. Along the same lines, he could also go for a light coloured suit with a light coloured shirt and tie combo.
Medium Contrast Men
Men with this contrast still have a difference between their hair colour and skin tone, but it’s not as pronounced as those with a high contrast. This category basically encompasses all men who don’t belong to either high contrast or muted contrast. Typically, these men have dark hair but a medium coloured complexion. Men who have light skin and are going grey also belong to this category.
If you are a medium contrast man, you can utilize the strategies employed by both high contrast men and muted contrast men. You will have more freedom to experiment with different colour contrasts in your outfit without having to worry about your face blending in with the outfit or your face being over-powered by an outfit with a striking contrast. With that said, most men in this category will lean more towards either the high contrast spectrum or the low contrast spectrum so it would be wise for you to tailor your outfit’s contrast towards the spectrum you lean towards the most. Also, with this contrast, you also have the luxury to add in colours that compliment and bring out your eye colour. The key thing to remember is to experiment and see what works for you.
Black men typically belong to either the high contrast category or the medium contrast category. Black men with darker skin fit into the high contrast category because any light coloured shirt will produce a large contrast between the skin tone. If this is the case, employ the strategies that a high contrast man would use. On the other hand, lighter skin black men move towards the medium contrast category. If this is you, then employ the strategies used by medium contrast men.
Knowing how to dress for your personal contrast is a crucial part of developing your personal style and letting your style bring out the best in you. With that said, remember that these guidelines aren’t set in stone: depending on the amount of natural contrast you have, for example if you lean towards the medium contrast spectrum, you have a lot of leeway in terms of how you pair up different outfit contrasts. Even if you aren’t medium contrast, you can also have a bit more leeway when it comes to different seasons such as summer where typically lighter colours are worn or during the fall season, where warmer, earth tones are worn. Even though you have leeway to play around with colours, remember the bottom line: next time you buy a new article of clothing or are thinking of what to wear, be mindful of these contrast guidelines so you’ll ensure that your face will be the star of your outfit.
Here’s to looking sharp!