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How To Find Your Personal Contrast Level And Why It Matters

Happy Tuesday, ladies. A reader mentioned that she needs to wear different colors within her color pallet since going gray and wondered if there is a formula or guidelines to simplify things. There are three components of color. Hue is the actual color…red, yellow, blue, etc.). Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. Finally, saturation is the strength, purity, or intensity. Let’s talk about value today, contrast, and how to find your personal contrast level.

Read more about personal color analysis here

 

woman wearing medium contrast colors

Our hair color, skin, and eyes all have a value (light to dark) on a sliding scale. Our personal contrast level is the difference between them. Wearing contrast levels that match your own contrast levels is as important as whether the undertone is warm or cool. In some instances, it’s more important!

A high level of contrast is when there’s a big difference between the lightness of one or more colors. For example, if you have very dark hair and light blue eyes, you have a high value contrast. However, if your dark color hair has gone a medium grey, it will lower the difference (contrast) with your eyes.

photo showing personal contrast levels

If you have light silver or blonde hair, fair skin, and pale eyes, you have a low contrast value and will look best in low contrast outfits. Medium value contrast is when there’s a difference, but it’s not extreme.

Contrast levels that are too strong, overpower and wash you out. Conversely, wearing a contrast that is too low reduces your visibility. Knowing and wearing outfits that echo your personal contrast levels keep you looking vibrant and visible at a time when society often overlooks midlife women.

How to find your personal contrast level

The easiest way to see your inherent color contrast is to take photos of your face and hair. Then use the settings on your phone to change it to a grayscale, monotone image. Now you’ll see the level of difference between the intensity of your hair, eyes, and skin. I have makeup on in my photos, but you can still see the difference.

image showing womans personal contrast level in black and white photo

The black and white have a strong contrast which overpowers me. The red lipstick attempts to make it flattering but falls short in the monochrome image. The black jacket is intense against my complexion. Its contrast with the white shirt draws your eye to the garments, away from my face.

photo showing how to find your personal contrast level

I have light ash blonde hair, fair skin, and medium eyes, so I have low/medium contrast value levels which match the chambray shirt and denim jacket. My eyeglass frames and lipstick are also a low contrast which doesn’t overpower my coloring. What color I wear is less important than how light and dark it is. My low intensity is also why I am flattered by monochromatic outfits because they are the epitome of low contrast.

Let’s look at some outfits. This sweater with different wash jeans is a great example. High contrast is when there’s a big difference between one or more colors. Low contrast is when they’re very similar. Medium contrast is when there’s a difference between them, but it’s not extreme.image of outfits showing contrast levels

When we remove the color, you can see the contrast levels. The light sweater and deep wash jeans have a high contrast which would flatter someone with equally high contrast. If you have white hair and deep brown eyes, you can wear stronger contrast.

Now let’s try a deeper sweater with the same jeans.

Now here’s a sweater with a medium value and the same jeans.low contrast examples

Try this yourself. Do all the grays meld softly, or do your eyes stand out? Is your hair noticeably darker than your skin tone? The comparison is what shows your personal contrast level. With practice, you’ll learn to recognize the contrast levels in outfits so you can wear ones that match your own. These will be the most flattering so you’ll look the most vibrant and visible.

Hair that changes from black to pale gray lessens your personal contrast level, so you will look better in color combinations with lower contrast. You may also look better wearing the lighter colors within your palette. Remember, you will not change seasons, just the colors that flatter you most within those seasons…unless you were mistyped in the first place.

Do you pay attention to contrast levels in your outfits?

Thanks for reading ladies and remember to wear what makes you feel confident.

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105 Comments

  1. Love this! Definitely something to consider. Thank you.

  2. So helpful: I am a “winter,” had black hair, fair skin and hazel eyes. My hair is bright white now and I have had to re-think how I wear my favorite colors. I used to look good in high contrast and now I look washed out if I wear what used to look great—-like black and white.

    1. Bright white is still very intense but it sounds like you may have a medium contrast now. Black with navy or with charcoal could be more flattering.

  3. What always confused me was the difference between contrast and intensity. By George I think I’ve got it. Thanks Jennifer. My hair turning silver and losing color in my skin changed my whole idea of what color to wear. I went from rosey cheeks, med ash brown hair to pale skin and silver hair. Shock.

    1. It sounds like lower contrast:) I’m glad this helped, Eve

  4. Wonderful informative article. Thank you!

  5. Very informative post! I feel I will make better styling choices and purchases based on this valuable knowledge. Thank you!

  6. This is brilliant! Did you know yours is my favorite blog!
    Thank you!

  7. This explains so much! I sort of kinda maybe got this before, but you have crystallized it for me. I used to be a medium/high but with age I have become a medium/low. Some subtle differences there, but now I understand why some of my older clothes just don’t look “right” on me…and why I never quite love myself in either black and white, or faded denim! Thanks for the eye opener!

  8. Fabulous info, thx so much.

  9. Very interesting. Never thought about contrast before.

  10. Jill from Canada says:

    My eyes usually glaze over when trying to understand the whole subject of color palettes and skin tone and aging etc.. I actually understood this explanation and found it very illuminating!! (No pun intended!) Thank you, thank you Jennifer!! I usually “go with my gut” on the colors and combos I choose, but now I understand why some work and some don’t!!

  11. Cyndi Murdoch says:

    This post is so informative – my hair was dark brown – it’s now turned gray. I’m so glad that I stopped coloring, and although I probably look older, I feel more authentic…and I get compliments on my hair all the time.
    I don’t wear much color, but have recently added a few coppers and greens to my wardrobe. Contrast is something I really hadn’t considered, although I don’t tend to wear very light shades – as I feel they tend to wash me out. I can’t wait to to do your exercise – a closet edit is definitely in my future, I’m sure.

  12. What an enlightening post! I don’t think I ever really understood about the color contrasting. It got even more confusing when my dark hair came in silver after chemo. Now I can finally figure it out, thank you Jennifer.

    1. I’m glad you liked it Rose

  13. Love this post, Jennifer! I am low contrast, with lite brown highlighted hair color, fair skin, and hazel eyes. But my eyeglass frames are navy blue, so I feel like that provides some balance to enable me to wear outfits with at least a medium level of contrast. Would you agree?

    1. It’s hard to say without seeing how dark the navy is. Try a black and white photo and see if they harmonize with your contrast levels. They will add visual balance by drawing attention from a darker top, up to your face.

  14. Mind blowing!! I’m gona throw out everything I own and start over! A whole new look for 2022!
    Thanks Jennifer, you’re the best.

    1. Lol! Have fun Donna, but go slow 🙂

  15. This is interesting! You look great in blue but I’m sure you know that😉

  16. Janet Triplett says:

    Thanks Jennifer for a great post! Value is difficult for many people to understand. I’m an oil painter and if you get the values right then the colors will likely follow. Funny, that I’d never considered it in clothing but I can see now why I’m drawn to certain combinations!

    1. You’ll find it fun to incorporate into your outfit choices.

  17. This is such a great explanation of a subject I was often frustrated with. Thank you for the examples. I will keep this to return to again. I have very dark glasses frames, and as my own colouring has softened I think it is time to revisit this and perhaps find a softer frame for the next pair. These posts are so helpful, I hope you will continue along this idea to help clarify for those, like me, who really appreciate it.

    1. I will Dianne. I’m overpowered by dark frames and find it one of the most difficult parts of finding flattering glasses!

  18. This was helpful. Thank you. I should know all this at my age but you made it straightforward.

    1. I’m glad it helped.

  19. Jennifer, thanks for giving me the best explanation I’ve read of a very complex subject. I find it really fascinating! Great job and examples.

      1. I would love a post on choosing glasses that go with your contrast level/colors. Examples of how different ones look on you would be helpful.

  20. Very educational and I will be using this information to evaluate my outfit choices. Thank you!

  21. I am looking forward to taking photos and trying out monochrome. Thanks for this column — it’s interesting and helpful to have a clear explanation of contrast.
    I’d love to hear more about saturated color vs. tints and shades, too!

    1. I’ll dig into saturation in an upcoming post.

  22. Very helpful post! I haven’t focused on contrast levels intentionally. I have adjusted them when previous colours seem off now that my hair colour is lighter. I have noticed it in makeup too, particularly lipstick.

    I still have a lot of black tops. Can I adjust the contrast with scarves?

    1. They can certainly help. Try scarves with lower contrast within the pattern, not just a lighter scarf. And remember these are just tools to use. If you absolutely love higher contrast, you should wear it:)

  23. Brilliant post! I never thought about this before. I’m looking at my wardrobe now and it majors sense why I’ve been choosing what I do. Thanks for breaking it down like this. Very helpful.

  24. This is the best explanation of contrast levels that I’ve seen. Well done Jennifer.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks, Yvonne.

  25. Great info. I now understand why even in my color palette some outfits work better than others. I’m a green eye, fading redhead and now I know why I’ve been choosing more medium colors. Thank you for the b/w photo suggestion. Anxious to try it.

    1. Let me know how it works! I’d love to see your photo

  26. Excellent post. I was unaware of the importance of contrast of color. I thank you for bringing it to my attention and for a clear explanation.

  27. Thanks for helping me understand why, since my hair is now white, my eyes medium blue, and my skin very light without pink, I now can wear pale shades that did not look good when I had dark brown hair. I recognize how nice some soft colors look now but never had an explanation for why. Contrast!

    1. Yes! You sound more low/medium contrast now which would love those lower contrast combinations.

  28. I found this post very instructive. I’ve had this very same question since I turned gray. I know I’m a winter but was wondering if I had “turned” into perhaps a summer. Was even considering having my colors redone. I look forward to more on this subject. Thanks.

    1. My pleasure. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on seasonal color analysis. I’m always surprised to read people say you will change seasons as you age. That’s like saying we change blood types!

  29. Thank you so much for explaining this! It makes sense & helps me understand why I am more drawn to low contrast neutrals & monochrome outfits.

  30. Paulette Levy says:

    I’m not sure this is the same thing you’re Illustrating here, but as I’ve studied my clothing and your blog I’ve found that my winter pale complexion looks best with a mini pattern (paisley or print) not large loud prints, layered with my solid V- necks or cardI look best. They perk me up visually. Like your looks here, I’ve used my denim shirts too, but there is just something about the small prints or geo patterns that look best on me. Of course I apply blush or bronzer too…….

    1. The contrast in pattern is equally important so that may help explain why you like them.