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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

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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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106 Comments

  1. This is such an interesting post. I have been wondering why I have been looking so pale on zoom meetings. Today I wore a darker hued, burgundy sweater and I looked much more vibrant. I have pale complexion, blue eyes and silver hair. Something to pay attention to. I was blaming the lighting in my office. Thank you for the suggestions!

    1. I’m happy it pointed you in a good direction

  2. This sounds like just one more thing to worry about. I will continue to wear what I like without over thinking it.

    1. Nothing to worry about, I just like knowing:)

  3. Thank you so much for this very informative post and it’s wonderfully clear examples. Knowing what season my coloring was helped me immensely for many years. When I stopped coloring my hair last year due to Covid, I was at a total loss as to what would work with my now pure white hair. Your post has helped a great deal, given me some much needed confidence, and saved my budget too! Thank you for covering this fascinating and very helpful topic.

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful!!

  4. cynthia willis says:

    Jennifer, thank you for the post. I found it very enlightening. I have deep copper hair and a typical redheads complexion; alabaster skin, blue eyes. I now appreciate that I am high contrast.
    Julianne Moore was featured in a magazine years ago and they described her high contrast as a striking palette- I like that too.
    Happy Holidays, I love your blog!

    1. Your coloring sounds glorious!! Happy Holidays, Cynthia

  5. This is so interesting! I think it will take me some time to figure out my own contrast. Great tip, using the phone’s camera or computer editing. Thank you.

  6. Sheryl Brockman says:

    Thank you for all this info; color has always been so interesting to me.
    I have ashy-blonde hair and med blue eyes so winter colors ( true red, black and white) wash me out.
    I can’t wait for Spring and Summer to come back around so I can find some flattering shades!

  7. I don’t think I understand. I have salt and pepper hair with very dark brown eyes. Should my tops and pants be close to the same color??

    1. It sounds like you may be medium contrast depending on your skin. Try the black and white photo test and feel free to email it to me to have a look for you.

  8. Wow!! I didn’t know any of that before! The depth of information you provide for us followers is astounding! Thank you for caring. 🤗

  9. Leslie Adams says:

    Love this post. I have always had muted colouring but it’s even more of a consideration since I went gray and my skin colour has faded. I look better in softer colours so the contrast is not so stark.

  10. Thanks. This post was very helpful. Maybe for a future post you could explore how different contrast levels affect body types, like a light contrast top/dark contrast bottom vs. dark contrast top/light contrast bottom, etc. You know, darker colors to minimize certain body features, while lighter colors maximize other areas. Example: white sweater and navy pants vs. navy sweater and white pants.

    Also, I am always interested in your posts on color analysis. I don’t feel like I totally fit into one season.

    1. That’s a great suggestion. I have some interviews upcoming that you may really enjoy. Different systems may type you into different systems, but the color swatches should have similarity if the analyst types you correctly and that takes skill on their part.

  11. Jennifer,
    I used to have dark brown eyes that have faded to medium, medium skin tone, silvery gray hair. Hair used to be dark brown.
    I am 68. Do I sound like a medium contrast?? I recently lost weight due to a illness & need new clothes. Thanks

  12. There is so much to consider when talking about the level of color contrast that works for each of us. My once short, dark brown hair is now a very light golden brown and shoulder length. The bolder makeup that I once wore is replaced with soft neutrals. NO black eyeliner for me anymore. It only holds true that my clothing choices have changed too. No bright white but soft, creamy white and much less black. The trick is to add a bit of color . I find myself reaching for fun accessories to add a touch of interest.

  13. Wow! Great information! Something I had never thought about or considered before. Thank you.

  14. Thank you!
    This exercise turning the photo to grayscale is so illuminating. I had medium brown hair with reddish overtones (my own), which is now silver white, and nearly black eyes. The photo exercise is showing how more contrast is okay now–it balances my eyes. It wasn’t so before, and the autumnal colors I favored aren’t so good any more. I gravitate more to stronger hues, even black and white.
    I am having trouble with jewelry. I do well with David Yurman silver, which is darker, but not brighter Dean Davidson. Gold is iffy.

    1. You might also like Lagos which has similar contrast

  15. Verna Morgan says:

    So interesting. You have just put into words something I’ve known by instinct
    for a long time. I’m a faded strawberry blonde with fair skin and medium blue eyes.
    Black pants and light coloured sweaters look wrong on me and now I know why.

  16. Very interesting – thanks!

  17. Maggie Fieger says:

    My hair is medium gray and my eyes brown with medium skin tone. I’ve always been a winter. Do you think red still works for me? I’ll have to try this

    1. I’m sure red works for you. It will depend on the intensity.

  18. Wow! This is really helpful, and it’s something I’ve never considered. Perhaps this is why some things look different on me than they used to due to my graying hair. Thanks!

  19. I’ve thought a lot about color and am sold on the “season” approach, but I’ve never thought about contrast. Intuitively I think I’ve considered this without realizing it, but now I will pay much more attention to contrast. Thanks so much Jennifer!

  20. This is great information to know! You have a clear explanation with photos that have definitely helped me!

    Thank you!!!!

  21. If I understand, black slacks would be better with a charcoal or medium to navy top, than red or pastel in a low/medium contrast? Really appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

    1. Yes. That combo has a lower contrast. Black with charcoal or navy is usually low contrast and so lovely together.

  22. I found today’s post so very interesting! I have gone a lovely silver grey around my face and have recently being wondering if I need a new colour palate. I was told I was a winter and have always enjoyed wearing my beautiful bright, bold colours but recently I felt as if they were overpowering me. I will try your tips and see if I can find a way to feel comfortable again. Thank you so much,

    1. Your coloring sounds gorgeous. I hope this helps

  23. Pink Azalea says:

    Thanks so much, very informative post. From you I have a better understanding of the contrast between the garments we are wearing together. I am low contrast, but the lightest pastels wash me out. I prefer medium colors to medium light. I have found that little pops of a brighter color are OK too, such as an outfit in shades of blue with a red or bright pink lipstick or an accessory like a dark red handbag or leopard print flats. Fashion principles seem to follow interior design principles in that variety and texture are ideas to keep in mind. So for example, an all blue outfit is fine, but some variety in texture keeps it from being boring. Your example of the blue blouse with denim jacket shows that. Thanks Jennifer

    1. I’m so glad you liked this. I was hoping it wasn’t too technical or boring.

  24. Kat Lee Dune says:

    Excellent post! Thank you.

  25. Judi Baker says:

    Interesting and informative article! It explains why I always change when I attempt to wear a white or cream top with black pants, even though I like the look on others. Sometimes adding a third piece in say, charcoal, will mitigate the stark contrast.

    1. Yes! And a scarf with lower contrast close to you face can help

  26. Thank you for this explanation as I think my tendencies toward a more diffused color palate was coming forth in my outfit choices for awhile now. I have noticed my hesitancy wearing some of the more bolder, intense colors I used to wear often; now, they seem to be sitting ‘idle’ on the hangar! I get it now as you’ve offered a great explanation to what was happening by my own eliminations of certain pieces!

    1. Awesome! Maybe trying different combinations will help too

  27. Julie Traxler says:

    What a great conversation today. I just went from very light hair to darker hair. I have light skin and blue eyes, but my blonde hair has darkened. Therefore, I decided to go with my newly darkened hair color. Now I have a contrast decision. Your timing is perfect!

    1. Interesting! It sounds fun

  28. Patsy McMillan says:

    Help, I still color, but I would be fully gray if not. Just not ready yet! I do not color as dark brown as I once was. I have brown eyes, medium skin, with yellow undertones. I think I tend to look blah all the time. Give me some help. Eyeglasses are a tortoise tone.

    1. Maybe you would feel less blah with a touch of a brighter color or some pattern?

  29. Excellent presentation on a topic that has always confused me. Love your examples!

  30. First off, I love the shape and style of your blue eyeglasses. Would you share what brand they are? I never seem to find something like that. Eyeglasses are one of the most difficult things to choose in my life.

    Now I know why sometimes my outfit seems to “feel” great and sometimes not so much even though they might be in the same color family. You have a talent for taking the difficult subjects and making them easier to understand.

    1. My frames are by Aspire. You can check local optometrist offices to see if the carry them. I struggle to find great frames too and they’re so important.

      1. Thanks, I’ll take a look.