Dressing for Your Personal Color Harmony

by  Shannon Manion

Vera Wang said, “I want people to see the dress, but focus on the woman.” When you utilize the colors that are inherent in you, people are focused on you and not just your clothing. Value and color contrast are two important elements of your personal color harmony that make a huge difference in whether people first notice your face, or your clothes.

Take me for instance, having a personal color palette gives me my best colors, but how I wear my colors is equally important when I want to shine more than my clothes. In the pictures below, I am wearing a printed navy shirt, which is in my color palette. but given how dark it is and how light I am, I have to be careful how I wear it. In the first picture, your eyes are drawn to my outfit because there is too much contrast for my coloring – I’m not that dark nor that light. The second picture, however, is more harmonious with my coloring because the pink sweater creates an overall medium effect.

Value and Color Contrast

Your value contrast is the difference in the value (lightness vs darkness) of your hair and skin and to some extent your eyes. In the picture below, you can see that my hair and skin are a fairly similar medium light value (about an 8), which would make me low contrast, but my darker eyes are medium (about a 5) making me a medium-low contrast. This means I look best wearing medium and light colors together or creating an overall medium look.

The other important aspect of personal color harmony is your color contrast, which is basically the number of colors you have on the color wheel. You’ll notice that brown, black, gray and beige are not on the color wheel because they are considered neutral. Hair is “colored” if it is yellow blonde, strawberry blonde, or red. Colored eyes include green, blue, and super bright tiger eyes.

I naturally have three colors – yellow, blue and red as my skin has a bit of redness, I have blonde hair, and blue eyes. However, I often cover my redness with foundation and my hair is going more neutral as it’s graying, so depending on the day, I have one to three colors. The first thing people generally notice about me is my blue eyes versus how light I am; therefore, I am color dominant and look best wearing at least one color.

Your Best Color Scheme

Your best color scheme is based on whether you are value or color dominant. Dominance is what people notice about you first.

If you are value dominant, people first notice your value – your light skin and dark hair or your overall lightness or darkness even if you have colored eyes. Examples of value dominant celebrities are Naomi Campbell (all dark), Gwyneth Paltrow (all light), Gisele Bündchen (all medium), and Courteney Cox (light/dark contrast).

Value Contrast Dominant

Value dominant people look best when wearing fewer colors – all neutrals, monochromatic, and neutral plus a color. Too many colors tend to overwhelm them. They shine when wearing the value contrast that harmonizes with their own coloring (light, dark, or medium).

When value dominant people wear too many colors or wear a look that is more contrasted than they are, one notices the clothes before the person.  Value dominant people look beautiful in a monochromatic color, like the green dress, but in the case pictured, the red bow and colored purse overwhelm her, so we notice the bow before the lady.

Color dominant people have two or three colors on the color wheel – blue or green eyes, red or yellow hair, and freckled, rosy, or golden skin (think Reese Witherspoon or Julianne Moore). When you see them, you first notice color – their hair and/or eyes – versus their value.

Since they are color dominant people, they look best in color. They seriously fade in all neutrals, so they need to add a pop of color to come alive. If they are going to wear a monochromatic outfit, it should be in a color, for instance, an all red outfit versus beige. Color dominant people are the only ones who can get away with lots of color at the same time and still look natural.

When color dominant people wear all neutrals and/or all dark colors, they tend to look more drawn and their eyes look less bright, like pictured below.

So what if you are a mix? You are equally dominant – people either first notice your value or your color. Equally dominant people tend to have one color and two neutrals, so they look best with a bit of color, but not too much. Their best color scheme is neutral plus a color. Jennifer Aniston is an example of an equal dominant person with her all medium appearance, but blue eyes. Kate Middleton is another example. Even though she has dark hair and light skin, she isn’t quite as contrasted as Courteney Cox. You can also be “equally” dominant with brown eyes and brown hair if your skin is noticeably red or freckled. If you have colored skin, it’s really important to add color to offset that and not let it be the only thing people notice about you.

Now that you know a bit about value and color contrast, you will notice it every time you open a catalogue. Retailers want you to see the clothes before the model, so you will often see value dominant models in multi-color clothing and color or equal dominant models in neutral clothing like the two pictured below from the Talbots catalogue.


So which category do you fall into, color dominant, value dominant or both?
About Shannon

I’m Shannon Manion, a color and style consultant, military spouse, and recovering shopaholic – always buying, but never having anything to wear. Color Curate is all about helping you become effortlessly confident – comfortable with how you look and what you’re wearing each and every day. Visit my website to learn more about Color Curate and my passion for helping others curate their best image through personal color analysis.