How to wear colour: part 1/3

choose your best colours

“This is your colour”

That’s what my students said to me when they handed me some fuchsia roses…
My colour? Maybe… I had worn a fuchsia dress, a sweater and a berry / orchid scarf to work. But I had also worn other colours. Well, blue, mostly… My point is, of all the outfits I had worn, on those 7 evenings that they saw me, they remembered the 3 in various shades of dark pink…

How about this: under ‘Popular Posts’ on the sidebar of this blog, there are 5 posts. I’m wearing something pink, fuchsia or berry /radiant orchid in most of them…

In a way, red has always been my go-to colour, but it never occurred to me that other people would think of a particular colour or shade as ‘my colour’. Of course I know that pink, fuchsia, magenta – the cooler shades of red – suit me. But so do the warmer shades of blue and purple.

high contrast colors

How do you determine which colours suit you?

It’s all about your natural colouring. There are many methods to examine your natural colouring, all of them a bit confusing. For instance, you can try to determine which ‘season’ you are: a warm-toned autumn or spring, or a cool-toned winter or summer. It’s not so easy, and it may just be that you are not just one season but a mix of two, or more. Or you can try to determine whether your skin has cool or warm undertones, by looking at the veins on the inside of your wrist. Apparently, blue veins mean your skin has cool undertones whereas green veins mean warm undertones… OK, so far so good, but what if your veins are sort of blueish greenish, or some of them are blue and some seem more green…

OK, Let’s cut through this bullshit and do my test: take two shades of red, one clearly more orange (= has yellow in it) and the other a bit more pink (= has blue in it). Which one looks better on you?

Aha! So, if the more orange-red looks better, you probably suit warmer colours? And if the more pink-red makes your skin glow, stick to cooler colours?

Not so fast… Because the shade of red that suits you says absolutely nothing about the shade of blue, or green, or purple you should be wearing…

But the method still works: now, do the same with other primary colours (= red, blue, yellow) and secondary colours (= orange, purple, green). Do you look better in warm blue (= has more yellow in it, i.e. greenish shades of blue) or cool blue (= has more red in it, i.e. purple/violet-blue)?

This is how I found that while the cooler shades of red (pink, fuchsia, magenta) suit me well, cooler shades of blue (violet-blue) do not. And this is exactly what you see in the photo below: a cool shade of red (hot pink) on the left (original post) and a warm shade of blue (original post) on the right. And if I continue, I get cool shades of green (=blue-green, teal) and warm shades of purple (=red-purple, i.e. radiant orchid) as some of my best colours. And yellow and orange? Well, I would not wear either (cool or warm shades), they just do me no favours. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t work as accent colours…

your best colours

Wait a minute, aren’t these more or less the colours often described as jewel tones? Oh yes they are. Jewel tones are perfect for anyone with medium-contrast skin tone.

High contrast or low contrast?

When choosing your best colours, you have to also consider your hair colour and the colour of your eyes. More importantly, the contrast between your skin tone and hair and eyes.

I’m going to use myself as an example here. OK, so, what’s the first thing you notice?
I’m pale. Really, really pale. I have skin that burns when it just feels the slightest touch of sun… Yet, I have dark hair. Brown hair, not black. Medium brown, not dark brown. Warmer brown (chestnut, i.e. it has some natural red / yellow tones in it) rather than cool brown… So, the contrast between my hair colour and my skin tone is not as high as, say, Elizabeth Taylor’s (a good example of high contrast).

And my eyes? Well, they’re sort of blueish / greenish grey, sort of diluted blue…

So, the contrast between my eyes and my skin tone is low. But the contrast between my eyes and my hair colour is high.

But what does all this have to do with discovering my best colours?

Let me tell you a little story. There is a wonderful shop in Chinatown in San Francisco which sells Chinese silk jackets, among other things. Really nice ones, too, not just the traditional type but very modern and trendy styles. Anyway, I was there a few years ago, looking for a silk jacket. They had such lovely colours: hot pink and purple… and I didn’t buy anything. Why? Well, I did try on both the hot pink and the purple (or perhaps in this case we should call it violet) one. It was a hell of a lot of hot pink, is all I can say… I wasn’t wearing the colour, the colour was wearing me. Hell, the colour was drowning me, then wiping the floor with me… Yet, it would have looked perfect on the black-haired, olive-skinned sales assistant. So unfair, right?

It’s not just the colour but the intensity of the colour that matters.


Once you have discovered the colours that suit you best, you have to determine the range of shades in those colours you can wear. Think about for example pink: from the lightest, barely there blush to the darkest, deepest magenta… My guess is you don’t suit all of those shades. I certainly don’t.

medium contrast colors

Let’s look at the high vs low contrast. I have medium contrast skin-tone, so mid-tones suit me best. These are shades that are not too dark nor too light. The middle-of-the-road shades, so to speak. I can wear (some) brights (e.g. tomato red), but usually slightly muted tones work better. Again, this has everything to do with my natural colouring; someone with a more olive skin tone can get away with a lot brighter and / or darker shades than me.

how to choose colour

 What you see in the picture above is a very saturated colour (original post), but it doesn’t overwhelm me. And in the picture below you see a much lighter shade (original post), but it still provides enough contrast next to my skin. And this is about as light a shade as I would wear. Anything paler probably blends too much into my skin tone and makes me look a bit… blaah.

best colors

And how do you determine which shades of a particular colour suit you? Well, you have to see what it looks like on you, really. There are no shortcuts, I’m afraid… As you can see, I’m a firm believer in learning-by-doing.

So, it’s a process of trial-and-error, pretty much, determining which colours suit you best. And when you do discover your best colours, people will notice, I guarantee that.

However,  no colour exists in a vacuum but is enhanced or subdued by other colours around it. But, are all colours equal or are some colours more equal than others when it comes to combining them?

But that is a topic for another post…

What are your best colours?


Linking up with: 

A Touch of TartanElegantly Dressed and StylishSydney Fashion HunterThe Pleated PoppyGet Your Pretty OnHappiness at Mid-LifeStyle Elixir


  1. josep-maria badia
    26 April 2015 / 8:22 pm

    I love the fuchsia dress and purple dress, are beautiful. The draped purple dress design and elegance fuchsia dress pattern are wonderful. Two lovely aesthetic proposals.

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind comment!

  2. Jill James
    28 April 2015 / 8:08 am

    Colour can be so tricky can't it, I think this is why I like black and white. I know I can wear warm colours but am finding my skin is changing a little so some no longer work. I am impressed with your research on selecting the right colours and I know they are right as you always look perfect with your own colour choice.

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:04 pm

      I agree, it's not always easy to pick the right colours. Maybe that's why I stick with the good old favourites…

  3. Jasmine Rabuñal Barrientos
    28 April 2015 / 8:49 am

    Amazing post! Thanks for sharing these tips. Jasmine ♥

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:04 pm

      Thanks, Jasmine!

  4. Celia M. High Heeled Life
    28 April 2015 / 11:43 am

    Great tips!! Thanks for sharing and you look great.

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:04 pm

      Thank you Celia!

  5. Tine Jensen
    28 April 2015 / 12:51 pm

    Your best colours sound like my best colours, but I'm a light blond! How strange… But great post, I'll certainly go and try different colours now, just to check again :-)

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:11 pm

      Not strange at all, you may have a very similar skin tone to mine. And a particular colour may look lighter or darker, depending on your own colouring. So, my 'mid-tone pink' might look darker pink on you because of your blond hair… Confusing? I was looking for a pink lipstick once.The blond, fair-skinned sales assistant was wearing a really pretty shade of dark pink, she made me try it, and it looked completely different, much lighter on me…

    • Tine Jensen
      29 April 2015 / 2:37 pm

      I see, or I think I see… Your mid-tones could be my dark tones of pink, right? That makes sense :-) Thank you for the explanation!

  6. Jessica Jannenga
    28 April 2015 / 5:47 pm

    Great writing! I love the tips. I think I basically go by my skin tone and hair in choosing colors. You do look great in the red family!thanks for linking up with Turning Heads Tuesday!jess

    • Tiina L
      29 April 2015 / 1:12 pm

      Thanks, Jessica! Yes, your hair colour certainly looks fantastic with certain shades of green, for instance.

  7. Natalia Lialina
    1 May 2015 / 12:21 am

    You seem to really know your best colors, Tiina! Because you always look great! If this is the approach that took you to your destination, then that's just right for you. My head is spinning when I read the science behind choosing your color. I seem to be so completely confused. I do it all intuitively though, then there is clarity and no confusion. :)

    • Tiina L
      1 May 2015 / 11:24 am

      Well, I think to some extent it is intuitive, choosing your colours. I've certainly always been attracted to colours that seem to suit me best. But I've also had totally inappropriate colour crushes (neon green comes to mind…), and bought clothes in that colour only to realise a (short) while later that I really, really hate the colour… A classic case of 'what was I thinking'… But these days as I try to scale down my wardrobe, I try to rationalise my colour choices more. And it makes my life simpler, I love it when I can mix and match and the colours match or complement each other.

    • Natalia Lialina
      4 May 2015 / 6:59 pm

      I think you are probably an excellent teacher! It's great when a teacher can take it all apart and then show how to put it together. :) I really admire that ability.

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