68 Comments.

Welcome to the newest edition of Back to Basics. The first three were super popular and shared all over the interwebz, and in case you missed those, you can find the first three Back to Basics articles here.

Let’s talk about what looks best with your skin color. Color and complexion are pretty important topics we haven’t discussed much here. This seems to be monumentally important to the ladies when they apply makeup, which makes sense when you’re basically coloring your face.

I doubt guys give it much thought; to be honest, I hardly do either. But if you’re spending time picking out some nice stuff to wear, why not take that one extra step to make sure the colors complement your complexion as well?

There are plenty of ways to determine the optimal color palette for your skin tone, but it really doesn’t have to be complicated. If we dudes follow a few simple pointers, we should be okay.

It’s important to experiment

Admittedly, color is a hard thing to get EXACTLY right, and luckily for dudes, it doesn’t matter that much. Just do your best. There’s a good chance you may not have the exact coloring of any of these examples, and so some color suggestions won’t apply to you. Or perhaps they’ll all apply to you… who knows.

For example, you may have olive skin but see a color under a different list that you like. Go for it! Try it out; it will probably look just fine on you. This list isn’t scientifically proven, so use it as a general guideline, and deviate when necessary. Remember that none of this is set in stone with no exceptions; it’s important for you to try stuff and see what looks good on you.

Some things to remember off the bat: If you have a lighter, paler complexion, avoid stark black and white. If you have a medium complexion, the primary and bold colors will suit you well. If you’re a darker skin tone, you have more freedom with whites and pastels than most.

Assuming you can remember those basic rules, you’ll be good, but let’s see if we can dig a bit deeper.

Dress for your skin tone

Looking for the large PDF? Click here to download (right click and SAVE AS…)

If your complexion closely resembles Conan O’Brien, focus on warm khaki colors, peach tones, teals, red, bright blues and greens.

Try to avoid: Black and white. The stark contrast is too much for your skin and will only accentuate the lack of color.

Let’s say you have the coloring of Justin Timberlake. Pastels look best on you. Think baby blue, light pink, lavender, pale yellow. Neutrals also look good on you, such as a lighter beige and heather gray.

Try to avoid: Really striking or primary colors. Also, too much deep, dark color can wash you out. Stay away from all black or all navy.

If you have more olive or tan skin like Adrian Grenier, try warm colors such as rich browns, orange-yellow, olive green, deep reds, and purples.

Try to avoid: White and black, pastels, any kind of faded color. These don’t work well with your complexion.

Lastly, let’s say you have a complexion like Will Smith. Dark colors look great on you like black, dark gray, and navy. Rich, deep colors also look good. Think emerald green, sapphire blue, royal purple. Bright white and pastel colors look great as well.

Try to avoid: Earthy tones and washed out colors; these don’t do anything for you.

Four universally flattering shades

Apparently, there are four colors that are universally flattering, regardless of your coloring. Pantone lists the official names of these colors as Eggplant, True Red, Indian Teal, and Mellow Rose.

Most guys wouldn’t know what the hell Indian Teal is. Don’t worry about it; it’s not important at all. How would guys wear these colors? Indian Teal and Eggplant (or similar variants) would look great as sweaters. True red? Try a Polo shirt. Mellow rose is basically a light pink / peach color, so try a dressy button-up under a blazer. As long as you find something in between those two hues, you’re good.

What do you think? Is this helpful at all? Let me know in the comments.

Hat tip, @mrgbagga.

PUBLISHED April 21, 2011


Barron is the Founding Editor of Effortless Gent and the Cladright Association. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr.



  • Abdul

    I am somewhere between Adrian Grenier and Will Smith the complexion scale (only time I will ever compare myself to those two), and I have been given that same advice by many a girlfriend. That darker bolder colours work with me, and that light blues (which I used to wear a lot of), just plain don’t work with me.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Girlfriends know best! It must be the whole makeup thing. Katie tells me stuff like that all the time and I’m amazed because I never thought of certain colors looking better than others when paired together. I guess since your optimal colors have been confirmed multiple times, you don’t have to worry too much.

  • Abdul

    I am somewhere between Adrian Grenier and Will Smith the complexion scale (only time I will ever compare myself to those two), and I have been given that same advice by many a girlfriend. That darker bolder colours work with me, and that light blues (which I used to wear a lot of), just plain don’t work with me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1661783049 Jonathan Cyr

    My skin is like Adrian Grenier. After reading this, I noticed that I never really looked that good in black at all! I like the colors that you have for that skin tone. And would dark grey work?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Dark grey would work, so long as you don’t wear all dark grey everything, which I doubt you would anyway. If I was gonna get picky, I’d say look for a ‘warmer’ grey (with those same reddish undertones) but man, who has time to compare dark greys?

      Dark grey twill pants = can’t go wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/MrGBagga Gautam B

    Barron, if you don’t mind my asking – how do you figure this kind of thing out? For example, my skin tone is like Abdul’s – between Adrian Grenier and Will Smith – but it’s kind of a reddish brown. I do find that my wardrobe is a collection of whites, browns, blacks, greys and about fifty shades of blue and I’m not really sure what to branch into!

    Great article, though, and thanks for writing it!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Gautam,

      It’s really all about experimentation. Take the colors from Adrian’s list and use one as a shirt (a plum or eggplant-colored button up or sweater, for example) and keep everything else fairly muted or neutral. You’ll notice that those kinds of colors just play with your complexion better. Even if you don’t notice, the women probably will.

      There’s no “right” answer but keep experimenting with colors between Will’s and Adrian’s list. As long as you’re within that range you’ll be okay.

  • http://twitter.com/WH_Finest Emmanuel Egolum

    i think this is a great primer and offers solid examples!

  • larry ramirez

    I found the concept helpful, though I’m a little concerned about the execution, in particular having Adrian Grenier as your medium complexion. He’s nowhere near that, and I understand that it’s subjective, but you could have used someone like Esai Morales or Lou Diamond Phillips as examples. As a person that’s olive-skinned, I don’t feel represented, I also wouldn’t if i were East Asian  or South Asian, who have very particular complexions apart from what’s up above.

    I understand that it’s basic, though in my opinion, only two demographics were covered here, which will limit the readers who can identify and benefit from your otherwise useful blog.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Larry,

      I disagree that only two demos were covered. Clearly, the four dudes selected have varying shades of color in their skin, and even though I’m not representing color based on specific ethnicity, I think my readers are intelligent enough to extrapolate the information, and more importantly, experiment.

      The takeaway, pick the skin tone you’re closest to, and try out those options. Proceed from there.

  • Jordan

    I tend to do the opposite actually.  I’m a medium brown like Will Smith, maybe a little darker, and I try to stick to lighter colors for contrast.  For example those blues, purple, and green for Will I probably wouldn’t wear (if fact I just returned a “skittle green” shirt), I’d much rather opt for their pastel counterparts, a like color against the darker palette.

  • Jordan

    I tend to do the opposite actually.  I’m a medium brown like Will Smith, maybe a little darker, and I try to stick to lighter colors for contrast.  For example those blues, purple, and green for Will I probably wouldn’t wear (if fact I just returned a “skittle green” shirt), I’d much rather opt for their pastel counterparts, a like color against the darker palette.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Jordan,

      Pastels are great for the darker skin. The pink square represented the pastel shades; I should’ve done a better job showing more pastel colors. Best to avoid the ashy, neutral colors though because they tend to wash your skin color out (again, I’m not sure of your EXACT shade, but use your best judgement).

  • Shahzeeq

    I would like to ask if I have a mid-brown skin tone, say between Adrian and Will Smith. What are the ideal colors to go with? I plan to revamp my wardrobe with the appropriate colors for my skin tone.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Shahzeeq, I’d say pick the colors you like best between those two groups, and wear those. If you’re sitting in between, you most likely can’t go wrong with any of their selections.

  • guest

    Could you give an Asian example? I’m half-Chinese and not close to any of them. 

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      It’s not so much about specific race of the examples, but the underlying skin tones. So if you’re half-Asian, I assume you have more yellow tones in your skin than pink. I’d try the colors next to JT, and probably some of Adrian Grenier’s too.

  • guest

    I like to talk to tomatoes… sometimes, or alot… I get lonely alot, no one likes me
    I must be TOO sexy in my cool colours

  • Patrick Ryan

    I’m Irish but i spend a lot of time surfing and usually have a pretty substantial tan going. Dirty blonde hair, tan, light freckles, green eyes. I look like a surfer, but don’t want to dress like one. I’d be interested in hearing which colors you think would be best.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Interesting. Is there anyone you can compare yourself to, at least sorta similar in coloring? I’ve never seen a tanned Irish dude. I’m going to assume that you’re darker, but your skin still has a pinkish tone to it.

      This is sort of a blind suggestion, but I’d try out some of the more vibrant hues next to Conan’s face, especially for shirts. For pants, you can do stuff more neutral, like the khaki colors, the medium grays, etc.

      Where do you surf?

    • Bored13579

      Hi Patrick, I’d agree with what Barron has said here. I’m similar to you – I’m in a similar boat to you. I don’t surf but I’ve got that sort of dirty blonde/light brown hair, quite bright green eyes, a few freckles here and there, and also usually have somewhat of a tan going on.

      I tend to find that Conan (the first picture) is closer to what looks good on me as any of the others. The only difference is that I can pull black off quite well, but generally I wear the colours from the top picture.

      • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

        Awesome, thanks for chiming in. I can only go off what I think might look good, but since you have the same coloring, that helps a lot to hear it from you.

  • Guest

    What about a dark hair guy with white skin… Ashton Kutcher in the winter.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      You can probably get away with a lot of neutrals for your pants, and deep bold colors for your shirts. Colors like the ones under “four universally flattering shades”, the last paragraph.

  • Acube

    How about for people whose skin tone is btwn olive to dark ? Isit okay to wear colours from either one ?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Yes. Honestly it depends, but try it and see which colors you like.

  • A.H

    How about asian men with tan skin color?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I probably should have specified this more when I originally wrote this. It’s not about the ethnicity as much as it is about the undertones of each person’s skin color. Conan has more red/pink undertones, Justin is fairer and more yellow, both Adrian and Will are tan but Adrian has more of an olive undertone.

      So depending on where you land, that’s how you figure it out. It’s not an exact science, more of just a guide. If I were you I’d experiment with Will’s and Adrian’s colors.

  • souliloquoy

    Interesting how you mention that people like Justin Timberlake shouldn’t wear black, but he is wearing black in that picture. Just saying.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      JT didn’t get my email with the link to this article.

  • hybridman06

    why does everybody hate this guy? his guide is actually very informative, but you idiots are too heavy-headed to realize that it is efficient as an INTUITIVE GUIDE! not a tell-all, comprehensive research project. Good day to you sir, and any extra advice for my 5’8, extremely muscular 155 pound half-Filipino self. my skin is pretty damn close to that of Adrian Grenier’s, although my eye’s aren’t quiet as gorgeous.

    • Bobo

      Because his advise is wrong.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Great point, and definitely, this isn’t a comprehensive research project by any means. It’s more of a place to get started. I’d like to think typical EG readers are smart enough to find a starting point and figuring out the rest on their own.

      As far as your question, we filipinos are lucky because our slightly tanned natural skin tone looks great against practically any color (or so says my fiancé). So to be honest, you probably can’t go wrong no matter what color you choose.

      My eyes aren’t quite as gorgeous either :(

      • http://www.facebook.com/parth.kashyap.948 Parth Misra

        sir my skin complexion is dark may i wear red or green caps if this iz not ok for me then tell me which color is good for me ?

        • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

          You can wear whatever caps you like. Like I mentioned there is no hard and fast rules, and these are only guidelines to start from.

  • Dikman

    Yeah, no, this guide is stupid and wrong on so many levels. Since when contrasting colors like black look bad on white people? If anything, contrast is what makes you look good. Why on earth do you think it is a good idea for a ginger to wear pastel color? So his shirt and blazer is indistinguishable from skin? Not wearing yellow would be just common sense for everyone. Wearing green on Conan – dude, this is 2012. Black and white are classical colors that will always work on everyone. If anything blacks should wear lighter tones that you have listen in “Don’t wear these”, since they provide the best contrast to black skin. Sorry, but this guide is WRONG!

  • Dikman

    LOL! Also notice how he doesn’t let white dudes wear any cool colors. Dude, wearing pastel, orange, red, green and light blue will not get you laid. You will look like a grandpa. Black is one of the coolest colors, dark colors are good, too, but you let only the black men wear them. WTF?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Since when did I say people aren’t allowed to wear certain colors? Guys can wear whatever they want. This is a “get started here” guide for those who have no idea where to begin. If you’re an expert, then obviously this doesn’t apply to you, right?

  • randomobjection

    I have the skin colouring most like Justin Timberlake. While I can clearly see why the recommended colours could work for my skin tone, they’re too bright for me personally. This may just be my bias, but a lot of those colours recommended to me strike more of what a homosexual stereotypically may wear.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Lol, where are you from? Your last line made me laugh. I’m from San Francisco and I live in THE gayest area of San Francisco, and even I don’t see dudes walking around in pastels here just because they’re homosexual.

      Anyway I’m not offended or anything, I just thought that was funny. But yeah if you don’t like pastels, you don’t have to wear them. I’m not saying get decked out head to toe in baby blue or anything, but, for example, if you were wearing dark denim with a light blue oxford shirt, that would look better than say, a primary red shirt. Hopefully that makes sense.

  • MYNAMEHERE

    Black works well with almost any skin tone, not JUST the black guy at the bottom. Forget this guide.

  • orlando

    why black works with blACK GUYS? lmao it doesn’t .. it is white that works for them, because it gives contrast, look at a black wearing black is like he is naked lmao

    black color is perfect for guys with olive skin tone and black hair, because it contrast their skin, and matches their hair, in other words james bond

    • tim

      Racial comments are never nice you dumb fuck, No one is black, we are brown skin toned prick

      • Trey

        I was saying the same thing. We’re BROWN skinned not black skinned. Black is just used as our racial name. What the hell is this Orlando dude talking about? (Shaking my head)

  • LadyWhistledown

    I’m a girl with a golden-beige skin tone. It makes me sad that I can’t wear pastel colors! I really love them. ALL articles I’ve read so far tell me not to wear pastels. But, can I get away with it by matching pastel colors (or any colors that aren’t generally suited for my skin tone) by matching it with colors that are right for me?

    BTW, I’ve read 5 articles saying only people with golden skin tone can rock a warm grey color.

  • Orfeas

    Congratulations for your work!
    I started reading it only yesterday, but you’ve got a magnificent way of relating to the reader. Great stuff!

  • Venkata Chaitanya

    I am Indian. This whole article sucks and doesn’t have base. I am brown close to will smith color. Black, blue, green on me looks shiny and i look darker than i am. Dark skinned people should always prefer light color clothes like light blue, silver, cream color etc. White guys or lighter Hispanics , japs, Chinese, Jewish , some middle eastern should prefer buying dark colored stuff like green, dark blue, purple, maroon. Its works opposite to the color we have. That’s why James bond wears dark colored suits. That is a fact and works out best. But you really like any color wear it. who cares. peace!!!

    • This Guy

      “Japs”? Wow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hanileric Eric Anticamara

    jeezz thaks man i wonder if you could give also some tips about the appropriate
    shorts color for man

  • janedaydoe

    Conan’s skin is red/orange undertone, I think him in peachy, red or orange color clothes whould make him look all one color…not a pretty sight!

  • Ams

    So…unless you have relatively dark skin, you shouldn’t wear black?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Never said that. Use this guide as a starting point, not an absolute, must-follow rulebook, when it comes to picking out colors.

  • Gaz

    Cracks me up. Google directed me to several sites on this subject and all of the ones I read gave conflicting advice. For example, I am a medium complexion/black hair (Asian) person and your site said I suit brown, orange and red yet other sites said I should avoid those. Further, yours said avoid light blue but another said I was good to go in that colour. Who to believe??

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      This guide is definitely meant as a starting point, rather than a complete, absolute set of rules. Try both sites’ advice, and see what you like better personally. If you’re still conflicted, feel free to email me a photo and I’ll lend my thoughts.

  • tlo

    Hello,

    in the article

    http://effortlessgent.com/fk-fashion-eight-tips-to-being-the-best-dressed-guy-you-know/
    you suggest that
    “You want to find colors that contrast with your skin, not blend in and wash you out.”

    However with Justin there, this is not the case? You recoment pastels but his skin tone is somewhat pale and would not contrast.

    I have somewhat pale skin and a lot of problems with colors … so I stick to:
    – dark pants (black, navy, gray) + light tops (white, champagnebaby blue, beige)
    – an exception is grey pants + black or brown t-shirt with prints for special occasions

    I can provide multiple pictures if this would help, I would even agree with you publishing it as an example if that makes sense (does not to me since I am not a handsome LA celebrity :) ).

  • tlo

    Hello,

    in the article

    http://effortlessgent.com/fk-fashion-eight-tips-to-being-the-best-dressed-guy-you-know/
    you suggest that
    “You want to find colors that contrast with your skin, not blend in and wash you out.”

    However with Justin there, this is not the case? You recoment pastels but his skin tone is somewhat pale and would not contrast.

    I have somewhat pale skin and a lot of problems with colors … so I stick to:
    – dark pants (black, navy, gray) + light tops (white, champagnebaby blue, beige)
    – an exception is grey pants + black or brown t-shirt with prints for special occasions

    Do pastels work for Justing type of complexion? Isn’t it just faded color on faded color that looks blended and washed together?

  • Safwan

    Hello,
    I am from Bangladesh and have a brown skin tone (one or two shades darker than your example Adrian Grenier) and I think Navy Blue looks good in a coat for me. My question is: What color should I wear in my dress shirt and slacks? Do khakis work?

  • tammy

    I found this to be true because i am dark skin, i found i look really good in black and for some reason some dark skin people think they should stay far a way from black. But this article confirms my belief. thanks
    And aalllllll those colors for dark skin looks really great on me

    • Sukumar Smart

      r u really sure of that?

      • Bong

        beep beep bop bing
        ID 10 T

  • vivek

    It is cool……….doing great job dude…….
    I am a Indian,can you suggest more colour shades for “Indian black tan skin……..”

  • ddkj

    The whole point of this article is to continue what nature has already started in regard to color. What we view as “standing out” can be an eyesore if it is your entire outfit. I fall into the JT complexion, and pastels DO look best on me. That is how I feel and what other people tell me. With that being said, dark colors look fine too! The author never said that wearing a “don’t wear color” will be ugly. Rather, he stated that complimentary colors are simply more flattering. You may simplify this article by understanding that there are “high contrast” and “low contrast” complexions. I promise that a white shirt and black pants (high contrast) will look better on a pale person with black hair (high contrast) than it will on a pale person with blonde hair (low contrast). The opposite is true for a pair of khaki pants and a light pink shirt (low contrast). Start paying attention to the models in catalogs, etc. The stereotypical Scandinavian looking guy will often model the pastels and khaki/sail colored pants whereas the “Italian” will model the darker colors.

  • Just13

    I have tanned skin and those colours you put down all look terrible on my skin, you also said white and black are not to be worn but I find those are the best colours for my skin shade. Mint greens, blues, pinks, white some reds and greens look best on tanned skin but I would never wear purple or yellow.

    • brostuah

      I have tanned skin as well, well darker than the example, but purple looks great. Also light pinks work as well.

  • Tom

    Thanks for the guide, i’m pakistani so i have a brown skin town and noticed that jewel and earth tones much like the ones you suggested above worked really well with my skintone:)
    Great starting point for those interested in enhancing their look. Although i do wish their was a skin tone between Adrien Grenier and Will Smith
    cheers

  • Wump

    I disagree. Black looks good on everybody. According to your recommendations 3/4 people shouldn’t wear black. Nonsense.

  • Tim U

    If you have dark skin, particularly if you’re black, Indian or Melanesian, then yellow colours (especially mustard) look great. Every time I see a black person wearing a mustard sweater or scarf, I think “man, that looks good!”

    Oh, and black looks good on everyone.

  • Loretta

    I am yellowish pale olive skin and dark brown hair with hazel eyes. nothing about me here