Back to Basics: What color looks best with your skin type

April 21, 2011 · 67 comments

in Apparel, Back to Basics, Color

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.


Barron is the founder and editor of Effortless Gent, a site dedicated to helping guys figure out what looks best on them. He's based in San Francisco. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

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