Are you struggling with how to combine your clothes properly?

Sure, you’ve collected a bunch of nice clothes, but when putting them together, you’re completely stumped. You just don’t know how to combine them into a kick-ass outfit.

Contrasts and combinations

Do you know which clothing combinations look best on you, and why?

You may have experimented with different clothing combinations, and you may have discovered you like some better than others.

But you don’t know why.

You may look for inspiration in magazines, look-books, or even just in the outfits of guys whose style you admire. You may even have tried to copy some of their looks, and again some worked better than others.

But you don’t know why.

And you don’t want to rely on outside sources for inspiration. You want to know how to combine clothes yourself. You want to peruse a store and pick combinations based on your own instinct.

You want to pick an outfit all by yourself, and still look sharp.

Well, today you’ll learn a secret that will help you do just that.

The Little-Known Secret to Kick-Ass Clothing Combinations

You may think the secret to creating perfect clothing combinations lies in how they complement each other. But what’s most important (and much less talked about) is how they complement your face.

Ironically, when you do it right, your face should draw more attention than your clothes.

The point of dressing well, after all, is to make you look sharper. Not your outfit.

So you have to combine clothes to complement your face, but how?

How to Create Clothing Combinations That Complement Your Facial Features

To create clothing combinations that complement your face, you have to look at the contrast between your hair and your skin.

And then, you have to repeat that contrast level in your outfit.

So here’s what you do:

Step 1 – Assess Your Contrast Level

Stand in front of a mirror and look at your skin color and your hair color.

Are they close in tonality, do you see a stark contrast, or do you fall somewhere in between?

Step 2 – Score Yourself on the Contrast Scale

The contrast scale runs from one to nine; one being the lightest and nine being the darkest.

Contrast Scale

To determine your contrast level, you have to determine where your skin and hair fall on this scale. (Though you don’t need to be precise. Having a ballpark idea is fine.)

So let’s say your skin is about a two, and your hair’s about a nine. Then your contrast level is nine minus two, which is seven.

Contrast Calculation

Step 3 – Determine Your Contrast Type

When you put together clothes, you want to mimic the contrast between your skin and hair.

But again, you don’t have to be too precise. You should only know which of the following contrast types you belong to:

  • Low contrast: Your contrast level falls between one and three.
  • Medium contrast: Your contrast level falls between four and six.
  • High contrast: Your contrast level falls between seven and nine.

And once you’ve determined your contrast type, combining clothes is a cinch.

How to Dress for Your Contrast Type

The point of dressing well, after all, is to make you look sharper. Not your outfit.

Every contrast type has to combine their clothes in different ways to complement their facial features.

High-contrast types should seek different combinations than low-contrast types.

So let’s delve further into each contrast type, and see which combinations work best for you.

1. Complement Your High Contrast By Wearing High-Contrast Outfits

When you’re a high-contrast type, you complement your features the most by wearing high-contrast outfits.

Don’t take my word for it. Compare for yourself: Going on your gut instinct, which of the following two cartoon dudes looks better?

Comparison of High Contrast

The low level of contrast between the light-grey jacket and white shirt underplay his natural features. I bet your gaze was instantly directed to the dude on the right.

His high-contrasting clothes are a perfect complement to his high-contrasting features. They create a frame around his face, drawing your gaze to its center.

The easiest way to create a high-contrast outfit is by pairing light clothes with dark clothes. But another great way to create contrast within your outfit is by wearing complementary colors.

High Contrast Combination Examples

(Side-note: You’ll also look great in items that have high-contrast within themselves, e.g. Boldly striped T-shirts or sweaters)

2. Avoid High Contrasts When You’re a Low-Contrast Type

When you’re a low-contrast type, you want to avoid contrast in your outfits as much as possible.

Again, compare for yourself:

Low Contrast Comparison

Now, on first viewing, you may decide the cartoon dude on the right still draws more attention. But it is, in fact, the contrasting jacket that draws attention to itself.

Try concentrating your gaze on the left dude’s eyes.

You should have no problem holding your gaze steady, and you’ll notice the jacket fading into the background.

Now try concentrating on the right dude’s eyes.

You will notice the jacket trying to draw your eye downwards — as if the jacket is pushing itself into the foreground. Look long enough, and you’ll see the hair adopting the color of the skin, and the two blending into each other.

When you’re a low-contrast type, wearing a contrasting piece will overpower your look and draw attention away from your face. You don’t want that to happen.

Create low-contrast outfits by pairing light with light or dark with dark, and stick to analogous colors.

Low Contrast Combination Examples

3. Experiment With Contrasts When You’re a Medium-Contrast Type

If you’re a medium-contrast type, you’re a lucky man. You have a lot of leeway.

You can move across the contrast scale more freely, as you’re much safer wearing clothes in both higher and lower contrasts, so experiment with both.

Most medium-contrast types lean one way or the other, so you need to try out different combinations, and see which you prefer. If you’re unsure, ask someone you trust for feedback.

But again, you have a lot of leeway, so you can pull off both high and low contrasts, or just stay happily in between.

Light Medium Contrast Combination Examples Dark Medium Contrast Combination Examples

The Notable Exception for the Contrast Rules

When you have dark skin and dark hair, you’d assume to be a low-level contrast, but you are actually the opposite.

Dark Skin Examples

Your hair and skin are closely matched, but since your eyes and teeth provide a high contrast against your dark skin, a high-contrast outfit will complement your smile.

Besides, you just can’t avoid creating contrast when you put almost any color against your dark skin.

So if you have dark skin and hair, approach your outfit choices as being a medium-to-high contrast type.

Dark Skin Combination Examples

Try it Out for Yourself

This method of combining clothes is rarely discussed, and few guys know about it. Having only a basic understanding of it will put you well ahead of them.

So go stand in front of a mirror and determine what your contrast type is. Then, go through your closet and experiment with creating different contrast levels in your outfits.

You’ll discover which contrast level works best.

And when you’re armed with the knowledge of which contrast type you belong to, you’ll have no problem creating looks that kick ass.

You’ll know exactly what to do to look super-sharp.


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49 Responses

  1. Breno on

    Definitely one of the most useful posts I’ve read in a while. I’ve stumbled into this concept a couple of times when women complimented me saying my light skin and dark hair went great with my choice of clothes, but I couldn’t figure what I had done. You just solved the problem for me, thanks!

  2. Nate on

    Easily the best article on this subject. I’ve google searched countless others, but this one is very thorough and informative. Continuing with this discussion…I’m a high contrast (Black hair, white skin) so would I do the same with my pant and shirt combination? light shirt / dark trousers and dark shirt / light trousers?

    Great job Rob!

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      Thanks, Nate.

      Good question. This technique is most effective when you apply it to the clothes you wear on your torso. The effect is lessened when you’re only wearing pants and a shirt.

      And if you’re only wearing a shirt and pants, you also have to think about your length. Short guys will look better when their top half matches their bottom half closely, while tall guys will look better when they break up their length with contrast.

      In this case, those rules would trump the contrast rules, but you should always keep both in mind.

      For example, a tall, low-contrast guy is better off wearing a dark pants/light shirt combination, because he breaks up his length without creating a contrast near his face. If he’d wear light pants with a dark shirt the shirt would draw the attention, because it’d be centered.

      Does that make any sense?

      • Nate on

        Hey Rob,

        Makes perfect sense! Great points on the height of a person, totally forgot about that. Indeed, I was looking at it from the point of just a shirt and pants because including a suit / jacket had already made sense to me.

        So really it’s not so much what colors one chooses, but as long as the colors coordinate with their contrast type? I imagine anyone can use any color, just as long as you find shades and tones that work well and pair within your contrast scheme / height considerations. Maybe I’m wrong?

        Keep up the great work!

    • beardedman on

      Agree, this is the most easily understandable explanation I’ve seen. I’m reading Alan Flusser’s “Dressing The Man” and of course he spends a good bit of time on this subject along with color, but he seems to have left out a good way to find your own contrast level easily. Bravo!!

      • Robert van Tongeren on

        Thanks for your comment, Beardedman. Dressing the Man was the book that first taught me this, but I found the book very hard to get through, due to the use of language. I’m always reluctant to recommend it because of it.

        What’s your opinion on that?

        • beardedman on

          The Author is a high-brow guy and likes to use words with a lot of flourish, I agree. I got through it pretty easily but some might find it just a bit difficult. And you don’t really have to read it cover to cover to find it beneficial. It’s a great reference and you can jump right to the section you need to know before buying a tie or dressing for business casual. It doesn’t hurt to Google those words and gain a little linguistic education along with the sartorial one either. 😉 But it shouldn’t be the only thing you read on the subject, that’s for sure.

          • Robert van Tongeren on

            That’s true. I didn’t read it cover to cover either; just made myself get through the parts I especially wanted to learn more about.

            I just think when you write a book that’s supposed to teach people something, you should choose clarity over purple prose. And I don’t so much worry my audience won’t understand, but that they’re put off by it, just like I was.

  3. jackbrannen on

    Hi Robert. Not to be pedantic, but the middle “complementary color” option in the image above is light blue on dark blue. Those aren’t complementary. Or am I missing something? Just checking because I found the article helpful and want to make sure I understand it correctly.

  4. Lorenz on

    Great advice, gotta take the time and sort through all the info. I’m blond and rather pale, I usually feel good in e.g. navy blue but never thought about the why much.

  5. Amir Khan on

    Hi, great article …. read first about same in allen flusser book. I have a question. Lets say that its summer time and what we are wearing is only a upper (tshirt, shirt) and a jeans and some accessories. As now we dont have layer to put, so will contrast in jeans and tshirt/shirt will have same effect as what discussed above??

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      The effect is strongest on your torso. You can also create contrast by wearing a striped T-shirt though. Or you could wear a contrasting summer scarf, if that’s your thing. Or a tie.

      The effect is somewhat lessened when it comes to jeans/shirt combinations, and you also have to think about your body length. But you should always keep contrast in mind.

      See my response to Nate in the comments below.

  6. Rajeshwari on

    Such a well written article . Gives so much of clarity …looking forward to more such interesting articles

  7. Sirilly on

    One question though, even though your outfits are being talked about as a whole in this article, it seems like the amount of attention being drawn to your face only relies on the top half of it. So does that mean it’s ok to play the wild card when it comes to your jeans and pants, or no?

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      Yeah, the effect is strongest when it comes to clothes you wear on your torso, but you should always keep your contrast level in mind.

      See my responses to Amir and Nate below for more detail on that.

  8. Julian on

    Hi Robert. Quick question: I have pale skin and pale blond hair” so I’m a 1. But I also wear glasses.

    I have two pairs: one thick black frame (i.e. high contrast against my face) and a thin silver pair (very low contrast).

    … when I wear the black frames, should I consider myself a high contrast person in the same way as people with very dark skin/ hair do?

    … or should would I be better of just not wearing frames like this?

    • Robert van Tongeren on

      Hey Julian,

      good question. I’ll be honest with you and admit I’m not a big expert on glasses. But I’d recommend you still consider yourself low-contrast. The black frames are a good choice though, because the contrast will direct attention to your eyes, especially if you wear them with a light outfit.

  9. Mario on

    You outdid yourself this time with this article. I’ve been trying to explain this to my friend who’s not so much into knowing all this stuff but who approaches me for help when he needs to go shopping 🙂 I’ve shared this with him, thanks a bunch! Good vibes to you my bro.

  10. drey on

    thanks. i actually reopened this tab just to see if you could helpo out a dark-skinned guy like myself. thanks a milli

  11. Somebody on

    Hello! I am still struggling to figure out if I am a low contrast or medium contrast men. I am bold but I keep a stylish beard. Should It matter?

  12. Zane Augustus on

    Def a bit confused though I was with you originally. Why are there no blog posts simply talking about Color tones? E.g. for my skin colour (display pic), what colour clothing goes best?…dull colours or bright colours? Should my blazer match with my shirt or contrast with it?

  13. Lou on

    So consider Bob Barker, famous TV personality. He has silver hair and deeply suntanned skin. My tan is never as extreme as his and during the winter, not so tan at all. But otherwise I am similar to him. What would you recommend for him?

  14. lullemans72 on

    Hi, and thanks for the informative article.
    I have a question though. I have pale skin and brown hair and look like Daniel Radcliffe from Harry Potter. would that make me medium contrast or high contrast?
    The reason I ask this is because I’ve worn black suits before but I don’t find that I particularly look good in them. I feel that my face gets completely lost in the blackness of the suits, and it makes me look pale.

  15. Adrien on

    Thanks, Robert. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this informative and detailed article.

    How would you tackle this?: If a high-contrast gent wears a white shirt and charcoal jacket to create contrast to complement his face, but it’s a warm day, and half the time he has to take off his jacket. Without his jacket, it’s just his low-contrast pure-white shirt. Would a dark tie be a good way to create high contrast without his jacket? What if the event is too casual for a tie; what else can he use to create high contrast on his torso?

    • Barron on

      Good question. I personally wouldn’t worry about this. If you have a crisp, bright white shirt on, it will look good regardless. Sure, maybe your outfit will look better with the jacket on, but if it’s hot, it’s hot. More important to stay cool in that situation than try to maintain some level of contrast in your outfit 😉

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