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How to Dress in Colors that Help You Shine

Dressed for My Day...My Way
October 10, 2018

Hello and welcome to the next installment in our series Dressed for My Day…My Way. Today we’re learning how to dress in colors that help you shine. So, yes, today we’re transitioning from measurements and all the math that goes with body shape, proportions and variations to the science of coloring. And let me just say, that while science nor math were ever my strong suits, I clearly struggled the most with science classes. So it might as well all be Greek to me!

I’ve also learned that coloring alone could easily develop into 12 part series of its own…if I were up to that. And I’m not. So instead of focusing on how to discover your undertones, overtones, value or intensity (which are all clearly above my pay grade or expertise level), I’m simply going to hit the highlights of some of that and then offer some critical tips for the aging woman in this area.

How to Dress in Colors that Help You Shine

Need to Catch Up?

In case you’re new around here (welcome!!), let me share with you how you can best enjoy this series. You might want to start back at the beginning of this series. You can catch all the posts here. Be sure to start all the way back with the first post.

Also, I do have special worksheets and shopping helps that I created for these posts. But they are locked up in a special vault for my subscribers. Ha! No, really you can access the worksheets and other freebies at the Freebies for Subscribers page, but you’ll notice they require a password. I’d love to share that password with you, really I would. You’ll just need to subscribe to my emails here. There are so many other benefits to being a subscriber. For instance, each month I randomly select one subscriber to win a $25 gift card to a favorite retailer and I announce the winner in the subscriber emails.

Finally, if you have any questions about anything in the series, please leave me a comment below or email me. I’d love to respond to your concerns or questions. Now, on with today’s post!

How to Calculate The Principles of Color

First, let’s understand that, as in the other posts, we’re talking about scientific and mathematical principles that help create the most aesthetically pleasing presentation…of you! I mention that because sometimes women get upset about having “fashion rules” imposed upon them. The fact is, most “fashion rules” have been thrown out in recent decades and anything goes. However, in art – and dressing the body is an art – there are principles, or rules if you will, that determine what the human eye generally perceives as pleasing.

So while I’m presenting some of those “rules” of science today, that’s not all you need to calculate into your fashion equation. And you’ll see why if you’ll just keep reading. But I do want you to understand up front that I’m not telling you what colors you can and cannot wear. You certainly have freedom and ability to express yourself through your fashion choices. But if you want to make the choices that put you in the best light – literally – you’ll probably want to at least learn the principles.

How to Choose Colors that Make You Look Your Best

Every color has 3 properties: undertones, value and intensity. When you are choosing colors for your clothing, accessories and makeup, you’ll find that the colors that suit you best are those that replicate your own natural color properties.

What are Undertones?

First, let’s define overtones so we can then understand their partners, undertones. Overtones are simply how we naturally describe a color. For instance we generally know that blue and green are cool overtones because they make us think of things that are cool, such as cold blue water or the cool shade created by a canopy of green foliage. And we would label red, yellow and orange as warm overtones because they make us feel warm as we associate them with fire or the sun.

But each of those colors, except orange (because it’s created by combining two warm overtones, red and yellow) can also have warm or cool undertones. Undertones are the components used to create the color. For instance, red can have cool undertones if it has a lot of blue (a cool overtone) in it, or it can have warm undertones if it has a lot of yellow(a warm overtone) in it. Likewise, brown can have cool undertones (with a lot of blue in it) or it can have warm undertones if it is more yellowy.

Now, keep in mind, not only do the pieces of clothing and accessories you put on your body have overtones and undertones, but your face has overtones and undertones as well. You may be a black woman (overtone) with warm undertones (more yellow or gold) or cool undertones (more blue) in your skin. You could be a woman with brown skin (overtone), but have warm undertones or cool undertones. And you could have white skin (overtone), but have warm or cool undertones.

With me so far? Hang in there! For now, with natural lighting, examine your own eyes, hair and skin. What are your overtones? (Black, brown, white skin? Blue, green, brown, grey eyes? Black, brown, blonde, red, grey hair?) And then try to determine your undertones. (Make sure you do this with a clean face.) Do you see a red or blue cool undertone in your skin? Or a warm yellow or gold undertones? What about your eyes? Look at the tiny flecks that make up the “color” of your eyes. And what about your hair?

By the way, just to complicate matters, you can actually also have neutral undertones! And you can have very warm undertones or very cool undertones, or just mild warm or cool undertones.

What is Value?

Value is simply whether a color is light or dark. You can change a color that is pure (like the colors in the rainbow) to a lighter value simply by adding some white, and you can create a darker or deeper value of that same color by adding some black to it. So you could have a light pink or a deep pink, a light blue or a deep blue.

So as you look through your closet, you probably find that you have clothes that have deep value and clothes with light value, even though they are the same “color.”

Hue light and dark
Both of these pairs of jeans are blue (overtone) with cool undertones. But the pair on the left have a light value because white has been added, and the pair on the right have a deep value because more black has been added.

Once again, the same properties apply to our skin, hair and eye coloring. You may have light blue eyes or deep blue eyes. You may have light brown hair or deep brown hair. How do you tell? Does your brown hair also have some blonde or grey mixed in? Then it will be a lighter brown. But if your brown hair is “highlighted” with more black, it is deep brown. And you may have light brown skin or deep brown skin. Even white skin can have varying value.

Hold onto this information, we’re going somewhere with it. For right now, just consider your own coloring – your skin, hair and eyes. What is the “value” of each? Light (with more white in it) or deep (with more black)?

Finally, What is Intensity?

Intensity of color refers to its saturation and brightness. Shades of grey are what change intensity. If you’ve used greyscale in editing your photos on your phone, you might understand better what I’m talking about. When you add a little grey the intensity of the color drops; it becomes more muted, softer.

Brighter, more intense colors advance, come at you, so to speak. While softer shades recede.

You can probably already imagine why intensity should matter to those of us over 40. Many of us have begun to grey!

And whether you’ve allowed your hair to grey or not, your other features have probably begun “to grey,” too. Yes, your eyes soften with time, your eyebrows and lashes become less intense, your skin becomes less vibrant and your over all appearance becomes less intense, less vibrant. That, dear ladies, is why we sometimes look in the mirror and feel like we have “receded into the background.” Honestly, we have.

What to Do with This Information

Honestly, I’d like you to read over the preceding sections again if you still need to absorb this information. But if you’re ready, let’s plow forward. There’s a lot of application to be made!

  • If you can determine the undertones, value and intensity of your eyes, hair and skin, then you can choose clothing, accessories and makeup, even hair coloring, that will help create your most harmonious and “face forward” look.
  • You’ll shine when you choose colors that harmonize with your coloring. To do this, select warm colors if your undertones are warm and cool if your undertones are cool. Choose clothing with deep value if your coloring is deep and lighter value if your coloring is generally light. And select clothing with more pigment if your features and coloring are intense, but select softer, more muted colors if your features and coloring are more muted.
  • Especially as we age and our features “grey” (you know by that I don’t necessarily mean they turn grey, but that they become more muted, less vibrant) we will actually shine and “advance” rather than “recede into the background” by wearing more muted colors and fabrics. Here’s why:

Look at the grey dots on the graphic below. Immediately your eye is probably drawn to the bottom row, but what are you really looking at? The colors probably. But the grey dot, which is the exact same grey in all of the squares, actually looks brighter and more vibrant in the darker grey squares. In those squares, your eyes are probably drawn to the grey circle; that’s your focus.

Implications for Aging

The application? As we grey (look, I know you don’t like that term anymore than I do, but it’s the reality) or our features begin to fade, our face, eyes, hair, and mouth will actually “advance” or shine more and draw more attention if we are surrounded by more muted shades. (Remember, intensity is decreased or muted when you add some grey to a color.) That does not mean we can’t wear color! Please, don’t read this that way. By all means we want to wear color. But when we choose less intense versions of those colors, our faces, hair, eyes and mouth will shine.

Here’s another implication. As we age and our coloring changes – primarily the intensity of our coloring –  we might want to take that into consideration as we choose hair coloring, lipstick, eye shadow. even nail polish. For instance, the deep, raven black hair that crowned your head as a young woman might be overpowering with your complexion and eyes as you age. You could still dye your hair. You don’t have to go grey, but you just might not want to return to the shade of your youth. Likewise, we may want to choose more muted shades of lipstick instead of the fire engine reds or the neon pinks we used to wear with bravado.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Ladies, I think that’s enough color talk for today. It’s a lot to digest, I know. But here are some questions to ponder as we close. In fact, don’t just ponder them. If you will, chime in with your thoughts in the comment section below:

  1. What are the undertones of your skin, hair and eyes? Do the clothes in your closet presently harmonize with those undertones?
  2. How has the intensity of your coloring changed in recent years, if any?
  3. Have you noticed that some colors or intensities of colors don’t look the same on you as they did when you were younger? Have you made any adjustments? Why or why not?

I asked that last question because I want to press home the fact that you and I are absolutely free to disregard all of these principles. We most certainly can wear all the colors we love with all the intensity we desire. But we at least need to make educated decisions, fully aware of the rules of science and math that are at play.


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Thank you so much for reading and spending some time here today. I hope you’ll return for more fashion, beauty and fitness tips, and join the conversation. If you’re not already a subscriber to my email service, let’s fix that right here. Have a blessed and beautiful day!

Blessed for My Day

Today I simply pray for you to know that you are a valuable and influential woman. I don’t know who all you touch in your corner of the world, but I know you have more sway in their lives than you even imagine. So be sure to glorify the Lord well today. Let’s make decisions, use our words, spend our time and resources and work in a way that will shine the light brightly on our God.

for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:20

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xoxo, Kay
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13 thoughts on “How to Dress in Colors that Help You Shine

  1. I am sure if I reread this several times I might get it, but I lost the train when it came time to figuring out my natural color properties (and that was the beginning of the post.) Thanks for the information, but I just cannot follow this.

    1. I have been trying to look into this topic lately and was struggling with the warm vs cool thing a lot. I read somewhere to look at the veins on your wrist. If they appear ‘blue’ then you are cool. If they appear more ‘green’, then you are warm toned. Years ago the colours were called seasons (summer, winter, fall, spring) but now people talk in terms of warm and cool. I was pretty lost for a long time, but am learning.

    2. LOL! I’m so sorry that I confused you. I confused me, too! It’s just too much information to really compress into a blog post. And that’s the problem I ran into. Hopefully you at least got the info at the end of the post about how we are wise to tone it down a little as we age. I think that’s the most profound and practical bit of info in this post. Thanks for your honesty, Arna! 🙂

  2. I am a color girl through and through. This last time I had my colors done, I decided to try to stick with it this time. So now my closet it pretty much my colors only. I think it’s not always easy to figure out what is good and not so good, but after time and practice, we can do it!!

    1. And you always dress so beautifully, Jodie. I agree that you seem to use your colors so well. I think that perhaps while we can certainly throw most “fashion rules” out the window, we really do look our best when we choose colors that look good with our coloring, especially for around the face. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  3. I get it and really enjoyed this post. Then again I love color. Art runs big in my family and color is my life . I am 57 and have noticed my graying. Hair, skin and eyes. I do color my hair, but it’s lighter than my natural shade. I try to pick less intense colors, but do often there are lovely things in intense shades. I know it’s better to choose those away from the face, but how about a post on how to wear an intense color next to the face. How to tone it down a bit.

    1. Hi Mary, yes I think I will definitely do some more posts really applying the information about coloring. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do more as far as actually analyzing your coloring, but honestly that’s just something that has to be done one-on-one, don’t you think? So that’s why I decided to just explain the science best I could and then jump into the applications. And I felt like understanding the “greying” effect as far as intensity was perhaps the most relevant for all us gals in our 50s and up.

      So, long answer! But yes, I’ll definitely eventually post about wearing the more intense shades for older women. You know, one of the things that occurred to me today as I was absorbing all of this a little more is that most of the stores that cater toward older women really do a very good job of providing colorful, beautiful clothing, but in more muted intensity. If you look over Talbots, J.Jill and Ann Taylor’s clothing, you see a lot of color, but they’re all lower intensity. I found that interesting…and helpful.

  4. This explains a lot…thank you! I’m light, warm with (I think) medium intensity. I have been noticing that colors I used to think looked good on me didn’t really look too good anymore…now I understand why!

    1. Hi Kara, Well you’re doing better with this than I am! I know I’m cool, but I really don’t know about the intensity. I’m thinking medium, too. But my eyes are light green, so I don’t really know. 🙂

  5. Hadn’t heard about “intensity implications” before–very helpful. Thanks! Had my Autumn coloring analyzed by Color Me Beautiful ages ago (high school), but at 52 I’m sure I’m not the same intensity now!

    1. Hi Jena, yes I had my colors analyzed back in high school, too. And they served me well most of the time. In fact, yesterday as I was wanting to test out some of the recommendations I came across for analyzing your coloring, I went to my closet to look for some warm colored clothing to hold up to my face, and I couldn’t find any. I don’t own any truly warm pieces! Ha! I guess that’s because I had always known that I’m more of a “summer” or “winter” which are both cool.

      But yes, I found the intensity information so very helpful. And it really explains so much! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. I would enjoy a post on using navy blue as a neutral, for the reason that I have noticed I can’t wear black as well anymore. I have always loved classic black pieces but as I age I feel that black drains color from me, for instance if I wear a black sweater. Also, I really enjoy your makeup posts with suggestions for beauty products. Women are always looking for that “magic” night cream that is going to make a difference and I don’t really believe it is probably out there but it is really helpful to hear what someone else likes and why. Thank you for your blog- love it!

    1. Hi Debbie,
      I actually have a post set for Friday that features navy. They aren’t solid navy pants, but the outfit is definitely based on navy. And since I purchased the navy block heels in this outfit, I’ll definitely be doing more navy. So, yes! I can do that. 🙂 And I’m sure I’ll have more makeup posts coming soon. Thanks for the suggestions and for reading! Blessings!