Suit Colors – How to Choose the Perfect for You

by | Jul 7, 2016 | Foundations

When it comes to suit colors one thing is certain – they’re not something you want to leave to chance. The colors you wear influence first impressions more than any other aspect of your attire. They can also establish emotional link between you and an observer in the first few seconds of seeing each other.

The colors you wear can attract people to you or have a repulsive effect if chosen poorly. As the saying goes your image can either make you or break you. If you choose the former then let’s continue.

The good news is that choosing the right suit colors is not rocket science and actually can be pretty easy. There are just a couple of basic principles. Once learned you can apply them not only on suits but on just about anything you wear. Those are timeless fundamentals that lie beyond fashion and will be of great use throughout your life.

The Clothes Should Lead the Eye Toward the Face

A very important but yet little known function of any attire is to lead the observer’s eye toward the most visible and expressive body part – the face. After all when we meet someone most of the time our attention will be focused on their face. The face is like the canvas of a painting and the attire, being the frame, has to match and complement it.

Matching the right tonalities to your face will illuminate and invigorate its presence. It will amplifying its ability to provoke an immediate and marked reaction.The way we achieve this effect is by following two basic but important principles – contrast and highlights.

The Contrast Levels Should Match


The colors of any given attire should exhibit the same degree of contrast as the wearer’s main facial tones – those of the hair and the skin. This basically means that your outfit colors should have between them the same level of contrast as your skin and hair do. Lets scale it down to two end formats:

► If your skin color is light and your hair is dark then high contrast is present;
► If your skin and hair colors are similar then there is low contrast.

While there is a huge diversity in the skin and hair colors, here for better understanding we will divide them into three main groups – high contrast, medium contrast and low contrast. In the example below you can see the differences more clearly.

Question: What is the degree of contrast your skin and hair create?

As you probably noticed the attire of each of the examples is in different colors, and that’s not an accident. The rule, as stated above, is that your clothes should match the degree of contrast your skin and hair colors create. Look how the attention in each of the examples falls on the face. But how exactly does this work? Let’s see what happens when we go against this rule.

As you can see below, a high contrast man with low contrast attire will fail to set the attention at his face. Instead it will go toward the most contrasting part – in the case his hair. In the second example the high contrasting jacket pulls the attention toward itself and away from the face.

Pretty simple, right? However, an exception to the rule is the dark skin-hair color combination of the African American. While seemingly low contrasted, the darker the skin tone the more it can tolerate high contrast combinations. Because of this they should be approached as a high-to-medium contrast, depending on the skin tonality.

Now let’s take a look at each of the three groups we defined separately.

High Contrast Suit Colors

If your skin and hair have powerful contrast, then you should try to match them with equally contrasting colors. Surrounding your face with contrasting colors of equal strength will serve to enliven it. Opposing colors like black or dark gray/blue jacket and a white shirt are often the choice here.

In the first example you can see how the dark suit jacket and hair colors point the attention to what’s in between – the face. In the second example the black shirt and hair colors accomplish the same effect.

Note: You should avoid subdued colors and earth tones because they will fail to complement your contrasting tonalities.

Medium Contrast Suit Colors

The medium contrast group has the greatest freedom in choosing colors and mistakes are more tolerable if made. However, you should avoid colors with too high or too low contrast. Stick to those that match the level of contrast you possess.

If you are part of this group and have warmer skin tone the earth tones will be a good choice for you (first example). However, you will want to avoid too bright colors as well as black and white.

If you have cool skin undertones then muted colors as well as colors with cool undertone (green, blue, violet) will be a good addition to your attire (second example).

Low Contrast Suit Colors

The low contrast group demands more attention and a lighter touch. They don’t tolerate mistakes as much as their more contrasting counterparts.

If you have low contrast then attires with highly contrasting parts can have an overwhelming effect. For example wearing a black tie can take the attention away from your face and into itself. The main thing to remember – stick to low contrasting colors while being careful not to lose the contrast too much and create an overall dull look.

Muted colors are a good choice here. If your skin color is pale with blue or pinkish undertone you will want to go for cool color undertones and avoid intense vivid colors as well as earth tones.

If you have warm complexion with golden skin undertone you can go for warmer color undertones (red, orange, yellow), while avoiding dull colors.

Using Highlights to Your Advantage


Now that we covered the contrast part there’s one more thing to give you a more complete and defined look – using highlights. The face can be highlighted by repeating one or more of its natural pigments in the colors worn below. Just as a frame is sometimes chosen to highlight a specific color in a painting.

Here’s how you do it. After the colors of the skin and hair, the next most important is this of the eyes. If their color differs from the color of your hair then it’s the first thing you would want to highlight.

A blue eye color for example can be greatly enhanced by a blue shirt or tie. Notice in the example below how not only the black suit and hair colors define the face but the blue eyes and tie combination adds to an even better look.

If you have low contrast and very dark eyes highlight them the same way, using a matching color in your attire.

Another thing you can highlight is the color of the cheeks. A reddish color can be matched by a tie with red elements or a red pocket square. In the example below the red stripes on the tie are used to do just that.

When highlighting don’t use a disproportioned amount of the same color because you’ll risk losing the balance. Sometimes adding just a little is better.

Remember: Never use the same color for the tie and pocket square.

Try it for yourself

What are the different natural colors your face possesses? The easiest way to find out is by going in front of a mirror and observing yourself. Have in mind that sometimes a color can look different depending on the light. Go outside and take a look at bright day light, see if there’s any difference.

Try experimenting with different clothes you have, see how they match those of your face. Try to highlight it and play with the color combinations, developing a feeling for it. You can try placing sheets of paper in different colors next to your face to see how the colors interact with you. Do it and you’ll be better prepared the next time you go out shopping for the perfect suit.

Time to Wrap it Up


Here you have it – the two things to have in mind when picking the colors of your clothing – contrast and highlights. It’s simple once you know it, right?

When you incorporate the fundamental principles of color and proportions into your clothing choices you’ll be on the right path of looking the best you possibly can. The best thing about these principles is that, unlike fashion, they don’t change over time and will aid your clothing choices throughout the rest of your life.

Don’t leave things to chance, define what colors you need to look for and don’t be afraid to try different clothes. See if their specific colors work good for you. One thing is certain – now you’re on the right path of dressing for success!

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