Reader Example of Value Contrast

After last week’s post about value contrast levels, a reader named Valerie emailed me a photo of her outfit and asked for input.  I though the ensuing discussion might interest the rest of our group, and Valerie agreed to share it.

Valerie described herself as high-contrast, with a preference for black-and-white and bright colors.  The outfit in question consists of dark-wash jeans (obviously not visible in the headshot), a soft white tee and light blue long vest, popped with the bright scarf. 

My first reaction was that her contrast is perhaps a bit less extreme than she is used to thinking.  She was probably categorized as a Winter back in the day. And if I only had 4 categories to pick from I’d call her a Winter too.  But fortunately we now have more personalized conversations about color, and realize that very few people are truly optimized  by those extremely bright colors or the ultimate black/white contrast.

I layered a high-contrast fabric and a mid-high contrast one over her photo.  (You may recognize those fabrics from the original Color Value post.)  Do you see how your attention goes to the extreme black and white fabric in the left photo, but goes more readily to her face in the just slightly lower contrast fabric on the right?


SIDE NOTE: That example emphatically isn’t about BROWN, it’s about lowering the contrast level.  If Valerie wanted to move toward brown as a Key Neutral in her wardrobe, it would need to be a very dark ash brown without golden tones  – but that really isn’t the main point here.  And her variant of white would be pearl or winter white, not warm cream.

Then I noodled around with other scarf options, looking for choices that still create a focal point near her face while slightly reducing the brightness of the print, thereby tweaking the contrast level between the print and the white top.  The 3 options below all keep the outfit within Valerie’s optimal contrast range and simultaneously repeat her gray-blue eye color.

They also have points of connection to the garments in the outfit – shades of blue plus pale neutral.  I call that a linking accessory – making the outfit look more integrated as well as more related to the wearere.  Two birds … one stone, as they say.

They all look good.  My personal favorite for Valerie is the subtle plaid one bottom right.  Which combination do you like the best?


About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Valerie on April 17, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Thank you Nancy! I am really enjoying and learning from your weekly articles.

  2. Sherry on April 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Risking sounding a bit like Goldilicks and the three bears or the four scarves –I think the original colored scarf does not relate back to Valerie and seems too dark against her coloring. The first patterned one you are showing still seems too busy, still too much contrast. The second one of yours is pretty good, though not quite ” enough” somehow, and the last one seems — just right !

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 19, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Your pick for the “mountail-top” choice is the same as mine! A fairy-tale ending?

  3. Nancy S. on April 28, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Perhaps my own “season” influences my choices but I prefer the second to last scarf.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      That is one of my personal favorites – I’d kill to get more of those but the supplier is sold out. It actually reads a bit stronger in “real life” than in this photo and is a lovely choice for Valerie.

  4. Shirley Biehl on April 28, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    I like the first one. I love color and it brightens her up and makes her glow.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 29, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      That’s the personal taste aspect, certainly a significant piece of any wardrobe decision.

  5. Katrina on April 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    This is a good lesson for me to realize how far I still have to go, because I think she looks beautiful in her original color combination. I absolutely do understand what you’re saying about reducing the amount of contrast, and when I see the other scarves, I can see that some of them are more “her” than others. But I would never have looked at her in the first place and seen anything to improve.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 29, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      And it isn’t that the first one is bad or wrong – not at all. It’s more a situation of Good > Better > Best. And of course a client’s personal taste plays a major role in the final decision.

  6. Sue on April 28, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    I’d choose either the 2nd or the 4th – they are good blenders and her face is the focus in the most positive way.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 29, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      In my book, it’s all about focus on the wearer’s face.

  7. Monika R on April 29, 2017 at 5:35 am

    I agree with Nancy S. Glad for your comment, Nancy N!

  8. Mimi on April 29, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Valerie’s skin reads warm on my computer, but her medium -dark hair, medium-high hair/skin contrast and the low contrast between her light eyes and light skin with pink cheeks say Summer to me. Brown and off-white is a great combo for warmer Summer types IMO. The print you chose looks great on her!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 29, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Those nuances are why I love working in color beyond the basie four groups. We are all so unique.

  9. Kathleen on April 29, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I think the middle two scarves relate more to the blue vest and cream top, but the one on the right includes Valerie in the color scheme. For me that’s been the single most important message that I’ve learned so far in this course: that the person must be a part of the color scheme for the outfit to work. Looking at the picture on the right, I’m thinking how good Valerie looks in that nice outfit, rather than what a nice outfit Valerie has on.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 30, 2017 at 7:08 am

      Great way to phrase it, Kathleen. Retail culture and fashion mags go out of their way to suggest that we should focus on the outfit — that makes it way easier for them, but not the best for us.

  10. LC on April 29, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Thanks for teaching me so much, Nancy! I try to guess what you will say before I read what you wrote.
    I would love to have that one that is second-to-the-last for me! And it looks great on her.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 30, 2017 at 7:05 am

      Love your guess-ahead method — what a great way to really get ownership of concepts as you learn them. And I would love to have that scarf to sell you. It is one of my all-time favoites (though not on me personally) and I can’t get more inventory of it. I’m headed for an accessories show in NYC this Tuesday. Maybe they will have it in stock again. Send good thoughts, OK?

  11. Jennie on April 29, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    I like the next-to-last scarf, too. It seems to soften her face and hair. It’s a pretty combination.

  12. Miriam on May 1, 2017 at 4:31 am

    Hi Nancy,
    I love these blog articles. It makes the color theory so real and practical. Practice makes perfect, right? I like the second to last option because something about the blush/tan color makes her cheek color pop more. By the way, the whole thing about whether white or cream is suitable for winters and winter-bleeds is wholly fascinating. Being a diagnosed winter 10 years ago, I now find myself disliking the brightness of “winter white”—I guess there are two reasons. First, I was never a pure winter to begin with. Second, I may have matured since then and my color gotten a bit softer and creamier. Any articles you suggest on how colors change as we age?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on May 4, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      So glad you enjoy the discussion. An interesting thing about terminology – it’s always tricky trying to put words around various colors. It sounds as if you are using the term “winter white” to mean the bright white that is ytpically recoimmended for a 4-Seasons “Winter” woman. When I use the same words, I’m meaning a soft, pearl white – the gentle white that wool or silk fabrics usually turn out, contrasted with the bright ultra-white to which cotton and linen can be bleached. So glad ytou brought that difference to light; it will undoubtedly benefit others who may be confused by my terminology.

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