Finding Color Value Balance

“Value” means how light or dark a color appears.  Your personal color pattern has value too.  When the two don’t connect, your head looks disconnected from your body – that’s kind of weird, no?   And it makes you look shorter and heavier – not too many woman are looking for that effect!

Here are two pretty jarring examples of the disconnect, taken from celebrity photos in a popular fashion magazine.  See how their heads seem to be almost floating away?  Just not really part of the same picture with the outfit? 


The dark green outfit on the left is far too dark and visually heavy for the coloring of the wearer’s head. And the head-to-toe white outfit is so light that it doesn’t connect with the wearer’s much stronger coloring.

The concept here is that the colors you wear head-to-toe should be relatively equal in value to your personal color pattern … like this example from a recent makeover event: 

So how do you measure your own color value?  It isn’t just your skin color or just your hair color.  Think of it as an average of your skin, hair and eye colors — give each a numerical value 1-10 (lightest to darkest) and divide by 3 if that makes sense to you.  But honestly it isn’t an exact science.

During my all-day workshops I invite the participants to divide into groups of 6-8 people and arrange themselves in “value” order.  Here is one example of that exercise.  See the color values of the women – not necessarily their current clothing – get progressively paler from left to right.  You could debate a few of their positions — possibly swapping #2 and #3, possibly reversing #4 and #5.  But you get the idea, right?  And notice that the far-right gal is wearing a subtle plaid shirt that is a great balance with her personal color value.

Try a similar exercise on your own, by holding up solid items from your closet and looking in the mirror for a vertical flow or balance — no floating head.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever wear darker or lighter colors, and we’ll talk more about the optimal way to manage that in a future post.

I’d love to hear what you discover about yourself from this color-value exercise. Did you discover that some wardrobe favorites do indeed blend with your personal color value?  And with some of those things in which you never feel quite right … was value mis-match part of the problem?


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. Katrina on March 22, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I have been consciously moving away from dark colors and jewel tones for some time. I love them but they don’t love me. I think most of my current tops blend pretty well with my own personal color value in terms of light/dark, but I still sometimes get things that are much too saturated for me, and then I do get the floating head problem.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 22, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Sounds like you are developing some excellent color insight – congrats!

  2. Diane on March 23, 2017 at 11:14 am

    I “get it” completely when I look at pale, pale Tilda Swinton in her dark green outfit and the dark-haired model in her white dress. Their heads look like lollipops on a stick (LOL)!! But once again, I’m confused by the gray haired ladies. The one on the cover of your Looking Good…Every Day book has silver hair and pale skin, her eyes don’t appear too dark (as best I can tell from the photo) BUT she looks absolutely terrific in the deep colors of her black turtleneck and royal blue jacket. On the other hand, I agree with you that the gray haired lady (above) also looks good in her “subtle plaid shirt”. With similar hair/skin colors, how can they both look so nice in such different “values” of clothing?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 23, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      The difference is “intensity” which we haven’t talked about yet. Because the woman on the book cover has hair that is very one-color, bright and almost sparkly and also because her eyes are actually pretty dark and she is never seen without the bold black glasses, her coloring reads much stronger and more intense than the gently-colored gal in the soft plaid shirt. Having said all that, you do still get a slight “floating head” in that cover photo. Adding silver buttons to bring a bit of her hair color down into the outfit would be an easy way to further balance the look.
      A similar example would be a favorite suit of mine in a mid-gray ponte knit. On its own it isn’t a strong enough color value to balance my coloring, but by wearing it with a black shell, black shoes and carrying a black tote I am able to bring enough darker elements into the outfit to avoid “floating head”.

      • Diane on March 23, 2017 at 9:16 pm

        Thank you. You are a whiz at explaining!

  3. Katrina on March 24, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Nancy, do you think you will talk about glasses in this series? Your book has some good suggestions about frame shapes and color, and makeup for eyeglass wearers, but I have some followup questions and I think others might too. Plus, it seems like it would fit in with the points of connection concept.

    Thank you again for all of this!

  4. Mary on March 29, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I love this series.

    I think the last photo shows a woman who looks right in her colors and it helps her feel “authentic” and “genuine” to me. I doubt I’d get that same feeling if she was wearing black (and I love black by the way – I’m learning it’s not a good color for me though).

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 30, 2017 at 9:14 pm

      You are so right that looking wonderful isn’t about some big “makeover” but about subtel changes that help you like like the very best version of YOU.

  5. Sue P. on March 30, 2017 at 5:35 am

    First, thanks to these ladies for being so gracious to be examples for us to see, and thanks, Nancy, for posting this. I’m intrigued by the position of the last two ladies to the right. I would have looked at hair color only and reversed them, but the skin plus hair tips the scale.

    You have talked about the “floating head” problem before, giving examples of a brunette w/ a very pale outfit. Somehow I didn’t get the connection that it will not just make you look less than healthy, but also visually shorten you. Thanks!

    And for everyone who feels inadequate because she doesn’t look good in this year’s color(s), it’s a fact . . . the beautiful people can’t wear every color well either. Your makeover lady looks great, and she looks as happy as she looks good.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 30, 2017 at 9:12 pm

      Fashion magazines prove anew each month that being young, gorgeouse, famous and rich and paying a stylist a bundle to dress you doesn’t guarantee a flattering outcome. Stylists (and indeed the vast majority of the fashion industry) is all about the clothes and hardly at all about the women who wear them.
      As for the ladies in the “line-up” photo — it is often the case that in live workshop groups we find there are a couple of gals in each group that we could argue about (in a friendly way, of course)the position in the value scale. We often switch them to the reverse and back again. This partiular photo has several pairs that you could easily swap without losing the effect of moving from darker to lighter.

  6. Laura Smith on March 30, 2017 at 7:55 am

    This is a very interesting topic. I would love to see this example expanded by using some women of color. To me, all these women have very similar intensity in their skin, only their hair appears to be noticeably different.

    Many of us have clothing that is not old enough to toss, and is not quite the right intensity. My question is : Could a similar effect be achieved by wearing a hat or headband? For example, Could a brightly colored knit winter hat, and boots help integrate a bright winter parka into the wardrobe of a sparkly fair haired gal? ( assuming the color flattering)

    How about a deep toned headband and sandals with a deep toned dress on a mid toned gal?


    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 30, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion Laura. I was so struck by these two dramatic examples that I didn’t even think of doing an additional example with a woman of color. There is a great on in the LOOKING GOOD Every Day book; I’ll see if I can find the same photos in my files and add them to this post.
      As for adding accessories to make an outfit work adequately when it isn’t the right color value — the answer is
      “sometimes”. I can’t imagine anything lighter you could add to the dark green outfit pictured to make it work. But if the value disconnect was more moderate, that theory could work. Your example of adding a scarf and/or knit hat to a winter coat has possibilities. Thing in terms of
      “points of connection” and focus on bringing a bit of your coloring down into the outfit or bringing some of the outfit color up oto your head/face. A stronger lip color could even do the trick in some cases. But you’ll always wat to be careful no to create an outfit with more light/dark contrast that you have … and that’s is next week’s lesson.

  7. Dae on March 31, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Interesting what you are saying about matching colours of our outfit with our personal colouring. As I age and my personal colours fade and become more silver I felt that I needed stronger more vibrant colours so that I didn’t become invisible. Must try this out with more subtle and silvery coloured outfits and accessories.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 31, 2017 at 7:01 am

      Of course I’m not seeing your own specific color pattern as I write this reply, but in general, when you place something bright and something more subtle next to one another, the bright thing makes the subtle thing look drab by comparison. Try it yorself — with spools of thread in different colors perhaps. Then try surrounding that subtle-colored item with other compatible, equally subtle or complex colors and watch them all come alive. Tht’s the general principle. In fact, I like that way of looking at it so much that I may just head to a fabric store and see if I can do some thread photos for a future blog post.
      On the other hand, if your new hair color is a bright, sparkly silver, then brighter colors may be just the thing for you. However because of the loss of pigment we all experience over the years, you’d probably want to focus on light-bright versions of your colors – periwinkle instead of vibrant blue-purple or sky blue instead of deep royal, for example.

  8. Elaine Earnshaw on April 1, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Nancy, I am learning a lot of good points from your posts and your new book “Looking Good Everyday.” I also love watching your Craftsy Class. I have bought most of the patterns you suggested to build a 4-core wardrobe. I would like to get the navy fabric you recommend for blondes from your on line store. Before Ido I would like to know if the color would be too strong for my light complexion, blue eyes and light blond hair. I don’t want the floating head syndrome! Thank you for helping us to look our best.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 3, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Navy is a much better neutral for you than black, for sure. And it so adaptable. You probably wouldn’t want to wear navy without anything to soften the color, but adding elements of your sandy hair color or some other pale neutral like barely-pink or barely-celery-green would create a terrific look for you. then you wuld wear your Core Four pieces as columns, working in that lightere color either as an over-layer top (a jacket or cardigan for example) or as a blouse or shell under the navy jacket.
      You can see the hair-color option in another blog post. You would use a lighter and less warm pale (more sand than camel) than this example, but you’ll get the idea. You’d probably also leave your over-layer top open so more of the soft under-layer color showed.
      When you order the navy solid I can include swatches of pales you could use with it, but remind me about it in the NOTES section of the order form.

  9. Ruthie Critchley on April 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Nancy, I’m a greying brunette with green eyes and a light but warm skintone. I most identify with the Soft Autumn palette though I wear warm pinks well which is not always in SA. I recently found a great brand of trousers which comes in several colours. Can I wear the natural and beige ones this coming summer or would they be too light for me?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 3, 2017 at 7:38 am

      I can’t give you a definitive answer since I’m not seeing your coloring or the specific shades of natural and beige of the trousers. My general take would be that these sound much more wearable than the typical bright-white summer pants and jeans. If the colors you choose for tops flatter you, it sounds as if these could be a great choice. You’ll get the most pulled-together look if any print tops include a bit of the pants color so the two pieces look realted. With solid tops, consider a necklace that repeats the pant color (we calo that bottoms-up accessorizing) to give you a bit of “color column” effect. And ideally the hemline of the tops should be shaped in some way to avoid a hard horizontal hemline right in the area that most women do’nt particularly want to accentuate.

      • Ruthie Critchley on April 3, 2017 at 1:41 pm

        Wow thanks Nancy, what a thoughtful and detailed response, it sounds like the print tops, necklaces and other accessories could be the way to make it work. I love accessories and have a huge collection of necklaces and scarves in particular.

        • Nancy Nix Rice on April 3, 2017 at 2:01 pm

          Too funny – I actually thought after I hit ENTER to post that response “geez, Nance – you drowned that poor woman in way more info that she asked for.” Glad it didn’t feel like a tsunami to you.

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