Invaluable Info on Value Contrast.

In any visual composition, attention goes first and foremost to the area of greatest light/dark or bright/dark contrast.  Since the objective of an optimal outfit is putting the attention on your face, that means that you never want to wear a color combination with more light/dark contrast that you see in your personal color pattern.

What is the darkest element of your personal coloring?  Hair?  Eyes?

What is the lightest element?  Skin?  Hair?

The step of difference between the two is the greatest degree of contrast you should wear.

Here are some examples of the concept in action:


Each woman above – like the vast majority of us – is overwhelmed by the high contrast level of classic black and white. See how hard it is to move your attention from the fabric to the woman’s face.  Compare that effect to the second photo of each woman. In combinations that roughly equal the contrast in her personal color pattern, see how your attention goes right to her face?


Sometimes even a small shift in contrast level can make all the difference.  The brown and cream combo above isn’t much lower contrast than the black/white … but what a difference it makes in your ability to see the woman instead of just the print!  printblouscollage

Notice that in the blouses  above, even the step of difference between the background ivory and the darkest brown in the right-hand choice would still be too abrupt.  Adding intermediate brown shades into the print lowers the overall contrast level very effectively.

Contrast also occurs when you combine two solids into an outfit.  Using pale neutrals other than white — pearl, sand, ivory, blush, dove gray, palest blush pink  — is an easy way to create reduced contrast in nmixes with darker colors.  You can also add a mid-value color to soften a too-contrasting color scheme.  Picture a navy pantsuit and cream shell softened with a scarf in coral or periwinkle, for example.


So what do you do if your closet is full of high-contrast prints?  If you have a do-it-yourself mindset, try dyeing the garment in a pale color related to your hair – pale tan, pale gray, etc.  The darker areas won’t be affected but the light areas will pick up the subtle color, reducing the contrast like this.dyeing

We’ll explore dyeing options in a future post.  But this week’s assignment:  take a look at which prints in your closet you can wear, and which ones end up “wearing you” because of excessive contrast.

And experiment with re-combining your solid-color garments into outfits with the right level of contrast.  Test the results by squinting at your reflection in the mirror and noticing whether the outfit or your face goes out of focus first.  Then tell us about your findings — what was the most effective new outfit you created?



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. sona on April 14, 2017 at 7:46 am

    So are you saying that skin tone/color isnt considered anymore in choosing a neutral? I am fairer skin now that I am aging from dirty blonde hair to dirty gray mix. Even though fairer skin, I guess I still see myself as a taupe/gray neutral, but if the taupe is too yellow I look sick. The family of pinks seem to lift my complexion. It is when I get the most compliments. But there is no pink in my hair.

    • sona on April 14, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Also have granddaughters wedding coming up and after trying on the “usual” sparkly, sequiny top dresses, I am ending up with an off white (not cream/yellow base) suit with a long skirt/fitted jacket. It is definitely more “me”and am having it altered to cut down on the frump factor. BUT I dont know what to wear with it and am lost. Do I wear any color in my pinks as a camisole, jewelry and purse or try to look neutral from head to toe….just dont know what is best for my coloring and I am frozen.

      • Nancy Nix Rice on April 14, 2017 at 9:19 am

        The idea of enlivening the look a bit with a pink cami sounds lovely. And you can pick up the pink in jewwelry too – maybe a mix of pearls and rose quartz. But I’d stick with off-white shoes and clutch to avoid looking spotty with bits of pink scattered about. Have a lovely time at the wedding!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 14, 2017 at 9:17 am

      Thanks for asking for clarification, because I’m not at all saying that skin tone doesn’t matter. I’m presuming that one’s hair and skin colors are in harmony. When a woman’s hair color is natural it will automatically harmonize with her skin. When it is chemically enhanced the “new” color should harmonize with her skin, and if it doesn’t, that needs to be ironed out before we even start talking about color harmony in her wardrobe.
      In your case it seems that you are correctly identifying a grayed taupe as your key neutral – a repetion of your hair color. You want your accent colors to be compatible with your hair color/Key Neutral … but they aren’t limited to shades of that neutral. Your pinks should be lovely on you and lovely with your taupe. Similarly soft aquas, jade greens, periwinkle, slightly dusty pale blues and lavendars should all work beautifully as accents.

  2. Sarah Liz on April 14, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I find this point of connection concept really good. I am growing my hair out so it reverts to it’s natural colour (whatever that is) so I can start again and work my key neutral correctly. I think I will have ash with grey, so a greyed neutral, which I have always liked and does not work with my current blonded look.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 14, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      I was so happy when I figured out “points of connection”! For so long I would pcik things for clients and they would look great but i couldn’t articulate WHY – but POC is the “why”. It sounds as if your new hair color will be taupe – a mix of ash brown and gray – a very sophisticated color but super hard to find. If you are one of my sewing gals, you’ll be excited to hear that I just got in a wonderful new taupe ponte knit. It’s a bit lighter/thinner than your signature ponte, but both stretchable and stable, so great for a Core Four grouping (skirt/pant/top/over-top) provided the jacket piece isn’t too structured in style. Watch for a newsletter about that, and coordinating prints, coming soon.

  3. Sherry on April 14, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    The level of contrast in my ensemble, based upon my personal level of contrast has been one of the most valuable lessons for me ! I have beige blond hair, which harmonizes nicely with my fair skin and medium light brown eyes that have a dark brown circle around the iris. So I tend to wear medium value contrast outfits, unless I’m all in values of the brown family , and then light, medium and dark pieces all in the same ensemble seem to look the best. I guess the medium tone balances out the contrast between the lightest and darkest values. Now I know why ! I love your column, have both your books and find your advice to be incredibly valuable, thank you so much !

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 15, 2017 at 5:45 am

      It sounds like you’re really getting it Sherry! I just LOVE hearing from readers who are finding the information useful. Your coloring sounds so lovely — and so not flattered by the traditional retail black/white/bright red formula. We really CAN start a style revolution in spite of the fashion industry mostly working against us.

      • Sherry on April 15, 2017 at 7:45 am

        Thank you, Nancy ! Yes, the black , white , red, bright , ubiquitous garments constantly dominating the retail industry make shopping for a “warmie” like me a bit challenging ! Sometimes I wait years for an olive green or saffron color grouping to show up on the market ! I don’t sew , so I just have to be very patient !
        Scarves are my saving grace in the colder months, providing the colors and patterns that I need, when there seems to be a dearth of both correct colors and pattern sizes for my personal coloring and levels of contrast ! Thanks for showing me how to tie them for a variety of looks !
        I scrolled down to another post and your response — yes to a Facebook site !

        • Nancy Nix Rice on April 15, 2017 at 10:12 am

          I feel your pain, Sherry. Out of boredom with my basic black and navy wardrobe, I searched for a brown “Core Four” for literally more than a decade and never found one. And I shop for a living, for crying out loud! But that wasn’t as frustrating as shopping with my clients who really NEED those warmer colors and just not finding them. To address that problem, I’m working on a made-to-order clothing line that features ALL the basic neutrals incuding brown, caramel, camel and taupe, plus accent color solids, print pieces and accessories to coordinate. Stay tuned.

  4. Kathleen on April 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    While dressing today I had a chance go play with the ideas that you are presenting here on value contrast. I had chosen a mint green turtleneck sweater and a pair of navy pants. Instead of reaching for the navy necklace that I might have put on automatically to complete this outfit, I reflected a bit on the degree of contrast, which seemed perhaps a bit too high for my coloring based on what you are saying in this article. So I looked through my scarves to find something that might offer intermediate shades to tone down the level of contrast in the outfit as a whole. At first I didn’t think I had anything in the right colors, but I ended up auditioning the only thing even close, a scarf with a mixture of teal green and gray both of which are midway in tone between the dark pants and the light sweater. I was astounded to see how well the scarf blended with the outfit and completed it … and especially how it brought my face into the picture. Another “ah-ha” moment. Thanks for this interesting course.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 15, 2017 at 5:54 am

      Isn’t it amazing how “close” looks good, but then when you hit “mountain-top” the whole thing just pops! You can’t miss seeing it. But sadly most of us don’t even know that mountain-top exists. It’s so exciting to hear that you are discovering it more and more.
      I’m starting to talk about Optimal Dressing as a whole step beyond being Well Dressed. Honestly the navy and light green combo sounds lovely on you, and the navy necklace would have been a perfect “bottoms up” accessory choice. I’ll bet nearly all of us would have stopped right there. So kudos to you for pushing past GOOD to get to GREAT.

  5. Valerie on April 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    I have a lot of contrast – light eyes (2), medium skin tones (4), and very dark hair (8). I look good in bright clear colors, and think I can wear black and white. Today I am wearing dark jeans, white shirt, light blue long vest and a very bright multi-color scarf to bring more color near my face. What advice do you have for this choice? Hiw do I attach a picture?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 15, 2017 at 5:58 am

      LOVE how you included numerical notations for your color value elements. Of course they are subjective approximations, but they certainly do give the rest of us a mental picture of you. I don’t know of a way to insert a photo into the comments here. If any of you other readers are more techy and can help I’d be happy to hear from you. I’m also thinking of doing a Facebook group where we can share pics. Would you like that?
      Now back to your question Valerie — I know you emailed me a photo and I’ll take a look and reply to your quesstion directly.

    • Valerie on April 15, 2017 at 11:47 am

      I took a class from you at Puyallup Sew Expo a couple of years ago. Even though our styles are very different, I felt like your points were relevant for me. I am a senior manager in a large government contractor in IT, business casual at work and a hippie-ish, casual, flirty, sporty (but not jock), bohemian lifestyle (tie dye and flannel is appropriate! Lol).

      Thanks for answering my questions. A Facebook group would be easy for sharing pictures. Learning a lot from you!

      • Nancy Nix Rice on April 15, 2017 at 12:12 pm

        I know sometimes people think they have to be a Classic and s dress-up dork like me to apply this info, so I really appreciate your comment. The principles are truly universal and can apply and adapt to anybody’s personal style and lifestyle choices.

  6. ALH on April 16, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Nancy,
    This topic is key! Not all of us have “low” contrast just because we have white or grey hair. Your book has excellent examples- I’m wondering if you might include photos in your blog as well of low, intermediate and high contrast values for women with grey/white hair. And, it is so hard to find “muted” values in retail! I find it is either high contrast/bright primary colors, or pastels (which I look awful in as I have intermediate contrast with my white hair. Thank you for this valuable information!


    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 16, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      I’ll see what I can come up with for those silver-haired contrast variations in a future posts. As for the assortment offerred at retail, I agree it’s a big problem. If you are a sewing enthusiast, follow our growing online fabric offerrings. I veryintentionally look for solids as well as prints that can create a variety of contrast levels.

  7. Trudy on April 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    I now find myself evaluating the weather girl’s outfits for fit, color, contrast, etc. getting lots of good practice, hope I can be as objective when I start going through my closet!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on April 29, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      There are opportunities to practice all around us, but you are so right that it’s way easier to be objective about someone else!

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