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!
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.
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?