How to choose the colour of your suit according to your skin tone

6 min read

Alan Flusser, the eminent American menswear designer, once said: “One of the most important – but least understood – functions of male attire is to lead the viewer’s eyes toward the face … When the face is surrounded by tonalities that invigorate and illuminate its presence, its ability to provoke immediate and marked reactions is amplified.”

You probably think that as long as the colours in your outfit complement one another, you’re fine. That’s what “matching” is all about.

Think again.

One thing you may have overlooked: the colour contrast between your facial features (including your hair). To look your best, it’s important to identify the contrast level between your facial features and create a similar contrast level for your outfit. Most of us at some point in time in our sartorial journey, probably would have thought to ourselves – The guy on Instagram looks amazing in that outfit. I wonder if I can pull it off too. Thankfully identifying your contrast level isn’t as daunting as you think it is (it is in fact quite mathematical).

What is the contrast level between my facial features?

Follow these three easy steps to find the contrast level between your facial features:
1. Look into the mirror or your mobile phone’s selfie camera; remember your hair colour and your facial skin tone.
2. Refer to the colour scale below and give yourself a value for each of them.
3. Calculate the difference of the values.

Calculate your contrast value from 1-10. Image source

Let’s say your face skin tone is 3 and your hair colour is 10. So the contrast value is 7 (10 minus 3).

Broadly speaking, contrast values fall into three types:
● High contrast: between 7 and 9
● Medium contrast: between 4 and 6
● Low contrast: between 1 and 3

What you need to do

Now do the same with the different components of your outfit and find the contrast value. Once you’ve got that, match the contrast value between your facial features and that between the various elements of your clothes. For example, if your facial features are high contrast, so should the components of your outfit.

High-contrast facial features

Which guy in the picture below looks sharper?

High contrast facial features match with different types outfit. Image source

We bet you think it’s the guy on the right.

You probably think the guy on the left looks alright. But that’s only if you don’t compare him to the guy on the right. Once you do that, the guy on the right stands out immediately with his high-contrast outfit.

Let’s look at a real example:

MediaCorp artiste Elvin Ng has a high contrast facial feature. Image source

Elvin Ng has a relatively fair skin tone (3) and very dark hair (10). The contrast value of his facial features is high (10 – 3 = 7). So he looks sharper in a black suit and white shirt, which creates a high-contrast ensemble.

Here’s another example:

Image source

Kim Soo Hyun carries this classic look with high-contrast matching well because of his fair skin ton (1) and dark hair (10).

Low-contrast facial features

Again, compare the two guys in this picture:

Low contrast facial features match well with a low contrast outfit. Image source

For certain, the guy in the dark suit draws your attention more. But the fact is that your attention is drawn to his outfit instead of his face. If you look into his eyes, you will realise that you can’t help but get distracted by his suit. If you stare at him a little longer, you may find that his hair colour has adopted his skin colour, and the two have become less distinct from each other.

Good examples of low contrast matching. Image source

For someone who looks like the guy on the left, you find that you have no problem looking into his eyes while having a conversation with him. That’s because his low-contrast facial features match his low-contrast outfit, which doesn’t take attention away from his face and complements it instead. In this case, a light grey suit and white shirt ensemble will make him look more charismatic.

Well, I know what you’re thinking:

A not so good example of low contrast matching. Image source

… Oh ya, you know what I’m talking about. 🙂

Medium-contrast facial features

More outfit colour choices can be explored with a mid contrast facial feature. Image source

If you have a dark skin tone and black hair – that’s medium contrast – there’s more you can do. You look good in colours that are in the medium-contrast range.

Image source

Play with your hair colour

You may wonder: Won’t my wardrobe be boring if I look good only in certain colours? If you wish to vary the colours in your wardrobe, here’s a tip: change your hair colour.

MediaCorp artiste Tay Ping Hui looks dapper in white hair. Image source

Let’s take Tay Ping Hui as an example. With his tan complexion and black hair (left), his facial features are medium to high contrast. By dyeing his hair ash grey (right), he lowers the contrast value of his facial features a notch but still keeps it in the medium range; he then pairs his medium-contrast facial features with a medium-contrast ensemble of a warm grey jacket and a white shirt.

Bottom line: same contrast level between your facial features and your outfit

Your outfit should lead anyone who’s looking at you to focus on your face. It should contribute to an overall look that is balanced and doesn’t distract or cause discomfort. To achieve this, always make sure your outfit has a similar contrast level as that of your facial features.

Do try out the techniques outlined here and discover the colours that suit your skin tone. Let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear from you.

You may also like