Understanding Contrast For Men – Course: Menswear Color Primer Part 5 of 5

Understanding Contrast For Men – Course: Menswear Color Primer Part 5 of 52018-06-07T13:48:38+00:00

Our fifth and final installment in the Menswear Color Primer deals with understanding the concept of contrast. This doesn’t deal with colors per se, but rather the difference in color value amongst two or more colors.

If you haven’t read the rest yet, you can access to other articles in the series below:

  1. An Introduction To Color Theory For Men
  2. How Complementary Colors Work In Menswear
  3. Monochromatic Colors & Menswear
  4. Understanding Skin Tone For Men
  5. Understanding Contrast For Men (Currently Here)

Color Contrast

It’s not enough to just understand color. To truly look our best, we must first understand the general concept of contrast. In a nutshell, contrast refers to the difference in color value between two or more colors. See below:

Black White And Grey Blocks Showing Contrast

These color blocks represent color contrast at it’s most basic.

  • Two white blocks give you no contrast because there’s no difference in color between the two (the same would be true for two black boxes)
  • A white and grey block give you medium contrast because there’s some discernible difference in value, and
  • White and black block give you high contrast because the colors are absolute opposite values

Now, let’s take the next step and see how this system works with some typical hair and skin colors.

Tan Brown Beige And Black Blocks Showing Contrast

If we take three Caucasian men and give them blonde hair (left), medium brown hair (middle), and dark brown or black hair (right), we see the concept of contrast at work in the real world.

How Does Color Contrast Relate To The Face?

It’s incumbent upon us to know our skin undertones so that we can select colors that make us look our best. But past that, the concept of contrast as it relates to color is very important.

We’ve explored this a bit in our article on complementary colors, but that only covers pairing different colors or different values of colors amongst themselves. Did you know that contrast also applies to your face, regardless of what your undertones are?  Consider the following three things:

  • Skin tone (both surface and undertone)
  • Hair color
  • Eye color

When it comes to this all-important concept, you would be well-advised to familiarize yourself with the haberdasher/menswear historian Alan Flusser. His method, outlined in Dressing The Man (a must-own for any man who’s read this far), is preferable because it manages to group men not based on specific coloring, but rather on contrast. Take a look below:

  • Low contrast: Little difference in color among hair, face, and eyes. Typical of most fair-skinned blondes.
  • Medium contrast: Black gentlemen are best-dressed as medium-to-high contrast faces. Other medium contrast visages are olive or medium brown skin with dark hair: men of Middle Eastern, Indian, or Central and South American descent.
  • High contrast: Stark difference among hair, skin, and eye color. Typical of East Asian men who often have very light skin and very dark hair. Also found on Caucasian men with dark brown or black hair.

An important thing to remember is that contrast is skin color-agnostic. Take a look at the infographic below.

Contrast Infographic For Men

We have various skin tones and hair colors across different ethnicities, but nothing necessarily locks you into a particular contrast level.

Black Men & Contrast

African American Face Contrast

Based on what we know of contrast, it would be safe to assume that most dark-skinned men fall in the low-contrast category. While many do, this is not a hard and fast rule. The reason for this is not just that there are a wide variety of skin tones that we refer to as “black.” It’s also because when you put most clothing next to dark skin, there’s automatically a higher level of contrast than there would be on a lighter-skinned man.

For this reason, it is best for our African-American readers to treat themselves as medium-to-high contrast men, at least at the start.

Real World Examples Of Contrast

Here’s our Founder and Creative Director, Paul Anthony. Paul has a low-contrast visage with fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde facial hair. We’ve seen photographic evidence of blonde hair on his head in the past, but that’s neither here nor there at this point:

Man In Low Contrast Outfit

Though Paul fears no color (you should see some of the jackets he picked up in Thailand), opting for a dark navy jacket with a dark tie and dark trousers gave him a relatively low-contrast outfit. This allows his face to maintain the attention it deserves. As a lucky bastard someone with a neutral complexion he can get away with wearing almost any color he wants.

Below is Editor-In-Chief Michael Oxman. Paul’s physical opposite in many ways, he has fair skin and blue eyes, but rather dark brown hair. His is a classic high-contrast appearance, and wearing bright, contrasting colors frames that kind of face well. Pairing blue and pink underneath his blue-eyed, pink-cheeked mug lends a radiance that he simply won’t get with warm oranges or reds.

Note the shirt and tie combination is the same as the photo at the beginning of the article. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Man In High Contrast Outfit

The takeaway is this: Mirror the amount of contrast in your face with that of your clothes, especially the clothes that frame your face. This harmony will entice the viewer to look at your face and see it at its best. One of the biggest goals of getting dressed is to draw the viewer’s eye to your face. If you succeed in that, you’re ten steps ahead of everyone else.

In other words, if you’re a high-contrast guy, wear high-contrast clothing -dark suits, light shirts, bright ties. If you’re a low-contrast guy, wear clothing that’s more tonal -a good example of this would be a medium gray suit, light blue shirt, and medium blue or medium red tie.

This is a continuum, so there’s a good chance you fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Many guys are considered “medium” contrast. Like men of average build wearing whatever silhouettes they want, medium contrast men can wear whatever level of contrast they like and still look good. The world is your oyster, sir.

Finally, there’s room for improvisation and experimentation here. Try out different combinations, and really pay attention to what brightens your face versus what flattens it. Over time, you’ll develop a wardrobe that has nothing but all-stars in it.


<< Return To Part 4 of 5: Skin tone


  1. Victor September 24, 2017 at 10:20 am - Reply

    I love these series about color contrast for men. As a fashion enthusiast myself, I love reading and re-reading this type of stuff. However, one comment I would like to make is about the photo of Paul Anthony. He’s clearly a low contrast person, but the article mentions nothing about the stark contrast between his suit jacket, tie and his WHITE dress shirt. That creates a huge contrast which in my estimation, is unfit for his facial features. The look would be much more complete if he wore a shirt other than white, such as light blue, dark blue, or grey. I know because as a high contrast person myself (pale skin, dark brown hair, dark brown eyes), that’s the kind of look I would wear to look my best, not on a low contrast person like Paul Anthony.

    • Michael Oxman September 25, 2017 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Hi Victor,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment! The presence of the white shirt amongst a dark navy blazer, dark green tie, and charcoal trousers is why we deemed his outfit “relatively” low contrast. You are correct in that the white shirt creates contrast against these garments (something we did not mention, you’re correct), and it’s certainly possible that a light blue shirt would be a more flattering choice for his facial features. We still think Paul looks quite good, however.

      We believe that contrast can be manipulated to make our visages look different depending on what we wear. Flusser himself makes reference to this in Dressing The Man when talking about Tyrone Power, showing him in both low- and high-contrast outfits that either brighten or dampen his appearance. While we agree with you that men should generally play to their strengths contrast-wise, experimenting outside that box is still something to be encouraged.

      Many, many thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment.


  2. LeviLevi March 13, 2018 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Hi! Big fan of the kind of content you have here but I have really been looking for some more in-depth conversations about color use in suits. A much more visual guide and set of tens of examples and suggestions for ways to use colors that normally wouldn’t complement a certain complexion. Are there any books that follow this?

    I wish Alan Flusser would have just expanded his chapter on color, to making a whole book on it.

    • Paul Anthony March 14, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

      Dear Levi,

      Thank you for the comment.

      I’m not aware of any books at this time. We are a small team here and have big plans for the future, some of which are book like this! So watch this space in the coming years…

      And I agree re Flusser.

      All the best – Paul

  3. Raymond May 29, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    One of my challenges is brown, so many shades etc, where does it fit into the wheel? Orange? I have some chocolate brown slacks which look great and fit great, and I stress each time I chose to wear them. Help?!
    Thank you!

    • Charles-Philippe May 30, 2018 at 4:04 am - Reply

      Hi Raymond,

      Traditionally speaking, brown is a mix of all three primary colours so would actually find itself at the centre of a colour wheel. Meanwhile, the other colours on the wheel require a mix of two primaries and perhaps a secondary.

      Therefore, you’ll need to get in close to your brown slacks and really look at which primary colour is used the most. It may have a hint, which could border on orange, red or yellow. Once you’ve figured that out, you can base the brown on whatever hue it’s closest to.

      Best of luck!


  4. Mike in Glenn Dale June 12, 2018 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    This is the best color explanation I’ve seen. I wish there was something like this about patterns. Stripes and plaids don’t go together but I have no concept of where to even start when it comes to patterns. This keeps me from wearing a couple of suit jackets I have because I don’t know if they go together and when they clash, it’s no good for anyone.

    • Charles-Philippe June 13, 2018 at 3:19 am - Reply

      Hi Mike,

      I understand the frustration! It’s something that we have on the books to do but since there are many projects on the go, it’s uncertain when we’ll be working on it…



  5. Duncan November 9, 2018 at 1:36 am - Reply

    From what I have gathered these articles is that fair skin with a blue base should wear cooler colours, but here Paul Anthony is wearing Tortoise sunglasses which has a warm base. I’m confused by this as I am trying to pick a pair of sunnies for myself and have a fair complexion and grey hair? Can I get away with Tortoise shell sunnies ?

  6. Duncan November 30, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks Charles,
    I saw that afterwards, since I have a pale complexion and grey hair, black or grey frames will probably be the best pick

  7. Om December 30, 2018 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    The best colour theory guide

    Plz make a article on how to match,complement, contrast the colurs in casual outfits like shirt, pants, jackets,

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