In the fourth installment of our Menswear Color Primer, we’ll deal with skin tone. This is one of the most difficult sartorial and grooming concepts for men to understand, and we’re sure you’ll find value in the article below.
The other articles in the series can be viewed by clicking one of these links:
- An Introduction To Color Theory For Men
- How Complementary Colors Work In Menswear
- Monochromatic Colors & Menswear
- Understanding Skin Tone For Men (Currently Here)
- Understanding Contrast For Men
At some point, your girlfriend or wife told you to get rid of a shirt because the color didn’t look good on you. Chances are, you had no idea why that color didn’t look good, but you didn’t ask questions.
We’re going to ask and answer questions on some of the most overlooked aspects of men’s appearance: skin tone and contrast.
What Is Skin Tone?
Skin tone is actually two things: the surface tone and the undertone.
The photo above shows a
strikingly handsome light-skinned Caucasian man with cool undertones. Note the pinkish skin just under the sunglass lenses.
Surface tone is relatively easy to see. Are you light-skinned? Dark-skinned? Tan? Ivory? Most people can look in a mirror and say “I’m a dark-skinned black person” or “I’m a very fair-skinned white person” without much difficulty or confusion.
Undertone, on the other hand, can be quite tricky. This is the color that’s underneath the surface tone, and there are three types that exist:
- Cool (red, pink, or bluish undertones)
- Warm (peach, yellow, or golden undertones)
- Neutral (a mix of warm and cool)
Why Is Knowing Your Undertone Important?
While this is a free country and you can wear whichever colors you want, you’ll inevitably look better in some than you will in others. Your undertone is a major determining factor in what looks best on you. In a nutshell, you want to use your undertones to dictate which colors you wear, particularly just beneath your face. This often means shirts and ties.
How Do I Know What My Undertone Is?
It’s actually not that tough. Here are some easy strategies:
- Look At Your Veins: You have veins on the inside of your wrists. Are they blue or green? If they’re blue, you’re probably a cool undertones guy. If they look green, you’re probably warm-toned. Don’t freak out, your veins aren’t actually green. It’s just that you’re looking at blue veins through yellow skin, and if you remember from our article on color theory, yellow+blue=green.
- Hair And Eye Color: Most cool guys have blue, green, or grey eyes with blond, brown, or black hair. Warm-toned guys are usually have brown, amber, or hazel eyes with strawberry blond, red, brown or black hair.
- Do You Even Tan, Bro? When you’re in the sun, do you turn golden brown or do you burn to a crisp? If the former, you’re likely warm-toned. If the latter, you’re likely cool-toned.
What Colors Will Look Good On Me?
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. See our charts below for a guide as to which colors will look best on your skin.
NOTE: These are not hard and fast rules. Sometimes you look great in a color that wouldn’t typically work for someone with your skin tone, and that’s fine. Remember that “looking great” means that you look healthy, vibrant, and flush with color. Not looking great means looking sickly, drained of color, or otherwise just kind of “blah.”
Cool guys want to stick to purples, blues, greens, and “blue-based” tertiary colors like blue-green and “blue” reds.
Warm dudes should lean towards yellowish reds, oranges, yellows, and browns. Yellow-based tertiary colors like yellow-green and various oranges work well for warm-toned guys.
Final Thought On Skin Tone
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as you start to analyze your skin tone is that it may take a while to get it right. It can be really difficult to discern! When all else fails, experiment. You may not be able to consciously put your finger on it, but certain colors will just make you look better than others. It’s a feeling you’ll get, and at some point you’ll have to trust your gut.
This is just as much art as it is science.