The colour guide: how to choose, buy and wear colour

Colour is tricky. What looks good on the rack may not look good against your skin. Here is a quick guide to choosing your colours, both for men and women.

hidden June 18, 2011 17:59:51 IST
The colour guide: how to choose, buy and wear colour

By Yatan Ahluwalia

Colour is tricky. What looks good on the rack may not look good against your skin. The best clothes and the most sought after labels are a waste, if you pick the wrong colour, shade or tone. So here's a basic, no-frills, can't-go-wrong guide to getting it right every time.

The colour guide how to choose buy and wear colour

Right colours make the difference. Diane von Furstenberg/AP

1. Start with the basics, more specifically with what you are naturally blessed with:

Skin tone: In a country where fairness products are the order of the day and where people are obsessed with looking shades lighter, I suggest you pick clothes in colours that flatter your natural skin tone. In general, cold colours (blue, green, purple) work with pale skin tones and warm colours (brown, rust, orange and some shades of yellow) complement dusky skin tones. Neutral colours like black and white suit just about everyone. I personally feel white makes dark people look extremely chic and sensual, while black has the same effect on fair skin tones.

Extra tip: If you are wearing metallic tones, whether in clothes or as accessories, remember that gold looks good if you are fair, silver if wheatish and copper if you are dark.

Body Type: If you are slightly plump, overweight, or broadly built – wearing darker colours will always make you look slimmer, taller and leaner. Alternatively, if you are skinny, scrawny or worry about looking anorexic, then lighter colours will give you a fuller, and curvier (at all the right places) appearance. Colours can help you hide, or enhance parts of your body to create a visual illusion that helps overcome 'problem areas'.

Extra tip: Never wear coloured (or printed) innerwear under a white or light coloured garment. Bright colours will always make you look (and feel) younger. Similarly, wearing grey, white, beige and brown will give you a mature look.

Personality: Flamboyant men and women can easily carry and wear bright vivid colours (red, yellow and strong hues of orange, pink, blue and green) while regular folk (like you and me) and introverts tend to graduate to and stick to our stereotype by wearing pastels (pale pink, sky blue, mint green, lavender, peach, saffron) or neutral tones (ivory, beige, black, white and all shades of brown). Unless of course, you are wearing saris, salwar suits, kurta’s, ethnic wear or Indian garments – where bright colours are the norm.

The colour guide how to choose buy and wear colour

Cold colours work on pale skin tones. Model: Amit

2. When it comes to wearing colour,  the time of year, time of day and occasion is key. While I strongly believe fashion should have no rules, it’s always good to follow some basic, but tried-and-tested styling guidelines:

Season: Unless you really need to, never be seen dead (or alive) in metallic tones of gold, silver, copper or dark shades of grey, navy blue and black in the peak of Summer or on a hot sweaty day. Opt instead for colours that (are easy on and) soothe the eye – like white, most pastels or certain shades of blue and green. Warm earth tones like rust, brown, yellow, red and orange are also best saved for  winter. Moral of the story: refrain from wearing warming colours in the hot months and cooling colours in the colder months.

Extra tip: Always wear matt tones in summer or during the day and  colours with an added shine or gloss during winter or at night.

AM/PM: Always wear lighter colours in the day and darker ones in the night. This means you need to wear pastels and shades of white, ivory, beige and grey for long lazy afternoons, hectic days at work, Sunday brunches, short weekend leisure trips and quick shopping excursions. You can go bright but not dark.

Keep the blacks, reds, darker shades of brown, grey, blue, green, purple and all the jewel tones (ruby red, emerald green)  exclusively aside for entertaining, partying, dining or going out at night.

Extra tip: If you are having a bad hair day or need to draw attention away from that unwanted pimple avoid wearing white and most light colours close to your face. Opt instead for a bright and vibrant top, shirt or jacket.

The right place: Most of us know that we need to wear 'mourning' colours to funerals and happy, vibrant ones for the many weddings, parties and festivals.

But here are some basic rules for all the other occasions. Sober and light shades should be worn to the office. Pick brighter hues for casual outings. Neutrals are best for relaxed and laid back settings. Formal occasions demand deeper, darker or stronger colours. Having said that, it's imperative and important to follow the dress (and colour) code – if there is one that has been one specified on your invitation or by your host.

Extra tip: In colour therapy, white reflects purity, purple represents royalty, red is considered vibrant, auspicious and festive, black and grey are dark, solemn and serious, blue and green are both eternally calming while orange is said to be fierce and energetic.

3. The colours and patterns you wear can make or break your look. It's important to know how to put them together, and how to use them to make the right kind of a style statement:

Mix, match, and contrast: Play with caution while wearing two primary colours together (red, yellow, blue or green). You may choose to go tone on tone, which is very modern and highly recommended. Or if you match or contrast colours keep in mind that most often, one strong or bright colour is better than wearing two.

Extra tip: When wearing, white with white or black with black; ensure the shades are an identical match – there’s nothing worse than combining two different shades of the same colour.

Solids & Prints: If worn right and matched with complimentary tones, most solids can look simple and subtle. If you opt for prints, be careful: Small subtle prints are always a safe option. Never mix and match two similar or different prints, be it stripes on stripes, checks with checks or stripes and checks.

Extra tip: Multicoloured prints work as long as you wear patterns that don't mix cold and warm colours together. In other words, don't mix orange with green or purple.

Upper & Lower: When wearing a combination of shirts with pants, blouses with skirts or jackets with trousers, it’s always best to wear a lighter colour on top and a darker one below. If you decide to layer your look, you will never go wrong if you start with a lighter shade on the inside and the darker one on the outside.

Extra tip: There is no such thing as a masculine or a feminine colour. Ignore the notion that pink is for girls and blue is for the boys. You can wear any colour you like and will look good in it – as long as you feel comfortable and confident.


The author is a fashion and image consultant and Director, Y&E Style Media Pvt. Ltd - India's leading styling &  corporate grooming company.

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