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COLOR SENSE: Part 2, Contrast

ColorSense_part 2

At some point, most of us come to the realization that the colors wear have an affect how we look, feel and how others react to us. Colors that compliment our skin, eye and hair color boost how healthy and vibrant we appear and can magically turn back the clock a few years by giving us a more youthful glow.

Following on from part 1, this time I want to talk about ‘Color Contrast.’

While a color analysis provides valuable information for selecting the colors that work best for you, there are other important aspects of color coordination within your range of best colors that is seldom taught.

To start, contrast is created when two or more colors are placed next to each other.

There are three contrast levels:

  • High: bright, loud, vivid contrast that makes you say ‘WOW.’
  • Medium: two or more colors where a mix of light and dark is seen.
  • Low: a mix of colors which are similar depth to each other and seem to blend together.

Contrast Circles

Each contrast level affects:

  • how well a garment reacts with the contrast between your hair, eyes and skin.
  • the perception of the size of the area over which the garment is being worn,
  • your image when wearing the contrast level.

Focus is naturally drawn to contrast. Once understood contrast can be used to:

  • highlight or hide an area of your body,
  • make a visual statement or blend in and observe,
  • be taken seriously, remembered and listen to, or be overlooked or discounted.

Each contrast level can be created in the following ways:

  • between colors within a pattern or print
  • between garments when layering
  • between a solid colored garment and your skin.

Contrast Grouping

Skin Deep

Also worth noting is that a person’s skin coloring dictated which colors are high, medium or low contrast. Notice Isha in the burnt orange jacket below (low contrast) and Katie in the oatmeal colored dress, also low contrast. If we placed the orange jacket on Katie, the contrast would be medium. Alternatively, if we swapped Katie’s oatmeal dress onto Isha it too would be medium contrast.

Constrast Comparison bewteen black and white skins

Top Row: Isha Sesay  Bottom Row: Katie Couric

High Contrast

High contrast is created when two colors combine to create a very bright combination – one that causes others to say or think ‘WOW.’ It may be a dark color with a bright color or two bright colors together i.e. purple and yellow.

High contrast is best worn by individuals who have a medium to high color contrast between their hair, skin and eyes, as well as bright looking eyes and skin (tends to be combination to oily). These color groups are:

  • Bright Winter / Cool, Clear,
  • Cool Winter / Cool and Clear,
  • Bright Spring / Warm, Clear and Bright.
  • Deep Winter / Cool, Clear and Dark

Women with a low contrast will find that high contrast clothing will be so bold that the garment, not they will be the center of attention – see >40% model below. 

Depending on the pattern and the colors used, the psychological effect this combination produces is one of power, authority, flamboyance, creativity or eccentricity. High contrast combinations are generally worn by confident, outgoing people and while the look will certainly get you noticed, it is not necessarily one that is approachable or people friendly. Often people will stand back and observe you for a while before deciding if you are someone they feel comfortable approaching. This contrast level is most effective at times when you need authority or to stand out and be noticed. Not recommended for job interviews or situations when you need to win people over to your idea or side of the argument.

High contrast exaggerates all pattern sizes, especially those that are medium to large.

High contrast also highlights the area to where it is applied; drawing attention to it and visually advancing the area making it appear larger. Therefore, it’s best worn over the smallest area of your body.

When layering, to be able to pull-off high contrast without blinding anyone keep the high contrast color less than 40% of the color seen – see <40% and >40% images below.

High Contrast Group


Medium Contrast

Medium contrast is created when various color depths are combined that are easy on the eye and harmonious.

It is a contrast level suits all individuals regardless of personal coloring or ethnicity.

The psychological effect this combination produces is one of confidence, professionalism, appropriateness. Medium contrast attracts attention in an approachable and people friendly manner. The look inspires others to notice, remember, listen to and taken you seriously. It is appropriate for all situations, locations, and occasions.

Patterns of medium contrast are best placed over the smallest parts of your body. When placed over an area that is large be sure to choose the opposing garment in dark color from the pattern as this will draw the attention away from the larger area and visually elongate and slim your silhouette.

Facebook1 (1)

Low Contrast

Low contrast is when colors of similar value (color depth) are combined. This contrast level is easy on the eye.

This contrast levels best suits individuals who have a similar contrast level between their skin, hair, and eyes plus a matte appearance to their skin.

These color groups are:

  • Soft Summer / Cool, Muted and Soft
  • Soft Autumn / Warm, Muted and Soft

On brighter individuals this combination may appear boring, drain them of color and be aging.

The psychological effect this combination produces is one of innocence, subtleness, and passivity. Low contrast while people friendly and elegant, is also almost invisible to others (especially in light combinations) and the wearer will need to either have already established their authority and position or else will struggle to be noticed, listened to or remembered. Give these facts low contrast is best left for after work hours.

Low contrast patterns are the easiest to wear even when the pattern size is large. This is because the subtly of the colors does little to increase apparent size. However, I would still recommend that if you wear the pattern on the largest part of your body that you select a color from the pattern for the opposing part of your body to ensure the sleekest silhouette.

Light, low contrast combinations are great for weekend wear and endows the wearer with casual elegance. Dark low contrast combinations create a evening elegance that is hard to beat.

Low Contrast Group2




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Thank you.
Ann Reinten AICI CIP


  • Wendi Dwyer says:

    About 12 years ago I got a present of an appointment with a Colour Consultant for my birthday. It was wonderful and worth every penny.
    It was such a revelation when scarves of different shades were placed against my face and I could see instantly what suited me, what didn’t, and what made me look downright awful.
    After that I only replaced clothing etc with colours that were ‘mine’.
    It means that everything I have now gathered over yhe years goes with everything else.
    I only got rid of the downtright bad colours , and replaced other items.Once you know what colours to buy, you never buy the ‘wrong’ colours again – and everything in your wardrobe works with each other.
    You won’t have all the forgotten and unworn items in your wardrobe.
    Sylvia’s Style classes have helped with my own style immensely, but if you start with colour education, it will help your shopping choices when you start experimenting with finding your own style.

    • pretastyler says:

      Thank you for your comment Wendi,
      I believe that learning about your style needs is only half the story; if you leave out what colors suit you and how to wear them best you’re still going to buy clothes that don’t suit you.
      If any one would like an online color analysis by me, and are willing to have specific photos taken of yourself (2), I can assist you for $65 plus postage. You’ll receive a high quality swatch, neoprene bag to house it and a detailed ebook so you understand how to best use and understand your colors. Just email me at ann@imageinnovators.com

  • Joy says:

    Very interesting and useful article. Thank you.

  • Fiona says:

    Great informative post. Many thanks.

  • Diane Burton says:

    I now know why my gorgeous bright and purple couture gown for my daughter’s wedding (pre-myprivatestylist.com) in 2012 was a hit, but I wasn’t! Aha. Everyone loved the dress and said, ” Wow…what a gorgeous dress! ”
    Funny. I used to believe that when people liked the dress it was a compliment. Whoooooooops.
    When I saw the wedding pictures, the bright and purple couture dress that wowed everyone (including myself when I looked at in on the hanger), made my heavier body weight “advance” bigger than ever…agh!!! It made my face look so much more pale than I remember it to be. My light, blonde/brown and fine hair disappeared on my “rather rounder and larger” and pale face that was captured in the photograph!
    Can you believe it! Contrast. Really. One very powerful and or magical word. I couldn’t figure out why such a gorgeous dress in my favorite color had made me look fatter, shorter, paler and almost bald!
    I am so grateful for your knowledge and your sincere attention to every detail that makes the “big picture” gorgeous!
    Thanks, Ann. I have desperately searched for “the secret” to this disaster!!! Found it! Whew.
    For now, the wedding pictures of me is off the gallery wall and filed into the ” pre-Myprivatestylist.com bloopers ” folder!!!!!!
    The Secret was a great movie but THIS AND ALL THESE secrets you share with us are even more life changing!!!! Life loves you and so don’t I! Diane

  • Zoe says:

    Great article about contrast which demystifys a somewhat confusing subject simply with good visual examples. Thank you

  • Sharon Cummings says:

    Hi Ann. Love all the great up-to-date fashion information and advise you provide. Always look forward receiving the next one. Thanks so much and take care.

  • Mel says:

    Very useful info! I’m a little confused, though. I had my color done years ago and was a Summer (light to med. brown hair, dark brown eyes, very pale cool porcelain complexion) but I definitely don’t have matte look skin (I wish) and I look best in medium contrast clothing. Is there more than one summer profile?

    • pretastyler says:

      Hi Mel,
      Color analysis has progressed a long way since the days of four season analysis.
      These days there are 3 variation of each of the four seasonal types. So, you could be a Cool Summer, Light Summer of Soft Summer. If you are one of the first two you may indeed not have a very matte looking skin. All three Summer groups will look good in medium contrast.
      I’d be happy to do you a color analysis for you if you would like one. See earlier comments for price and instructions.

  • Marie Martin says:

    Yup I love the images too. Great examples especially seeing mixed ethnicities l.

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