Colors That Flatter Your Skin Tone

One of the keys to looking great every day is building a wardrobe that enhances one’s natural coloring. When carefully chosen clothing colors are worn, they give a healthy glow to the skin and blend in with a woman’s overall appearance instead of drawing attention to themselves. The right colors in clothing can actually decrease the amount of makeup that is needed.

Fashion trends come and go, not only in terms of styles but also colors. One season, the hot hue might be red, and the next, it is all about chartreuse. While some colors (such as red) come in several shades to flatter almost any woman, others (such as chartreuse) are very specific. What makes a color look good on one woman and not so good on another is a woman’s individual skin tone.

The first step in transforming a closet into a flattering rainbow is to determine one’s natural skin tone. Next, one can go further and analyze skin and hair together to find a specific palette of colors to suit women in each group. Then, tips on making color trends more personal will help a woman to stay stylish while also staying true to herself.

Determining Skin Tone

The first step in buying the right colored clothing is figuring out if one’s skin is warm or cool. There are a few ways to do this, and it is best to do more than one test as a way of confirming the results. The table below describes several types of tests that can be done to determine skin tone.



Foundation Test Remove all makeup. Go to a department store or drugstore that sells a brand of foundation makeup in shades that are coded as warm, neutral, or cool. Hold the testers up to the wrist or face to compare tones. Stripes of makeup may be applied as well. A perfect tone match is not important, so try a few shades in each of the three groups. Look for the ones that appear to harmonize with the natural skin tone. (If the neutral shades are the best matches, other tests should be conducted to confirm skin tone. Even seemingly neutral skins are not perfectly so and will fall slightly into either the cool or warm category.)
Metal Test Remove all fingernail polish and jewelry. On one hand, place a silver or silvertone ring, bracelet, or wristwatch. On the other hand, put on a gold or goldtone ring, bracelet, or wristwatch. Hold up one hand at a time and look at how the metal blends with the skin. On a cool skin tone, the white metal (silver) will be flattering, while the yellow metal (gold) will clash. On a warm skin tone, the gold will be the more flattering of the two.
Paper Test Remove all fingernail polish and jewelry. Hold the hands and wrists against a plain white sheet of paper. Turn them over to see the palms and forearms as well. See if there is a distinctly pink or blue cast (cool) or a yellow or orange cast (warm) to the skin when compared with the paper. If the skin seems like it might be warm, try to find a piece of ivory or buff-colored paper and see if the skin seems to blend or clash with the creamy tone. If it blends, the skin is warm.
Color Test Remove all makeup. Put on a white T-shirt. Pull hair back and cover it with a white scarf or T-shirt if the hair has been colored. Gather various scarves, T-shirts, blouses, towels, and other solid colored textiles from around the house and drape them over the chest and shoulders to see how each color affects the complexion in the mirror. A cool complexion will look healthy and attractive when draped in cool colors, such as blues, purples, blue-greens, and grays. A warm complexion will glow next to warm colors, such as oranges, yellows, yellow-greens, and browns.
Comparison Test Comparing skin tone to that of others is a helpful test. Stand in front of a mirror with a few family members or friends and compare complexions. One person may find that she looks pink compared with everyone else; this person likely has a cool skin tone. Another person will seem golden next to the others and probably has a warm skin tone.

By determining whether one’s skin tone is warm or cool, a person can then take the next step in deciding which colors go best with his or her natural shade.

Color Theories

While most theorists agree that people generally have a warm or cool skin tone, specific theories vary. The most enduring and popular theory is the seasonal color theory, which is described below. Further fine-tuning to the original theory has been done over the years, resulting in advanced personalization and more specific color palettes.

Seasonal Color Theory

One of best-known color theories is the seasonal color theory, which was made famous in Carole Jackson’s book “Color Me Beautiful” in 1980. In this theory, people are grouped into one of four seasonal palettes depending on their coloring. The following chart gives a brief summary of these groups. (Keep in mind that hair color refers to the natural hair.)


Skin and Hair

General Palette

Sample Colors

Celebrity Examples


Skin: Ivory, warm beige, peaches-and-cream, tans well

Hair: Golden blonde, light golden brown, strawberry blonde, auburn

Light, clear/bright, and warm Coral,yellow, lime green, periwinkle blue, ivory, camel, rust

Marilyn Monroe (who had naturally auburn hair), Alicia Witt, Nicole Kidman, Lindsay Lohan, Kate Hudson, Clay Aiken, Dennis Leary


Skin: Porcelain, pink, rose beige, cool mocha, tends to burn

Hair: Ash blonde, light to dark ash brown, sometimes brown with strawberry highlights

Light, soft/muted, and cool Powderpink, soft blue, pale lemon, jade green, winter white, blue-gray, rose-beige

Ingrid Bergman, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Leona Lewis, Jodie Foster, Paul Newman, Mel Gibson, Matt Damon


Skin: Warm beige, warm brown

Hair: Golden blonde, red, auburn, golden brown, warm or red black

Deep, soft/muted, and warm Pumpkin, mustard, olive green, maroon, off-white,brown, warm charcoal

Katharine Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Hilary Swank, Bruce Lee, Denzel Washington


Skin: Porcelain, rose beige, olive, cool brown

Hair: White-blonde (rare), medium to dark ash brown, cool or blue black

Deep, clear/bright, and cool Blue-red, cobalt blue, emerald green,purple, white,black, taupe Elizabeth Taylor, Demi Moore, Alek Wek, Kim Kardashian, Lucy Liu, John Travolta, Seal

Expanded Seasons

Advances expanded the four-season theory to 12 palettes. These were combinations of two palettes each, one primary and one secondary, both of which shared a common element. This theory expanded the number of wearable colors for each person by dipping into a second season.


Best Colors

Light Spring Light, clear, and warm, plus some additional light colors from Summer
Warm Spring Light, clear, and warm, plus some additional warm colors from Autumn
Clear Spring Light, bright, and warm, plus some additional clear colors from Winter
Light Summer Light, muted, and cool, plus some additional light colors from Spring
Soft Summer Light, muted, and cool, plus some additional soft colors from Autumn
Cool Summer Light, muted, and cool, plus some additional cool colors from Winter
Warm Autumn Deep, muted, and warm, plus some additional warm colors from Spring
Soft Autumn Deep, muted, and warm, plus some additional soft colors from Summer
Deep Autumn Deep, muted, and warm, plus some additional deep colors from Winter
Clear Winter Deep, clear, and cool, plus some additional clear colors from Spring
Cool Winter Deep, clear, and cool, plus some additional cool colors from Summer
Deep Winter Deep, clear, and cool, plus some additional deep colors from Autumn



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