Value and Contrast with Darker Skin Tones – the Celebrity Version

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Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

When you think about the value of someone with a darker skin tone, usually they have also darker hair which makes their overall value down the deeper darker end of the value scale.  But what is their value contrast and colour contrast?

Frequently their colour contrast is monochromatic  – one colour – dark brown eyes, skin and hair.  But sometimes they may have a more coloured skin, which throws more yellow or orange tones which means they actually look best wearing a colour, rather than just neutrals.

Just wearing neutrals can look boring, and in fact with many darker skins a one colour outfit works really well, enough colour to add life, not too much that it overwhelms.

Let’s look at some examples.

 

Viola Davis – Deep Value, Monochromatic, Medium High Value Contrast

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tonesUnderstanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

 

Notice how Viola has lovely big white teeth.  These are quite a prominent feature (and like dark eyes on a fair person) give her a medium-high value contrast but it’s stepped through from dark to light.

What I’ve illustrated here, as her overall value is deep, when she wears a predominantly light dress (left) even though it has elements of dark, it’s just not enough and the dress feels to extreme in contrast with her.

But when she wears a darker light – one that works well with her skin (2nd left) along with dark elements, and more of those dark elements are near her face, that level of medium-high contrast works really well.

Now, as Viola is best in a monochromatic or neutral plus 1 colour at a time kind of colour contrast, she still needs to take into consideration that the colour she chooses is one that matches her undertone.  The cool green dress (2nd from the right) is unrelated, so the dress is the total focus.  Versus the darker teal which is warmer and also a deeper value, works really well with her colouring.

Do you see how when the colour and contrast works, Viola becomes the focus, the dress is lovely, but she’s what you see first?  When the colour is too light in value or too high in contrast, Viola disappears and you see the dress first.

Oprah – Deep Value, Monochromatic or Neutral plus 1 colour – Medium Value Contrast

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tonesUnderstanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

You see with Oprah, when the contrast is too high like the black and white outfit on the left, where there is too high a proportion of the light element of the outfit it wears her.  Now in the 2nd outfit from the left, it’s mostly dark with just small elements of a medium light colour which works so much better with her value contrast.

Now Oprah does have an orangish skin on the whole and she wears one colour well, but when she pairs two colours that are complementary (pink and green, 2nd from right) the outfit really overwhelms her.  Just one colour like the red outfit works really well (right).

Zoe Saldana – Deep Value, Neutral + 1 Colour or Monochromatic, Medium Low Value Contrast

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tonesUnderstanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

 

Zoe Saldana has a medium value – her skin is a touch darker than Oprah’s and so she looks good with some value contrast.  But, she’s better in wearing an overall dark outfit rather than a light one.

The dress on the left works as it’s overall dark and steps through to the light elements.  The 2nd from the left outfit is overall light with only touches of dark, so it doesn’t relate to her colouring.

The beautiful burnt red dress harmonises with Zoe’s warm colouring and her ability to wear a monochromatic outfit (2nd from the right), but when the colour becomes too light, even though monochromatic (far right) the colour wears her.

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones
Too high a contrast (left) makes the sweatshirt the focus with the black jeans, though when she repeats her hair and skin colours with the camel jacket and black outfit she looks so much more stylish.

The black and white of the blouse is too high contrast for Zoe (2nd from right), but when she lowers the contrast down to medium with the lighter and darker shades of brown with her jeans (far right) the outfit sings.

Lupita Nyong’o Deep Value, Monochromatic or Neutral + 1 Colour, High Contrast

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tonesUnderstanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

Again, like Viola Davis, though with an even deeper skin tone, Lupita Nyong’o has those beautiful white teeth that work with smaller pops of light in an overall darker outfit.

This is why the pic on the left where the light to dark ratio is closer to 50/50 doesn’t work well as there is nothing in her portrait area that replicates her dark value.  Unlike the 2nd from left outfit does work as it’s overall dark with just a pop of light and in a monochromatic scheme.

As Lupita’s value is overall dark, an overall light dress (such as the 2nd from right) wears her.  When she chooses and overall dark dress (far right) with pops of light in the pattern it’s a much better selection.

Priyanka Chopra – Deep value, Neutral + 1 colour or Monochromatic, Medium Value Contrast

Understanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tonesUnderstanding value, colour contrast and value contrast with darker skin tones

 

Priyanka Chopra, again has overall deep value and looks great in just one colour at a time when she’s wearing colour (such as in the purple dress left).

When she wears a high value contrast (middle pic) the white shirt becomes the focus of her outfit and dominates.  Instead when she wears a medium colour with her dark neutrals the outfit harmonises so much better with her colouring (though notice how her high contrast shoes become a focal point!).

If you’d like my professional opinion on your colouring, value and contrasts, then why not do my 7 Steps to Style program which includes this (plus so much more).

Got an Asian skin like Lucy Liu?  We’ll she’s very similar in colouring to the other high contrast Caucasian’s like Anne Hathaway – so have a look at these posts to get more tips on choosing the right contrast for you.

Getting Your Head Around Value and Contrast – the Celebrity Version

Where Celebrities Go Right and Wrong with Their Contrast

Discover the 4 Nifty Low Colour Contrast Dressing Tricks Used by Princess Mary

7 steps to colour and style

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25 Comments

  • Thank you so much for sharing this! You chose great photos to illustrate your points and explained everything clearly. I’ve wondered for a long time about value/contrast for people with dark hair and skin. Glad to find out there are so many ways to flatter one’s coloring.

  • Lots of new things to learn here about contrast – even for those of us not specifically addressed in this post. I hadn’t thought before about ‘stepping through’ being important if our hair and skin tones include values in the middle …. nor about the proportion of dark(er) to light(er) also corresponding with the proportions in our coloring. Explains why I always like some pops of light – but not a whole garment’s-worth of it. Much to think on, thank you Imogen!!

  • Was waiting for you to do one with deeper skin tones. So thank you for this incredible post. I had a couple of observations, please let me know if they are right.

    To me Viola Davis has cool undertones in her skin. And I think the second outfit, with black and nude (a cool pinky nude) replicated this and harmonises the best, amongst all her outfits.

    I think something similar happens in the last picture of Lupita Nyong’o, who also has cool toned skin. The yellow in the black and yellow dress reads too warm and therefore pulls focus. or Am I just seeing things?

    In the second set of pictures of Zoe Saldana, the second from right picture, she is wearing a black and white printed shirt. The print is small in scale and close to each other, making the shirt appear more grey toned, or looks like it blends. Only the edges of white seem to stand out. Would this be considered, stepping through the contrasts?

    In Priyanka Chopra’s last outfit the value contrast seems to work for her, but are the colors too muted or soft for her? They are also quite cool, including the black. So is black a bad idea for someone of her warm coloring, despite her black hair? Or since she has black hair, she can get away with it and choose warm and clear colors to pair with it?

    • Most black hair is brown black – not black black – so it’s a warmer black.

      I see Viola as warm not cool – she has a golden glow.

      The black and white print because of the white border makes it higher, without the border it would appear a lower contrast most likely as it’s so small.

      Yes Priyanka’s last outfit is too muted for her – she’s better in brighter colours.

      • Thank you Imogen for being an awesome and patient teacher. So the things I have learned are:

        1. Deeper skin tones, with brown black hair can get away with black. But warm and bright colors are a good pairings with it. (if they have warm skin)
        2. If zoe’s shirt had white and grey print, the stark white border would not have been high contrast?
        or the border should have been in grey and then it would have been stepping through the contrast levels
        3. Lupita’s black and yellow dress, would have worked better, if the yellow print was smaller or more sparse.
        Hope I have it right. Thanks again for this post.

        • As with all skins – there will be some darker skins that suit brighter colours and others more muted, and like other skins it will change with age. There is no one rule for darker skin tones, as there is none for lighter!

          yes Zoe’s shirt would be stepping through if the border was grey not bright white.

          Lupita’s dress – smaller proportions would have been better.

    • The reason why the beige and black works for Viola is that when the contrast is right – it’s easier to wear colours that aren’t quite as right – and often a neutral will be less obvious than a colour anyway. Look at the warm yellow dress she’s wearing in the top image – that looks good (and it’s really warm!)

  • So grateful for this post! I’ve never seen other advice like it. Variation among women with darker skin is often ignored; thanks for this analysis, Imogen! Couple questions:

    When do the whites of eyes and teeth matter for contrast? When skin is level 3 and darker?

    For women like Oprah/Zoe, does having black-brown eyes v. light brown eyes impact their ideal contrast?

    Would you say that Zoe and Priyanka have neutral or colored skin tones?

    • The darker the eyes the overall deeper value they are playing with. So if it’s deeper than hair colour it may up their value contrast. If it’s around the same, then not really any impact.

      I see them all as having more coloured skin – it’s a bit hard to tell as I’ve not seen any of them in real life! So photos vary – but most have some golden or bronze appearance rather than neutral brown.

    • Whites of eyes and teeth matter when you see them a lot – so they need to be obvious – large smile with open mouth (some people’s lips cover teeth or they tend to smile with mouth closed so you don’t see them much). Whites of eyes – eyes need to be large, whites need to pop.

  • Thank you – I am relieved to see that there is a value/contrast post with women of color; I felt excluded when I saw the all-white women one first.

    What I don’t see is the high-contrast woman of color with pale brown skin and dark black hair, as well as white eye whites and dark dark eyes, such as Lisa Bonet who does well in black/white patterns yet does not have white skin – where would you place her? that would be very helpful to know.

    • Looking at some pics she is similar to Priyanka Chopra – her eye whites are not obvious and her skin is not particularly light (I would suggest in some photos it has been photoshopped to look whiter than in real life) – if you do a big search you will find in most her skin is maybe one shade lighter at most than Priyanka’s skin. She is still only medium value contrast.

  • Thank you for this post. It really helped me to understand the value contrast better and color contrast. From what I see here most women of color that have medium to lighter skin tones would fall into the medium value range, unless they dye their hair blond, or light brown, then they would be in the lower value contrast range. Is this correct? This is such a relief because I did not think I was low contrast as my hair is very dark almost black and skin tone is very close to Oprah’s, maybe just a little more golden understones.
    For color contrast it seems that most women of color with colored skin, dark hair and medium to dark brown eyes have low color contrast and would look better in monochromatic or neutral plus one color. Does this also mean we can wear more than one neutral plus a color? For example, can I wear tan and navy plus blue or black and grey plus red? Also with color contrast for black women who have hazel, green, or blue eyes, does this raise the amount of colors they can wear together?
    For black women who dye their hair red or reddish brown does that also increase the color contrast? I know quite a few medium skin tone black women who have died their hair red.

    • The more colours you add the more colours you can wear well. So coloured (blue or green etc) eyes adds a colour, changing your hair colour (copper, red etc) also adds a colour. This will increase colour contrast.

      Value contrast – yes – medium skin, dark hair – medium value contrast.

      As skin and hair are different neutrals, then happily wear a combination of neutrals with your colour – such as tan and navy with a colour – does this make sense?

  • Yes, Imogen, thank you for addressing women with a darker skin tone. Judging by the comments, you have clearly hit upon a somewhat neglected/misunderstood group when it comes to color analysis, etc. I fit into that category with a twist thrown in; I have quit dyeing my hair and my formerly dark brown is now mostly silver/white. What hair is still dark is steel gray. My hair is very “stripey”. My skin tone would be very close to that of Halle Berry and I have dark brown eyes. Does the silver hair put me into high contrast as opposed to my formerly very low contrast? How does this affect what I wear?

    Thank you again. I always learn so much from your posts/videos.

  • I am from the UK, I want to thank you for taking the time and effort to put this post together, it was so enlightening and informative. At first I was very confused in trying to understand how the info on value/colour contrast in your previous posts in relation to Caucasian woman could relate to me, but was pleasantly surprised to come across this post on woman of colour. You explained and clarified this concept in a way that finally made sense to me and I commend you for doing such a brilliant job.

  • Very glad to see this post, thank you! Having had to extrapolate style advise designed for different depth, color/value contrast than mine, I’ve ended up with too many light neutrals, especially light grey and white. For reference, I’d say I’m like Priyanka but a shade darker. So is there a way I can salvage these light and medium value neutrals? If not, what would be the most versatile color for jackets and shoes for me? Thanks.

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