What’s ideal value and how to figure out your ideal value?
This is a concept is one that I’ve come to realise as really valuable the longer I’ve been doing personal colour analysis (right now that’s over 14 years, so just a little experienced!).
Whatever palette you have (from whatever system it comes from), there will be some colours that are better than others. Why is this so? It’s to do with your ideal value (and of course the specific colours in your skin, hair and eyes).
What is Ideal Value
Think about it as the overall lightness or darkness (technical word for that is value) of your outfit.
Your ideal value comes from your hair colour, which is why if you change your hair colour, your ideal value is likely to change too!
Let’s take a look here at some examples.
Here in a very light outfit, it harmonises best when she has blonde hair rather than dark hair.
But if you compare this to wearing a dark outfit.
Now her dark hair is in harmony with the dark outfit, and her blonde hair is more at odds.
The value of the outfit when it’s in line with the hair colour feels more at home. Rather than there being a stark contrast, there is a balance between face and outfit.
When thinking about wearing different values in one outfit, however light or dark your hair – that is the value (or depth) of colour you want in around 60% of your outfit, particularly that part of the outfit that is closest to your face (on your top half).
You can see that the when I wear the outer layer (jacket) in a similar value to my hair – it provides a larger proportion of my ideal value near my face and is more in harmony, versus when the outer layer is the contrast to my ideal value.
Finding Your Ideal Value
So how to find your ideal value?
It’s pretty simple really – and is found as part of finding your ideal contrast levels (read and follow my 3 step process here).
You can see from the images above, that the overall lighter outfit is just that much more in line and balance with my light value hair.
Still not sure? Then read this post with 11 real-life examples where you’ll see how I’ve marked on a grey scale overall ideal value from the person’s hair – and how that the overall outfit I’ve chosen for each is related to their overall value.
This is why when people talk to me about radical hair colour changes, I always temper my advice with the knowledge that it can change their wardrobe needs, as not only will it change their ideal value, but also can easily change their contrast.
Making Outfits Outside of Your Ideal Value Work
Of course, neither you nor I want to just wear outfits in our ideal value. Particularly winter to summer, we often want lighter in summer and darker in winter. At work we want to have more authority and so want to wear darker colours to convey a more yang and authoritative appearance (find out more about that here).
So how to work outside of your Ideal Value guidelines?
Here are two simple examples where I’m wearing deep and dark value outfits.
- On the left, because it’s summer more of my skin is showing – making the proportion of the dark value close to my face proportionally smaller than it would be if I had long sleeves.
- On the right, see how I’ve added the hat? This brings a dark element up to my head that then ties the darker colours of my outfit to it and so creates necessary balance.
When you think about wearing the colours in your colour palette, some will be lighter or darker than your idea. If you are like me and overall very fair, think about choosing more from the lighter end of your palette, and your darks won’t be as dark as someone who has a dark ideal value. Simply put:
- If you’ve got dark blonde hair, rather than creating an outfit in a column of colour in a really light colour, go for a medium-light that is similar in value to your hair, this will make the whole outfit harmonise with your colouring.
- If you’ve got very dark hair, then wear more very dark colours and less really light.
- If you’ve got medium value hair – go for more medium value colours.
- Really light blonde like me? Then choose the lightest part of your palette.
It’s as simple as that!
This is why when you receive a colour palette, there is a relationship between the colours in it and your ideal value. Someone with a deep ideal value should not be given a light palette, and vice versa, for that light value person receiving a dark palette.
Now if you’ve not got a palette to work with and realise that having one would make you wardrobe choices so much easier as you discover the colours that work best for you – a personal colour analysis is part of my 7 Steps to Style program – and you’ll also get my professional opinion on your ideal value and contrast too, so that you can start building a wardrobe of clothes that is really right for you.
More Tips on Contrast and Value
Getting Your Head Around Value and Contrast – the Celebrity Version
This is very helpful to me, Imogen. I’ve shared before that you inspired me to do my own hair transition from medium brown to silver in 2017. I am eagerly embracing light gray as my new favorite neutral. I also bought some white items to add brightness to things I already have. Thanks for sharing your expertise. Love your website and the videos and audio files you do with Jill Chivers. I recommend you to all my friends. 🙂
Loving this post Imogen. I have medium-dark brown hair making dark colours too overwhelming and light or medium-light really underwhelming (In relation to ideal contrast). Even some of the medium colours aren’t quite strong enough. When you don’t fit ideally into the usual light, medium or dark contrast categories it’s inevitable you’re going to muck up your ideal contrast but you don’t know why all you know is lots of things you wear just don’t look quite right. Now I am armed with the right information and looking forward to dressing in my ideal contrast. Thanks you’re amazing! X
Hi, and thank you for another very interesting post on value and contrast!
My hair is light-medium in value (between 6 and 7), and I’m not sure I look my best in medium light tops. I like some contrast and think light colours like cream look good on me and contrast nicely with my hair. I agree, however, that the outfit as a whole look best when my trousers are about the same value as my hair. Do you think it would look better the other way around, i.e. with medium value top and lighte bottom? I guess I should aslo mention that my skin and eyes are light, but not fair. I’d be very grateful to hear your thoughts about this!
This post of yours really fixed the last piece of my contrast problem. I’m an A shape and experimenting with my signature colors. I usually wear lighter tops and darker bottoms. It just didn’t look right exactly as I have brown hair. I can’t wait to try this out, now I know what to do with my scarves 😉 Pics are definatly a must. Thanks so much!
This is so helpful!! I have never heard of this before but it explains so much! I had several shirts that didn’t look quite right on me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. They all have light gray. I assumed maybe it was the specific hues of gray since other grays work for me. I never considered that the value contrast didn’t jive with my light skin and dark hair, even though I had noticed they looked worse with my hair down. I knew pastels haven’t worked for me since a decade ago when I was a teenager (and even then it was iffy). But I never considered that could be due to contrast either, I just thought it was the colors themselves. But I did find it odd that some colors that should supposedly work with my coloring looked bad.
The only light color that seems to work for me is white. I have very light skin, but maybe white is enough shades lighter than me to still create a contrast. Vs. pastels, which are closer to my own skin value.
I’m getting really confused with Value Contrast. I bought a Gray Scale card and a “10” is white, whereas for over 2 months a “10” has been black. So are the “stair steps” and “low/high” going to be opposites also? Any thots on helping my brain transition this? TIA
My daughter said I should put white-out on the numbers on my card so they match the scale as you have it laid out!! Do you have a better idea? TIA