The Colour Properties of Black
Every colour has three properties. Value, undertone and intensity. Every colour palette also has these three properties as well. The colours that harmonise with your own colouring are the ones in your colour palette (if you’re not sure of your palette you can find out with my 7 Steps to Style program).
Each of these properties is a continuum, and in brief, they are:
- Value – lightness to darkness of a colour
- Undertone – warmth to coolness of a colour (how it’s created)
- Intensity – brightness to mutedness of a colour.
So what are black’s colour properties?
- Value: Dark
- Undertone: Cool
- Intensity: Bright
If you are a light summer (or most closely related to a Tranquil in my 18 directional Absolute Colour System), then your colour properties are:
- Value: Light
- Undertone: Cool
- Intensity: Soft
So you only have one of the three colour properties in common with black – and that’s cool. So, it’s not a great colour for you to wear. Ideally you’re after colours that have the same colour properties as you!
What’s Your Ideal Value?
If you understand the concept of Ideal Value (which I’ve written about here) then you’d get the idea that ideally, a black bottom with an overall ideal value that is light (particularly when it’s very light) is just not as good as a lighter bottom.
Why is this? Well, it stops the eye as it scans the body, and then creates a focal point where there is dissonance between your natural colouring and the colour that is not related to you.
Light Ideal Value
Here is Reece Witherspoon who has a light ideal value. If you compare the four images above you’ll notice that the image on the far left is the best as she has used colours in her outfit head to toe that relate to her ideal value and colouring.
The second image isn’t bad either, it’s still an overall light outfit, even though it’s a bit darker than the one on the left.
The third image – the top is good, but eh dark pants are unrelated to her colouring, though the dark sunglasses help to create some relationship between the indigo denim and her natural features. Because she has a light top, and has stepped through with a medium-light jacket, the value contrast isn’t quite as high as the fourth image.
The fourth image is her worst outfit as it’s a high-value contrast which is unrelated to her low value contrast colouring and overall light ideal value. You’ll notice you see face and top (nice harmony) and then your eye is stopped at the pants, drawing attention to her lower half.
If you consider the images above with Gwenyth Paltrow. You’ll notice again, the closer the outfit it to her ideal value (left and 2nd image) the more there is no particular garment or area the eye is drawn.
In the third image, with the dark trouser, the whole outfit is not quite as successful and you do end up with a bottom-half focus, particularly as the shoes are black and relate to nothing else in her outfit.
Again in the fourth outfit that high contrast black/white combination is cutting her in half rather than allowing your eye to sweep over her as a whole person.
I’ll refer back to this image above again a little later in this post when I’m talking about accessories.
Deep Ideal Value
Some of you reading may have a dark ideal value. In this example with Victoria Beckham, who has an overall medium-dark ideal value, in the light jeans, your eye is drawn to the jeans, even though the top is in the right value for her.
Whilst in the overall dark value outfit your eye quickly scans the outfit there is visual harmony from head to toe (and back again to her face).
Does it Matter What Colour You Wear Below Your Waist?
What you can see from both these examples is that the most successful outfits are those that relate to a person’s overall colouring and value, creating harmony with their features as a whole. So to answer your first question, does it matter what color you wear below your waist? My answer is yes! Even though those colours below your waist are not reflecting unflattering colours onto your face, we still see them and when those colours are unrelated to your colouring, they draw attention to themselves!
Black Accessories When Your Ideal Value is Light
Anyone who has a light ideal value (so will have a palette of colours that is from the lighter end of the value spectrum) will find that black accessories – bags, shoes etc, just don’t relate to the whole outfit or to you.
If there is nothing “black” about your natural appearance, then it’s not a great colour to wear in clothes or accessories, particularly in summer when you are more likely to be wearing more of your light colours anyway. Notice the black shoes on Gwenyth in the image further up the page. There is also a black handbag with the white outfit too, which looks out of place as it’s unrelated to anything else in her outfit and natural appearance.
Sure a bag and shoes are a small proportion of your outfit, but unless they are related to something else in the outfit there are many other options that would work better for you.
A great colour for your handbag is a colour similar to your hair. It creates a harmonious look and can be worn with any outfit, as you’re always wearing your hair! Notice the handbag that Reece is carrying in the very first image at the top of the page. It’s a great neutral choice for her as it relates to her hair and her ideal value.
Wearing Dark Clothes When You’re Light
Now there are ways to do it if you have existing black or dark clothes (most of us own some dark denim jeans) you want to use. But I would avoid buying new black clothes and instead start replacing them with greys and other lighter neutrals that will create more harmony with your appearance. Here are some tips on building a wardrobe of staples when you have a light ideal value and are thinking about replacing your black with other neutrals.
Here is an example of how to wear those darker bottoms when you are naturally light ideal value. Think about using a blended print, like I’ve done here above that has both my light ideal value and the depth of the denim in it, which tie the two elements of my outfit together. I also have quite dark blue eyes – which are similar in depth to the blue of my shrug. Notice how the shrug is really just on arms and shoulders, it’s not covering the overall lightness of my top which means the top is the dominant value near my face. And of course, with darker jeans it’s easy and harmonious to wear darker shoes that blend with the colour of the jeans.
Of course, in winter I’ve got black boots and bottoms that I’m going to keep wearing until they wear out, so the best way to do it is to team your darks and blacks with light and medium colours or neutrals and step through the value scale rather than jumping from light to dark.
More Tips on Understanding Contrast and Ideal Value