Reader Question – Why is it that you advise that those with grey hair wear smoky and more muted colours? Doesn’t this just make us fade away?
Although our genetic makeup never changes, our hair changes both in colour and texture as we get older. In the same way, we lose the bloom of youth and pigmentation colour in our skin tone. It is not usual to find that certain colours make you look sallow, dull, or washed out as you age. This phenomenon is called simultaneous contrast.
Simultaneous contrast occurs when two adjacent colours influence each other, changing our perception of these colours. The actual colours themselves don’t change, but we see them as altered.
Simultaneous contrast can make a colour (or your own skin) look brighter or duller, depending on the colour you put next to it.
Each of the centre colours below are the same. You’ll notice that that centre colour either looks brighter or duller, depending on the colour it is that next to it.
- Dark and light make each other look brighter
- Bright and dark make the bright colour look brighter
- Bright and muted make the muted colour look duller
- The more similar in brightness, the less bright they both look
When I’m doing a colour analysis, I’m assessing how you look in comparison to other colours – your simultaneous contrast.
Muted colours won’t make you look dull if they are the right kinds of colours for you. In the photo below taken at one of my personal colour analysis training courses, you can see how these more muted colours actually look brighter on the client as they make her look bright – so they don’t look dull, as they would on someone who had bright colouring.
Why Wearing Softer Colours With Grey Hair Will Not Make You Fade Away
Grey hair comes in a variety of shades – salt and pepper; steel grey; cool ash grey and platinum silver to name a few. Some greys are brighter than others. Textured grey hair will look less bright than smooth grey hair. The more white in your grey – the brighter it will look as well, versus the more ‘steel wool’ the duller your grey.
If your hair has gone grey, it has lost its pigment. Your hair is the most obvious location where the pigment disappears from but also pigment disappears from your skin and your eyes at the same time, you just don’t notice it in the same way as it’s not as obvious.
This is most noticeable if you ever dye grey hair back to the natural colour at 20 years old, your hair colour will usually look harsh against your skin. This is because our skins and eyes don’t have the vibrant pigment that it contained when you were younger.
You can add makeup to compensate for that loss of pigment but if you’re not someone who likes to wear lots of makeup, you’ll just find that those brighter colours that may have worked for you when you’re younger start to look really harsh and we see the colour rather than you.
If the colour is right, you will look healthy and your eyes will sparkle. If it isn’t, the colour will pop and you will recede. Or worse, you will look dull as the bright colour makes you fade away.
When I’m draping someone who is more muted and my eye is being drawn to the colours rather than the person’s face, then when I drape them in the more muted colours it’s like they have suddenly come alive and their face becomes the focus, rather than the colours.
Smoky colours don’t make you look grey unless you aren’t actually ready for them. Some people will reach the greyed, smokier colours sooner than others. Not everyone will go grey but their colouring will soften. Some people don’t have bright colouring to start with – they are always more muted.
If you were wearing continue to wear bright, saturated colours of your youth, you will disappear and recede into the background. We will see the clothes versus you.
If your overall colouring is greyed, then the smokier colours work for you, they will enhance your natural colouring and you will actually appear brighter.
If your overall colouring is softer, then the softer colours work for you, they will enhance your natural colouring and we see you rather than the clothes.
We want you to be the star and you to shine
Personal Colour Analysis
Have you noticed that colours you used to wear and love no longer suit you? Which suit you bright clear colours, medium clear or softened colours?
My 7 Steps to Style program members all get a personal colour analysis from me with the 18 groups and from the feedback I read on their forum it’s really obvious to see just how much better they feel in their right colours, plus how it makes building a wardrobe easier (not harder as many fear).
Alternatively, you can get a colour analysis online if you are just after your ideal colour and signatures as well.!
The joys of working with your refined and nuanced palette is that the colours work together really well, as they have the same colour properties, so it makes mixing and matching the items in your wardrobe so much easier (a problem so many people have, though it’s not because they don’t know how to mix and match, it’s because they are trying to mix colours together that just don’t go together – as I wrote about in this post on clashing colours).
Remember, your colouring changes and you need to reassess every 5-10 years.
Interesting post – I’ve always been a bit perplexed by colour consultants who say your season or tonal colours don’t change as you age. Your hair and skin changes colour and different colours start to suit you.
This was really interesting! I have been struggling a little bit with the change in colors as my hair is getting grayer and grayer. I have also noticed a slight change in my complexion as I get older. Some colors that used to work brilliantly just don’t anymore. Thanks for sharing and linking with me!
One of the many joys of ageing is losing pigment and needing softer colours than those of your youth …. but then it makes life less boring as you get to wear different new colours than before!
Thanks for this article. By the way, when you had your dark hair, oh those many moons ago, I was the nag who commented how great I thought you would look with grey hair. Well, you do! So flattering. The picture of your noggin was fun to see today.
Here in Ecuador, black hair rules (attained or maintained courtesy of bottles) so during the pandemic, which rages on. many friends on Zoom cannot access their favorite salons. White roots are appearing regularly, (quite flattering to many) then they go away and then a few weeks later, they show up again and so the cycle continues. Have to smile since the jig is up once everyone knows the true state of things. That doesn’t seem to be the criterium for the choice to color their hair.
My daughter in law dyed her hair a strawberry blond for 40 years and it suited her warm skin. She kept saying, “I’m not ready…” to go grey, that is. But, then she did and it is stunning. It will be snow white in a few years. Like you, she has a young-looking face so it is a pleasant contradiction. Great fun!
As for me, right you are, we sure get paler. I already have the whitest skin within these borders so when I go on Zoom I use darker foundation and a bronzer but still look like a mortician has worked me over before the makeup enters to ready the dearly beloved for the ultimate take-away.
Agree on wearing color as the years move along. Even in these stay-at-home months, everyday I wear full makeup, small-scale jewelry, duds, and fragrance. It keeps me sane and gives me the illusion I am going out. Just now, I fiddled around on Zoom settings and found a way to look better.
I hope you are doing well and staying safe. Keep looking like your beautiful self and accept warm greetings.
what about us silver haired ladies. i did not see us mentioned. i can see how the gray would look better in softer colors but i seem to get a lot more comments when i wear bright ( but med to light) colors. am i way off base. thanks
This is fascinating and makes sense.
The only question I have is one based on logic (and esp concerns your last point of these four):
‘1. Dark and light make each other look brighter
2. Bright and dark make the bright colour look brighter
3. Bright and muted make the muted colour look duller
4. The more similar in brightness, the less bright they both look’
Surely we always want to dress to make our face/hair look brighter? But you explained in the past that the best colours for us are the ones that harmonise with us completely, both in terms of how bright (or muted) and how dark (or light) they are. [plus whether warm or cool]
Let’s disregard age for the purpose of my question here, and take the example of Cate Blanchett or Emilia Fox (both of whom had light and more muted/softer colouring, even when they were very young, say in their twenties) (as far as I can judge)
So 1. 2. 3. are out, as for the perfect outfit, neither should wear dark or bright?
But regarding 4. too, wearing the same level soft colour in their clothes would still make their face look non-bright, as two muted colours don’t produce anything bright?
Thanks, as always
The more similar in colour (on the colour wheel) – they don’t look as bright -so pink and orange next to each other don’t look as bright a combination as pink and blue do (which are further apart on the colour wheel)