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A Man's Guide to Color (Part 1)

Updated on September 13, 2018

Color and Men's Style

Color. This is something that many men fear. We are afraid if we move beyond the blacks, browns and blues we will no longer look masculine. Other men simple give color no thought at all when choosing what to wear. Many men have fallen into the habit of wearing the same colors or simple trying to imitate what other men are wearing without considering which colors that will work best for them. Then when they try to coordinate their clothes they miss the mark. It does not matter how much you paid, how well they fit, if they look good on your favorite celebrity or how much you like your clothing if they do not compliment your natural tones. Sadly, many men fail to take this into consideration.

What is Color?

Color is a phenomenon of light. When we see a color we are see the spectrum of light that is being reflected. All other colors in the range of the light spectrum are being absorbed by the object. So, a red apple is not red itself but rather the surface of the apple is reflecting the color red and our eyes perceive it. So much for science. Let’s get back to our purpose.

Primary Colors

Let’s start with the basics. I mean really basic. There are three primary colors: Red, Yellow and Blue. Simply, right?

Secondary Colors

All other colors are merely a combination of the three primary colors.

You can see by the overlapping section in the picture above, that when we mix two primary colors we get a different color. These colors are called secondary colors. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow and the secondary are violet (or purple), orange and green.

Yellow + Red = Orange

Red + Blue = Violet

Yellow + Blue = Green

What happens when you mix all three of the primary colors together? You get a grayish brownish color, which you can see in the center of the picture above.

But there are more colors in the world than these three primary and secondary colors. Technically, when we vary the amounts of a primary colors we get lighter or darker colors in the same family group. We call these colors tertiary (meaning “third”).

One of the easiest ways to think about this is to consider mixing paints. If we have the primary colors of blue and yellow and we mix equal parts then we will get green. But if we add more blue than yellow the color will be a “blue-green.” If we added more yellow than blue we would get a “yellow-green.”

Next time you are at the local hardware store or big-box home improvement store, stop by the paint section. Here you will see virtually infinite possibilities of colors.

Black and White

As far as physics is concerned, black and white are not colors because they do not have specific wavelengths. Black is the absence of visible light while white is the presence of visible light and contains all the wavelengths that make up the color spectrum. No more science, I promise.


We refer to colors as being lighter or darker. Hue refers to the color itself while saturation refers to the purity or intensity of that color. We could also use the term “value” to describe if a color is lighter or darker.

Warm and Cool

Now that we have some idea of what color is let us start the process of determining your skin tone. Women refer to this as their “season.” For now, let’s just consider two ends of a color spectrum. There is a cool side and a warm side.

Looking at the bar color chart below we see red on the far left and violet on the far right. The opposite of red is blue but we have to consider that when we combine blue and red we get violet. So it is actually better to view this as a color wheel.

Hair, Eyes and Skin

This test is straightforward and simple. Look at the veins in your arms. For some men the veins in their forearms are easy to see. If you cannot see the veins in your forearm try looking near your wrist or elbow. What color are your veins? Do your veins look more blue or more green in color? If they look more bluish then you have cool undertones. If they look more green then you have warm undertones. If for some reason you are not sure have someone else look for you. Remember, we are not concerned with your skin color but with the undertone of your skin. If you are still unsure you can try a few more tests.

Jewelry Test

Do you look better with gold or silver jewelry next to your skin? This is not about which you prefer but rather which looks better on you. Again this has nothing to do with your skin color. Hold a piece of silver jewelry and then a piece of gold jewelry next to your skin. Which one looks better? If you are not sure you can always get someone else’s opinion.

Generally speaking, people with cooler undertones look better in silver and people with warmer undertones look better in gold.

Let me give you one more skin test. When you are in the sun does your skin turn more brown or more pink? Do not let your skin color confuse you. People with darker skin are still affected by the sun. If you tend to burn and turn pink then you are closer to the warm end of the spectrum. Conversely, if you tend to “tan” and turn brown or darker without burning easily you are on the cooler end of the spectrum. Both skin tones will burn but the cooler skin tones burn and then tan while the warmer will only burn.

Hair and Eyes

This is actually very simple. Look at your eyes. Are they blue, grey or green? Is your hair blond or brown? Then generally you are leaning to the cool side of the spectrum. On the other hand if you have brown, amber or hazel eyes with red, brown, strawberry blond or black hair them you are leaning to the warm side.

So let us put all this together.

Find Your Skin Tone

1) Veins test: Are they blue or green?

Blue = cool Green= warm

2) Jewelry test: Do you look better with gold or silver?

Silver= cool Gold= warm

3) Sun test:

Do you burn or turn pink? Then choose warm.

Do you tend to tan? Then choose cool.

4) Eye Test:

Blue, grey or green= cool

Brown, amber or hazel eyes= warm

5) Hair test:

Blond or brown=cool

Red, brown, strawberry blond, or black hair = warm

Compare the number of times you chose cool or warm. This will give you an idea of where you fall on the spectrum. Even if you have a mix of cool and warm you will fall closer to one side of the spectrum or the other.

Now What?

Now that you know whether you are warm or cool you should choose clothing that compliments your tone. Please notice I am not talking about your skin color. We are more concerned with undertones. If you have warm undertones then you should choose clothing that have warm tones. If you have cool undertones then you should choose clothing that is in the cool spectrum.

Part 2: Muted or Bright Tones?


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