Orange is not my color (2/3)

A compilation of 12 illustrations of men and women wearing clothes that match or relate to their coloring. Most of them are taken from the examples appearing in the story.

This is the continuation of an article in three parts. Read part 1 here, which covers value. Part 3 will cover hue.


An intense color can be thought of a color in its purest state, containing the greatest amount of “pigment”. Add black or white to it, and shades and tints are created. These retain a certain amount of intensity but are softer to the eye. Add grey and they become desaturated. These are the least intense of them.

Though humans are rarely born with Crayola-like colors on, we do display a certain range of intensity. The beautiful Humanae project by Angélica Dass is an eye-opener in terms of the wide spectrum of human skintone. If we look at these photographs and put value (how light or dark a color is) and hue (is it cooler, warmer?) to the side for a second, we can notice how some people display more muted tones while others have are more intense cast to them. If we pay attention, our eyes, hair, lips and even cheeks are also vary in their brightness.

Examples of vivid tones on the left and softer ones on the right.
Our features — skin, irises, hair, lips — can be more vivid (left) or more muted (right) depending on the person.

So what do we look better in? The same way we dealt with light-dark contrast in part 1: the secret is in matching that intensity.

Those born with vivid blue eyes, orange hair or rich honey skin tone will harmonise with equally bright colors. Similarly, soft tones will be most flattering for those with grey-green eyes, ash blonde beards or naturally muted skintones.

Four illustrations of people of different saturated features, wearing strong colored clothes.
Bright with bright.
Four illustrations of people of different muted features, wearing muted colored clothes.
Muted with muted.

Of course, if we alter our natural colors and make them louder by dying our hair in The Little Mermaid’s shade of red or using colored lenses — is that even still a thing? — we will consequently be able to handle striking colors on our clothes and accessories.

Two illustrations that exemplify how dying one’s hair in a more vivid tone (bright red and pink) makes it easier to wear brighter tones.
Those who dye their hair in eye-catching colors can wear similarly eye-catching colors. Notice how pastel hair looks great in pastel clothing. Both are tints and as a result pleasantly relate to one another.

One exception: high light-dark contrast people look lovely in bold colors too!

Black hair against light skin. Dark skin against milky teeth. Independently of the color intensity of their features, those of sharp light-dark contrast also look great in colors that pop. Though light-dark contrast and color intensity are two different things, both are highly stimulating for the eye and hence harmonise well together.

Illustration of very dark skinned man wearing bold green and blue stripes on the left. On the right: a pale woman of black hair and brown eyes wearing bright red.

What happens when intensity doesn’t match

Just like light-dark contrast, color intensity is relative. The intensity of an individual color matters less than its difference in intensity with the colors around it. When we maintain a similar vividness all around, colors not only harmonise with each other but are also more stable. When there are differences, shifts start to happen.

A brick color next to a muted warm brown (left). The same color next to a flashy orange-red.
Is the central red-orange vivid or dull? It depends. A greyer tone will make it look more vivid, while a flashier one will make it look more dull. Tip: when looking at a pair, try hiding the other one.

If we have higher intensity naturally (or artificially) and wear muted clothes, our intensity will appear even higher, while our clothes will be harder to remember. That’s something we might want or not — think red hair appearing even redder vs pink skin appearing even pinker.

It is more problematic if we are muted and wear bright colors: we will look even more muted (or sick) and our clothes will steal the show.

That is why it’s usually simpler to embrace the quality of our intensity rather than pushing for the opposite.

Left column: illustrations of a woman of golden flesh and hair wearing a warm grey top. Under it a dark, warm skinned man of rusty orange hair wearing stripes of two dull colors. On the right, a man and a woman of soft tones wearing bright turquoise and yellow and blue stripes respectively.
Intense features combined with muted clothes (left). Muted features with bright clothes (right). The latter is usually more problematic as it can suck the life out of you.

I don’t care, I still want it

You might have low intensity features but vivid colors bring you joy and you cannot imagine a closet without them. Or you might be born with more intense colors but hate drawing attention to yourself with strong colors. A few tips for both scenarios:

Low intensity who want to wear vivid colors

  • Place the bold color away from your face.
  • Wear one vibrant color combined with quieter tones instead of various vibrant hues at once. The higher number of vivid hues you wear, the more stimulating the result and the further the face will draw back.
Illustration of the same woman with ash brown hair and olive skin wearing bright blue and yellow stripes on the left, and hushed brown and yellow on the right.
  • If you wear make-up, wear it in more vivid tones. Adding light-dark contrast to your features can also help compensate for clothing that is overly vivid. Or go crazy and dye your hair in a color that pops.
  • If you wear glasses, use a more saturated frame to bring the attention back to the face.
A grey haired woman with grey frames and flashy orange top on the left. The same illustration on the right, but with bright blue frames.

High intensity who want to wear muted colors

  • Combine muted with intense or consider including a splash of color on top of your muted colors: a bag, a belt, a scarf.
Redhead wearing flashy orange and blue stripes on the left, and desaturated blue with the same orange on the right.
  • Alternatively, if the intensity is very high and/or there is enough light-dark contrast present, wear black and white instead. It remains powerful, yet not colorful.
A bold redhead wearing black and white stripes, next to a dark, warm skinned man wearing the same combination.
  • Or… just go for it. And maybe consider using values and hues that relate to you. Two out of three is still pretty good.




Ruxandra enjoys experimenting with color, beauty and atmosphere, then writing about it. More at

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Ruxandra Duru

Ruxandra Duru

Ruxandra enjoys experimenting with color, beauty and atmosphere, then writing about it. More at

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