Colour can be a cruel mistress. Most of us know that we could stand to win some serious style points by giving colours outside our comfort zone a go, but finding hues that work with your complexion is often easier said than done – with such a kaleidoscopic spectrum of shades on offer, it’s no mean feat sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Now, some of you are bound to disagree, saying it’s not exactly rocket science, but simply a matter of trying something on and sizing it up in a changing room mirror before you buy. And to an extent, you’re right. But if you want to shave some time off your shopping rounds or buy more confidently online, then it’s worth acquainting yourself with a few key rules when it comes to knowing the colours that are sure to complement you.

First step? Delete the bookmarks you made for those online quizzes based on supposedly sophisticated algorithms. And scrap those guides that think they’re doing you a favour by labelling you with a season (seriously, WTF?). These might be fine for a little light entertainment but knowing your skin is ‘winter’ isn’t all that useful when it comes to taking action.

Secondly, take a look at your forearm. In order to best judge which colours should form the core of your wardrobe, you’ll need to determine whether your skin is pale, medium/olive, or dark. Once that’s out of the way, read on for a blow-by-blow guide to finding the colours that work for you.

Fair/Pale Skin

Red, blonde or light brown hair? Freckled? Find yourself constantly looking for somewhere to shade from summer sun?

If you’ve got pale skin and light features, then hues that clearly contrast with your skin tone will – quite literally – bring some colour to your complexion.

Colours To Wear

Darker colours like grey, brown, burgundy, bottle green, navy and bolder shades of blue will all work well as these shades contrast with your skin tone.

Colours To Avoid

Given that, depending on lighting, you (or, at least, this author) could be mistaken for a cadaver, you’ll want to avoid an abundance of soft, pastel shades or bright colours as they’ll only wash you out. This goes for neutrals too; rather than white, light beige and stone, choose richer shades such as sand, camel, khaki and slate grey.

Red, though not best suited to the ruddier, rosy-cheeked pale person, can work for more alabaster pale skin tones when worn in bold shades like crimson.

“I’d recommend basing your outfit around darker colours like navy, brown and black, which you can combine with lighter colours,” says Daniel Rhone, personal shopper at Topman. “This doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself through colour. It just means you have to mix light colours with dark ones.”

Lookbook Inspiration

Colours That Match or Complement Fair/Pale Skin Men - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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Olive/Medium Skin

If you’ve got olive-toned skin that tends to tan rather than toast in the sun, then you have what’s known as a ‘warm’ complexion which suits a much wider spectrum of colours than those with fair skin or ‘cool’ complexions.

Colours To Wear

While most colours will work perfectly fine with a medium skin tone, you can ensure you look your best by opting for shades that are either a little brighter or darker than the middle ground.

What does that mean exactly? Choose pale beige rather than warm sand if you’re opting for light neutrals or try a bolder shade of purple (such as magenta) rather than mauve, for example.

For a summer-ready look, try going all-white or mixing light neutrals. “I’d recommend a lighter colour palette for your summer outfits,” says Rhone. “With white being the obvious choice, try some subtle tonal dressing with a white linen shirt and a stone pair of chinos, which will accentuate your skin tone.”

Colours To Avoid

Since your skin will likely have yellow or green undertones, you should avoid wearing shades of these colours that are too close to your skin tone.

What you’re trying to avoid here is ending up looking nude – i.e. having your skin blend in with your clothing. Shades you should probably give a miss include pistachio, mustard, olive and mocha brown.

For trickier looks like all-white or pastels-on-pastels, make sure you’re tanned enough (closer to black rather than green olive, if you will) to carry it off without looking washed out.

Lookbook Inspiration

Colours That Match or Complement Olive/Medium Skin Men - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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Darker Skin

Much like those with medium skin, guys with darker skin can try their hand at pretty much any colour without much need for trepidation.

Colours To Wear

The world, gentlemen, truly is your oyster. The colour of your skin is perfectly positioned to marry well with the vast majority of hues and shades, as it doesn’t run the risk of being washed out like comparatively pale skin tones. With that said, there are a couple of caveats.

“Having a licence to wear bold, bright colours like jade green or cobalt blue is great but be mindful of adding balance to your outfit with a containing colour, which will hold the look together,” advises Rhone.

Colours To Avoid

Brown is pretty much a no-go. Much like how pastel shades wash out paler skin tones, brown won’t contrast clearly enough with your skin, resulting in your look ‘bleeding’ into your skin.

While black and navy are two key colours in any man’s wardrobe (making up the majority of formal and corporate wear), it’s worth keeping these to a minimum to really make the most of your especially versatile skin tone.

Lookbook Inspiration

Colours That Match or Complement Dark/Black Skin Men - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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Final Word

Aside from the basics above, taking note of the colours you’re wearing when someone pays you a compliment on how you’re looking or what you’re wearing can make for a useful gauge of which colours show you in your best light.

“Personally, I don’t subscribe to a colour chart that dictates how you should dress based on your skin tone,” says Rhone. “Style is, and always has been, about self-expression and I always advise my clients that if there is a colour you like, go and wear it with confidence! That said, it’s worth being mindful of colours that work together.”

Which colours form the core of your wardrobe? Any advice to share on dressing stylishly to suit your skin tone?

Drop a comment below.