Colour can be a cruel mistress. Most of us know that we could stand to win a few style points by giving hues outside our comfort zone a go, but — like finding the right haircut for your face shape — selecting 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 fundamental rules when it comes to knowing the tones 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. 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

Find yourself constantly looking for somewhere to shade from summer sun? More freckles than a speckled goose egg? Or, at the very least have red, blonde or light brown hair? Chances are you’re the proud owner of a milky pallor.

Colours To Wear

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.

“I’d recommend basing your outfit around darker colours, which you can combine with lighter colours,” says Selfridges personal shopper and stylist Daniel Rhone.

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, in the wrong lighting at least, you could be mistaken for a cadaver, you’ll want to avoid soft, pastel shades or bright colours as these will only wash you out further. The same goes for neutrals too; so rather than white, light beige or stone, choose richer shades such as sand, camel, khaki and slate grey.

“This doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself through colour. It just means you have to mix light colours with dark ones,” adds Rhone.

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.

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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 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.

“I’d recommend a lighter colour palette, with white being the obvious choice to accentuate your skin tone,” says Rhone. It’s good news, then, that the stark shade is no longer limited to linen. Outside of the sunny season, try a pair of white jeans with a dark jacket for a standout look.

Colours To Avoid

Since your skin will likely have yellow or green undertones, it’s wise to 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. Hues you should probably give the heave-ho 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.

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Darker Skin

Much like those with medium skin, when it comes to finding colours that suit you, guys with darker skin have won the genetic lottery and can try their hand at pretty much any hue 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 colour that will hold the look together,” advises Rhone.

In practice, that means not spinning the colour wheel like a mad decorator who just spent half an hour huffing chemicals in a paint shop, but choosing a single pop of colour or two that complement rather than compete with each other.

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.

“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.”

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