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Pick Shirt Colors That Match You, Even If You Have No Eye For Matching

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Pick Shirt Colors That Match You

What you are about to read is your salvation. It is freedom from the tyranny that is choice paralysis. It is independence from relying on your significant other’s recommendations just to perform the simple act of getting dressed. It is the one true word. It is how to pick a shirt.

This is not how to buy a dress shirt, we’ve discussed that at length already and gave you the keys to that kingdom already. This is how to choose the right color shirts for you.

Now, understand something, this is a fishing lesson. As in, give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. If you are seeking a fish handout, you are in the wrong place. If you just want to skip to the answers, there are no right answers. Anybody who has never seen you (as we haven’t) and tries to tell you that they have the answers and know what shirts go with you are either arrogant enough to believe they know what’s best for you or a bold-faced liar. In other words, they’re either full of themselves or full of shit. Either way, don’t trust it. Accept no fish, take this fishing lesson, and learn to feed yourself.

If the problem has gotten bad enough that you’ve turned to the interwebs for advice on what shirt to wear, then we’re pretty sure you will be a better man for reading this. Because you will never need to check another website for advice on what shirt to wear again.

Like we said, this is your salvation. Who are we to presume to offer you the keys to the kingdom? What special knowledge can we impart? How do we know the magical secrets? Easy. It’s not magic. And it’s no secret. You will see nothing here you haven’t seen a thousand times before in every other men’s style publication, a shit ton of well-dressed men. The difference is we’ll explain how they got so well-dressed and why they look so good in their shirts.

Enough about us. You’re the focus of this article. You’re the Luke Skywalker, we’re just the Obi Wans in this piece. So here’s your lightsaber. It’s time to begin the training. This is where things get interactive…

Shirt Matching Step #1:

Take a second to look at yourself in a mirror. What color are you? Not like, what ethnicity you are, but what color is your skin. Take a look at this spectrum below and choose the color that most matches your face and note the number below. Don’t worry if it’s not exact. This is more science than art, but there is still some wiggle room.

Shirt-Matching-Step-1-3

Shirt Matching Step #2:

Now look at your hair color and find it on the spectrum below. As with your skin tone, you don’t have to find an exact match, just the closest color to your hair.

If you’ve got a mix of gray and colored hair, choose the number that matches the color of the majority of your hair. If you’re bald, choose the color that closest matches your scalp.

Shirt Matching Step #3

Finally, note any other colors on your face. What color are your eyes? How about your lips? Do you have a mustache or a beard that adds color to your face? How about freckles? Hell, even rosy cheeks count? Whatever colors you see are fair game. This is an important step. As you continue through this article, you won’t use it right away, but the information you gather at this stage will prove valuable later on, so hold this thought for a while and keep going.

Building Your Shirt Collection

Imagine looking at a set of shirts and not being completely overwhelmed by choices. You now have enough information to build a collection of shirts with the confidence that the colors and patterns will look good on you.

Alright, so you’re probably tired of looking at yourself in the mirror now, unless you’re a narcissist. Let’s start putting this information to use.

At this point you’ve got all you need to handle the basics of matching shirts to you. You can confidently choose solid colored shirts that will work for you. Here’s how.

Shirt Color Matching

As we’ve said in these pages before, a man can build a dress shirt collection on just two colors: white and blue. That still holds up. White can work for everyone. Why? Because it isn’t a color after all. It’s the lack of color that makes it so easy to pair. White doesn’t clash with anybody’s coloring and it’s always acceptable, whether you’re going for a super formal look or a laid back casual feel.

Colored shirts are a different story. We like blue because it complements a wide range of faces. Blue is a big family of colors from pale blue to midnight blue and everything in between. Other colors can work and we’ll get to how to incorporate them later, but none look as good on men in such a large array of shades as blue.

In fact, understanding which shades are right for you may be the most important part of choosing a shirt. To do this well, take a look at the numbers you noted above.

Understanding Your Numbers

If your skin and hair numbers were both low, you’re on the lighter side of the spectrum. That means you should be careful with dark colored shirts and heavily saturated shirt colors. So a light blue dress shirt will work for you, but a dark navy shirt might make a jarringly stark contrast that only makes you look paler.

Skin tone: 2. Hair Color: 3.

On the flip side, if your numbers are both high and you’re darker with little contrast, a darker shirt color can work for you. More saturated colors are also a safer bet.

Understand-Your-Numbers-2-4

Featured here (L to R): Red Oxford Cloth Custom Shirt & Black Broadcloth Custom Dress Shirt by Black Lapel.

Following these guidelines, you can start to choose shirt colors that work naturally for you and take the guesswork out of looking at a range of hues and shades. Knowing what works for you, you can pick from the shades that cast you in the best light.

What To Do If Your Numbers Are Far Apart

So far we’ve kept it simple with solid colored shirts and guys with lower contrast. But here’s where things get interesting. Lots of people have a bigger gap between their skin tone and their hair color. If your numbers are more than three apart on our spectrums, then you have a medium to high contrast look.

Why does this matter? Because the human eye is good at  picking up contrast. That’s why, when we want to express how something is clear, we say that that matter is “black and white”. We crave black and white. We have evolved to be sorters so that we can cope with all of the stimuli coming at us that we need to process. When things are less clear, the “gray area”, our brains have to work extra hard to understand the world around us. We don’t like doing extra work.

All of this gives those with higher contrast an advantage when getting dressed. You naturally cut down on the amount of work someone has to do to see how great you look.

You also cut down on the amount of agonizing you have to do over color choices. If your skin tone is a 4 and your hair color is a 9, you can wear much more of the color spectrum because you cover a lot of the spectrum. A shirt color that might create dissonance on a low contrast guy, creates visual harmony when combined with your strong contrast.


 A Note About Contrast and Skin Tone

All contrast is not the same. The darker your skin the more built-in contrast you have. A guy like our Skin Tone: 9 example above, may have dark hair, but his skin contrasts with the whites of his eyes and teeth. So darker skinned guys have built in contrast that lighter skinned guys don’t.


When there’s a significant difference between your skin tone and hair color numbers you not only have high contrast, your clothes can have more contrast too (it’s no accident that we chose a contrast collar to show in the looks above).

So you should feel free to explore the wonderful world of shirt patterns. Start here.

Choosing Shirt Colors for Patterned Shirts:

Patterns are made of contrasts. So, they work well when paired with high contrast guys. Here’s a high contrast guy with a high contrast patterned shirt:

Choosing-Shirt-Colors-For-Patterned-Shirts-1

Featured Here: Navy Gingham Broadcloth Custom Dress Shirt by Black Lapel.

Of course, lower contrast guys can wear patterned shirts too. Just adjust the amount of contrast to match yourself. Here’s a low contrast guy in a lower contrast patterned shirt.

Got blue eyes? When you’re choosing a shirt pattern, consider your contrast first and you won’t go wrong.

Adding Colors With Patterns

Remember when you first looked in the mirror and we asked you to note the other colors on your face? We said we’d come back to that and now we’ve arrived at that all important section. Let’s say you noted that your lips have a distinctly reddish-purple tone that adds character to your face, like the guy featured here. Bring out that distinguishing feature by echoing the color with your shirt pattern and you get a killer look, like this:

Adding-Colors-With-Patterns

This little trick works especially well on patterned shirts, but you can use the same technique to choose colors of solid shirts, like this pink shirt which brings out this gent’s natural ruddy complexion.

Pink Twill Weave Custom Dress Shirt by Black Lapel

This style tip even works for other items besides shirts. Take a look at the best dressed men you know and you’ll probably find that they create this kind of color harmony, intentionally or not, when they choose clothes.

Where To Go From Here?

So now you should be able to pick that ultimate collection of dress shirts. You’ll have no more time wasted trying different shirts. No more worrying about your shirts matching. You’ll be able to choose with confidence. Ready to build that collection right now? If so, we’re ready for you.

Shop Black Lapel Shirts

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19 thoughts on “Pick Shirt Colors That Match You, Even If You Have No Eye For Matching”

  1. Shorter question – do you have an “approach” to putting an “outfit” together?

    In what order do you go?
    blazer, shirt, pants tie?
    blazer, pants, shirt, tie?
    shirt, tie, blazer, pants?

    Is there a “best” thing to start with? Or do you say, “I want to wear a plaid shirt today” and then match everything with that choice?

    I’m going to an office party held at someone’s home – I want to wear a blazer, but not any specific one – is picking the shirt first more common or helpful than picking the blazer first, or it doesn’t really matter?

    Thanks

    1. Some of the stylists and editors here at Black Lapel build around a central garment and that works for them. They’re usually the ones who tend to have one strong element in their outfits like, say, a boldly colored tie. Some of us start with the shoes and build around them. It’s really a personal preference.

      Since the above advice is about contrast, one way you can put that to use when building an outfit is to pick a shirt and jacket that has the same amount of contrast as you do and build from there. So if you’re a high contrast guy, you would start with a white shirt and a dark jacket to match the intensity of your contrast and go from there.

      It all comes down to experimenting, though. Taking the time to lay out some outfit combinations, before it’s 8:00 am and you’re rushing out the door to work, will pay off when it’s time to get dressed. You can’t know how something looks on you until you know how it looks on you, so make some combinations on the hanger or laying flat, then try on your favorites and take a look in the mirror. Do this a couple of times and you’ll start to develop an order that works for you.

  2. I’m not asking for a fish – I need input on fishing.

    First, I’m a “normal-toned” caucasian – a 3.5 (light-ish skin but not noticeably very white or pale, washed out white (I am darker than the very fair model above but not swarthy). My hair is dark brown – an 8.

    As I understand the article, the larger variance in my numbers suggests I should select clothes that give more of a contrast (within my own style parameters and what I like). Thus, I would benefit from a high contrast patterned shirt, like the navy gingham broadcloth above.

    However, what exactly contrasts? Does this mean I should look at a color wheel and look for contrasting colors (because on my own, I really don’t know which colors “contrast”) – so a blue shirt with orange-ish tie (like with the long-beared model above), violet shirt with a green-yellow tie, or an aqua-marine shirt with a red-orange tie? I know there are no rules and you won’t tell me what color to wear – but when you say “contrast,” are colors something that contrast? I get the “solid/pattern” contrasts of shirts and ties and choosing a solid or pattern with a color that picks up a color in the contrasting pattern or solid. I also get that you can match patterns of a shirt and tie if the tie pattern is “bigger” than the shirt pattern and varies from the shirt pattern – wearing a small check or plaid shirt and a tie with “larger” diagonal stripes (to avoid the optical illusion of the tie and shirt being so close in pattern that a person can’t tell which is which).

    However, I’m confused about part 3 – prominent face color – my prominent face color is the brown of my hair – I have big, dark, deep brown eyes (the only thing I receive compliments on), dark eyebrows, and I never shave, so I wear dark brown stubble until it gets too long, then chop it off with electric clippers. Thus, there are 3 dark brown aspects to my face.

    Now, what do I do with this knowledge? Should I wear colors the opposite of “brown” to create contrast, or should I wear complementary colors to harmonize with my “brown” face? I have a number of blue dress shirts, from light blue to a darker “cornbread” blue. I’m guessing light blue is OK with my “brown” face color, but then what about the color(s) of the tie – is it better to have a navy blue/red stripe tie (if red is a contrast color to brown) or a navy blue/taupe-walnut stripe tie (with the taupe-walnut echoing to my “brown” face) or is tie color independent of face color? In the example above, you said the model’s lips had a distinctly reddish-purple tone, so the shirt was a light reddish purple to echo his lips, and the pale model had some pink/red in his cheeks, so he would look good in a pink shirt.

    OK, so my color is “dark” brown – if purple red lips get a shirt with purplish red, should I be wearing shirts with a brownish aspect?

    Seriously, I don’t understand how knowing my predominant face color informs my color choices.

    Then, is there a relationship between pattern contrast and my face color? Instead of a strongly contrasting navy check shirt, should I wear a saturated brown check shirt to echo my face? So, I know my face color is brown, how does that dictate what colors I should choose in my jacket, shirt, tie and pocket square.

    It seems like a tenet of style is making sure each (or two out three) piece of clothing echoes or picks up a color of the other garment(s). So, if you wear a charcoal blazer, you could wear a solid blue shirt with a patterned tie that contains some blue aspect in order to echo the solid blue shirt. Right, generally? Or if you want contrast, you could wear a tie that has some aspect of orange to “fight” with the blue, right? With all of this, where does my face color come in??? How does my brown face have anything to do with charcoal blazer, blue shirt and blue/green tie?

    Again, I’m not asking you to tell me what colors to wear – I’m asking where I should cast my line.

    1. Wow Drew, Kudos to you for going in-depth on this advice. Sounds like, though, you might have gone so deep and you got a bit lost in it all. Not to worry, we’ll sort it out…

      First, let’s clarify the contrast thing. Think of contrast like you think of adjusting the contrast on your computer monitor or phone screen. Change the contrast and red stays red, blue still stays blue, etc. The contrast we’re talking about is between light and dark tones. The contrast is not your skin tone number or your hair color number. Your contrast is the difference between those two numbers. When it comes to contrast, the individual numbers themselves are pretty much meaningless. You can be a 1 in skin tone and a 5 in hair color or you could be a 5 in skin tone and a 10 in hair color. In both cases, your amount of contrast is the same and that’s what matters when choosing clothes. Either you want the same amount of contrast in your shirt (which you could achieve through a pattern), or your shirt should provide that amount of contrast with something else you’re wearing, like your jacket or your tie.

      The notion of contrasting colors seems to have tripped you up again when you got to the distinguishing features of your face. We do not recommend you look for contrasting colors or you’ll end up with outfits that look like professional sports jerseys (think Lakers’ purple and yellow). Instead, bring out your distinguishing features by echoing the color in your outfit. If you’ve got dark brown accents on your face, that can be tricky. Not many shirts feature dark brown, but you will find tans and beiges in some shirt patterns. If your distinguishing features are all dark brown, you’re not unlike the editor of this site who has dark brown eyes and dark brown freckles. You can always do what he does and include dark brown in his ties and pocket squares.

      Hopefully, this additional information helps. The thing to remember is that style is an art, not a science. In fact, fussing over the details of trying to get your clothes to be “perfectly” matched, as if there were some objective definition of perfect, will have you pulling you pulling your hair out. You still want to look at the big picture when you look in the mirror, the above tools are just here to help you understand what the parts are that go into making the whole of a great outfit so you can adjust and season to taste.

  3. Thanks for the article. Very useful.

    On a related but separate note, should one tuck the shirt in the jean at the bars or night clubs or leave it hanging ?
    I often see both styles, wonder if one makes you look better/smarter/sharper over other ?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hey there! We’re glad you liked it. As for your question, it depends on what vibe you’re trying to give off. Happy hour drinks after work? Tuck it in and roll up those sleeves like this. When you’re at the club it’s a different game. If you’re killing it on the dance floor, your shirt is bound to come untucked. If you’re more of a chill-on-the-sidelines kinda guy, you won’t face that problem. From a high level standpoint a tucked in shirt is going to look smarter, but wear either one with confidence and you’ll look great.

  4. Sanjib Roy says:

    My skin is 5 n hair is 9. Kindly suggest my shirt color n blazer color.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      That’s like saying, “I like three-pointers and fast breaks, please tell me which NBA team to root for.” It doesn’t work that way, Sanjib. At some point, you’ve got to let your taste decide. As we said above a guy with a good amount of contrast “can wear much more of the color spectrum because you cover a lot of the spectrum.”

      Remember, this is style, not a math quiz. There are no “right” answers. If you’re a high contrast guy, you’ll do fine with high contrast outfits like a white shirt and a dark colored jacket. That dark color can be blue, gray, brown, maroon, olive, really anything you want. Don’t overthink it. The time for theory is over. Now’s the time to get in front of a mirror and start trying stuff on.

  5. Jenise Jubyna says:

    I really enjoyed your blog! I am a really keen fisher so this posts are really interesting to me and my mates. Thx.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Excellent! Glad we could help.

  6. Hey.

    advice for a #2 skin tone #10 hair tone indian diamond faced shape guy
    more on the taller and slightly overweight scale.
    i wear specs black in color.

    need advice for clothing on a not so casual, yet formal event like a college teacher last meeting u know.
    i have been shy all year and want this day to be memorable
    help me find a look to attract woman and look like a 21 something guy.

    1. We think a blazer is a good candidate for this situation. And if that blazer is custom-made to fit you, you’ll look that much better and more attractive. If you feel good about the way your clothes fit, your confidence will be boosted and that should make this day more memorable.

      1. Hey….but i am asked to lose a BLAZER…..
        its supposed to be just a shirt and tie event.

        also i dont have a moustache and stuff…but little here and there (hair on my face)
        advice on should i go clean shaved(coz that makes me look like a new born) or go with patchy hair(which is awkward)

        1. Kind of a broad topic, Max. As we mentioned in your other comment, this whole publication is full of practical advice on how to look your best, so we suggest you follow the advice above, keep reading the style section for ideas and subscribe so you don’t miss a beat.

          Remember, the advice is here but ultimately you have to act on it. We’re not here to dress you, but to help you dress yourself.

  7. I believed its still depend on the type of body either.

    1. Your body type doesn’t really make much difference when it comes to choosing colors, Tram. Obviously, if you’re trying to, say, conceal a large pot belly you may not go with a bright orange shirt that might call attention to your midsection. But, as you can see above, we don’t recommend wearing loud colored shirts for anybody, regardless of body type. Body type is more important when considering fit, but that’s a different article.

  8. My skin tone is somewhat 3 on the scale and my hair is about 6. I have a powdered blue shirt and I’m planning on getting a powdered yellow shirt as well. I’m also thinking of getting a linen cream or lighter beige shirt for my future charcoal brown suit only. What do you think?

    1. We’ll refer to our answer to your previous comment, Gilbert, we can’t get behind a yellow shirt recommendation.

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