A key element of creating flattering looks, related to color, is contrast. When we wear colors that reflect both our personal coloring and our contrast level we create a pleasing harmony between ourself and our clothes.
First it helps to understand more about color value, one of the attributes of color (identified by Albert Munsell). The value of a color is how light or dark the color is (see the color value scale below).
Color Values -- how dark or light a color is
Contrast is the difference between 2 colors, on a sliding scale from high, to low.
Examples of Contrast Levels
A high contrast is when there's a big difference between 2 colors. For example, a dark and a light color create a high contrast. It creates a dramatic effect. It can be seen as intimidating, because it looks strong.
A medium contrast is when there is an obvious difference between 2 colors, but the effect is calmer to look at than a high contrast. For example, a dark color and a medium color; or a medium color and a light color; or a medium-dark color and a medium-light color. A medium contrast level is seen as most appropriate for work and business occasions.
A low contrast is when it's difficult to make out the difference between 2 colors (as in the example in the picture above, on the right). For example, 2 dark colors; or 2 medium colors or 2 light colors. It can create a refined, elegant look. However, it can also may a person feel, and look, less visible.
There are 2 aspects of contrast to consider:
Examples of Personal Contrast Levels
Examples of Contrast Levels in Clothing
Examples of Contrast Levels in Clothing Patterns
Examples of Contrast Levels Between a Medium Contrast Level Woman & Various Contrast Levels
Your most flattering outfits will be those that echo your own personal contrast level.
In particular create your contrast level between your skin and what you're wearing near your face.
However, if your own contrast is low, to increase your visibility, especially in a work situation, you may need to create a medium-low contrast level.
Examples of Wearing Patterns With Mixed Contrast Levels
Patterns -- if a pattern contains 3 or more color values that create a mix of contrast levels, not just high and low, it can be easier for people with low or medium contrasts to successfully wear.
Do you see how in the examples above all of these outfits with patterns work better than the high or low contrast outfits in other examples above?
Create a contrast or add texture in your portrait area -- this is another way to correct a contrast level that's too high or too low. A lipstick in one of your best brighter shades may be enough to correct the balance. Or try a necklace near your neckline that creates a different contrast, or adds texture to soften a high contrast, or create interest for a low contrast.
Find your personal contrast level, as follows:
Download the scale, then print it and compare the scale to your skin, hair and eyes to work out each of your color values. The difference between your highest and lowest values is your contrast level.