Finding the Right Neutrals – Warm & Cool

Why do some neutrals look better on us than others?  The likely reason is that the ‘undertone’ of these neutrals is in harmony with that of our skintone.    Like our skintone, colours have an undertone as well.

In describing undertones, we use the words ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ to describe the ‘feel’ we get from them.

In this colour wheel, we roughly divide warm and cool colours this way:

In general, if a colour has more ‘yellow’, it’s considered ‘WARM’, if it has more blue, black or white, it’s ‘COOL’.

Left: Cool Neutrals (colour combo)
Right: Warm Neutrals (colour combo)


How do we know if a colour is WARM or COOL?

Truth is:  determining a single colour’s undertone is  DIFFICULT.  The best way to do so is by COMPARISON.

If Colour A has no yellow in it, while Colour B has, then Colour A is COOL

So, the presence of yellow / a greater amount of yellow makes a colour ‘warm’ or ‘warmer’ than another.

A greater amount of blue, black or white in a colour makes it ‘cooler’ than another.

The colour on the right has the most yellow, therefore it is the ‘warmest’ among the 3 colours.

Even blues can be warm.
Left: Coolest colour, Right: Warmest (has the most yellow)


If your skin tone is warm, then the colours that are in harmony with you are warm as well.

If you find that a colour just doesn’t seem ‘right’ on you, it’s likely that that colour has the opposite undertone.  A person who has a warm undertone will find that colours with yellow in them look more  HARMONIOUS with their skin tone.

The following pictures are used the illustrate how colours of a different undertone look out of place – they stick out like a sore thumb, drawing attention to themselves.

Original Colour Scheme (done by Nippon iColour Visualiser)
Warm Neutrals



The colour of the decorative partition has been changed. Notice how it doesn’t jive with the rest of the colours in the combination. The original on the left looks a lot better. This colour is too ‘cool’ for the whole colour combination.


The same partition has been ‘repainted’ – this colour is better than the earlier one, but it’s still not the best.


Finally, this colour fits best into the general colour scheme. It attracts the right amount of attention without being strangely out of place.

The same principle applies in choosing neutrals for your outfits.

To find the best neutrals for you:

  1. find out your skin undertone
  2. select different colours and put them against your face, ask yourself, does the colour look ‘weird’ on me?  If the colour shouts for attention in a negative way, then it isn’t the right colour for you.





Colour Combinations and Fashion Illustrations

For an explanation of what the following colour combinations mean, do take a look at this POST first.

Credit:  All fashion illustrations below are used with permission from the artistic team from Aleph Tav Art, click HERE for more of their illustrations.

Monochromatic Colour Combination

One colour, many shades.

This colour combination is classic, classy and elegant, however, without some additional colours to add interest, it could be ‘boring’ at times.  To spice things up, add some colour in small proportions.


Except for the belt and the yellow undershirt, the rest of the outfit is shades of one colour


Analogous Colour Combination

Colours adjacent to each other in the colour wheel


Complementary Colour Combination

Colours opposite each other in the colour wheel



This outfit is predominantly complimentary in blue and yellow. However, if you were to consider the red shoes, this will become ‘triadic’ instead.


Split Complementary Colour Combination

2 adjacent colours + 1 opposite colour



Triadic Colour Combination

3 colours equal distance away from one another.

With this particular combination, colours often (and probably) vary in proportion to make the combination more appealing, usually one colour takes dominance.




Tetradic Colour Combination

4 colours – usually 2 pairs of adjacent colour combinations (forming a rectangle) or they are 4 colours equal distance from one another (forming a square)

Usually one or two colours are dominant, while the other two work as accent colours for accessories.


You’d probably notice that the artists have not adhered strictly to the colour combinations the way we’ve named them….and that’s the beauty of it, names are GUIDES, but they need not dictate everything we do.  If something looks good and harmonious to your eye, try it out and see what others say.

I have noticed that the people who often wear many colours tend to be more outgoing.  Many of them also grew up used to seeing colours in all sorts of combinations around them.  My colour trainer told me that people who have complementary colour tones in themselves (red hair and green eyes) tend to wear lots of colour and are not afraid of being seen with them. Is that true?

For a fact, I know that I’m a conservative as far as colours concerned, but I’m learning.  I’m monochromatic – dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and medium skin tone, as such, I’ve always favoured a monochromatic colour combination with my neutrals.

What colour combinations are you inclined to use?

Colours – ‘Lunch Plate’ Colour Palette

Update: 7 April 2011 – please scroll down to the end of the post.



My good friend’s photograph of this local noodle staple inspired me.

So, I got round to Colour Lovers and put together a palette using the colours in it.  I wanted to work with these colours and come up with some outfit combinations. But, it was much harder than I thought……

'Lunch Plate'

Not carefully ‘managed’, these colours can make you and me look like a Christmas tree.  I wanted to use all these colours in an outfit all together (talking about being ambitious), but found the whole look too contrived – passable at a fancy dress event, and clownish at other times.

What makes the colour palette tricky to wear is the presence of such bold complementary colours.  Green and red are complementary colours, meaning they are opposite each other in the colour wheel.  Such a combination is hard to pull off if they take up close to 1-1 ratio in your outfit.

To make the combination more palatable, I decided to use beige and maroon as the ‘neutrals‘ for the main outfit, leaving the other colours – the greens and orange-red – for accessories.

When using complementary colours in your accessories, ensure that they do not compete with each other for attention.  Their purpose is to add points of interest.  In the picture below, the red bag and belt are bright (creating interest) while the earrings are dark-green (taking a backseat).  The rest of the colours in the outfit remain fairly muted so that the red bag and belt receive the attention.

Have the picture on your screen in front of you.  Close your eyes and open them again.  What colour(s) jump at you?  I believe most of you see the orange-red of the bag first.  It gives the whole outfit ‘life’.  Without it, the outfit lacks ooomph.

The next time you think about your outfit, try injecting some interest using complementary colours.  But remember to stay away from the 1-1 colour-block ratio and avoid too many focal points of interest at one time.  Do the blink test if in doubt.


The pictures below are some Polyvores I did using the Lunch Plate colour palette.  Want to try out for yourself?  Sign up at and design your own outfit combinations. It’s free.

Green & Red accessories can be very stylish.


Update: 7 April 2011

I was over at The Sartorialist when the picture of the day shows the colours of the Lunch Plate colour palette.

The Sartorialist is a great site showcasing fashion from great fashion capitals like NY, Paris, London and Milan. Head over there by clicking on the picture below to see more.