How to use color value to create balanced outfits?

Last week I met two clients who tended to compose dull oufits even though they were sometimes using bright colors. Had they been cursed by some sort of fashion hater sorcerer?

One showed me how she paired her bright red shirt with her dark grey jeans because she felt it wasn’t working and had no clue why… at first that sounded like a good idea indeed. I was enthousiastic about the mix and … when she tried it, it look blend. After observing, I realised the value (or brightness) of the grey and of the red where exactly the same. Which means that, if I had taken a black and white pic of my client, it would have looked as she was dressed in the same shade of grey all over. Plus, both the shirt and jeans were very smooth. No texture whatsoever, so they were reflecting the light exactly in the same manner.

To break the curse, I took my magic wand (a black belt actually) and passed it through the hoops of the jean. Tadaaa! Outfit looked great.

Below is an illustration of a more common case of dullness induced by same value colored outfit (it is very uncommon an outfit containing bright red looks dull).

On the left, nothing stands out, the girl walks unoticed into the room despite her sexy shiny stiletto boots. She is pissed. Then she remembers she owns also a pair of brighter jeans, changes and tadaaa! Here she is, as stylish as an instagramer! Now everyone can see the yummy chocolatey brown, the rock attitude of the heels and the vintage looking belt.  

Conclusion: to create balanced outfit when using different colors, take a black and white mental pic of your outfit and make sure it contains shades of grey.

Here are way you could use this trick.

I/ High value difference

Black and white is a forever successful classic for a reason.

And strong value difference color mix always are a success (as long as you respect the shade matching of course).

Chocolate and banana

Ballerina pink and rocker black

Vanessa Jackman captured a night blue black tie outfit. 

II/ Low value difference

Using a low value difference enables to create subtle color harmonies.

Beware though, the frontier between subtle and boring is thin.

So if the value difference is not strong enough or if the colors are same value, you shall better add some variety in textures and shine to create interest.

A/ Use shine and textures

How pretty is this Ralph Lauren outfit? Remove the textures of both tweed and jersey and it gets dull as hell (whether hell actually would be a dull place is another topic to be argued) 

B/ Make the difference between the shades noticeable enough

By using subtle yet noticeable value differences you get very nice results with pale and soft colors.

As well as with dark shades.

Throwing white into the pale outfits and black into the dark ones is always a nice idea to create value difference.

III/ Punctuation of different value

If you wear equivalent or subtly different value colors on your outfit, it could be interesting to add what I call a punctuation of a different value.

For me a punctuation is a bit of color that stands in between two different colors in order to make them stand out. This color has to be a noticeably different value from the two it stands in between.

It is an especially useful trick when the two aforementioned colors are very similar value.

1/ Dark punctuation

Usually dark punctuation is added by a belt.

You remember the black belt magic trick I told you in the introduction? This was a punctuation.

The color doesn’t have to be black, it just has to be noticeably darker than the two shades it stands in between.

So a beige belt is an option in between a super pale blue shirt and white pants.

To see what I am talking about, pictures are better than words.


Don’t you think that the outfit on the left is kind of dull whilst on the one on the right, colors and textures, seem to stand out better.

2/ Fair punctuation

The fair ponctuation is most times added by sliding a pale shirt or T-shirt (please look at the guy in the link) as an underlayer. Usually it would be white, but it can be any fair color really.

Now the illustration.


A dark green jumper with dark blue jeans and black boots…  is kind of meh despite the variety in textures. Throw a white shirt underneath, make the hem show and voilà!
And you mesdames? Do you use this trick? How? Did you realize you did so? 
Cover collage: My instagram, follow me! <3
25 Responses to “How to use color value to create balanced outfits?”
  1. Je découvre votre site et j’apprécie la qualité de l’article.
    super la combo jaune et choco, ça fait très harmonieux. Egalement le look proposé par Kate Moss qui associe la couleurs de ses escarpins à son haut. En tout cas à retenir.

    à bientôt,
    creatrice de chaussures

  2. Marji says:

    Merci pour cet article pointu!
    Du coup si je porte un haut et un bas de même valeur, est-ce qu’une ceinture dorée peut servir de ponctuation?

  3. Isabelle says:

    Je découvre votre site, merci pour votre très bon article !

    Toutefois j’aurais une question pour les femmes petites : comment maîtriser l’art du contraste de lumière sans couper la courte silhouette ?
    En effet les tenues monochromes allongent ma silhouette mais elles sont également fades…

    • Aloïs Guinut says:

      Si vous jouez sur du monochrome utilisez différentes textures et ajoutez des touches de couleurs dans les accessoires. Des bijoux, un foulard, un sac, etc.
      Par exemple, vous pourriez porter un jean brut bleu foncé avec une chemise en lin bleu marine, une ceinture noire en cuir avec une boucle argentée et une paire de bottines à petit talon noires avec une texture (faux serpent, verni, etc) et ensuite ajouter une jolie paire de boucles d’oreilles or ou de couleurs et une touche de vernis à ongles rouge.

  4. Clémentine says:

    Merci, super article vraiment utile, c’est le type d’article que j’adore ! Je me rends compte que cela correspond à quelque chose que je pratique intuitivement, même si j’ai souvent du mal avec les contrastes de luminosité trop forts, et ma pratique “subtile” et sans doute insuffisante. Mais notamment, alors même que je privilégie surtout les teintes sombres, je comprends mieux pourquoi je n’apprécie en général mes tenues qu’avec des jeans sombres légèrement délavés… je ne supporte pas les teintes unies, précisément parce qu’avec mes hauts sombres, l’ensemble manque de luminosité. Et je comprends pourquoi l’association, qui me paraissait parfaite du point de vue des couleurs, de mon magnifique gilet en cashemire couleur “cherry” avec un haut bleu marine, ne fonctionnait pas, alors que mon haut gris un peu délavé fonctionnait finalement mieux.. Merci !

  5. Mary&Mungo says:

    I would probably wear your ‘Meh’ outfit with the brown jumper and darker jeans because I am petite and any strong break in colour makes me look shorter. Outfits with similar colours head to toe elongate me. Similarly, I cannot wear a belt as these also cut me in half. So am I right in thinking that to add texture would make the outfit less boring?

    • Susie says:

      I love this article! Very timely as I am thinking how to make an outfit work with grey trousers and burgundy top that are the same value. I guess for us petite girls adding the value difference at either end, maybe shoes or scarf would work better than breaking up the outfit in the middle.

  6. Rachel says:

    This is genuis! Thank you so much for this blog, it’s really helped me to understand how to dress better!

  7. Anne says:

    Révélation! 🙂
    N’en doute pas, tu es une vulgarisatrice très douée, merci!

  8. Angie says:

    Hi! I like your artistic abilities, but I do not look my best in high contrast outfits because my hair, eyes and skin are not high contrast. They are low to medium contrast and my coloring is neutral, so that’s the color balance I need in my clothing in order to look best. I am really inspired, though, by your tip to inject texture into monochromatic themes. So, thank you so much for your articles. I love your blog! — Angie,

    • Aloïs Guinut says:

      Dear Angie, I am happy you love the blog 🙂 I speak about both low constrast and high constrast value. Nevertheless, I think you can do quite high contrast between top and bottom. What probably does not suit you indeed is high contrast with your skin next to the face.

  9. Maria says:

    Merci!! Je viens de comprendre mon point faible. Un excellent travail de vulgarisation 🙂

  10. léontine says:

    c’est du grand art, cet article ! Tant de subtilité me réjouit. Il me semble que je pratique déjà la ”ponctuation claire” intuitivement mais je savoure le fait de lire ces principes décortiqués noir sur blanc.

  11. Lisa says:

    You are downright brilliant.


  12. Veronique says:

    Voilà un article très technique! Je l’ai lu trois fois! Mais je comprends mieux pourquoi j’avais envie d’un jean clair depuis longtemps. J’en ai un depuis une semaine et je trouve qu’il me fait de jolies tenues. Sinon, je pratique la « ponctuation claire » avec une chemise blanche sous mes pulls. Je vais essayer d’autres astuces. Merci pour cet article de vulgarisation réussi !

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