Know Your Palette

When I was a younger man, still an undergraduate and still naively optimistic about my future, I used to believe, in that customary fashion of youth, that I was capable of anything and undoubtedly suited to everything. On a brief shopping trip to a Polo Ralph Lauren factory store for ‘essentials’ – crew neck and v-neck sweaters – I grabbed a white crew neck jumper, which my other male companion had also selected for trial, and after pulling it carelessly over my head, marched triumphantly from the changing rooms to be appraised by the third companion, a female.

She looked at us and winced in that peculiar way; a warning indication of the discomfort and awkwardness they were about to cause. My companion, she pointed out, was tanned and toned and the brilliant white looked magnificent next to his skin. I was rather pale and slight and, when compared to the sun-kissed specimen standing next to me, looked, as she put it rather indelicately, rather horrible indeed.

As degrading and puzzling it was to a young man who was stubborn in his resistance to defeat, I had to admit on reflection that she was exactly right. It is a glorious folly of youth to believe that we can do anything; limitations are forgotten, mistakes are made, albeit in the most honourable and admirable way. I eventually selected a navy blue jumper which, both of my companions agreed, suited me well. Although, I was still disappointed.

‘Know your palette’ has since been a mantra of mine when gazing upon the racks of the rainbow in countless stores. It is perhaps unfortunate for many people that some of the colours we adore are the most inappropriate and impractical. Like the doomed lovers; hearts aflame for one another, passionate and even devoted – but tragically unsuitable as partners. Such is my relationship with pastel greens, orange and purple: glorious colours that deserve to be worn, but not by me.

1. The Pale Caucasian

If you are, like me, a Caucasian of light brown or blonde hair, light skinned and perhaps a little freckly with green or blue eyes, then you might already be aware that some colours are not as appealing on you as others. Summertime might give way to a little tanned skin and generously highlighted hair, but generally speaking I find that strong ‘fruit’ colours; orange, banana, kiwi and the like, tend to overpower the subtlety of our features. In moderation white looks acceptable but when I use too much of it, my skin looks blotchy; it’s quite incredible how much redder a slight shaving rash can look wearing such quantities of this colour. The best tones to stick with are navy and mid blue, black, dark and moss greens and deep red. Ferrari reds do look delicious on the shelf, but when I see a ‘dark haired olive skinned lothario’ casually considering such a tone, I begin to realise my limitations.

2. The Dark Haired Olive Skinned Lothario

You are a fortunate chap. The appealing depth and patina to your skin tone, coupled with the shock crop of dark hair means you possess the striking qualities to compete with even the hardiest of difficult colours. Violets, purples, bright reds, tangerine yellow…it seems no bright colours can affect your image negatively. Having said that, certain shades don’t do as much for your overall image; weak navy blues flatter the Pale Caucasian and the Exotic tone, but against the dark chic of your visage they are rather something and nothing. Secondly, think ‘saturated’ when choosing unconventional colours such as pink – the just-about-pinks can drag your ensemble down from a fabulous to a mediocre.

3. The Exotic

If you have rich dark skin, you are also very fortunate. There are few colours that pose a challenge to the luxuriant tones of your face. However, it is wise to choose colours like white, bright blue, greys and red over browns, blacks and navy as the contrast is magnificent and much more appealing than wearing colours of the same palette as your skin tone. The fact that you are most likely to possess dark eyes means you can experiment wildly in terms of colour; watermelon, imperial purple and the like are all at your disposal.