The Best Hues for Summertime Pale Skin

The June 2014 issue of InStyle magazine fields a reader’s question:  “I’m pale, and I don’t like to self-tan. How can I still show a bit of skin in the summer?”

At first blush (pardon the pun), the question would seem to call for a discussion of sunscreen, hats and protective clothing. Rather than focus on protecting and celebrating the beauty of very fair skin, the magazine takes a different tack in its published response:

“If you’re feeling self-conscious, skip the mini and go for a midi-length skirt or dress. Take a cue from Michelle Dockery’s bold plaid sheath, and look for a style in warm shades of red, yellow, or orange. Those colors radiate a glow that will nicely complement your fair complexion.”

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Putting aside the point that midi-length skirts are about covering up, not about showing skin, as the reader wants to do, the response is incomplete and seems particularly misguided in advising the reader on what colors to wear.

There are two issues here. If the reader has cool-toned skin (with pink or blue undertones), warm shades of red, yellow or orange can make her look off-color and pale in a rather sickly way. But even if the reader has warm-toned fair skin (with yellow or peach undertones), the colors recommended by InStyle may be too vibrant.

If yellow gold jewelry, particularly high-karat 22kt or 18kt yellow gold, looks harsh against your skin and you find you prefer silver, white gold or platinum, you almost certainly have cool-toned skin. If your skin is pale, your best version of red is likely to be a medium or soft cool pink or coral color. Coral has both pink and orange in the mix and may also be an attractive option.

Beyond hue, consider the intensity of the color. If your hair is light brown, blonde or grey, there is probably not a high level of contrast in your personal coloring between your skin color and your hair color. Choosing tone-on-tone shades of white, ivory, beige, taupe or khaki may be a stunningly attractive choice for you.

Michelle Dockery’s coloring is high-contrast. She can wear the bright plaid because the viewer will not lose sight of the woman wearing the vibrant hues. Her dark hair and eyes contrasting with her light skin provide the framework for the intense color. Note too that she wears bright lipstick and noticeable blush on her cheeks to allow her to carry off wearing the intensely warm hues.

When it comes to choosing colors, find your best hues and learn why they work best for you. In choosing your best summer color, orange may not be your next black.