color, inner + outer beauty

reader question: makeup + clothing color choices for gray hair

colors for gray and silver hair
Read the series of going gray posts here: Going Gray Articles

Reader Question

There's a real trend towards women of all ages going gray, whether they have never colored their hair or have stopped coloring their hair. But those of us with silver locks can't wear the same colors in makeup or clothing that might have worked when our hair had color, and there's very little guidance for colors that work with gray hair.  I would love to see an article on changing makeup and clothing to bring out the best of our gray!  (I'm a newbie to the gray world, having colored my hair for over 30 years since my hair started to gray at age 18.)

Wardrobe 911 Answers

Welcome to the Silver Sister's club! Having studied color extensively, it's important to remember that everyone has unique coloring (regardless if they are gray!) based on the colors, saturation and values in their hair, skin and eyes. So knowing this, I'll try and keep it simple and provide you with some general guidelines.

Every gray is different. If you look at a gray hair, you'll notice that it has no pigment – it is clear and white. How much gray you have will alter your hair color values and the actual color. For example, if you have naturally warm brown or auburn hair, you could be considered platinum if 80% of your hair is gray, warm gray if 50% of your hair is gray, and auburn with white “highlights” if 10% of your hair is gray. You also will go from being medium-dark valued (auburn) to light valued (platinum) over time. So as more gray grows in, your colors and color temperature will change.

But, it doesn't stop with just hair color! Your skintone and the colors in your eyes also indicate what colors would work best on you.

One of the first things you want to do is build a core wardrobe of easy to mix and match classic pieces based on warm or cool neutrals. How much gray you have and the undertones to your skin and your eye colors determine if you are warm or cool. You can determine this by getting your own Core Wardrobe Palette, hiring me for a private color consultation, or by taking a good look at your hair, skin and eye colors to determine a dominant temperature (take my warm-cool color quiz here). Since gray hair is a cool temperature, the more you have (length of hair and amount of gray), the more dominantly cool you will be. Cool core wardrobes consist of blacks, grays, whites and blues with the values working with your own personal color values. Since even 10% of gray tends to soften even the warmest of palettes, warm neutrals for someone gray would consist of taupes, soft whites, heather grays and olives.

silver hair masterclass Wed Aug 9!
Get Your Own Silver-Cool or Silver-Warm Neutral Swatches


What I have discovered is that once a woman (or man) hits 50% of gray, and if their hair is the dominant attribute, then their core wardrobe will always be dominantly cool. Meaning your basics will be based on cool neutrals with some exceptions of course. With regards to colors, your colors will depend on your personality and color saturation. I really can't generalize here since everyone is so different but above is a chart of various gray hair colors – some with warm undertones (on the top) and some with cool undertones (on the bottom.) Assuming that warm brown eyes and warm skin are dominant above and cool blue eyes and pink skin are below, the sweaters represent the best colors for each color and value with the best neutral in the middle. For example, my skin and eyes are warm but my hair is platinum white so heathered grays, taupes, olives, soft white and persimmon work best. Of course wearing the same gray as your hair color is always a great thing to do!

As our hair naturally lightens, the shadows cast on our face lighten and we can tend towards looking colorless. So it's important to always make up your eyes with soft charcoal or navy eyeliner (or other complementary shades) and dark mascara. Blush and lip colors should be clear and slightly bright like the warm and cool coral lip colors shown in the picture. You never want to do bronzer or clay colors anymore. It's all about berries, corals and pinks. Regardless, if you have warm skin, blue-pinks will never look good on you; stick with the warm corals and pinks.

Hopefully this has been somewhat helpful! Again, nothing beats getting a professional color analysis to determine the right colors, saturations and contrasts for you. And if you do, I would highly recommend you stay away from the seasonal color approach as it doesn't look at your coloring utilizing color theory principles – it simply puts you in a box of pre-made colors, some which can be quite limiting for you.

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  1. 1

    I really appreciated the informative suggestions on make up and clothing choices. Thank you for the very well written answer. Darrlaa

  2. 2

    Thanks for the thoughtful perspective on dressing for those of us who choose to celebrate our own silvery selves! Great article!

  3. 3

    i am still in the covering the gray zone but i have adjusted my wardrobe colors as my hair has lightened to gray. (i am right now red auburn with golden copper highlight quite a change from the dark chestnut hair of my non-gray hair). I have been trying to introduce color into my wardrobe to get away from just gray, white and black colors,so i use variations in the plum colors plus a bit of yellow and orange. I look like i am playing dress up if i use any pinks or corals in lip colors so I stick to blue red or warm plums. Works for me, like you said one must know what works better with you skin tone.

  4. 4

    I’m only 53,but my 2 inches growing in is almost white with a bit of black,I’ve been coloring my hair dark auburn since my middle 20’s which is my natural color.My mother and sweetheart keep telling me to keep dying,even my hairdresser tells me she will go to her coffin with grey hair,as she says “You will look old”..I’m so tired of coloring,my complexion is rosy,lightly freckled, with hazel eyes.I cannot wait for it to grow out,and if I absolutely hate it,I’ll go back to coloring .Thanks for the tips.I look best in those colors even now,perhaps I’ll change my eyeshadow.

    • 5

      I felt the same way. I ended up getting my hair cut Ina short bob,used Ferrio light ash blonde hair color and my hair was blonde. I went to Sally’s and got a toner and now it’s a beautiful platinum color and I love it. My roots are white,and I will never dye again l love it,and get a lot of compliments.

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