What Are Universal Colors and Do They Really Suit Everyone?

Silhouette of a woman in a dress standing on a lake looking out at the universe during a colorful sunset

By definition, universal colors are colors that can be worn equally well by anyone. However, that may not necessarily hold water for every individual.

Despite the definition of universal colors, it only stands to reason that some colors look better on certain individuals than others. This is largely because each person has a certain amount of brightness, warmness or coolness in their complexion to begin with.

By choosing colors that compliment those features, you can bring them out more in order to look your best. However, certain colors can also mute those features. It’s true that this can happen even with universal colors.

Which Colors Are Considered Universal?

One of the more interesting things to note is that colors considered to be universal have a tendency to vary somewhat, depending on where you’re looking for the information.

Generally speaking, universal colors are red, green, teal and red-violet. Some people simplify this a little further and replace red-violet with purple. On the other side of the coin, you might run across some sources that expand on these initial colors to include additional ones like stone and periwinkle. Let’s take a look at the colors that are generally considered universal.


Woman in an elegant red-violet evening dress posing outdoors

Red-violet doesn’t exactly roll easily off the tongue, does it? That’s one reason why so many people simply refer to it as purple. In its purest sense, it’s not really purple, but it can look so much like the color that it’s quite difficult to tell the difference between the two. This is especially true in cases where red-violet is deeper and more intense than the lighter colors. By the way, those lighter colors have a tendency to look more like lavender than anything else.

Is this a color that everyone can wear and look good doing it? Purple is similar to blue in this sense. A lot of people do look very good in it, especially if they have a bright complexion. By the same token, people who have a lighter complexion are capable of wearing this color, just as those who are more tan. The only time it really doesn’t look as good is on individuals who have very dark skin or have dark circles around the eyes.


Group of young people in teal colored clothes smiling having fun walking together outdoors in the street

Teal is one of those colors that looks incredibly beautiful in small amounts, yet can be a bit overwhelming when there is too much of it. Teal is a mixture of green and blue. It has the capacity to bring out someone’s eyes or allow their skin tone to look its absolute best. However, it also has the capacity to make a person look washed out, tired or even ill.

This is especially true if the color is not in accordance with that particular individual’s skin tone. In other words, teal can be used effectively but if you’re going to do so, choose a shade that is either warm enough or cool enough to compliment your skin tone as opposed to detracting from it.


Fashion shot of woman in green dress posing in vintage interior setting

Some people think that everybody can wear green. To some degree, this is true. The question is, what exact color of green is being used and how light or dark is that color to begin with? Again, it’s imperative to choose a green color that compliments your skin tone and even goes well with the color of your hair. Some colors of green are extremely flattering and others are sort of like nails on a chalkboard. It will depend a great deal on your individual complexion.

What looks good on you and what doesn’t? If your complexion is naturally cool, choose a green color that is closer to the cool end of the spectrum so that it compliments your skin tone. Do the same thing if you have a warmer skin tone. That way, you’re ensuring that the color you choose brings out your best features.


Smiling woman with ginger hair wearing a red coat

Red is often considered to be the color of love, passion and desire. It is one of the few colors that virtually anyone can wear effectively. People who have a lighter skin tone and lighter hair tend to look just as good in red as individuals with dark hair and a darker skin tone to match.

Of course, there are a lot of different intensities of red that you can choose from. If you feel like one color leaves you looking a little washed out, opt to go with something warmer or brighter. By the same token, it’s okay to dial things back a little bit if you feel like your initial color choice is a bit too intense.

What About Colors That Are Neutral?

There is such a thing as universal neutral colors. Colors like soft white, marine navy and taupe are considered to be in this group. It’s important to note that all of these colors are actually mixtures of other colors.

Soft White

Asian woman in soft white sweater

Soft white is white with a little yellow mixed in. The idea is to make it less harsh but in reality, some people look better with the bolder, solid white as opposed to toning it down a little.

In fact, anyone who has a relatively light-colored complexion and hasn’t seen much sun recently may look completely washed out with this color.

Marine Navy

Woman in marine navy blue dress walking in field holding hat and bouquet

Just like soft white, marine navy is also a mixture of two different colors. Navy blue is a color that is frequently used for uniforms and similar clothing needs. It can also be found in the closets of many individuals because it has a tendency to work well in a variety of situations. Marine navy is essentially navy blue with a bit of marine blue mixed in. This makes it a little less dark than pure navy blue. Think of the way the sea looks at one of its deepest points. That will give you a good idea of what marine navy actually looks like.

This is a color that most people can pull off but it may not work especially well for people who have darker complexions, as the darker colors involved here can make dark circles and other types of blemishes stand out.


Brunette female model dressed in strapless taupe brown gray formal dress posing in studio

Taupe seems to be one of those colors that confuses people more than anything. In fact, there is a lot of debate over exactly which color taupe is. Some people think of it as a type of brown color. Others consider it to be more gray in nature. In truth, both camps are sort of right. Taupe is brown mixed with gray. If that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, it might help to try and visualize what it would look like. In some cases, taupe can look like a slate or stone color and in other cases, it’s much deeper with a lot of darker gray involved.

It depends on how light or dark that particular color is, but it is typically considered to be something that looks good on most people. Perhaps the best thing about it is that its warmness or coolness can be tweaked by either making a color lighter or darker in order to fit a particular individual’s skin tone. It’s also possible to brighten up the color a great deal. Therefore, you might choose to go with a darker, more intense version of taupe if the lighter color doesn’t work well for you.

A Few Colors With a Great Deal of Variation

Wardrobe full of all shades of red clothes, shoes and accessories

When you first look at the universal colors, you’re probably going to be surprised how few colors there really are. Even when universal neutrals are added, there are still fewer than 10 colors involved. However, you do still have choices available to you. In fact, there are plenty of options to choose from.

As previously mentioned, all of these colors come in varying intensities. Choose red, for example. You can decide to choose something that is very intense and bright or go with a deeper red that is far more subdued. On the other side of the spectrum, you might decide to go with something that is lighter in color, almost pink in nature. By the same token, you can choose warmer or cooler versions of red.

By the time it’s all said and done, you might have dozens of different colors to choose from. The same is true with every one of these universal colors. As a result, you have the opportunity to use them to your advantage in order to spice up your wardrobe a bit without overdoing it. It also makes it less likely that you’ll get bored by choosing the same color day after day.

How Do You Really Know What Looks Good on You?

Woman asking for friends help choosing dress color

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have a personal stylist that can help you decide what color combinations look best on you and which ones should be avoided. However, not everyone has a personal stylist. Also, some people are just naturally better at choosing clothing that flatters them than others.

If you’ve never really been shown how to choose color combinations that flatter your complexion, you may feel like you don’t know where to turn. If that’s the case, it’s okay. There are different things that you can do to help sort out what looks good on you and what you should leave behind.

How to Decide

One of the best things you can do is find a photograph of yourself wearing a turtleneck or something similar.

Why does it need to be a turtleneck? For starters, turtlenecks aren’t always the most flattering thing that a person can wear, strictly based on their design alone. That isn’t to say that all turtlenecks are bad, but some of them leave a lot to be desired. Therefore, you’re truly testing the quality of the color alone as opposed to being swayed by the design of the clothing.

The real reason that this works so well is because you have the material very close to your face. That means that it’s often easier to tell if that color works for you or if it makes you look like you haven’t slept in a week.

Technology Makes Deciding on Colors Easier

Female tourist taking selfie photo with phone at famous three blue domes church in Santorini Greece

If turtlenecks can help you determine whether or not a color looks good on you, does that mean that you’re supposed to buy a turtleneck in every one of these colors and then try them all on? Of course not. That would not be cost-effective, nor would it do much for your wardrobe. Instead, you can use technology to see what you would look like in different colors.

It works like this: You can take a single photograph of yourself and then use a photo editor app to change the color of the shirt you’re wearing in the photo. This gives you an idea of what you would look like in red versus teal or taupe versus marine navy. It’s sort of like those apps that allow you to try on different hairstyles without actually going to the salon and getting that particular hairstyle. The only difference is that in this case, you’re simply changing the color of your turtleneck virtually, in order to decide which colors you should consider for your newest clothing.

If you find something that you really love and you know you look good in, stick with it. It’s okay to buy a number of different color variations of that particular color and incorporate them into your wardrobe. On the other hand, it’s also okay to decide that a particular color doesn’t make you look your best and stop including it as part of your wardrobe. Everybody has certain colors that really flatter them and others that tend to make them look tired or washed out. As a result, there’s no reason to be distressed when you find out that certain colors don’t work for you. Simply make a mental note of it and then move on to something that is better suited to you.