Unhappy Medium Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

Makeup of the 80s Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

They really aren’t. I mean, have you thought about it? I have, because I am ridiculous enough that I can call it my “job” to consider such things. And for a long time now, I’ve had issues with medium tones: you know, roses, tawny pinks, etc. (Throw anything frosty or pearl in there, like the lady above, and you’ve really hurt me.)

Anyway, I hadn’t given this much thought other than how it pertained to lipstick shades. But then yesterday’s post featuring Emily Blunt’s “in-between phase” in hair colour inspired an off-blog discussion with my friend Liza, and we came to the conclusion that medium tones are just not cool, on any body part, EVER. (Okay, maybe on the eyelids. Or if you’re a supermodel. But that’s it.)

Now, I realize that the descriptor “medium tones” is a bit vague, so today I’m going to break down exactly what I mean—with helpful imagery!—so that together, we can banish medium tones from our lives forever.


Let’s start with hair. Forgive me for repeating the Emily Blunt pics, but does this not illustrate how dark brown and blonde both look good—but the muddy in-between shade does not?

Emily Blunt medium hair Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flatteringI also feel the same way about Nicole Richie:

Nicole Richie medium hair Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

And even though Mandy Moore is my number one inspirational figure for all things hair-related (well, she and Sienna), even I have to admit that the blah brown doesn’t do much for her.

Mandy Moore medium hair Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

(Okay, I chose a rather unflattering, makeup-less portrait for the medium tone to assist in proving my point… I still love this girl.)

Possibly/probably I am biased against medium hair tones because my own experimentation with them, when I went Ombré, gave me the sads. You can read more about why I ditched that look here. From now on, my hair will only ever be dark brown, or blonde, but nothing in between. Ashy, mousy hair looks great on supermodels, but tends to just wash out us civilians.


Now, obviously we know that the French pedicure is the worst nail crime ever invented (and frankly, a real insult to the French).

But may I suggest that the second worst nail crime is wearing shades like these?

Sally Hansen nail polish 2 Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

Not to pick on Sally Hansen or anything (although I have to say that they do have a frightening selection of medium tones in their otherwise excellent nail products line), but it’s colours like the one above, and this…

Sally Hansen nail polish Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering…that date your look faster than a shaker-knit sweater. Kind of hard to convey on the web since I feel like the hideousness of the colours doesn’t really translate, but I’m talking about medium pinks (“roses”) or berries with a tinge of mauve, or brown, or frost.

So much better to either go with a nude or clear polish, or make a REAL statement and do a bold red, hot pink, coral, blue, etc. My personal favourite right now is this new one (out this month) from OPI called Too Hot Pink to Hold ‘Em:

OPI Nail Lacquer Too Hot Pink to Hold Em Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flatteringIt’s the perfect pinky red—neither too pink nor too red—and therefore goes with everything.


I think the issue with medium tones when it comes to blush is that a lot of them have too much brown. Sure, I warned you all about the browns showing up at the S/S ’10 Chanel show:

chanel spring2010beauty Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

And I DO enjoy them on the models… but upon further consideration, I just I think for real life, it’s safer (and more universally flattering) to stick with the pinks and peaches. I mean, there’s a reason that this is the most talked about blush shade in the history of the world:

nars orgasm Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flatteringAnd nobody wants to look like this lady:

80s blush Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering


And now for the category in which ditching the mediums is most important of all. You know how I’ve been musing about Sofia Vergara’s lipstick lately?

Sofia Vergara 2011 SAG Awards Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

For a while, I couldn’t put my finger on what, exactly, was bothering me—but now I think it just comes down to the fact that it looks like M.A.C Twig circa 1996.

MAC Twig Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

It’s just kind of… there. And personally, if I’m going to the trouble of wearing lipstick? I want it to LOOK like I’m wearing lipstick. I know it was very trendy for a while, before glosses became popular, to wear shades that looked like your natural lip colour “only better.” Twig is in this category, and so is Clinique’s Black Honey.

But now, as you’ve probably gathered, I think it’s much more modern to make a statement with your lips in a bright colour: red, orange, hot pink, even a nude… Honestly, anything goes except for the frickin’ mediums. (BUT: please don’t interpret this to mean that I dislike berry shades. Like I said, berry is the one universally flattering lip colour—it’s not as bold as red, but it still packs a punch.)

Kate Bosworth red lipstick 2010 Time for a sweeping generalization: Medium shades of anything—hair, nail polish, blush, lipstick—are just not flattering

And frosts, pearls, metallics, iridescence or shimmer? As Liza says: “Tools of the devil.”

Do you agree that medium shades are a bad beauty move?
Or do you approve of them for at least a few body parts?

Now that I’ve put all of this out there, I’ll bet they come back into fashion and I’ll have to eat my words. Beauty is fickle that way, because hey—I never in a million years would’ve dreamed I’d be wearing glitter nailpolish after age 12.


Thursday, February 3/2011 at 5:26 pm

Hmmm…interesting! I never thought about this until now. Definitely agree about the blah medium-toned hair colour after seeing those pics, which is very helpful since I was considering lightening up my now-dark brown hair back to medium brown (aka, my natural colour). But why did I go darker? Because medium brown is blah! Thank you for the very important reminder!


Thursday, February 3/2011 at 5:50 pm

I kind of get what you mean about the nail polish medium roses and pinks are for old ladies (no offense).
And I absolutely hate makeup with frost or TOO much sparkle makes me feel like im a little kid using those sparkly childrens makeup play kits.
Im currently on the hunt for a nice matte blush everything i try has sparkle or “shimmer” as they like to call it.
And even with the lipstick thing It makes sense if your going through all the trouble of putting makeup on or even buying it, make sure its at least noticeable (in a good way).
As per hair natural is always best if your unsure medium tones look like you dont know if you wanna go dark or light so you settle for in between.


Thursday, February 3/2011 at 10:09 pm

joe fresh makes really good blushes that don’t have sparkle! (thanks GOODNESS)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 10:52 am

Yes and the Joe Fresh PR is sending me some new cream ones to try, so I’ll let you know how those fare!

I know they’re a splurge, but I loooove YSL cream blush just FYI.


Thursday, February 3/2011 at 6:25 pm

I agree with you for the most part. Lipstick, nails, and blush, 99% agree. But I do often use a L’oreal lisptick called “Blushing Bouquet” which I would say might fall under the medium category, but it’s such a pretty neutral pink that I tend to use it a lot in the daytime.

Hair is where I disagree- for myself. I currently have the darkest hair I have ever had and I find it is really washing me out. My best hair colour for my complexion is my natural dark brown hair with caramel highlights- like Jessica Alba’s hair right now, or the model in the Chloe pic above me with the Ombre. I’ve gone lighter and it does bad things for my skin tone. I’m doing darker right now (like Nicole Richie’s darkest) and it’s not good for me either. I LOVE light blondes and deep burnettes on other people. I honestly feel a touch of jealousy towards girls that can pull off really blonde hair. But I think it’s a mixture of my complexion and features (I have very strong features) that does best with somewhere in the middle.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 10:55 am

Oh I was just being deliberately controversial with the hair thing! I guess my point was more to stay away from those muddy, neither-here-nor-there shades. If your colour is all rich and glossy like Jessica Alba’s then it must be gorgeous!


Thursday, February 3/2011 at 6:31 pm

This was a FUN read.
While i’ve always hated any Frosty cosmetics myself (lipsticks especially), I feel that the rose tone nail colours may be suitable for some girls depends on their “style”. i.e Aritzia girls.
Still, it does remind me too much of colours the original Degrassi girls would wear…


Sunday, February 6/2011 at 4:09 am

Not to be too rude – but Artizia “style” is just as blah as rose toned nailpolish… it’s great for basics but that’s about it


Thursday, February 10/2011 at 11:24 pm

My point exactly :)


Friday, February 4/2011 at 3:19 am

Its so general I think you are mostly right. Especially when it comes to hair color.
But I think you are more right about it being about the brown. Brown just doesnt work in makeup, unless you are super dark, and it needs some to look natural, on anyone even slightly whitish, ewww. No one blushes brown, why are there brown toned blush? brown toned lipstick? That whole you only better I think it true, lipstick that is brighter and darker than peoples natural skin tone still seems the nicest to me, done right it makes people look healthy. Sophia clearly hasnt gotten it right, her best would be a darker bright berry. there is like too much brown and pink and its sorta ashy. theres a difference between enhanced natural and “medium” ick


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 10:56 am

YES! Brown is mainly the problem. (And yet, somehow it looks good on that Chanel model… hmmm…)


Cathy from ChickAdvisor
Friday, February 4/2011 at 11:24 am

I absolutely agree with the hair and the nails. Particularly those awkward rosy shades that my mom fell in love with 20ish years ago and refuses to take a break from – very unflattering! But I do like me the occasional medium-tone lipstick for daytime. I’m not always in the mood for something bold but might still want a little colour to my lips.


Friday, February 4/2011 at 1:26 pm

Girl, you are BANG ON. I complain about this look all the time, calling it early ’90s or 90210-Melrose Place (the originals). It’s brick lipstick, muddy blush, wan mousy hair (my natural color and the one that I sported ON FILM (*cringes*) for a corporate beauty project last year. Took one look at those videos and dyed my hair flaming red). It’s true that the only time these tones work is is in ‘fashion’ and on girls who are rocking the heroin-chic (a term I detest) or hobo aesthetic.

Don’t get me started on sparkles.

And I just might save that amazing 1980s picture and use it as my Facebook Profile. It’s too good to pass up!



Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 10:58 am

I too have mousy hair and every few years try to convince myself that I should just embrace it and be more natural. Without fail I only ever last a few months before I run screaming back to the colourist. I think only 17 year old models can truly do ashy natural colours.

Did Shannon Tweed ever respond to our Tweets? I love that we got an ID on the pic!


Friday, February 4/2011 at 7:15 pm

I actually dislike the blonde on all those girls. I really don’t think it’s flattering on Emily Blunt. I suppose Nicole Richie sports it best but I still prefer darker browns on her. I think the problem with Sofia’s lipstick is not just color but type, frost should never happen in any makeup or nail polish. I know it’s a generalization but I do think mediums are good, but perhaps we have to be more careful about which medium shades we use.


Saturday, February 5/2011 at 10:53 am

Oh dear, I fear I am like the mom who fell in love with those rose/mauve shades 20 years ago. I remember them well because they were pretty. I feel like they actually are flattering as long you choose the right tone, ie blue or yellow undertone. Chanel Rose Confidentiel nail polishy is one of my fave colours, and my Spidey Sense has been telling me that all these soft tones would be back in style. I have actually, brace yourself, been looking for a soft frosted shell pink nail polish like the one I wore in the 80s. Because it is pretty.

So I am the mom from 20 years ago AND an Aritzia “woman” (can’t call myself a girl lol) who just loves soft muted colours. We can keep them a little more interesting with shades of “greige” like Chanel Particuliere and Lippmann Waking Up In Vegas nail polishes. I am not, nor will I ever be, a bold colour woman- not in make up or clothes. I will dabble in bold tones on my toe nails, but that’s it ;)

That 80s photograph made me LOL! Not a look I ever rocked thankfully!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 11:01 am

You know what, I bet you are right – frost will probably come back in style at some point soon! And I’m ok with that as long as it’s on the nails only. Cannot do it on the lips.

Anyway I have a theory: I think there is a difference between soft and muted vs. muddy and dull and it’s the amount of brown in the shade.


Sunday, February 6/2011 at 2:29 am

I have had a long standing dislike with the colors you’ve just mentioned – especially the lipsticks and nail polish. Whenever I see people wearing this shade I’ve always thought it looked so boring and unflattering (just kind of “meh”)…but then again, maybe it’s just that person wearing the wrong type of color for their individual coloring. Who knows, but I have yet to meet someone who rocks this color palette.

A lot of the colors you showed look like they have been grayed or muddied down. They kind of remind me of the band-aids my Grandmother used to have in her medicine cupboard. They look like the cast shadow of what the color could be. Because they look shadowy they tend not to do anything for the feature that the person is trying to enhance. I like truer, more richer colors, but you’re right – maybe we’ll be eating our words in a few years when fashion does a 180. This means I’m destined to be hopelessly out of fashion one day because I refuse to wear these horrible shades.

I enjoyed this read! :) You took the words right out of my mouth once again.


Beauty Reductionista
Monday, February 7/2011 at 9:35 pm

This post is brilliant. I always tended to agree with it but didn’t actually verbalize it. All this time I thought I was a crazy extremist for swinging from super pale to ultra dark. Nuh-uh! You’ve vindicated my beauty preferences!

One slight nitpick: I don’t think Emily Blunt looks good with light hair. It might be a symptom of living in California now that she’s married to John Krasinki.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 11:02 am

Yeah, I definitely prefer Emily with dark brown hair.


Monday, February 7/2011 at 10:00 pm

After I read this blog post I really was like what can she be talking about, then I started looking at my beauty stash and just people gazing…You are 100% right. Medium tones especially on makeup is a killer. I definitely always knew this with blush yet I keep getting them I don’t know why…LOL

Love your blog by the way. Yes you have at least 1 fan here in Buffalo, NY! Ive read your blog everyday for the past 2 years.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 11:03 am

Aw thank you Anita! You made my day. Haven’t been to Buffalo in years but used to go there all the time as a kid for my bro’s hockey tournaments! #goodtimes


Monday, February 7/2011 at 10:12 pm

Totally agree with everything! This is especially true for gals with medium skin tones like myself. Just over the weekend, I was noticing the handiwork of a friend who had on medium shades of shadow in a green/blue combo (scary!), with medium twiggy-coloured lips and tawny blush. Besides the unimpressive eyeshadow combo, I noticed that nothing popped out in a good way – no highlights, contours and contrasts to compliment her skin tone, it actually made her skin colour look dull and ashy. But she seemed very proud of her newly acquired makeup skills, so I left it at that!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 11:04 am

OMG frightening! I’ve got a friend like that too – once she insisted on doing my makeup and told me “you should always wear browns.” I was like WTF, I look so dull – but what could I say.


Tuesday, February 8/2011 at 3:17 pm

I agree with you whole heartedly, Michelle.

Medium tone hair colour is so blah … which is why I dye over mine a lot :) A rich dark/chocolate brown is so much better than a mousy one. I’m pretty fair skinned and I’m able to go pretty dark without the contrast looking funny. I DO have to say though that Emily Blunt looks WAY better as a brunette. She doesn’t look horrible as a blonde, but the brown suits her much better.

Nails … I’m just now getting back into doing my nails (thanks to your blog, Michelle!) so I don’t have much to offer in this category. But …. I dove into the world of Joe Fresh cosmetics this weekend … and I’m in love. Adoration aside, one of my FAVE purchases was their nail polish in Berry from the Classic Collection. I don’t know if it’s a medium tone or not, but it does look yummy enough to eat! The other semi- blasé shade I grabbed was Stone from the Fall Collection. I hope I didn’t make poor choices!!!

Pinks and peaches are definitely the way to go when it comes to blush. But I do find it a struggle to find the right shade. Thankfully my choices are not nearly as horrendous as the one in the 80’s shot – wow, that’s bad even for the 80s!

Mid-tone lip prodz … save it for gloss. This newly converted lipstick lover would have to agree that there’s no point in applying a lipstick unless you’re making a statement. And frosted lip shades should be banned!! I’m DESPERATELY trying to get my 60+ mother away from them – they age her SO much, and make her thin lips even thinner.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, February 9/2011 at 11:08 am

Joe Fresh is so great, no? I don’t love the brushes in their polishes but the colours are amazing. Storm is a really nice griege that I think suits all skin tones.

Good point about the mid-tones being suitable for gloss – I think you’re right about that!

And yes, we need to work on your mom… I am very bossy about telling mine what makeup to wear! :-)


Tuesday, February 8/2011 at 7:39 pm

I agree with a lot of this – especially re: Twig. Brown on the lips just doesn’t seem quite right. I think a lot of this depends on your complexion, too. My ultra fair skin needs some colour to brighten it up.

But, I can’t quite figure out where some looks fall within the ‘medium shades’ rule. In particular, nude lips and taupey nais…even neutrals in general.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, February 11/2011 at 4:29 pm

Oh I love nude lips, and taupes are great for nails – it’s more the blah, dusty, tawny pinks with lots of brown in them (and ESPECIALLY when they’re frosted) that drive me nuts! :-)


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 1:01 pm

Hmmm… I think the brown is the key. I have seen brown tone makeup look great a few times, usually with women with bronze or deeper brown skin tones, but for the most part it tends to look dirty. & Drain the life out of faces.

I favour midtones for day wear, but I think the key is contrast. I’m reeeeeeally pale (& like it like that), so a midtone rose on my really pale lips does provide a decent contrast without demanding attention, which I’m not always in the mood for. Same for browns on the eyes. But I do kick it up with retro cats-eye winged eyeliner, so it doesn’t bland out.

I do think the whole griege nail thing is just hideous. It is a nail shade most often found on the dead, with poor circulation. I try & try to appreciate it, but I don’t get it!


Sunday, July 17/2011 at 10:39 pm

I don’t think I could disagree with you more! The celebrities chosen for the hair: I think ALL of them look better in the middle tones (ESPECIALLY Nicole)… Nails- nothing bothers me more than ridiculous color nails. Hot pink is not a color that goes on fingernails (maybe toenails… not opposed to that)… and lip colors- Bright red for special occasions… but for 99% of the time I think it’s better to have a bit of chapstick. There are VERY few people I see who really can pull off more than “medium” colors. Too dark/too light/too bright/too warm/too cold is hard to make look good off of a fashion show (in which case the aim is more art than the pretty or professional that I’d rather in my everyday look.)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 7:49 pm

I think you’re misunderstanding me when it comes to the makeup – I’m all for the minimalist look, it’s just the *heavier*, somewhat brownish/tawny shades that I think are unflattering. Natural makeup is always great – obviously!


Tuesday, January 1/2013 at 10:25 am

I recently discovered your blog and I know this is an old post – 2 years practically! – but truth does not go out of style! I 100 percent agree and figured this out a while ago for myself. It is why I go super bright or pale, but middling tones of anything on my face, nails look drab and washed out. Happy New Year and totally enjoying your blog!


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