Milk white is pretty much the standard white, says Leatrice Eiseman, author of “More Alive With Color,” but there are dozens of other shades. Milk white likely stands out because it’s a bright white.
“The purer the color, the more the human eye sees it like a brilliant color. The attention-getting value of a very bright white is enormous,” she says.
But pure, bright white isn’t always the best choice.
In fashion, bright white usually looks best on very fair skin or very dark skin, says Eiseman. “On dark skin, it’s a great contrast, and on very fair skin, off-white will look strange. But you have to think of the texture of the fabric. With sheer white or semi-sheer, the color of the skin becomes the undertone of the white.”
Also be careful where you wear the white. It can be “enlarging” – which might be why it’s so popular in home decorating, but it’s an optical illusion you need to be prepared for if you’re wearing head-to-toe white.
Off-whites, however, work more like a neutral color.
“If you want to use white because it “goes with everything,’ you might want an off-white,” says Eiseman. “You’re likely to be more comfortable – and it’s more versatile.”
Since pure whites have blue undertones, they don’t necessarily work with warmer colors, such as peach, yellow or gold. A creamy white tends to have a yellowish undertone, and an off-white – yes, there is a difference – can have a pink or peachy tone, or even have a slight green or lavender cast, according to Eiseman.
Bright white looks best playing off black or navy because it adds crispness, she adds, and bright white also can pop against brown, tan and blueish gray.
White is enjoying a burst of popularity, confirms Eiseman, also the director of the Pantone Color Institute, a color research and information center based in Carlstadt, N.J.
To figure out why, Eiseman says you have to look at more than clothes. What’s usually popular in fashion also is prominent in housewares, film, food and other areas of everyday life.
“Usually there’s more than one reason that brings a color into play. Because we’ve been so inundated with color the last few years, there comes a time when white will start looking calming again,” says Eiseman.