One of the objections people have to the seasonal palettes is based on their thinking that they can only wear the colours that are there. The colours are representative. Here I will try to explain how to use the swatches or fan, and I am hoping I did it coherently. Exhaustion is extensive this week.
The photo below shows how someone is using the seasonal colour fan to identify a pink scarf as belonging to the Soft Autumn palette.
The colour is a good match or a near match, which is sometimes easy enough to tell but not always. It's obviously one of the Soft Autumn's bright pinks and on me this would look bright. Next to a pure hue bright pink it would look muted, possibly even dull. Personal Colour Analysis is about choosing the version of pink that matches your own colouring.
Most seasons have a few versions of pink, except, I think, True Autumn. They have oranges. My pink is muted and slightly browned. My colouring is muted so all the colours I wear are muted compared to pure hues. In that muted palette there are still lighter, darker, brighter versions of the colours and I can select things according to my own preferences, though overall the colours tend to be medium value, and don't get very light or very dark.
Because this scarf alone does read as a bright pink, it's difficult to go shopping and select the correct bright pink. Comparison helps so if there happened to be a few different pink scarves on the rack I might be successful if I deliberately chose the most muted of them but the comparison is not always available and it can be difficult to tell the difference between a colour that is light (tinted with white) or muted (toned with grey or grey-brown) without comparisons.
The chances of finding exact matches to the colours in your swatch aren't actually that high. The swatches are there as guidelines and so you look to see if the colour appears to belong with the set. Does it have the same qualities?
This silk scarf-a great thrift shop find, and this tee shirt are soft autumn colours which I just bought because I was going by what I liked. The blue is neutral-warm which I am only just learning to recognise and the scarf is a mix of coral pinks and peaches. Colour accuracy in this photo is reasonable though slightly cooled as always.
This blouse was originally a darker warm red but I wanted to lighten it, partly because I want to wear lighter colours overall but also because it's a thin cotton and I'd wear it in spring and summer. I succeeded in lightening it by soaking it in a mild bleach and water solution. It's exact colour isn't in my fan, although the darker version was, but it still looks right with the fan colours. It's a neutral-warm light coral red now
All of the colours in one set have the same characteristics applied to different hues. In the case of Soft Autumn they are all muted with a slight warmth. Spreading the entire fan over a colour gives you a sense of whether or not it belongs in the set and allows you to consider colours that extend well beyond the samples in the fan. This strategy is particularly good for colours that the company chose not to put in the fan but would actually fit your palette. In the case of Soft Autumn that would be orange. There is an orange that would go with this set, though it is perhaps not typical or easy to find. It will be very muted and browned.
Another way to use the swatch fan is to look at palette samples online, such as the two below to get an idea of other colours that aren't shown in the fan, and then when shopping, use the fan to get the best version of those colours, to get the value and chroma right.
For instance, this palette shows more orange and terracotta colours than my fan does. It reminds me of other colours to look for and the fan helps me while shopping for them.
The link under the above photo goes to a site where many people who own various autumn palettes from different systems have shared images of them.
Below is my own Soft Autumn fan - the colour accuracy not perfect. Plenty of pink, green and brown, blue, purple-blues and yellows but there is no orange and nothing that screams purple. That doesn't mean there are no oranges-what looks orange in this photo is camel on my fan but that browned orange would work for me and read as a muted, brick orange. Like the terracotta that is more orange than pink. The purples are quite lavender-purple, which is blueish if you think of an actual lavender flower and the sort of colour where one person says that's blue and another says no, it's purple.
See how my whites aren't really white, though the palest of them might read as white when I wear it. The colours are muted with a sort of amber smoke, whereas Soft Summer is muted with a grey mist. I see a greenish tint in some of the colours-the yellows and greys particularly, where the amber smoke is affecting them. The off whites have a greenish tint too.
The blues are slightly yellowed and begin to approach teal-blue and so are the greens. The pinks are brown-pinks. The browns are milk and dark chocolate, medium bark brown, golden brown and camel. The yellows are quite golden, approaching butterscotch and I have a difficult time identifying Soft Autumn yellow without comparisons and so far my yellow experiments have been a bit cautious and I have used very pale buttery yellows.
So, the fan is there to guide you in finding the right qualities, the hue, chroma and value* of the colours. You could go a little crazy trying to literally match it, though matching may sometimes work out. The fan would be enormous and unwieldy if it attempted to contain every single colour that works for that season so it is representative, giving you an idea of which colours are best represented in your season, which of the cool colours you can wear if you are warm (warm blues and purples) or the warm colours you can wear if you are cool (cool reds, yellows)
Even when I was trying to pick soft summer colours, I tended to sometimes get soft autumn ones instead and my wardrobe is currently a mix though I have done most of my experimenting with tee shirts so I don't feel too badly if I don't keep them. My instincts may have been guiding me in the right direction when I chose warmer, and years of making myself select cool colours would correct for that and lead me to Soft Summer choices I would love to be draped by a professional. I think it would be a really fun experience but I haven't got access to one without spending close to $1000 and I really can't justify that. I feel satisfied now though, that I've gotten it right and would be willing to bet that a draping would result in Soft Autumn, probably with the added information that I am quite neutral.
Hue refers to the colour, which we usually know by name such as green, blue, red.
Chroma refers to how saturated that colour appears, how much pigment is there.
Value refers to whether the colour is light, medium or dark