Wednesday, 15 March 2017

What Might be Keeping You from Finding Your Best Colours

Personal colour analysis assumes that you want to look like your best natural self, but allows that what looks natural varies according to a person's colour properties.  When used in makeup, the right colour palette allows for natural or dramatic looks but also acknowledges that some people have natural colouring that supports more drama than others do.  Someone who is Bright Spring will look natural in makeup that would look like clown makeup on a Soft Summer but both can achieve either a natural and no-makeup look or a dramatic look that is their own version of dramatic.  The idea behind it is that your natural colour does not need changing but will look its best when supported by wearing the colours that have the same properties. 

These are my tips based on experience and mild obsession with the topic.  None of this is as good and effective as a proper colour analysis done by someone who knows colour theory and has a good eye and proper equipment.  You may be like me and not have access to that or not be wanting to spend the money.  I probably spent the cost of an analysis just by experimenting and buying clothing I didn't keep, but I would also have to spend travel and accommodation costs for an analysis and that just isn't going to happen.

We generally have three colour properties that are not always easy to identify just by looking at ourselves in the mirror or asking someone else.  Finding which palette of colours works best can take you on a route through the back door to discovering that these are the colour properties also expressed in you.  

Some systems simplify too much and others begin to split hairs but in the end whatever works for you or makes sense to you will probably get you into the right general region.

                        13 Errors in Thinking That Could Impede Your Journey

 Comparing yourself to celebrities

Oh this is a very problematic one.  I know because I've done this one endlessly but I have to admit that while it might be fun it's not very helpful.  Any celebrities that are typed as a particular season are only guesses and the online experts do not agree on what type to give many of them.  Some celebrities in particular are more difficult to type because being a chameleon is a part of the celebrities job.  Add in the fact that most images we see of the are touched up and enhanced, most are not wearing their natural hair colour, fake tanning products can't seem to escape an orange tone, and while the most common hair colour amongst caucasians is brown, most caucasian celebrities dye their hair blonde or red and tell us it's natural.

Without draping the celebrity with test colours, the only ones whose season can be guessed at are those who are in the standard appearance range for that season.  For instance, it's easy to type Lindsay Lohan as probably a True Autumn because she's a natural redhead, has obviously golden skin and warm eyes.  It's easy to type Courtenay Cox as probably a Bright Winter because she has dark hair, fair skin, cool blue eyes and high contrast.  Most celebrities who are True Autumn tint their hair red and even the natural redheads enhance the colour so we get the impression that a True Autumn has very rich red hair.  Most have brown hair and some have blue eyes, which we tend to think of as cool but there are warmer blues and warm eyes are those that have a golden coloured ring of colour in the centre or golden flecks.  Soft seasons tend towards an appearance that we have sadly labelled as mousy so the Soft Season celebrities are likely to dye their hair blonde, giving the impression that blonde hair is required for a Soft Season palette to be appropriately yours. 

There aren't even enough celebrities who are women of colour to have good representatives for personal colour theory but it must be said that not all women of darker colour are Winter as so often seems to be assumed.

Usually guesses being made about celebrity seasons get one aspect of colouring correct.  A given celebrity is usually guessed as being either a Light Spring or Light Summer, or a Deep Winter or Deep Autumn.  The best guesses are made by analysts who have sought out many photos in order to make comparison and looked for pictures with good lighting.  But even if the celebrity has been assigned the correct seasonal category, you may not be correctly identifying which celebrities share your own colouring.  Especially not if, as I experienced, your own photos are not accurate. 

Celebrities wear the 'wrong' colours all the time because they have the help of makeup and photography in order to pull it off.  If we identify with a certain celebrities appearance and see her wearing hot pink we may think oh okay, hot pink is a colour for me too then.

 I cannot wear pink ( or blue or green or brown etc )

With a few minor exceptions there is a version of every colour for every person.  If you think there is a particular colour you cannot wear it is likely that you've only tried the versions of it that are not right for you.  It's also possible that you just don't care for the colour.

Your best colour palette will have

temperature:  warm, cool, neutral-cool, neutral-warm. 
value:   the light to dark range
chroma:  the muted to bright or deeply saturated range

For people who are purely cool, a colour like orange which is always warm doesn't work and browns don't either as they are in the orange family.  Yellow is difficult but a cool yellow is possible.  It has a bit of blue added to it but does not yet become green.  For the neutral-cool people who do not wear bright or deep colours, their version of orange is more peach or coral.

For purely warm people blue is tricky and blues that work well are limited.  They have a bit of yellow added so they begin to move towards teal.  Grey is also tricky and warm greys are essentially taupes and greyed browns. 

I have the wrong hair or eye colour

Unless you have dyed your hair, then you do not have the wrong hair colour.   Some colour systems or style advisors seem happy to state that certain hair or eye colours go with certain types of skin or with certain of the given categories in colour analysis but the problem with that is that they are in error and it's an unfortunate misconception they are spreading.  There are norms but there are also plenty of people outside the norms.  Websites that show you examples of celebrities or models are using images that are enhanced and women with dyed hair to represent the norms of a certain category.  They would have you believe that all Light Springs, Soft Summers, Soft Autumns and Light Summers are blonde when in fact they usually have light to medium brown hair.  These same systems like to suggest that True Autumn is always a redhead. 

If you are not a True Autumn, True Summer, True Winter or True Spring seasonal analysis doesn't work for you and you need tonal analysis 

This is either a marketing ploy or a very poor understanding of colour theory.  The tonal system tells you that if you aren't one of the true seasons then you only need to pay attention to one of the three colour properties and figure out which your dominant one is so then you might be simply a warm or a deep or a light.  You may find good colours for yourself in those palettes but you will also reject a lot of them because they aren't compatible with your other colour qualities.  This is just sloppy assistance disguised as choice.  Soft and muted might be your dominant quality but you will lean cool or warm and look better in the muted cool or the muted warm colours.  The tonal system leaves you to either figure that out for yourself or not.  

I look good in X colour.

Okay, I may sound a bit obnoxious here but we aren't always the best judge of what colours we look good in.  In my case, I'd rarely ever seen myself in what have turned out to be my best colours.  I didn't have enough experience to judge so I was just making the best out of the colours I was gravitating to.   You might not look good in the colours you think you look good in and that might be misleading you as you try to find out your palette.  When you have found the right palette you will be flattered by every colour but you may not like every colour.  Some of the colours will be more stunning on you than others and this will vary amongst all of the people who share a palette.

I can wear any colour and look good because I am happy.

Well, that's subjective.  If you are happy then that's great.  If you are young and healthy and wear a lot of makeup you can probably stretch the limits of what colours you look great in but I would argue that you might not look as great as you think you do.  You might not know how good you could look.  An error I was making was actually in looking at the dress and not my own face.   A dress that is a wow dress looks like it belongs on you, could have gotten there organically, harmonises and compliments you and then the overall looks is wow.  This is not the same as 'wow that's a really gorgeous red dress'.  You've heard that expression 'the dress is wearing her'.  It really does happen.

You have a bias against a colour quality or a colour group

It is probably true that some people are attracted to colours that are in the right region if not the very specific category that suits them.  I have seen enough people looking quite blah in the wrong colours or looking overwhelmed in black to doubt that this holds for everyone.  I had my own struggles with biases too though not my own.  I have always been attracted to warm colours but grew up with parents who were not.  Somehow I internalised the idea that warm colours were not as nice.  I also identified so much with my mother in terms of appearance because everyone said I looked like her, that I assumed that the colours that looked good on her would look good on me too.  Given the time period I grew up, there was also a strong move away from the earthy colours of the seventies.  As I was becoming a young women in the eighties the earthy seventies colours were rejected and seen as dated.  You wouldn't have been caught dead with brown shoes and the only orange that was acceptable was neon.

If slightly warm is bad then all warm will be worse (or other variations on this)

This is my specific experience but it could apply to those who need truly cool colours as well.  Because of the bias I mentioned above, I tended to choose colours that were a little warm, not knowing that there even was such a thing as neutral-warm.  I didn't understand that I could need colours that are all warm so if the neutral-warm colours were a meh, then I just ran back to the familiarity of cooler colours.

Not understanding the properties of colour can lead to confusion in a variety of ways similar to my experience.  If I had tried the purely warm colours of True Spring I would also have had a bad experience because the colour palette given the name of Spring is always clearer and brighter then the Autumn palette and the colours are warmed with yellow whereas Autumn colours are warmed with gold which is more muted. 

We really only understand these qualities in context and making comparisons.  Most of us can judge some colour qualities just by eyeballing it but we generally cannot tell if something is neutral-warm or purely warm, or yellow-warm or golden-warm without seeing it in relation to other colours.  It is this way for all of the colour properties, though light, bright and dark are fairly easy to distinguish at their extremes they are still relative properties.

Knowing which colour properties you need but confusing the order of importance

This is what I experienced when I got to the point of Soft Autumn in my colour journey.  The properties of colour that work best for me are warm, muted and medium value and in that order.  So the most important quality is overall warmth.  When I was trying to figure this out by staring at my face in a mirror and asking what properties do I see, what I kept seeing was the mutedness.  I had been recognising that one for awhile because although I had been told I was a Winter back in 1984, I was seeking out the darkest winter colours because they appear more muted.  Then I decided I must be a Summer because those are more muted than the Winter colours and I knew something was still not right.  I worked my way from True Summer to Soft Summer as it dawned on me that softness was an important quality for me.  I had also begun to notice that I had some warmth.  I've written about how much of that difficulty was caused by having the wrong camera setting and thus getting photos where I was being bleached.  

Soft Autumn seemed like a really good fit but I began to find two problems.  It was a bit too soft and light and I was finding I preferred the warmest of the palettes colours to the cooler options.  The blues, pinks and mauves weren't feeling right and the beiges were too light and insubstantial.  I began to see more contrast in my colouring than in the Soft Autumn palette and more warmth.  I looked at the other Autumn palettes then.  Deep Autumn was too bright and sometimes too dark. Some of the colours were too cool. I felt I could wear it's earthiest colours but not the brighter ones.  True Autumn was still muted and soft, but that was the secondary quality.  The primary quality I needed was pure warmth and the secondary quality was mutedness.  I'd had it backwards.

Wearing the wrong colours might change the appearance of your skin tone and mislead you

Honestly, I don't know if this can happen to everyone, but when I wear very cool colours my skin looks greyish and I mistook that for being a cool tone.  I had no idea I could look softly golden or peaches and cream until I started to wear purely warm colours. 

Store lighting usually does nobody any favours

Judging how you look in a colour by trying it on in the store can be a very frustrating exercise.  I can look a bit green-yellow in some fluorescent lighting and so I instinctively wanted to eradicate that. Wearing cool colours did that by making me pale grey instead which my confused thinking had decided was preferable.  Slightly warm colours enhanced the yellow look so did nothing to convince me to go warmer.  It was not until I began to try on the purely warm colours that I discovered that even under fluorescent lights I now looked golden instead of yellow-green.   There are still times when the lighting just isn't flattering no matter what.  It's always best if what you are buying is returnable because once you see it in natural light it may not be the colour you thought it was or you may discover it doesn't suit you as well as you thought it did.

You have been mislead by beauty editors with recommendations for fair skin or red hair etc.

This one happens a lot.  It shows up in womens' magazines and websites and again, I don't know if it is ignorance or marketing that is involved.  We see advice on what colours to use based on what colour your hair is or whether you have fair, medium or dark skin.  This advice will not work for everyone because it doesn't take into account the properties of colour and it makes the mistake of thinking that hair colour has any impact on what colours work with skin tone.  You can be fair skinned and have warm, cool or neutral-cool, neutral-warm skin.  You can be fair skinned and suit light, muted, dark or bright colours.  There is no such thing as the best red lipstick for fair skin.  You can have blonde hair and if you do and you are over thirty you are probably dyeing it.  That means you may not suit blonde or you may not have gotten the right blonde for your skintone.  There is no use in choosing a colour based on this hair.  Not all medium skin tones are warm, not all dark ones are cool, or vice versa.  This bit of nonsense advice is just of no use at all.

Close enough might be okay for you

If this is the case then while you may not be finding your very best colours, you don't really care.  Close enough is good enough and you are probably operating on that same principal the tonal systems uses, ie: all bright colours or all cool colours.  You might be choosing your best colours most of the time instinctively but don't know why.  You might love pink so you wear any or all pinks as long as they seem mostly cool-toned.  You might enjoy wearing a lot of makeup and colouring your hair and by doing this you can fudge your best colours a little bit.  Celebrities do this though they also have the assistance of photo shop so we see them with brighter eyes and clearer skin than they may actually have.

This was a post I began to put together a long time ago.  I decided to resurrect it and share though it may not be of any interest to regular readers who've had enough of my colour explorations.  If it helps anyone, that's great.


  1. Store lighting mystifies me. Surely it would serve their purpose to have the most flattering light possible even if just in the changing rooms. People would flock to it!
    I still feel some colours make me look too florid. I'm waiting to see what Winter brings because my skin is very reactive. Being pale it shows brightly on my cheeks when warm but I can look very washed out when cold.
    This is a great list that explores some little thought about concepts.xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Yes, it sometimes seems that their aim is to make us feel as hideous as possible, with mirrors that distort and awful lighting. I think it's reasonable that within a palette some colours will be better than others for our own particular colouring and we may prefer some when we have a suntan or others when we don't. Not that I've had a suntan in decades. LOL. When I do tan it's a very golden colour and I look better in some of the Warm Spring colours than I do when paler and even look better in white because the contrast seems appropriate. It's also possible, if you are guessing at colours and not using a colour fan from a colour system, that the colours that make you look florid aren't actually from the Deep Autumn palette. Light Summer, Light Spring, Warm Spring, True Autumn and Deep Autumn all have their own coral or peach colours. Difficult to tell which one you are seeing if you spot a coral blouse in a shop but easier to tell if you are looking at several coral coloured items or have a swatch fan to guide you. My errors when just eyeballing it often take me into Warm Spring or Soft Autumn and sometimes Deep Autumn for the earth tones. Sometimes it's a fudge that seems passable but other times that explains why a colour I thought should work doesn't. Some colours are preferable for accessories or within a pattern rather than as a solid colour near your face. I think we all tweak our palette that way and also make decisions about whether we favour the lighter or darker end of it or how to combine and play with the value contrasts. At least it's fun to explore. xoxo

  2. such an interesting post!
    I really like to read your approach about color theory, because many times you point out some ideas which I really never considered consciously, even if I've been using them.
    I think that some colors I love don't flatter me, particulary yellow, but I've realized that I can wear some of them if they're not near my face. Many times I use a shawl or scarf as a wall to separate my face from a color which could make me look totally washed out. I'm a huge fan of scarfs and neckerchiefs, actually, but glasses and earrings could play an interesting role too.
    I prefer a warm palette, even my favorite blue is a warm teal, but my prior quality is saturation. That's something new for me!
    And I agree, at least it's fun to explore!

  3. [Not sure if the first comment went through, feel free to delete this one if it did]

    I love these big juicy posts, thank you! I used to work in a clothing store in Victoria in the mall downtown that actually had fitting rooms beside a huge outside window as well as access to the skylights in the centre of the mall. Both were hugely helpful when I was selling clothes and trying to help customers with colour.

    Warm deep spring to autumn is where I feel happiest, but I like nearly every colour (except beige, which should be outlawed, lol).

    1. I think there are those-Soft Autumn perhaps-on whom beige might be magical in a way it just is not on most of the rest of us. I like it as a background colour for a print though that's rare and so often I find the warm colours I seek printed on a black or white background. ARGH! I love the Warm Spring colours too though I am easily overwhelmed by colour that gets too bright. I can dabble with about half the palette, especially the earth tones. I am discovering colours I never would have tried before, sort of muddy, earthy what the heck is that green-gold-brown colour and finding I can wear them. If the colour can be named with only one word it's probably not right for me. I like all or most colours too which actually got in the way of finding the ones that suit me best. Fitting rooms beside an outside window would be lovely though maybe not with strangers watching me pose in front of the mirrors. LOL


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