Color Analysis

Color Analysis:
A Comprehensive Guide

Color analysis is a tool you can use to determine which colors flatter you most. Based on your overall appearance and particularly the coloring of your eyes, hair and skin, you will be assigned one of twelve color seasons. Each color season comes with a color palette, specifically designed to harmonise with your natural coloring.

Have you ever noticed that certain clothing colors make you look tired and washed out, while others instantly make you look stunning? You haven't just imagine this; there is a reason why this happens. And it has to do with color theory.

Selecting the wrong colors for your clothes can leave you looking ill or off. If you want to have a wardrobe that makes you feel great, it's paramount to find the colors that will flatter you the most. And color analysis is a great tool to help you find them.

How colors affect appearance

In the world of aesthetics, you will find three types of color:

Colour Analysis - Types of Colour

1) Colors that look fabulous on you

These colors bring your natural appearance to life and enhance your skin, eyes, and hair. When wearing these colors, you will find that you don’t need a lot of makeup - a fabulous color reduces imperfections such as dark circles under your eyes, lines, and discoloration while bringing out a healthy complexion. You’ll appear bright and awake.

You might have stumbled across your fabulous colors by accident when trying on clothes. They are those that you are drawn to again and again because you somehow look really good in them. But what makes a color look fabulous on you

The answer is that a color will look great on you if it shares the same color aspects (or color dimensions) with your natural coloring. You have a natural color palette that is manifested in your skin, eyes, and hair. So any color that complements these color aspects will enhance your natural coloring and make you look great.

For example, why does Gisele Bündchen look so great in the autumnal green on the left? Because her natural coloring is muted and warm just like that particular green. This color emphasises these tones in her natural coloring, which makes her look healthy and glowing.

2) Colors that look good on you - neither great nor bad

These colors don’t look bad on you, but they aren’t fabulous either. These are the colors anyone can wear because their color dimensions are fairly neutral - meaning they are neither too cool nor too warm, neither too dark nor too light, and neither too bright nor too muted.

These colors are also known as universal colors and they look okay on everyone but are not the best. You can see in the image above that the teal color doesn't look bad on Gisele, but it doesn't look as great as the green color. Gisele's skin doesn't glow as much in this image.

3) Colors that look bad or wrong on you

These colors just make you look off or sick. They can make you look drained and even highlight or create false impressions of dark circles under your eyes and blemishes. Your hair will look drab, your face will look gaunt and often give the impression of discoloration.

Why do some colors look so terrible on you? It's because they clash with your natural color palette. Their color dimensions are too different from your own.

For example, if you have warm undertones - like Gisele - a cool blue will make you look ill because it has cool undertones. The dark blue makes her look pale and tired and emphasises the shadows beneath her eyes.

Colour Analysis - Fabulous & Wrong Colour

Gisele is a Soft Autumn; her color dimensions are muted, warm, and medium in value. The dark blue color is far too dark and cool for her. It actually makes her skin look pale and her hair dull. This is because the dark blue is part of the Dark Winter color palette, which is dark, cool, and bright.

The green color, on the other hand, is spot on. It lifts the warm, golden undertones of her skin, highlights her eyes, and makes her hair glow. This is because the color is part of the Soft Autumn color palette and has the same color dimensions as Gisele's natural coloring.

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A clothing color is harmonious if it emphasises certain aspects of your own coloring. These aspects are sorted into twelve color seasons, each equipped with a specific color palette. Which season you fall into depends on the natural coloring of your eyes, hair and skin.

It is important to mention that seasonal color analysis does not match colors to personality or body shape. Rather, this process is about determining three aspects of your natural coloring and matching it to clothing colors with similar aspects.

Color Theory

To understand seasonal color analysis, we need to understand the three aspects or dimensions of color first. They are:

I. Hue & temperature (undertone)

The hue defines the color family of an object, or what color it is – green, purple, orange etc.

Colour Analysis - Hue

Although not universally agreed upon, we perceive some colors as warmer and others as cooler. This is often referred to as a color’s temperature or undertone. It can be either warm, cool or some combination of the two (neutral).

We tend to associate yellow, orange and red with warmth, whereas purple, blue, and green appear cool. And you will often find the color wheel divided like this:

Colour Analysis - Temperature

This does not mean that all yellows are warm and all blues are cool. Any color can have warm or cool undertones – think of an acidic yellow (yellow mixed with green) and a tangerine yellow (yellow mixed with orange). The former will have a cooler quality than the latter. See the examples below:

Colour Analysis - Hue Examples

When it comes to seasonal color analysis, there is a general consensus that yellow is the warmest color and blue is the coolest. That is because warm skin tones tend to have yellow undertones, while cool-toned skin has blueish undertones.

Thus, colors that are blue-based are classed as cool - the more blue, the cooler the color. Yellow-based colors are warm. And warmer colors contain more yellow.

If a color’s undertone is imperceptible, it is a neutral color – neither warm nor cool. Examples are green and red: while pure green consists of yellow and blue in equal parts, pure red contains neither blue nor yellow.

Colour Analysis - Hue Families

II. Value (Depth)

Value designates the depth of a color or how light or dark it is.

Light colors have had white added to them and are referred to as tints. Similarly, dark colors have had black added to them and are called shades.

Colour Analysis - Value

III. Chroma / Clarity

Chroma defines a color’s saturation, or how bright (clear) or muted it is. Another way to understand chroma is to think about how ‘close to grey’ a color is.

Clear, bright colors are far away from looking grey because they are highly saturated. The more saturation is taken away, the closer a color gets to grey, and the more muted it becomes.

Adding grey to a color turns it into a tone.

Colour Analysis - Chroma

To summarise then:

Colour Analysis - Colour Theory Summary

Now that we understand the basics of color theory, we can take a look at seasonal color analysis.

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Seasonal color analysis is not a new concept. In fact, our modern understanding of harmonious colors comes from 19th-century impressionist painters’ understanding of the seasons. To accurately depict each season, they needed to understand the colors that are reflective of each one.

That means that as nature is moving through the season, it changes its set of colors. Think about the colors of landscapes as they experience the four distinct seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter - the fresh tints of spring, the gentle tones of summer, the earthy shades of autumn, and the icy hues of winter. This change in colors occurs because of how light reflects on the natural world. Each time the sun changes its position, it paints the world in a new light.

Four Seasons Colour Analysis

Since we humans are also part of the natural world, it only makes sense to apply these sets of colors to ourselves too. But it was not until the 1980s that the application of the four seasons to fashion color choices gained mainstream popularity. And that was largely due to Carole Jackson’s successful book ‘Color me beautiful.’ Her analysis focused on two of the three dimensions of color we discussed above.

The book’s test determines whether someone’s coloring is

  1. WARM or COOL (temperature); and
  2. LIGHT or DARK (value).
Colour Analysis - Hue & Value

In Jackson’s book, which seasonal type you are depends therefore on two variables:

1. the undertone of your skin, hair and eyes (either warm/golden or cool/ashy); and

2. how light or dark your overall coloring – and particularly your hair – is.

The seasons represent the four possible variations of these two variables: If your natural hair color is lighter than medium brown, you are either a Spring or a Summer; if it is darker, you are an Autumn or a Winter.

If your skin and hair have a warm undertone, or you are a natural red-head, you are either a Spring or an Autumn; if your skin has a blueish, cool undertone, and your hair is ashier without any golden or red highlights, you are either a Summer or a Winter.

Four Seasons Colour Analysis Examples

Some people fall without a doubt into one of these four categories. But what if you are warm and light, yet the colors of Spring are too intense for you? Summer colors are less saturated, but they are cool. What now?

The truth is most people don't fall neatly into one of the four original seasons - not to mention the fact that the model did not take into account people of color. To address some of these issues, the model was refined and developed into a more accurate twelve seasons color analysis.

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Twelve Seasons Color Analysis

The reason the basic analysis does not work for everyone is that there is one fundamental aspect missing from it. And that is the third color dimension of 'chroma'. Chroma distinguishes strong, saturated from weak, greyish colors.

High chroma = clear and bright

Low chroma = muted and soft

If you take a look at each season’s color palette, you will notice that while Spring and Winter’s colors are clear and bright, Summer and Autumn’s colors are more subdued and muted. Adding chroma to the four seasons color analysis creates the more accurate twelve seasons color model. The three aspects of color then result in six, instead of four, characteristics:

  1. WARM or COOL (temperature);
  2. LIGHT or DARK (value); and
  3. BRIGHT or MUTED (chroma).
Colour Analysis - Hue, Value, Chroma

Flow theory

In the original color analysis, the four seasons are distinct and separate. You can only be one or another. The twelve seasons color model, in contrast, acknowledges that not everyone falls distinctly into one of the four seasons; and adding the third color dimension of chroma allows for the fact that the seasons overlap or flow into each other. But before we find out why that is, let’s take a look at the twelve color seasons.

In the graphic below, you will notice that the original four seasons have been divided into three sub-seasons each, where the warm/cool (the ‘true’) sub-seasons represent the original four seasons:

Twelve Seasons Colour Analysis

So in this model, Spring is not only light and warm but also bright, creating the following sub-seasons:

  • Bright Spring = bright + warm
  • True Spring = warm + bright
  • Light Spring = light + warm

Summer is not only light and cool but also muted. Sub-seasons are:

  • Light Summer = light + cool
  • True Summer = cool + muted
  • Soft Summer = muted + cool

Autumn is warm and dark and also muted. Sub-seasons are:

  • Soft Autumn = muted + warm
  • True Autumn = warm + muted
  • Dark Autumn = dark + warm

And while Winter is dark and cool, it is also bright. Its sub-seasons are:

  • Dark Winter = dark + cool
  • True Winter = cool + bright
  • Bright Winter = bright + cool

And how does this model flow? As you can see, out of the three aspects of color, each sub-season features two main aspects. Take True Summer. Its primary aspect is cool, but it is also muted. Soft Summer is predominantly muted, but it’s also cool. And similarly, Soft Autumn is mainly muted, but in contrast to Soft Summer, it’s warm. So you can see how each color season flows seamlessly into the next along the three dimensions of color.

At the points where the original seasons overlap, a new season is created. For example, Dark Autumn is really a blend of Autumn and Winter. Someone falling into this season has the typical warmth of an Autumn but the intensity that is characteristic of a Winter.

If we take a look at the natural world again, we know that, for instance, summer does not start overnight when spring is over (as the four seasons color model suggests). In reality, spring moves gradually into summer and the early spring days feel and look different from the late spring days when the trees are covered in luscious green foliage. So it makes sense that the seasons flow into one another.

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Matching Colors to the Seasons

Each season’s color palette is a replica of colors found in nature as it moves through the seasons. That means that each seasonal color palette consists of a set of harmonious colors. But what makes them harmonise?

Let’s examine autumnal colors. When we look at an autumn landscape, we see rich, warm and darkish hues. We wouldn’t associate an icy blue with autumn simply because it does not exist in the natural autumnal world.

What then do autumn colors have in common that makes them harmonious? Firstly, they are similar in hue / temperature (warm) and similar in chroma (muted). And while there are certainly lighter and darker colors, many of them cluster around a particular value level (dark). The same is true for each of the twelve color palettes.

Which colors belong to which season?

To understand which colors belong to each season, we need to go back to the three dimensions of color. Let’s start with temperature (warm vs cool).

If you remember, a warm color is based on yellow, whereas a cool color is based on blue. So a completely warm color has yellow undertones and no blue ones, and it will belong to either True Spring or True Autumn since these are the two 'warm' seasons. Completely cool colors have blue undertones and no yellow ones, and they will belong to either True Summer or True Winter – the 'cool' seasons.

Remember, that within each hue, warm and cool are relative concepts. A color is warm or cool based on how much yellow or blue is added to it. For example, a warm yellow will be very yellowish, whereas a cool yellow will appear somewhat greenish. Why? Because if you mix blue into yellow, you get green. And vice versa, if you mix yellow into blue, it will appear greenish because of the yellow undertones.

So while you might find yellows on the Summer and Winter palettes, these will be very cool, greenish yellows compared to the warm, golden yellows of Autumn and Spring.

Colour Analysis - Temperature Scale

Now we know that cool colors belong either to True Summer or True Winter, and that warm colors belong to either True Spring or True Autumn. But how do we determine to which of these two seasons they belong?

For this, we need to look at their value (lightness or darkness) and their chroma (brightness or greyishness).

Let’s look at value first. We know that warm colors contain a lot of yellow. And yellow in its purest form is a light color, whereas blue in its purest form is a dark color. If you mix blue into yellow, it will become darker; and if you mix yellow into blue, it will become lighter.

Colour Analysis - Temperate & Value Scale

But that is not the only thing that happens here. Do you notice that the two hues in the middle of the chart are ‘muddier’ than the two hues on the outside? They are no longer pure or bright colors but muted ones. Adding the third dimension of color to the chart then results in:

Colour Analysis - Temperature, Value & Chroma Scale

As you can see, the purest forms of yellow and blue have the highest chroma. Where these pure colors mix with each other, they not only change in value but also in chroma. They become less clear and less bright.

Colour Analysis - Seasonal Colours

If we rearrange the chart once more, we can see the workings behind the basic seasonal color analysis model: While True Spring and True Winter contain the clearest, purest forms of yellow and blue, respectively, both True Autumn and True Summer have muted colors, which are blends of blue and yellow.

That means that:

  • Spring – being completely warm and bright, has many lighter colors (because yellow is inherently warm and light). That’s why we find lots of tints in Spring.
  • Autumn – being completely warm but muted, has more darker colors (because inherently light yellow has been mixed with inherently dark blue causing the colors to become muddied and darker). That’s why we find tones as well as shades in Autumn.
  • Winter – being completely cool and bright, has many darker colors (because blue is inherently cool and dark). However, Winter is the season of high contrast and high intensity. Consequently, we not only find shades but also tints in this season.
  • Summer – being completely cool but muted, has more lighter colors (because inherently dark blue has been mixed with inherently light yellow causing the colors to become more muted and lighter). That’s why we find lots of tones in Summer.

In summary, the colors you find on each color palette will have the following qualities:

Colour Analysis - Four Seasons Colours

How does this translate into the twelve seasons color analysis?

The same principles apply to the twelve seasons color model. The only difference is that each season is further divided into three sub-seasons. That means that there are three color palettes for each season instead of one. All three palettes will be quite similar, but depending on the sub-season's primary color aspect, the colors will be slightly brighter/more muted, lighter/darker or warmer/cooler.

Let’s look at the Summer season, for example. Summer is divided into Light Summer, True Summer and Soft Summer. Since they belong to the same family, these three seasons’ color aspects are similar, but they are not the same. While all three palettes are on the cool side, True Summer is the coolest of the three. That is because this season’s primary color aspect is ‘cool.’ Light Summer is the lightest out of the three, and Soft Summer is the most muted.

Colour Analysis - Twelve Seasons Colours


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How do you build a flattering and functional wardrobe?

Buying a bunch of clothes because they look nice in the shop is not a good strategy for building a wardrobe. It implies that the look of your clothes is more important than your look. But clothes should have no other purpose than to bring out your natural beauty and to highlight it.

The wardrobe guide will help you discover those garments that truly suit you.

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