Colour Analysis

What Is Colour Analysis?

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

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

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

Colour Theory

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

I. Hue & temperature (undertone)

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

Colour Analysis - Hue

Although not universally agreed upon, we perceive some colours as warmer and others as cooler. This is often referred to as a colour’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 colour wheel divided like this:

Colour Analysis - Temperature

This does not mean that all yellows are warm and all blues are cool. Any colour 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 colour analysis, there is a general consensus that yellow is the warmest colour and blue is the coolest. That is because warm skin tones tend to have yellow undertones, while cool-toned skin has blueish undertones.

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

If a colour’s undertone is imperceptible, it is a neutral colour – 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 colour or how light or dark it is.

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

Colour Analysis - Value

III. Chroma / Clarity

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

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

Adding grey to a colour turns it into a tone.

Colour Analysis - Chroma

To summarise then:

Colour Analysis - Colour Theory Summary

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

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

That means that as nature is moving through the season, it changes its set of colours. Think about the colours 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 colours 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 colours to ourselves too. But it was not until the 1980s that the application of the four seasons to fashion colour 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 colour we discussed above.

The book’s test determines whether someone’s colouring 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 colouring – and particularly your hair – is.

The seasons represent the four possible variations of these two variables: If your natural hair colour 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 colours of Spring are too intense for you? Summer colours 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 colour. To address some of these issues, the model was refined and developed into a more accurate twelve seasons colour analysis.

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Twelve Seasons Colour 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 colour dimension of 'chroma'. Chroma distinguishes strong, saturated from weak, greyish colours.

High chroma = clear and bright

Low chroma = muted and soft

If you take a look at each season’s colour palette, you will notice that while Spring and Winter’s colours are clear and bright, Summer and Autumn’s colours are more subdued and muted. Adding chroma to the four seasons colour analysis creates the more accurate twelve seasons colour model. The three aspects of colour 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 colour analysis, the four seasons are distinct and separate. You can only be one or another. The twelve seasons colour model, in contrast, acknowledges that not everyone falls distinctly into one of the four seasons; and adding the third colour 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 colour 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 colour, 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 colour season flows seamlessly into the next along the three dimensions of colour.

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 colour 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 Colours to the Seasons

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

Let’s examine autumnal colours. 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 colours 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 colours, many of them cluster around a particular value level (dark). The same is true for each of the twelve colour palettes.

Which colours belong to which season?

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

If you remember, a warm colour is based on yellow, whereas a cool colour is based on blue. So a completely warm colour 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 colours 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 colour 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 colours belong either to True Summer or True Winter, and that warm colours 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 colours contain a lot of yellow. And yellow in its purest form is a light colour, whereas blue in its purest form is a dark colour. 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 colours but muted ones. Adding the third dimension of colour 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 colours 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 colour 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 colours, which are blends of blue and yellow.

That means that:

  • Spring – being completely warm and bright, has many lighter colours (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 colours (because inherently light yellow has been mixed with inherently dark blue causing the colours 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 colours (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 colours (because inherently dark blue has been mixed with inherently light yellow causing the colours to become more muted and lighter). That’s why we find lots of tones in Summer.

In summary, the colours you find on each colour palette will have the following qualities:

Colour Analysis - Four Seasons Colours

How does this translate into the twelve seasons colour analysis?

The same principles apply to the twelve seasons colour model. The only difference is that each season is further divided into three sub-seasons. That means that there are three colour palettes for each season instead of one. All three palettes will be quite similar, but depending on the sub-season's primary colour aspect, the colours 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’ colour 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 colour 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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