23 November, 2010

Your best colors

I daresay it's a fair chance you've experienced having a friend who looks absolutely ravishing in a color. Smitten by this, you might have grabbed all the similarly colored pieces in your favorite shop, hoping to capture some of the spark your friend had in this particular color. However, when standing there, in the dressing room, you find yourself devastated as your skin look more like mud than sparkling fairy dust, your eye bags look like hammocks, your eyes look dead and your hair dull. Why, you even look like you've gained a couple lbs! Why? Is it just the fact that your friend is so darn pretty?

To that last question, I think the truth lies elsewhere. If a color looks awesome on your friend, and dreadful on you, the most likely explanation is that the color is one of the key colors in your friend's color palette, and one of your definitive worst choices. You and your friend are most likely quite different in color. Some people have warmer undertones in their skin, whilst other people have a definitive cool undertone. Some people have bright sparkly eyes which are enchanted by saturated clothes, whilst other people's eyes are more subdued and hazy, and look far better in softer shades.

Now, let's take a look at the singer Taylow Swift in the pictures to the right. On the left hand side: Her blonde hair, slightly golden, flatters her peach 'n' cream complexion. Her light eyes shine bright, and she looks young and fresh. Her light and warm makeup looks great, and despite the fact she's wearing gold eyeshadow, it looks remarkably natural. Now, this time, take a look at the girl on the far right. Believe it or not, but it's the same girl. This time, however, her dark hair and clothes completely shuts down her bright, light and sunny coloring. She looks older, and not in a sophisticated way, shadows appearing all over her face. Sure, the lighting in the pictures are different, but you don't get nasolabial folds and dark shadows under your eyes just like that. Her skin looks drained for life, and she looks bland, I daresay. If you keep reading, I'll elaborate on the differences in coloring in the paragraphs below.

Seasons and colors 

In the late 70's, a woman named Carole Jackson started a color frenzy. She wrote books where she told us that all the people in the world could fit neatly into 4 groups. She described each group as the 4 seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. The seasons represented what was common within the groups. The springs were light, warm and bright, like rays of sunshine in May. The summers were cool and soft, like white sand and the Caribbean sea. The falls were warm and saturated, although not bright, like a pumpkin, or falling leaves. The winters were cool and bright, dark like the night in winter, yet sparkling white as the snow.

Jackson's method sounded neat and easy. The less groups, the less hassle! Her books were like the Holy Grail to some people; yet to others, her ideas failed to impress. What Jackson didn't account for, was the fact that the world does actually have more variation than the downright stereotypical characters she sketched for each group. Where did the people go who were both warm and cool, for instance? Naturally, as many felt left out, the seasonal craze seemed to cool down. However, in the late 80's and early 90's, a company named Colour Me Beautiful (CMD for short) decided to kickstart the adoration of color analysis again, this time with a more refined method. The tonal color analysis. This time around, the seasons were still intact, but they split each season into three sub-groups (or tones):

Spring: Bright spring, warm spring, light spring
Summer: Light summer, cool summer, soft summer
Fall (autumn): Soft fall, warm fall, deep fall
Winter: Deep winter, cool winter, bright winter

Basically, each tonal group could be described like this:
The bright: Bright and clear, wears saturated colors well. Intense, sparkling eyes, clear skin. Contrasting hair and skin. The bright spring leans towards the warm end of the spectrum, and the bright winter towards the cool end.
The warm: Dominated by warmth in their skin, hair and eyes. You will often find the typical redheads here (note: Freckles is not an indicator of warm skin, despite often being found on redheads). Skintones range from golden to peachy to porcelain. The warm spring is a lot brighter than the warm fall, which is decidedly softer and deeper. Compare the months May to September, or oranges to pumpkins. The warm fall often has a golden ring around their pupils.
The light: Fair skin, light eyes, delicate complexion. Little contrast. The hair is, more often than not, light. However, not all lights are blondes. You will not find the raven haired in this group, though. The light spring is clearer and brighter than the light summer, which is hazier, like ice cream or looking through a sheer veil.
The cool: Dominated by lack of warmth in their skin, hair and eyes. Skin can be anything from the fairest alabaster to deep blue black, but has no obvious warmth. The cool winter is clear and deep, and looks stunning in black, stark white, pine green. The cool summer is just as cool, but more muted and has less contrast between hair, skin and eyes. Think pastels rather than icy colors, or blue bell over Chinese blue. Very saturated colors overwhelm the cool summer.
The soft: Very little contrasts. Soft, muted skin. However, not to be confused with light spring or light summer; the softs are more velvety looking, heavier. Mousy brown hair is common, and their eyes are soft and hazy; can sometimes appear muddy. The softs look very neutral, and can therefore pull off a lot of looks. However, strong, stark, bright, colors overwhelm them and make them appear dull. The soft summer is often confused with a winter, and the soft fall is often confused with a light spring.
The deep: Deep, dark eyes, dark hair. Skin can be any shade. The deeps should avoid bleak and dusty colors, which will draw the life out of them. Instead they should opt for rich, deep shades. A lot of Asians and black people are categorized as deeps due to dark eyes and hair being common. However, as mentioned in a later paragraphs, they too come in all colors, and should not be brushed off easily.

With this method, they were certain the included a broader array of people. Now, the person who was both cool and warm, which seemed neutral, and earlier had been misdiagnosed as a winter, could be identified as a soft summer, to name an example. When I'm doing my online color analysis, I use this method, except I use CMD's new names:

Bright spring - Bright and warm
Warm spring - Warm and clear
Light spring - Light and warm
Light summer - Light and cool
Cool summer - Cool and muted
Soft summer - Soft and cool
Soft fall - Soft and warm
Warm fall - Warm and muted
Deep fall - Deep and warm
Deep winter -  Deep and cool
Cool winter - Cool and clear
Bright winter - Bright and cool

I do wish to stress, though, that I don't think of CMD's method as complete. There are still people who doesn't fit into any of the neat little boxes. People are far too complex to be labeled that easily! Just like in the field of personality psychology, people debate whether a few generalized boxes are enough to make assumptions, or if a nearly unlimited specter are needed to be able to map out human beings. There are more complex systems than CMD's (Beauty for all season's Color Alliance system claims to have approximately 4 million different combinations... They use different numbered charts, compare the different charts to your eyes, your skin and your natural hair color, and plot them into a computer. Frankly, I got pretty much the same results when being analyzed as a "True Quartz Summer" in this system, as a "Cool summer" in CMD's system. Perhaps I'm just a stereotype, though!). There are also companies out there who borrow from New Age-philosophies, claiming your personality relies on what season you are (obviously, I don't believe in this. Not by any means.), whilst other companies claim to be oh-so-scientific and very accurate.

Back to generalization: Color analysis have widely been criticized for being too general when it comes to blacks and Asians. What a lot of color analysts seem to forget, is the fact that not every Asian has golden skin, black hair and dark brown eyes (Asia in a whole continent, after all! You can't possibly say the Indians and the Japanese look alike!), and not every black person has dark brown skin, nearly black eyes and black, curly hair. No, people of all races come in all packages. I have seen African-Americans who are obvious soft summers/soft and cool, and East-Asians who are bright springs/bright and warm. Even if a person have dark eyes and dark hair; that doesn't necessarily mean that person is deep and warm or deep and cool! This is where test draping is key. I'll get to this later on.

How can I tell which tonal group I belong to?

A good place to start, is to try to find out whether you lean towards the warm or the cool end of the spectrum. Trying to pinpoint your tonal season at once is hard, unless your season are very obvious. One way of finding whether you are cool or warm, is to stand barefaced a couple of feet away from a mirror, in a well-lit room, with a stark white piece of paper under your face. Shut your eyes for a couple of seconds, then open them. Did you see the paper or your skin first? If you saw the piece of paper, you might belong to the warm end, whilst if you noticed your face first, you may belong to the cool side. While this isn't a foolproof method, it turns out to be quite effective for a lot of people.

Another way, is to flip your arm and take a good look at your wrist. What color does your veins appear to be? Blue/purple-ish? Perhaps more green? Or maybe a mix? Blue/purple veins are an indication of belonging to the cooler end, while greener veins indicated warmth. A mix is more neutral, which may mean you could be one of the more neutral tonal groups.

If you have something in gold and something in silver, like a pair of bracelets, wear them, once on each arm. If you suit the silver better, you lean towards the cool, and vice versa.

Take a look at your eyes. What color are the whites of your eyes? Stark white, or more muddy? Now, how about your eyes? Clear and sparkling with a pattern that may remind you of the spokes of a wheel, or perhaps soft and blended? Hazy or bright? Golden or grey? Dark or light? I often put an emphasis on the natural eye color when doing an online color analysis because more often than not, they can be great representatives for the descriptions of each tonal group. Such as soft, grey and hazy might be a light or cool and muted, or sparkly with bright eye patterns and stark white whites often turn out to be a clear.

The general consensus, is that test draping is key to finding your perfect colors. After all, this is the thing color analysts do after taking a good and hard look at you! Test draping basically means standing in front of a mirror, preferably barefaced with your hair pulled back (if dyed), putting different colored fabrics around your neck. I find the second you go from one color to the next, to be the moment when you see if the color is right for you or not. Basically, a good color lightens up your face, seems to have the magical power to diminish dark shadows and soften wrinkles if you have some, the whites of your eyes and your teeth appears whiter and clearer, your eye color are enchanted, your hair seems shinier, your skin seems fresh and you look healthy. When wearing a wrong color, the effect might be subtle, yet noticeable (like something is simply off), or dramatic (like looking tired or sick). When wearing makeup in your worst colors, the color appears to "sit on you", and look clown-ish. Wrong colors cast dark shadows on your face and accentuate wrinkles, unevenness in the skin, dulls down your hair and eyes, might make your lips look more yellow, and makes you look older - not in a wise way, more like a worn out way. Therefore, put your best colors closest to your face for best results. Anything below the waist won't have that effect on your face, and the area is thus called the "free zone". So, if you look as awful in orange as me, yet love the color, why not wear orange nail polish, orange shoes, or perhaps even an, ghasp, orange pair of jeans?

Examples of colors to test against each other:
Salmon pink or terracotta (deep and warm) vs fuchsia or burgundy (deep and cool)
Light moss green or camel (light and warm) vs aqua green or cocoa (light and cool)
Light mango or medium blue (warm and clear) vs pumpkin or jade green (warm and muted)
Soft white or lavender (cool and muted) vs stark white or royal purple (cool and clear)
Blue green or burgundy (soft and cool) vs olive green or mahogany (soft and warm)
Warm pink or true blue (bright and warm) vs magenta or royal blue (bright and cool)

Below is a couple of videos (Note: This isn't me in any of them nor are they my videos) showing the effects a good color and a not-so-good color can have on your face:

Tonal palettes and descriptions

Common questions

How do I distinguish between a warm and a cool color?
A warm color is red, orange or yellow based. A cool color is blue based. Examples of warm colors are lime green (a yellow based green), brick red (an orange based red) and cream white (a yellowy/beige white). Examples of cool colors are turquoise (a very blue based green), blue red and stark white. However, do bear in mind not all yellow colors are warm, and not all blue colors are cool. Lemon yellow is an example of a cool yellow, and parisian/prussian blue is an example of a warm blue. There are also some colors which are considered quite netural, due their equal mixture of warm and cool. Examples are teal and purple.

I have freckles. That means I have warm undertones, right?
This is a myth which should be put down. Freckles are genetic, and a result of increased concentrated/unevenly spread melanin and a consequence of sun exposure. Some people have more orange freckles, some are grey, some are brown, some are even black. The redheaded freckled stereotype probably derive from the fact that people with a lot of freckles have the recessive MC1R (melanin-activating peptide receptor) gene variant. People with red hair have two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16. This in turn, causes a mutation on the MC1R protein. MC1R plays an important role in regulating hair (in animals: fur) color, and controls the type of melanin which is being produced. It turns out that approximately 80% of all redheads have a dysfunctional MC1R gene, which in short means that the gene overproduces the yellow/red phaeomelanin. Because of their usually fair skin, they lack the melanin levels to prevent UV-induced damage, which makes the skin sensitive to the sun's UV-rays (which is a reason why redheads often get a sunburn rather than a tan). Everyone may freckle (except albinos, which lack pigmentation in their skin), but fair skinned people freckle easier due to their skin being more sun sensitive. Red haired people have more sensitive skin. The more sensitive your skin is to the sun, the easier you freckle. Sensitive skin comes in a myriad of colors (although, as stated, fair skin is commonly more sensitive).

I know I have a cool undertone, but I have read it's possible to have a warm overtone! Help!
The undertones in our skin is what is important when figuring out what colors we look good in. By test draping and doing the exercises above, you determine your undertone. Your overtone, however, is the shade which lies on top of your skin. It's not the dominating color which can bring forth glow or gloom (the undertone does this) in the skin, and is often a temporary status. Imagine being sweaty and tomato red in your face after running like crazy. That's your temporary overtone. Imaging being sick, looking sallow. Temporary overtone again. What about tanning? Well, the undertone decides the shade of tan you turn. Look at the overtone as a sheer layer, or veil. The upper layer is what is turning darker, but the constant undertone is what decides whether you turn more red, more golden, more orange, etc.

However, overtones aren't always temporary. You might always appear to look pink, even though your eyes, hair and color draping screams warm! Therefore - Choose colors according to your undertone, and pick foundation that flatters your overtone. Choose a more yellow foundation if your overtone is more yellow, no matter what your undertone is like.

Ok, let me try to narrow the explanation down further:
Undertone: Refers to your ability to wear certain colors. Your best colors, harmonize with your undertone. Your undertone is either cool, neutral-cool, neutral, neutral warm or warm.
Overtone: The top layer. Choose color according to undertone, not overtone.

Therefore, due to the various overtones, color analyzing by looking at only the skintone is impossible, in my eyes. However, when test draping, the skintone is the determining factor. When wearing the right colors, you see how the undertones bring life and glow to the overtones, and that's how you see what colors you suit.

So why is it that certain skintones, or overtones, are more common in some tonal groups than others? Well, my non-scientifically proven answer to that, is that some overtones are more sheer, thus letting more of the undercolor through. For example, when having a warm undertone, the overtone can be a light peachy, sheer tone, resulting in a peaches 'n' cream complexion; a skin tone often associated with those who are light and warm. Other times, the overtone may be more opaque, letting less of the undertone through. And if the overtone looks different than the undertone, that may be a faint answer to why an obviously warm person has rosy skin. Of course, there may be better, more scientific reasons to why we have the colors we have, but I won't dig deeper into that yet. Note: By sheer overtone, I don't mean that the skin itself is transparent!

How do I use my palette?
The easiest way is to find pieces of clothing or accessories which blends with your palette. Does the color resemble one or more of the palette colors? You could also try to match the colors up completely, but that often proves to be harder than it looks! Use the palette as a guideline.


  1. Først og fremst, gratulerer med ny blogg! :) Netopp oppdaget den gamle, men kommer til å følge med her! Du er klempeflink

    Jeg har 2 spørsmål jeg håper du kan hjelpe med, og håper det er greit at jeg spør på norsk. Jeg har alltid tenkt at jeg har kald hudtone (noe som stemmer med hvilke farger jeg har fått høre av andre at jeg kler/ikke kler). Men fikk nettopp hjelp på parfymeri til å finne foundation, og da sa damen som hjalp meg at jeg hadde gul tone i huden. Så, er det mulig at jeg er kald uansett? Blei så forvirra.

    Det andre er, forutsatt at jeg faktisk er kald, så har jeg ikke klart å plassere om jeg er dus eller klar (kanskje noe i mellom). Er det sånn at jeg vil passe bedre i kald og klar farger, om jeg farger håret mørkere?

  2. Takk for det! :)

    Du kan absolutt være kald om du har gule toner i huden. Som jeg skrev i nest siste avsnitt, er det mulig å ha en litt annen overtone enn undertone. Når du velger foundation går du etter hudens overflatefarge, fordi foundationen ligger oppå huden. Når du velger hvilke farger du bruker, er det best å velge de som harmoniserer med undertonen din - de fargene du kler, rett og slett.

    Gult er forøvrig ikke alltid varmt. Gult finnes i mange varianter, som for eksempel sitrongult (en kaldere gul) eller solgult (varmere).

    Nå mener jeg IKKE å gre alle parfymeriarbeidere over en kam, men mange av de vet rett og slett ikke hva de driver med...

    Om du er kald og dus (cool and muted) og vil bruke flere av kald og klar (cool and clear) sine farger, trengs det ofte mer enn hårfarge for å se mest mulig naturlig ut. Hårfarge, sterkere eller mørkere sminke, og gjerne linser. Er du usikker, kan du sende meg en mail på vainvillain@mail.com - Jeg gjør gratis fargeanalyse via mail. Sjekk gjerne under "personalized advice". :)

  3. Dear Villain,

    I am impressed with the amount of information you put in this post. You've made quite a research on this topic. I personally went through a lot of professional color training myself. Living in San Francisco definitely makes it easier, because this whole personal color theory came from here. I can suggest you to read about Suzanne Caygill. She was the one who started "seasonal" school of thought and Carol Jackson simplified it. The whole theory is very fascinating. But it's not for everybody. Only for the intuitive (NP) type. And you may not believe in fact that personal colors and personalities are connected (yes, it's sounds very illogical), yet, when I accidentally opened your page my first thought was - it's a very "summer" design of the blog... :)

    With respect,


  4. Do you still do online analysis? I can't find anyone that does color analysis in person and I also want to get a new haircut but am clueless on my face shape.

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