Colour Analysis and Choice

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I don’t know if you will agree, but I find the freedom that sewing my own clothes provides can at times be as daunting as it is liberating. By applying a few basic pattern cutting skills to the plethora of sewing patterns available, virtually any style, shape or detail that you could find within ready-to-wear is within our creative capabilities. With near-infinite possibilities, how do you make decisions about what projects you will undertake?

Many sewing blogs recently have been addressing issues of body shapes and figure types and the ‘rules’ that state what is meant to suit each variant. In particular, many sewers interested in vintage/retro styles  have been investigating what decade’s style of dress is most likely to flatter them. Personally, I tend to distrust rules that restrict women and discourage them from experimenting and having fun with any look that they may enjoy. I would argue that any style or garment can suit all but potentially the most extreme body shape, with some modification to the proportions or detailing. Having said that, I do see how these general guidelines can help some people see the wood for the trees and I must admit to having found some truth and direction myself from the discussions that abound.

Of course, an entire industry has sprung up to provide guidance on what shapes and colours to wear. Many individuals and companies claim to possess the ‘secrets’ then charge considerable amounts to divulge them. But whether you chose to follow or reject the guidelines that these categorisations imply, few genuinely find no interest in them altogether, even if you then chose to disregard the advice.  

Many of us our are aware of what silhouettes we are apparently meant to be aiming for in our shopping and garment sewing, but what about fabric choice? With the incredible variety of fabrics available to the home sewer, particularly with the advent of the internet, how on earth do you make a selection? I think most adults already have well defined colour preferences, as colour is such an emotive sensory stimulus. However, last year when I was scraping the barrel for topic ideas on which to base an English language class with a particularly awkward teenage girl, I came across an approach to personal colour categorisation that puts you within one of the four seasons that sparked my interest:

The Woman of Spring

If your season is Spring, your skin has a peachy complexion and most likely freckles. Your hair is light blonde or reddish. A black blouse makes you look pale because the contrast is too strong for your skin. Warm, fresh colours cast a positive light on your face.

The Woman of Summer  

Your skin has a somewhat cool, slightly violet tone. Your hair colour ranges from ash blonde to dark brown. That’s why warm colours are not suitable for the woman of Summer. Cool, subtle shades draw attention to your face.

The Woman of Autumn  

If your hair is dark brown with red highlights and your skin has a peachy to golden yellow shade, then you’re a woman of Autumn. Bad colours for an autumn are pure white or black because they cast dark shadows onto your face, making you look older than you are. Warm, earthy tones are much better because these natural colours enhance your complexion.

The Woman of Winter  

The dark or black hair of a winter is contrasted by her fair complexion with a cool undertone. Natural and earthy colours do not complement this contrast. Clear, bright and strong colours accentuate the cool aura of a winter’s skin.

After some thought, I realised that I am a ‘Woman of Winter’ (!), and actually the colours I naturally gravitate towards for clothing (red, blue, black, turquoise, navy) are the strong or bright shades that my categorisation prescribes, and my general dislike of muted subtle shades seems similarly well-founded. So, what about you? Do you think you fall into one of these categories and, if so, do you already generally follow the rules of that category? What do you think about these types of categorisation? Are they useful or restrictive?

Zoe Edwards   —  

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Comments 29

woolcat

Hi!

I grew up with pale, pale skin and almost-black hair and was so definitely a winter. (I wish I had known this as a teenager before I bought that mustard yellow top!)

Now my hair has a lot of white in it, and my skin tone has more red in it – so although I am still drawn to wintery colours I find I am experimenting a bit with other shades. I feel compelled to tell you, although no-one but me really cares, that I am still under 40, and just happened to go grey early…

Stephanie 3hourspast.blogspot.com

Interesting post. I’m a winter, I arrived at those colors by trial and error. Those are just the ones that work, the ones that make me feel beautiful and alive.

Toby Wollin kitchencountereconomics.com

When I was young, I could wear black – no longer. Too draining. I use navy blue or forest green or chocolate now.

Rebekka

I really hate the tacky names, and also that I for years believed that I shouldn’t wear black because I’m a “summer”. I don’t know if it’s because I have really dark hair or what, but as an adult I’ve found that I can wear “winter” colors with no problem.

I think the idea is a little on the restrictive side, but if you take it with a grain of salt you’re probably good. My guess is that spring and autumn can borrow from each other’s colors, and summer and winter can also borrow from each other – and that’s just the whole cool/warm thing, which is much more basic. I will never, ever be able to wear orange, mustard, brick red, khaki, beige, camel, “natural” or brown. But as long as I get to wear black I’m okay with that. :-)

Alessa farben-freude.blogspot.com

This is an interesting topic that Gertie has also posted about just today. I seem to be an autumn – chestnut hair with slightly reddish highlights and skin that ranges from pink to tan-with-a-red-undertone depending on the season. I wouldn’t describe my skin as “peachy”, though (not enough orange, too much pink) and consequently, I look ghastly in orange-based and nude/tan/beige colors. Brown is ok-but-not-great and grey really isn’t my color (too mousy), regardless of the shade. Black, dark jewel tones but also bright-ish green, blue and red seem to agree with my coloring – consequently, I’m not sure if I’m just a strange cross between spring and autumn or if some people just don’t fit into the season scheme… I usually make do with trying things on (or draping fabric over my arms/under my face) to see if the color suits me…

Reader

The problem with this system is that it excludes virtually all women of color. If you have any links to more inclusive color systems, please post them.

I once tried up loading a photo of myself, getting the color codes for my complexion and then I went to a color palette wheel program and looked at complementary colors, etc. It was moderately helpful.

CrazyVet crazyvet.net

What about women who fall between your categories, like the typical mediterranean black hair and tan, olive skin? It’s not exactly the automn that you describe, and unlike automn (according to you), it is flattered by different shades of white, including pure white, as it accentuates the dark complexion nicely.

Not to mention other ethnicities, which are completely left out in this categorization…

Sara C. headshoulderskneestoes.wordpress.com

Ha! You and Gertie are on the same wavelength.

I had a color me beautiful evaluation when I was in 7th grade. My mom LOVED them. They told me I was a Spring/Autumn. So she bought me clothes in only those colors.

Then as a girl scout, they did our colors with color me beautiful again. I was wearing a red t-shirt and a huge oversized purple sweater. The lady thought I looked so good in those colors that she pronounced me a Winter. She was baffled by the fact that her eval and the previous one weren’t matching up.

I think it all comes down to confidence and personal preference. If you love the color, wear it with confidence and no one will think “oh, that’s cute but it’s SO not her color!” Instead they’ll want some of what you’ve got! If you love it, rock it out and don’t worry about anyone else.

The Cupcake Goddess thecupcakegoddess.com

I suppose that you could categorize me in the Spring and Autumn category. However, I find that putting myself in these categories really limits the other haphazard colors that also look good on me. I do look good in a chocolate brown suit, but I find that I also look great in bright yellow, which is not intended to be one of my colors. I think it depends on skin, hair color, eye color and quite frankly, personality.

I like the idea here, because then before you start sewing up your next project, you can go and try on different colors to see what really accentuates your features. That way, giving you an idea of what to buy at the fabric store.

Tilly tillyandthebuttons.blogspot.com

Oh I don’t know what I am, maybe half Autumn and half Winter? But the advice is contradictory! Could someone just look at my pics on my blog and tell me what colours I should wear?!

Uta el-little.blogspot.com

I think I’m an autumn. And I wear/sew whatever I please! No really, I love reading about style and colors (and patterns, and…), but in the end it’s just too much information to base a wardrobe on. I make my choices by instinct (what do I love), with a bit of practical sensibility (what does it go with) thrown in. Also worth a consideration: does the color/pattern/whatever make me feel good or look good? I’ve started wearing lots of brights in the summer because I feel like it, whether they’re “my colors” or not. My little girl is my role model: Never mind her pale skin and golden hair, she’ll wear as much hot pink as the closet will provide!

Sarah rhinestonesandtelephones.com

Great post! I’m technically a Winter, but I always wear what makes me feel good and happy. I like reds, aqua, pinks, purples, and some browns and blacks.

Ali wardrobereimagined.blogspot.com

Thanks for this post, Zoe. I picked up Color Me Beautiful this year at a thrift store and “did my colors” and found I’m a winter. Like you, I think these categorizations can be limiting, but for someone like me who has never really experimented with shape and color, these so-called rules give me an excuse to try new things. As soon as I “discovered” I was a winter, I tried wearing white and vibrant colors and was surprised how much I loved them. They make me feel confident. More than specific colors, it made me think of the shade/tone of color. I’ll wear any color I want, but I’m more cognizant that some shades of that color (royal blue vs. baby blue, for instance) are more likely to flatter my natural coloring.

A couple folks mentioned this doesn’t work for all ethnicities, and I agree. There’s another book, a break-off of the Color-Me-Beautiful philosophy for people of color (can’t remember the title), but I didn’t find it overly useful. Like anything, I think we should take what resonates with us, leave the rest!

Rena renakatinas.wordpress.com

I’m a painter so I’ve always had a good grasp of color. I’ve always known that I’m a winter but can pull off the cool summer shades as well, as I have dark hair/eyes and pale slightly freckled skin with blue undertones. I steer clear of neutrals and orangey reds, and go straight to reds and purples on the blue side of the spectrum. I’ve found white is also generally flattering to the face, except in photographic situations.

While in school, I had the opportunity to paint many models who were women of color, and I can say with all certainty that skin with darker tones does have all the same color characteristics of lighter toned skin. Some African American skin tones are warm with honey or chocolate tones or have yellow casts and some are very cool, with heavy undertones of blue. The same goes for Hispanic/Native American skin, some has more red, some has more cool yellows.

If you don’t have access to many different colors of fabric to test against your face no matter your skin color, a quick way to see if you should go on the cool side or warm side is to try on both a blue-red lipstick (includes berries, purples and magentas) and an orange-red lipstick (includes brick, browns, raison.) Do this in a north facing window, as it’s the most even and natural light to judge color against you skin, and you will instantly know which lipstick makes you skin glow and which makes your skin look, well for lack of a better word, dead and lackluster.

Antoinette clevergirl.org

Yep, I’m also not on this scale at all with darker skin tone and black hair. If I am curious enough to find something fun on the web that includes a wider variety of skin and hair colors, I will pass it along. :)

Sølvi solvi.se

Great topic! I remember my mother had a Color Me Beautiful book, and found that I was a spring gal, this still fits me rather well, as I have a yellow tone in my skin, but I must also say this that I do wear black a lot with no problem, so the system is absolutely not without flaws.

As others have commented, the most important thing is to know if you have a “cold” or a “warm” skin tone, and then experiment with colors and choose fabric with that in mind!

Gina lumay.blogspot.com

I had my colors done professionally several years ago, and I was found to be a Soft Autumn. What is odd is that I often wore (well) some of the more difficult colors of the Soft Autumn palette decades before the professional analysis.

Color Me Beautiful now recognizes 3 types within each of the 4 “seasons”, which can make it easier to figure out your “season”.

Gauss

The seasons and color guide doesn’t make much sense to me. It seems to be mostly based on hair color… I think I will continue to wear my favorite colors (all of them, really) and not worry about what I “should” wear.

Jessica ayenforcraft.blogspot.com

I think my mom unofficially “color”d me when I was in my early teens and marked me as an Autumn or a soft winter? I never paid much attention, but have been gravitating towards earth tones for at least a decade now because I find them easier to match [and therefore layer, and therefore easier to mix-and-match my wardrobe]. Recently I’ve started experimenting more with saturated or classic [red/blue] colors, and also layering neutrals, so some of it may have to do with moving on to different phases of life.

For me, part of it also depends on the time of year. I can wear black and white in summer, when I tend to get tanned from exercising outdoors. In winter they wash me out, so my only blacks are v-necks so that I can wear another color closer to my face, for example. And I religiously avoid pastels, especially the cool pastels.

Sz szmusil.wordpress.com

My color preference is definitely a “winter” with dashes of summer brights thrown in – lime green, yellow. The colors of spring (peach, orange) make my skin look jaundinced and those of fall just make me depressed!

No color analysis though – this was all arrived at by trial-and-error. Sometimes it’s still a trial, sometimes I still err.

K

I’m disappointed in the writer for not pointing out the obvious limitation in the categorization based on hair colour – I read the Selfish Seamstress first http://selfishseamstress.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/are-you-a-winter-whatever/ and found the way of opening the discussion better executed. Though to be fair I am a naturally grumpy person and also I’m no fair Englishwoman.

From the SS comments, there was the alternative colour analysis a-la ‘Colour with Style’ (sorry, Aussies use ‘English’ English)
http://www.donnafujii.com/df_html/stylespa/coloranalysis/index_con.html if people are interested – it tries to match your skin tone first and foremost and bases its analysis on that. Interesting that it asks ‘do you tan easily’ and so on.

I personally think the best way to tell if the colour suits you is if you look in the mirror with the item; I’d take these analysis tools (*cough* BS) with a large slab of rock salt. Though it might encourage you to look at colours you wouldn’t normally pick, as Sz states simple trial and error seems sufficient to me..

Beth

I find the new and improved system of colour analysis quite good. As someone mentioned here earlier, it divides each season in 3, which makes 12 different result in general. These are, of course, also generalizations like the old system, but I find it more accurate.

Spring: Clear spring (between winter and spring, clear, high contrasting colours, striking eyes. Think Cameron Diaz or Jenny McCarthy), warm spring (the archetypical spring with warm skin and warm, clear eyes. Often red or golden haired. Think Nicole Kidman and Amy Adams), light spring (crossover between spring and summers. Light and delicate, yet favours light warm colours, but can also wear some cool colours. Think Kate Hudson and Diane Sawyer)

Summer: Light summer (crossover between summer and spring. Lighter, cooler and more delicate than light spring with softer, “paler” eyes and often ash tones to their hair. Think Naomi Watts and Michelle Pfeiffer), cool summer (no warm tones in skin, hair or eyes. Eyes can be grey, blue, blue grey, blue green, grey green. Lighter than cool winter, and favours softer, cool shades. Think Elliot from Scrubs, Dana from According to Jim or Candice Bergen), soft summer (summer autumn crossover. Needs soft and muted shades. Not too light, not too dark. Soft, “smudged” eyes when compared to the other seasons, especially the clear seasons. Skin appears neutral. Often mistaken for a winter. The soft summer is lighter and softer than the winter. Think Sarah Jessica Parker or Leona Lewis)

Autumn: Soft autumn (autumn summer crossover. Often mistaken for a light spring, but is far softer and more velvety. Appears neutral, but favours warmer, soft and muted colours.. Think Drew Barrymore), warm autumn (sister season of warm spring, but deeper, softer and darker. Think Lindsay Lohan au naturelle or Debra Messing), deep autumn (blend between autumn and winter, but favours the deep, warmer shades. Dark hair and eyes. A lot of coloured women and men fall within the deep seasons, but can also be one of the soft seasons. Think Julia Roberts or Kelley from the American The Office)

Winter: Deep winter (winter meets autumn. Deep, rich, dark colours. Cooler than the deep autumn. Think Eva Longoria or Sandra Bullock), cool winter (sister season of cool summer, but clearer and darker. No warm tones in hair, skin or eyes. Think Lauren Graham), clear winter (can wear some of the spring colours. Clear, sparkling eyes, clear skin, high contrast between skin and hair. Usually dark haired. Think Courtney Cox)

Megan Lopez chestnuthaircolor.org

Hey, There are a lots of hair colors which you can choose it easily. I glad to found the post, amazing… I agreed.

Colour Analysis colour-coaching.com

Thank you for sharing. Love your post.

Trisha weareoca.com

As a textile tutor (professional life) and private person who just loves colour too, I find all this fascinating stuff! Alessa, I take your point, I am like you, I think, dark hair with some red tones, very dark olive green eyes (which read as dark brown from a distance) but very pale, almost goth, not pink, very slightly warm tone, ivory really. I used to be called a Winter, then was re-done as an Deep Autumn, as have some warmth, but the pale skin throws everyone! I look ill in autumn oranges and browns though, suit black and deep teals and aubergines (not to warm, not cool though). So yes, guess you can be deep and neutralish! Love this website and the book by the way. Inherited 1960s dress fabrics from aunt last year and started to make up own clothes as I did when a girl. Two aunts worked for Norman Hartnell the Queens dressmaker here in UK and on her wedding dress etc. I am an oldie but can wear your clothes patterns and they look on me too!

Angie Phillips none

I would like for my daughter-in-law to have a color analysis. She lives in Portland, OR. What do you suggest?

Jacqui

IF you are a woman of colour, I suggest going to this website: http://www.truth-is-beauty.com/
Why? Because the author lists non-Caucasian examples as well as white women examples. The author also colour analyses on her blog, for everyone. Men included.

Rachel

This was interesting to read! It would be neat to see a guide like this for colorblind women (like me). It’s difficult to tell if a hue is flattering or not…

Nancy S. melrosemiss.blogspot.com

I think color analysis popularity is fading in the US and that makes me sad. I think it is genius and it has made shopping easier for me. I think I have been to every company that did color analysis, starting with Color Me Beautiful and ending with Color 1. I have to say I like them all but prefer Color 1’s color samples as they are exact matches to Pantone colors suitable for me. They match your skin, your hair and your eye colors, right down to every single color in your eyes, with the feeling that using your skin, hair and eye colors can sometimes be the best for us. As a Summer woman who has grayed, I don’t wear the rose browns as well as before but still can work them in here and there. Sewing for myself has made it much easier to wear the “right” colors but finding those colors can be hard. I do miss the fabric companies that used to offer fabric by one’s color season.

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