Monday, June 2, 2014

A Reader Inquires: Color Analysis

Recently a reader asked this question: 
How did you work out your best neutrals - you seem to go for black, navy and gray - do you do the cool/warm thing? Or just pick what you like? 
Well.... A bit of both actually. Before I knew anything about color analysis, I almost always opted for black, navy, and gray. Then when I became more learned in the art of dressing well, I realized that this was probably a result of the reality that I actually do look my best in those colors. Do you see what I mean? I intuitively gravitated toward that which was the most flattering. Now that I am trained in color analysis, I know that my coloring (hair, eyes, and skin taken into account), would be classified as dark cool, and these are the neutrals that best complement my complexion.

Discussions on color in relation to fashion tend to focus exclusively on color as trend, so I'm guessing that some of you readers haven't heard much about color analysis. So what is color analysis?

Color analysis, also referred to as seasonal color analysis, or skin tone matching, is the practice of determining a person's underlying skin tones and the colors that look most flattering against these tones. Color analysis operates from the principle that all people, regardless of hair, eye, or skin color have either blue or yellow undertones as the foundation of skin color. These undertones dictate if a person has cool or warm coloring, respectively, and indicate which color palette (i.e. cool or warm) is most flattering to the wearer. Furthermore, most people can be classified as dark cool or warm or light cool or warm, depending on the intensity of color that occurs in hair, eyes, and skin. 

So, are you interested in finding your best colors? Here are a few simple steps to get the process of self discovery started.

Look at the veins on the inside of your wrist. A bluish cast means cool, greenish means warm.  If you can't distinguish one or the other, don't worry. Try this:

Find two articles of clothing, one bright pink, one bright orange. Remove any makeup and pull your hair back. Stand in front of a mirror in natural light, and first hold the pink up under your chin. Take a look, then try the orange. One will accentuate your wrinkles and give you a sickly look, the other should make your skin almost glow. If you are having a difficult time being objective, ask a friend for her opinion. If pink is best you are cool, if orange you are warm.

If you are still having doubts, find something silver and something gold. Alternate holding each piece against your skin, and see which looks better. Silver looks best on cool complexions, gold on warm.

If you are getting inconsistent results, you could have coloring that is considered neutral. Like my husband, you are one of the few who looks good in both warm and cool colors (though you may lean more toward one of the palettes). If this is you, consider yourself lucky!

Once you have determined that you are warm or cool, take this next step to determine where your complexion falls on the spectrum of the palette.

For cool complexions, do the mirror test with something bright pink, and something light pink.

For warm complexions, do the mirror test with something bright orange, and something cream or coral.

If the lighter color is more flattering than the darker one, you have a light cool or a light warm complexion.

So what's all this mean, practically speaking?

If you are warm, choose colors that have a golden or yellow base - orange, coral, peach, olive green, khaki, and warmer reds. Cream, brown, and tan are your best neutrals if you have stronger coloring. If your complexion is light, lighter browns, camel, beige, and cream will probably be your most flattering neutrals.

If you are cool, choose colors with a blue base - purples, pink, mint, and greens such as turquoise and emerald. White, black, navy and gray are your best neutrals. If you have a lighter cool complexion, black, navy, and white may look harsh. Instead, try charcoal gray, lighter grays, and bone as your neutrals. 

And if you love colors that aren't in your palette, just wear them away from your face!


  1. Thanks for these tips! Color analysis always confuses me, but this explains why I love black and navy so much!

  2. this is the best and most practical explanation of this stuff i've ever read ... i always get so confused, but this makes sense. off to find light and dark pink things ;) thank you, thank you, thank you!

  3. I find this all so fascinating. I used to pick "cool" colors but I think I'm warm. The veins under my wrist look more green. I haven't gotten around to the scarf test though. . . . Thanks for explaining it all!

    1. Definitely do the color swatch test, it is usually very telling! Also, many times those with warm complexions have reddish tints in their natural hair color... While this isn't the end all be all determining factor for skin tone, sometimes its a useful clue.

  4. gah! i'm so confused! what am i mary? i know i'm light but thats all i got!

    1. I'm not sure, Nicole! See my response to Laura above for another tip. Also, I have all the color swatches, and at some point Heather and I were talking about having a ladies' get together and doing a little color analysis for the fun of it. You know, alcohol, snacks, color swatches. Maybe we should get something together.

    2. you should just come over some night. we can have a drinking, nursing, online shopping, color analysis, peruse my closet party ;) aside from home decorating, i love fashion. and i think i fall more in line with your style....clean and classic. we would have a blast...especially if martinis are involved ;)


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