This concept isn’t anything new, however, and while it might be fun to essentially stick your face in 12 digital kaleidoscope toys, there’s actually a method to this madness! Last time, we did a little deep dive about Kibbe Body Types and how discovering the right fit of clothing for your unique body type can help you not only look your best when getting dressed, but feel great about yourself too.
Recall a time that this might have happened to you. Nothing sucks more than buying something online that you think is cute, only to discover when you try it on in person that it totally washes you out or exaggerates your skin tone in an unflattering way. This is where seasonal color analysis comes in, a theory that fashion-forward folks like to use to inform which colors they should wear and which they should steer clear of.
The four color seasons are much like our own in nature: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. In theory, if you dress in colors that are harmonious with your natural beauty, you’ll look your best. Just like how one size definitely doesn’t fit all, one color also doesn’t fit all!
Where Did All This Color Theory Stuff Even Come From?
Color theory isn’t exclusive to fashion but became a styling staple after professional color consultant Carole Jackson wrote the book Color Me Beautiful in the 1980s. In her book, she divided individuals into the following color seasons: Those who are spring look best in “clear, delicate, or bright colors with yellow undertones.” Those who are summer look best in “cool, soft colors with blue undertones.” Those who are autumn look best in “stronger colors with orange and gold undertones.” And finally, those who are winter look best in “clear, vivid, or icy colors with blue undertones.”
While these guidelines certainly aren’t meant to be hard and fast rules, following them might help you put together a more cohesive wardrobe and personal style that makes you feel like you’re putting your best foot forward.
One of my favorite style influencers, Ellie-Jean Royden, makes insightful videos on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube about customizing your personal style through cuts, colors, and textures that match your body shape, color season, and aura. Her video on how to determine your color season is very informative, diving into the three elements of color seasons, ranking your features, and then placing yourself into a category.
The Three Elements at Play Are…
According to Ellie-Jean, there are three key elements to discovering your color season. You’re either light or dark, warm or cool, and saturated or clear. If you find yourself thinking, Wait, Andrea, what do you mean I’m saturated or clear? then keep reading. I know the terminology might seem inapplicable to the human body, but there’s real thought behind this.
Light or Dark
If you have light features rather than dark features, you might have hair color like blonde, light red, or light brown. The same concept applies for skin color, so if you have a lighter shade of black skin, you’re probably a lighter type. Similarly, light types don’t just have blue eyes, they can have light brown eyes, light green eyes, and so on.
Ellie-Jean describes the four light types as bright winter, light spring, light summer, and soft autumn. Then there are the medium types, where your features are closer to the middle than evidently light or dark. Medium types are true winter, true spring, true summer, and true autumn. Finally, there are the dark types: dark winter, bright spring, bright summer, and dark autumn.
Warm or Cool
The next element for you to identify is whether you have a warm or cool undertone. Style influencer Gabrielle Arruda does a great job explaining that while there are warm and cool hues, there are also neutral and olive hues.
Her first step to determining your skin undertone is through the metal jewelry test. If you go into natural sunlight and look best with silver jewelry, you likely have cool undertones. If you go into natural sunlight and look best with gold jewelry, then you likely have a warm hue. One important caveat is to remove your personal biases from the equation and really get objective with yourself to determine which color makes your skin look the most even and healthy. It might help to ask for outside opinions!
Another test Gabrielle suggests is the vein test. If you look at your inner wrist and your veins look green, you probably have warm undertones. If your veins look blue or purple, then you probably rock a cool hue. One other test that Ellie-Jean recommends is the peach vs. purple lip test. Do your natural lips look more peachy? You most likely have warm undertones. Are your natural lips a bit more purple? Then you’ve got a cool hue.
Totally lost with these warm and cool tests? You might instead be neutral or olive! As Gabrielle explains, a neutral-toned person has an even balance of warm and cool hues, so they might have green veins but look great in silver jewelry. If you have olive undertones, you’re still technically part of the cool hue group (with blue undertones), but since your overtone is green, your skin might appear more yellow.
Need a visual? Check out these color palette breakdowns for cool (summer and winter) and warm (autumn and spring) tones.
Saturated or Clear
Alright, so what in the world does it mean to be saturated or clear? I hear you, we’re all luckily opaque, but this terminology actually means that you’re saturated with a bunch of different colors. Ellie-Jean explains that people who are saturated have a lot of grey in their features, using herself as the example because her blue eyes contain a lot of grey and she has grey under her eyes and in her cheeks. In her terms, she has a “whole grey undercurrent” rather than clarity.
The second way to understand if you’re saturated or clear is to ask yourself if you can distinguish the colors of any of your features. Ellie-Jean uses the example of someone with hazel eyes as an automatic saturated trait because there’s no clear green or brown color. If your hair is easily defined as black or blonde, for example, you’re more likely to have clear traits. If your hair has some red in it or many different types of brown, then those traits are saturated.
One important note is that you might also hear the term “bright” used to describe “clear” and the term “soft” used to describe “saturated.” Though Ellie-Jean and other stylists may use clear and saturated, most style guides will use the terms bright and soft instead, which is what I’ll use moving forward.
So, What’s Your Season?
Yes, that’s a lot of information to take in. I hope you’ve been taking notes! Ellie-Jean recommends that you then rank these three elements to best inform what your color season is. Which one of these three elements do you lead with? Which jumps out the most about you? For Ellie-Jean, she ranks herself as being cool-toned as the most defining feature, then being light, and then being saturated.
Once you’ve got your color season figured out, you should then in theory wear the colors that fit the same description as your color season. Winters are cool, dark, and bright. Springs are warm, bright, and light. Summers are cool, light, and saturated. Autumns are warm, dark, and saturated. That said, there is so much nuance!
Bright winter is bright, cool, and light. A celeb example of a bright winter is Olivia Munn.
True winter is cool, clear, and dark. A celeb example of a true winter is Janelle Monae.
Dark winter is dark, cool, and saturated. A celeb example of a dark winter is Nina Dobrev.
Bright spring is bright, warm, and dark. A celeb example of a bright spring is Vanessa Hudgens.
True spring is warm, bright, and light. A celeb example of a true spring is Blake Lively.
Light spring is light, warm, and saturated. A celeb example of a light spring is Elle Fanning.
Light summer is light, cool, and bright. A celeb example of a light summer is Reese Witherspoon.
True summer is cool, light, and saturated. A celeb example of a true summer is Anna Kendrick.
Soft summer is saturated, cool, and dark. A celeb example of a soft summer is Kate Middleton.
Soft autumn is saturated, warm, and light. A celeb example of a soft autumn is Gisele Bündchen.
True autumn is warm, saturated, and dark. A celeb example of a true autumn is Ana de Armas.
Dark autumn is dark, warm, and bright. A celeb example of a dark autumn is Zendaya.
Utilize Your Color Choices To Look Your Best
Ready to see the power of someone dressing in their right colors? Let’s use some well-known celebrities as an example. First, let’s look at Zoe Saldana. Zoe is a bright spring, so her three elements are bright, warm, and then dark. She looks amazing in colors like tomato red, stark black and white, or banana yellow because they are bright and warm rather than cool grey or subdued pinks.
Next, let’s take a look at Bella Hadid. Bella is a soft summer, which means her seasonal elements are ranked saturated, cool, and then dark. Those dolly pale pinks, greys, seafoam greens, champagnes, ivories, and dusty blues look timeless on her, but more intense colors might overwhelm her.
All this to say, your color season doesn’t restrict you from wearing a particular hue or vibrancy in your clothing, but in theory, if you align your season with your wardrobe, then you’ll likely look more cohesive. If I were to follow these guidelines, I personally think that based on my looks, I’d be categorized as a soft summer. This doesn’t mean that I can’t wear vibrant colors, but that the same colors and shades I listed for Bella above would be best suited to my looks as well.
“Colors that look great on someone else won't necessarily translate into those colors looking great on you […] basically the colors that will add to your sparkle for your life that would be recommended to wear head to toe,” said style and color consultant Carol Brailey in an interview with Parade.
You can do a full color analysis on yourself by using the methods I described above, or you can pay to get a full color consultation from a personal stylist like Ellie-Jean. You could also crowdsource opinions from your friends if you’re looking for a cost-friendly option, or test out free digital software where you upload your photo and it analyzes your looks for you.
Color analysis has been used in art for many, many years as painters sought visual harmony and pleasing palettes to make their work fully cohesive. If a painter knew that one shade of a color used to paint an individual’s clothing made that person look sickly or washed out, they’d adjust their paint accordingly. You can harness this wisdom in your own life by learning which color season you fit into so that every article of clothing you buy flatters your unique looks!
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