If you mess around on social media at all, you’ve probably seen the latest innovations for finding your “color season.” Seasonal color analysis takes the coloring and undertones of your eyes, your hair and your skin tone, and places you into a “season” color palette. These seasonal color palettes contain the colors that will naturally enhance your features and flatter you best.

Why the Resurgence?

This is not a new concept. Color seasons go all the way back to impressionist painters, who had to accurately represent a seasonal landscape by the tones, hues and shades they used.  We already instinctively associate certain colors with each season, as well, like when we use pastels to decorate for spring.

The concept of seasonal color regarding your own hair, skin and eyes was initially popularized by Carole Jackson’s book Color Me Beautiful in the 1980s. Today, upscale boutiques offer “draping” services, where color consultants do analysis using various colored swatches of fabric. But mostly, the revival of this trope is due to a number of apps and online quizzes that purportedly help you find your ideal color season on your own. 

Color Theory

In order to understand the concept of color seasons, you need to know a little bit about color theory. Color theory is the study of how colors work together and how they affect our emotions and perceptions. The basis of color theory uses the color wheel that you might remember from elementary school. In what feels a bit like magic, color theory can explain why a certain hue of pink has green in it, or how you can “fix” a botched hair dye job without bleach by adding the opposing color. (For an incredible example, Fritz Does Art on TikTok does hypnotic color matching videos.)

So is Color Season Analysis Legit?

If analyzed correctly, a certain set of colors and shades can indeed complement our personal color palette better than others. Color consultants use color theory (and a well-trained eye) to find those colors using the “draping” technique. Essentially, they sit you down in natural lighting and then drape different colored fabrics over your chest and shoulders to see which ones flatter you the most. 

As simple as that sounds, it’s actually a lot more complicated than you might think. You can’t just say, “Oh, I look good in blue, I must be a winter.” There are infinite variations of the color blue that fall into different season categories.

Jackson’s book used a simple “four seasons” color analysis that looked at two variables: the undertone of your skin, hair and eyes (aka temperature; either warm/golden or cool/ashy), and the lightness or darkness of your overall coloring (aka value). The seasons represent the four possible variations of these two variables. For example, if your natural hair color is lighter than medium brown you are likely a spring or summer; if it is darker, you are an autumn or winter.

However, most people don’t fall neatly into one of the four seasons from the original concept, which doesn’t even take people of color into consideration. The new understanding of color season analysis expands upon the original model with a third color dimension variable: chroma, or how strong and saturated the color is. High chroma describes colors that are clear and bright, while low chroma colors are more muted and soft. By adding the third color dimension, each of the original seasons are divided into three subseasons, which account for the fact that “seasons” overlap or flow into each other in distinct ways.

seasonal color palettes surround author Caitlin Manner's face
An image of yourself sans makeup and in natural lighting can be the starting point for your color journey.

Have We Lost You?

Color theory is complicated and fascinating, but it’s not for everyone. So how do you find your personal color season?

Video platforms like TikTok, SnapChat and Instagram have started popularizing filters that can at least get you started on your color journey. Usually they have a circle in the center of the screen through which you can see your face, and the colors of various seasons surround it. You can toggle between the different seasons to see which set of colors you think looks best, although it isn’t always easy to decide. (That said, it’s fun to do. For the sake of research and journalistic integrity, I tried it. You can see a dozen versions of me and my potential colors at right.)

Websites can also help you do this from home, like colorwise.me. You upload an image of yourself sans makeup and in natural lighting, and the site takes it from there.

Alternatively, you could pay an expert to do it for you. For example, House of Colour image consultants will perform a color analysis and then provide tutelage on how you can use your newfound knowledge in your clothing, hair and makeup choices. This option isn’t cheap, but it is a pleasurable way to spend a few hours. You never know — maybe you will discover something about yourself and gain some sartorial confidence along the way.

Top image by VChornyy from Getty Images, via Canva.com


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