Today my topic is a pet obsession of mine: colour palettes. More specifically, how to work out your own personal colour palette for free and work with it to make all your clothes really suit you and bring out your own lovely features.
I’m sure you all know someone who is nice-enough looking but who just never quite gets it right with colour. They may have lovely fair features but just look washed out; or they may have wonderful olive skin that just looks dull and yellow. This may not be someone else at all – it may be you!
Certainly, for a long time it was me. I am someone with fair skin, cool blue eyes and light brown hair, who used to be obsessed with wearing autumnal colours because I really love Autumn. I was always somewhat disappointed in my appearance though, because my complexion often appeared sickly and my eyes looked small – until one day I picked up a muted grey blue scarf in Marks and Spencer’s and wrapped it around my neck. All of a sudden my skin went from yellowish to cool and translucent, and my eyes seemed to double in size and shine like misty blue water in a loch! I couldn’t believe how different I looked, and from then on, I was on a quest to find the colours that would bring out my own beauty, rather than hide it. Everyone has their own beauty. Even if you think you are very imperfect to look at and have lots of “flaws” (and I count myself in that number!), you have a skin tone, eye colour and hair colour that are just waiting for the right colours to bring them out in beauty.
That’s why I’m such a fan of the seasonal colour palette system. This has been around for a while and has developed from the original four seasons to 12 and now even 16, I believe. I’m not going to go into it in detail because there are lots of good descriptions elsewhere on the Internet, but in a nutshell it goes like this: depending on your particular skin, eye and hair colour, there will be a palette of colours that will suit you. These are organised according to hue, tone, and saturation, and grouped into four “seasons”, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Within each season there are further subdivisions that take into account the great variety and subtleties of people’s colouring even within the four seasons. The point of it is not to impose a set of colours on you and put you into a box with a label; rather it is to identify the colours that will really work for you and bring out the best that already exists in you.
The best way to discover your colour palette is probably to go to a professional colour analyst. They will hold drapes of fabric in different colours against your skin and identify your palette accordingly.
For those like me who can’t afford an expensive appointment with a colour analyst, there is a DIY alternative: using collage software to superimpose a photograph of your face against the different palettes. Although you have to do your research first to make sure that you get your background palettes correct, it is a surprisingly simple and definitive way to discover your palette.
I will demonstrate by showing you my own process, which I used to discover that I am a Soft Summer. To do this, I gathered lots of pictures of the various palettes on Pinterest, downloaded them and then hunted in my own photos for a photograph of myself, taken in natural daylight (but not direct sunlight) and showing my skin tone and eyes clearly. I cropped the picture closely so that it did not show too much of my hair (I find hair can be a bit misleading and is probably the least helpful feature in determining my season) but showed my face and features clearly. It is most important that you use a photo taken in natural daylight!
I then used a collage-making app to create a background of colours and tones against which I could test my face.
Collages, step 1
The first collages you need to make, are ones showing your face against a background of silver, and a background of gold. These will tell you instantly if you are a cool season (silver) or a warm season (gold). Against the correct metal background, your face will look as if it belongs.
You can see immediately that I am a cool season. My face looks at home against the silver background but all wrong against the gold. This tells me that my season is a cool one, which means that I am either winter or summer. Cool = winter and summer; warm = spring and Autumn.
Collages, step 2
From here on in, it’s all a process of elimination. Next, you need to make two collages, with backgrounds showing the two seasons you have identified so far. Here I am against a background of the two cool seasons, first winter and then summer.
You can see at this point that the summer palette looks better on me than the winter one. My features are low contrast, which means that the high level of saturation in the winter colours makes me fade away, so that you notice the background first before my face. If I were wearing a winter-coloured frock, you would notice the dress but not the person inside it. This is not what we’re going for. We want to bring out our own features, to make our clothes work for us and not the other way around.
If at this point you feel the need to go back and confirm your metals analysis, then make collages of the other two palettes and try them out against your face: here you can see that the two warm seasons, Spring and Autumn do not look right with me at all. The cool palettes are confirmed and now Winter has been ruled out, leaving Summer.
Collages, step 3
At this point, you may be saying “Well ok, I’ve discovered which of the four looks best, but that doesn’t mean it actually looks good. I want look fabulous, not just okay.”
Fret not – this is where the further subdivisions come in. I now know that I am a summer, but there is a great variety of complexions and colourings that fit into the summer palette. I need to narrow it down further, and to do this I identified the three different summer palettes on Pinterest (cool, light and soft summers) and made three further collages:
The differences are subtle but you can see straight awat that I am not a light summer (collage 2). The colours in the palette are just that bit too bright and strongly pastel for me. I need something a little more subdued.
So that leaves cool summer (collage 1) and soft summer (collage 3). They both look pretty good, but if you look closely, you can see that I do not really have enough contrast even for cool summer, and I look best against the muted softness of the soft summer palette. These colours have a touch of grey in them, and a low level of saturation. They are quiet and gentle, not bold and bright. This palette is all about subtlety and dreamy understatement.
(N.B. At this point you may need to stop a moment and readjust your expectations. For example, being identified as a soft summer is not always the news you want to hear, especially if you like dramatic colours and bold patterns. Words like “dull”, “boring”, “grey” and “drab” may be nosediving into your head and you may be tempted to ignore your analysis. Don’t. Instead think of phrases like, indeed, “subtlety and dreamy understatement”, or perhaps “soft shadows and mystery” or “cool and collected”. If it helps, think yourself into an Austen or Bronte novel: being a soft summer is not about being a drab poor relation fading into the background, but about being the Lady of your own Life, exuding an air of gentle self-possession – gentle in the old-fashioned meaning of the word. You look quietly cool and confident, as if you’ve got your own thing going on – and all the Darcys, Willoughbys, Rochesters and Brandons in your book are secretly wondering what it is. There, do you feel better now? I do!)
In real life I find I can often go a bit darker than many of the typical soft summer colours and dip into the cool summer colours – great for wintertime – and that there are certain colours I can wear with more saturation, especially blue. But if I go down the dark or saturated routes too far, I always end up looking not quite right and returning to the true soft summer palette as my base. In fact, I have just dyed my bright green dress from my current 2017 spring capsule wardrobe with blue dye to make it a little cooler and more shaded to suit me better (I plan to blog about this so keep an eye open if you are interested.)
And finally, here’s me two years ago wearing a soft summer palette outfit to a friend’s wedding. The lighting isn’t great but you can see that the soft, muted colour scheme goes well with my fair, low contrast colouring.
Verdict: soft summer!
I hope you have found this guide to working out your colour palette at no cost useful. Let me know what palette you are and if you find it helpful in choosing clothes to suit you. I never tire of colours and colour combining, and I would love to hear from you!