Or: "The only way to find out what colors look good on you is to find out what colors look good on you."
I've been thinking about the different approaches to personal color analysis.
I don't mean the different methods, exactly, but rather the different chains of logic.
One way of thinking about it goes like this:
You have [X] physical characteristics;
your season is [Y], and [Z] colors will flatter you best.
IRL, this might sound something like
"You have dark hair and eyes. Your skin appears neutral-cool. Therefore, your season is Deep Winter, and deep, neutral-cool, moderately bright colors will flatter you best."
Or it could sound like
"You have a bluish-grey cracked-glass pattern in your eye, with a yellow flare around the pupil; therefore your season is Light Summer..." etc., etc.
"You have an overall soft, muted appearance, and your skin appears more cool than warm, therefore you are a Soft Summer...." etc., etc.
This method of analysis is the one you encounter most frequently on the web. It assumes that observable physical characteristics can predict what colors look good on someone.
The other main method you encounter goes like this:
Testing different colors on your skin has shown that [Z] colors flatter you;
therefore, your season is [Y]
(and you may have [X] physical characteristics, which tend to occur in this season).
IRL, this might sound something like
"Deep, neutral-cool, moderately bright colors flatter you best. Therefore, your season is Deep Winter.
(Oh, and incidentally, you may have dark hair and eyes, with skin that looks neutral-cool, because that's what many Deep Winters look like.)"
Kathryn Kalisz, the late founder of Sci\Art and author of Understanding Your Color, seems to have been the first person to broadly disseminate this second approach.
I subscribe to this second way of thinking about personal color analysis. Here are the three main reasons I believe it's more accurate:
Reason 1. It's only logical that different human beings, who come in an infinite variety of coloring combinations, might seem to resemble each other closely but actually respond differently to color because of subtle individual differences in skin undertone that an observer can't perceive.
In other words, two people with hair, eyes and skin that seem to be the same might still be flattered by different colors, because of small differences in their coloring that the viewer can't tell just by looking at them.
Reason 2. Identifying a season through experimentation -- by actually testing different colors on a person -- is more scientific than identifying a season based on what a person's coloring supposedly should predict.
In other words, it's all well and good to say that you should be flattered by a certain set of colors, but that's theoretical. Let's make it empirical by actually testing the colors.
Reason 3. With my own eyes, I've seen many, many real-life examples of people whose observable characteristics couldn't have predicted their seasons.
For example, some of my colleagues include
I also know a red-haired, brown-eyed Cool Summer; a pale, teal-eyed Deep Autumn; a Light Spring with dark hazel eyes; a brunette Light Spring; a Light Summer with a reddish beard; and a Soft Summer with dark brown hair and dark reddish-brown skin.
As Christine Scaman of 12 Blueprints has written many times:
Any season can have any hair color and any eye color.
Are there patterns, tendencies, general truths in personal coloring?
For example, Bright Winters tend to have striking, "jewel-like" eyes, dark hair, and an overall "clear" look.
But if you're wondering whether you are a Bright Winter, it doesn't help you to know that 40 or 60 or 80 percent of people with your same physical traits are Bright Winters.
The question still remains: are you?
Draping is the only way to know for sure.
Good online analysis, that only considers the effect of colors on your skin, is the next-best option. Its accuracy varies from analyst to analyst.
Here are some other methods for narrowing your season down to a few contenders. All of them consider the effect of colors on your skin - nothing else.
P.S. Kalisz's excellent book is still available by special order from Suzanna Greif. E-mail her at email@example.com. IMHO, this book is essential reading for anyone wanting a good understanding of the science of personal color.
P.P.S. Analysts trained by Kalisz's company, Sci\Art, use the 2nd method I describe in this post; you can see a directory of Sci\Art-trained analysts at Christine Scaman's website.
(Sci\Art is now called Spectrafiles, btw.)
These women have two things in common.
1. They're all famous Springs.
2. They're all brunettes.
Their Springiness may help these particular women be convincing blondes. But like most adult American women with blonde hair, their natural hair color is actually brown.
I bring this up because we deceive ourselves about blondeness, and in doing so we deceive ourselves about seasonal color.
We want to believe in blondeness. So we smile and nod when celebs claim they're "natural blondes" and we ignore the evidence in front of our eyes.
(I think celebs have all agreed to privately define "naturally blonde" as "blonde at birth" or "blonde during some period of my childhood." One's childhood hair color is not one's natural color if one is no longer a child.)
Articles like this one perpetuate this peculiar, false faith in the supposed natural blondeness of brown-haired celebs. It doesn't take a lot of research to determine that Angelina, Brittany, Gwyneth, etc. have been natural brunettes at least since adolescence, if not longer.
OK, so what? Why do I care?
Well, partly because belief in the myth of widespread natural blondeness perpetuates an idealization of light coloring that's hurtful to darker women, especially because the context is a society that already privileges Whiteness in so many ways.
Partly because of my nature: I'm an Enneagram 4. I want to reveal the truth.
And partly - and most pertinently, for this blog - because seeing all these supposedly blonde Spring and Summer celebs leads us to incorrectly believe that Springs and Summers - especially Light Springs and Summers, and Warm Springs - are typically blonde.
I personally know many brunettes whose path to discovering their true colors was made longer and more difficult because of a shared, mistaken belief that certain Spring and Summer seasons are blonde seasons.
There is no blonde season. Every season's average or typical representative is a natural brunette.
Statistically, it's inevitable that this be the case; with the vast majority of all human beings having naturally brown or black hair, a majority of even the most delicately-colored people will be brunette as well.
It's true that natural blondeness is not found infrequently in the seasons with lighter palettes, in particular Light Summer and Light Spring.
Might a quarter, or even a third, of adult Light Summers or Light Springs have blonde hair growing naturally from their heads? Perhaps. You can think of dozens of Light-season people as easily as I can. What proportion of them are blonde at age 30?
Surely not the majority of them. Probably not even half of them.
Let's revise our mental image of what these seasons look like. The caricatures just get in the way of seeing what's real. We know it's not about hair color anyway, so let's picture what it's really about. Look at the Light and Warm Springs and Light Summers that you know: what do you really see?
P.S. Blonde sisters, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm hating on you. You're beautiful and I love you. I just like to keep it real.
P.P.S. Scandinavians, I realize what I've written here might not reflect your reality. I know there is an unusual proportion of natural blondes in your little corner of the world. :-)
Here is a hair color scale I originally intended to use in the post above, to help make clear how I'm personally defining "blonde" and "brown."
In the end, it felt pedantic to include it - but now I think the failure to attempt to define terms just added to the general chaos. So for the record, this graphic reflects how I was conceptualizing these hair colors when I wrote the post. For me, it was essentially a question of hue: more yellow than brown = blonde, more brown than yellow = brunette.
The pics in this collage are close-ups of the lips of Soft Autumn celebrities wearing natural-looking makeup in good light.
The colors you see in this collage are pulled from the lips themselves. The collage actually started as an experiment to see whether the colors I pulled out would match colors in the Soft Autumn swatchbook. In fact, they do match several of Soft Autumn's light-to-medium peaches and pinks.
Notice that some of the pinks read as quite cool, while some of the peaches seem inarguably warm. This is a neutral, neutral season. Some of you SAs might find the shades at one end of this season's thermometer slightly more flattering than those at the other; that's normal. Others of you can wear the peaches and the pinks equally well.
Several Soft Autumns pointed out to me that SA can go deeper than this. It's true. This is more your I-woke-up-looking-this-fantastic lip than your sexy lip.
(Yes, we all get a sexy lip. But Soft Autumn's sexy lip color would barely register on a Bright Winter, while Bright Winter's sexy lip color would look clownish on Soft Autumn. It's all relative.)
Celebrity lips featured here include those of Drew Barrymore, Mischa Barton, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Ferrin, Naima Mora, Valeria Golino, Natasha McElhone, Gisele Bundchen, and Kelly Macdonald.
(Doesn't that sound romantic?)
From talking and listening to Winter women, particularly on the 12 Blueprints Facebook page, I've learned that deep, vivid Winter colors can take some getting used to.
It can be difficult for a newly identified Winter to see past the intensity of the color in a swatchbook and imagine how normal it will look on a Winter face. Even seeing the color on the lip, it can be hard for a Winter woman to take in how the color is balancing the rest of the face.
Let's start with True (Cool) Winters.
The beauty industry has trained us to believe that a natural lip will necessarily be a medium peachy-beige color. Hence all the tubes of this shade that are called Nude Something.
A True Winter might believe such a color is the only hue that can create a natural look. Nude = natural, right?
Not in your case, True Winters. On a woman who needs both coolness and depth, this color looks anything but natural.
What will read as natural on you is a color you might not expect:
You know those cool, fairly bright, medium pinks in your swatchbook? The ones that look like Barbie cars? They look absolutely normal on a True Winter face.
Match the swatch; don't be afraid. In the tube it may seem very, very pink, but on your lip it will be natural.
Doesn't this look loads more normal?
True Winter, when you see a shade that's supposedly "nude" or "flesh-toned," stay away from it. That's not your natural look.
(Probably it's True (Warm) Autumn's. Seems like all their best lippies are called Creamy Nude, Rosy Nude, Nude in the Afternoon, Nude at Breakfast, etc. A very sexy season, apparently.)
Now, Dark (Deep) Winter... you are a Winter of another sort altogether. A light lip won't cut it for you.
Consider this particular light, cool pink.
It might look natural on a Light Summer:
Since I blogged only about Autumns and Winters at the Golden Globes (working and mothering cut into my computer time, alas), I think it's fair to focus on the Summers and Springs at this year's Academy Awards.
I'll start with the adorable Reese Witherspoon.
Despite how cute she is, it's hard to find pics of Reese in flattering colors; I get the feeling she's a Light Summer who's not comfortable with the perceived girliness and insubstantiality of the Light Summer palette.
Here's one of the only pics I could find showing her in a color that's Light Summery:
So sweet. I'd love to see her looking like this more often.
The gown she wore to the 2006 Oscars was also a natural color:
In both of the pics above, our eyes go to Reese's face. The colors look as if they're lifted right from her skin. Her naturally low level of contrast is not overwhelmed.
For most big events, unfortunately, Reese chooses colors more appropriate for a Winter. This year's Oscars was no exception.
(I won't nitpick right now about her artificially blonde hair. Though I oppose it on principle, she is, as a Light Summer, one of the few seasons who can convincingly fake blondisme.)
Things from the neck up are pretty harmonious, I think.
Apart from the silly but inevitable black liner, the overall look is Reese, only better. She has a beautifully light and neutral-cool cheek, and a beautifully light and neutral-cool lip. The hair is a natural-looking combination of golden, neutral and ash tones. Reese presents a beautiful Light Summer visage.
It's when we zoom out that things become less sweet.
To her credit, she's showing a lot of bare skin next to her face, which will always neutralize the effects of a bad color somewhat. (Your skin acts as a harmonious color.) Also, the band of white at the top of the dress isn't bad for her.
But the huge block of black, and the contrast between the black and the white, keep dragging the eyes down to the dress and away from her face.
And when you look back up at her face, what you see first is black eyeliner and white teeth. Your brain is connecting them to the black and white of the dress.
The result is that the black-circled eyes and the grinning mouth seem to leap out at us, detached from the rest of her face. Weird. Not lovely.
Gwyneth Paltrow, another Light Summer, came very close to completely embodying her season's beauty. I believe she missed the mark by just a hair - or maybe I should say by an eye. Let's look first at those eyes:
There is something peculiar and not Light Summery happening around Gwyneth's eye here. The liner and mascara are too dark, and the shadow reads as muddy.
(The hair is also too one-dimensionally yellow for Light Summer, IMHO... but it's not a deal-killer. )
I think it's the eyes alone that prevent Gwyneth from achieving full Light Summer radiance. See her in the gown, which should flatter a Light Summer. You want to like it, but something's a tiny bit off.
Now look at the picture again, and mentally fill in a more natural-looking eye:
Way better, don't you think? The eye makeup was creating the interference.
On to yet another Light Summer: Cate Blanchett.
I almost always find that Cate Blanchett beautifully presents her true colors. Her Oscars look this year, though, was widely criticized. What was right and what wasn't?
The face was perfect, I thought.
Very light, very natural, more cool than warm as befits a Light Summer, and in the earring a tiny touch of golden glow. Just lovely.
(And she declined the too-dark liner that's de rigeur on red carpets. Strong woman!)
So why all the criticism? I believe it was nothing more than the peculiar design of the dress.
The big circle is just weird. And those crusty bits look uncomfortable.
The colors in the gown are actually darn good for her. The white is cool and a touch greyish; the darker areas of the crusty bits read as greyish-pink and greyish-purple; and the tiny bit of bright yellow is a nice Light Summer accent.
Wouldn't it have been wonderful to see her in a gown of these colors but with a more pleasing design? Oh well.
Now for a few Springs.
I suppose I'd better address Scarlett Johansson first and get it over with.
When I look at this all I can think is, "Oh, Lord."
She's so very, very beautiful. Yet most of us looked better at our high school prom than Scarlett does here. Why, Scarlett? Why the weirdly orange eye? Why the violet lace? (And P.S. - Why the messy hair?)
Well, Scarlett J. frequently picks colors that don't flatter her. (Google images of her and you'll see.) She's young and gorgeous, so we forgive her. She has time yet to discover the truth of her beauty. Here are a few examples of occasions when she has done better:
Let's look at Scarlett again in that violet, alongside a lovely Deep Autumn who deserves the color:
Like night and day. Or like Autumn and Spring. ;-)
Another dress everyone was talking about was Amy Adam's deep blue gown. I saved a picture of the gown in a file called "OK, not great."
Before we look at it, though, let's see Warm Spring Amy in a really good color, at the 2008 Oscars:
Oh, wow. Fantastic.
Notice that she can handle a fair bit of depth. Some Warm Spring colors do go that deep. Notice also that she needs vivid (highly saturated) color.
Now, to the dress in question. This blue is very close to one of Warm Spring's deep blues. And it's nice and vivid. So why isn't the effect here as magical? Why do we see the dress before we see Amy?
I think it's mainly an issue of balance.
This is a very deep blue - as deep as Warm Spring's colors go. It's in the palette because it's the complement to one of Warm Springs beautiful oranges, but blue is a cool color. Coming right up to Amy's neck, it creates an effect of too much cool and deep. Yes, Warm Springs are flattered by contrast, but in this case the deep blue is more dominating than contrasting.
See how much more flattering a similar blue is when Amy balances it with a larger expanse of very light skin:
Here, the blue and the orange balance each other. The warmer lip helps as well.
Let's look at a Spring who, in spite of artificially lightened hair and a too-dark eye, reads as very natural: Jennifer Lawrence.
The right color can make up for a lot.
Honestly, I'm not sure what Jennifer's exact season is. I never noticed her before the Oscars. I only know she's a Spring because she looks so perfectly balanced in this very warm, highly saturated color, and because the blonde hair doesn't look totally wrong on her. (Again, I won't nitpick, though I'm sure her true color would be more glorious.)
Is she Bright, maybe? I think not... Imagine this outrageous color going all the way up to her chin, like Amy Adams' gown. I don't think it would work. I think there's a limit to how much color this girl can take.
What other Springs and Summers got it right - or wrong?