Seasonal Color Analysis
A clothing color is harmonious if it emphasizes certain aspects of your coloring. These aspects are sorted into twelve seasons, each with a specific color palette. Which season you fall into depends on the natural shade of your eyes, hair, and skin.
It is essential to mention that seasonal color analysis does not match colors to personality or body shape. Instead, this process is about determining three aspects of your natural coloring and comparing it to clothing colors with similar aspects.
We need to understand the three aspects or dimensions of color to understand seasonal color analysis. They are:
I. Hue & temperature (undertone)
The hue defines the color family of an object or what color it reflects – green, purple, orange, etc.
Usually, we perceive some colors as warmer and others as cooler. This is often referred to as a color’s temperature or undertone. These can be either warm, cool, or some combination of the two (neutral).
We associate yellow, orange, and red with warmth, whereas purple, blue, and green appear cool. And you will often find the color wheel divided:
However, this does not mean that all yellows are warm and all blues are cool. Any color can have warm or cool undertones – consider an acidic yellow (yellow mixed with green) and a tangerine yellow (yellow with orange). The former will have a cooler quality than the latter.
When it comes to seasonal color analysis, there is a consensus that yellow is the warmest color and blue is the coolest. Warm skin tones are towards yellow undertones, while cool-toned skin has blueish undertones.
Thus, blue-based colors are classed as cool – the more blue, the cooler the color. Yellow-based colors are warm. And warmer colors contain more yellow.
If a color’s undertone is imperceptible, it is a neutral color, neither warm nor cool. For example, green and red: while pure green consists of yellow and blue in equal parts, pure red contains neither blue nor yellow.
II. Value (Depth)
Value designates the depth of a color or how light or dark it is.
Light colors have had white added to them and are referred to as tints. Similarly, dark colors have had black added to them and are called shades.
III. Chroma / Clarity
Chroma defines a color’s saturation or how bright (clear) or muted. Chroma is how ‘close to grey’ a color is.
Clear, bright colors are far from looking grey because they are highly saturated. The more saturation is away, the closer a color gets to grey, the more muted it becomes.
Adding grey to a color turns it into a tone.
To summarise then: With the basics of color theory, we can look at the seasonal color analysis.
Seasonal color analysis is not a new concept. Our modern understanding of harmonious colors comes from 19th-century impressionist painters’ knowledge of the seasons. To accurately depict each season, understand the colors reflective of each one.
As nature moves through the season, it changes its set of colors. Think about the colors of landscapes, the four distinct seasons of the fresh tints of Spring, the gentle tones of summer, the earthy shades of Autumn, and the icy hues of Winter. The change in colors occurs because of how light reflects the natural world. Each time the sun changes its position, it paints the world in a new light.
Since we humans are also part of the natural world, these colors apply to ourselves. But until the 1980s, the application of the four seasons to fashion color choices has gained mainstream popularity. And that was mainly due to Carole Jackson’s successful book ‘Color me beautiful,’ whose analysis focused on two of the three dimensions of color discussed above.
The book’s test determines whether someone’s coloring is
- WARM or COOL (temperature); and
- LIGHT or DARK (value).
In Jackson’s book, which seasonal type do you depend therefore on two variables:
1. the undertone of your skin, hair, and eyes (either warm/golden or cool/ashy); and
2. how light or dark your overall coloring – and particularly your hair – is.
The seasons represent the four possible variations of these two variables: If your natural hair color is lighter than medium brown, you are either a Spring or a Summer; if it is darker, you are an Autumn or a Winter.
If your skin and hair have a warm undertone, or you are a natural red-head, you are either a Spring or an Autumn; if your skin has a blueish, cool undertone, and your hair is ashier without any golden or red highlights, you are either a Summer or a Winter.
Some people fall without a doubt into one of these four categories. But what if you are warm and light, yet the colors of Spring are too intense for you? Summer colors are less saturated, but they are cool. What now?
Most people don’t fall neatly into one of the four original seasons – not to mention the fact that the model did not consider people of color. The model was refined and developed into a more accurate twelve seasons color analysis to address some of these issues.
12 Seasons Colour Analysis
The fundamental analysis does not work for everyone because one fundamental aspect is missing. And that is the third color dimension of ‘chroma.’ Chroma distinguishes strong, saturated from weak, greyish colors.
High Chroma = clear and bright.
Low Chroma = muted and soft
Looking at each season’s color palette, you will notice that while Spring and Winter’s colors are clear and bright, Summer and Autumn’s colors are more subdued and muted. Adding Chroma to the four seasons color analysis creates a more accurate twelve seasons color model. The three aspects of color then result in six, instead of four, characteristics:
- WARM or COOL (temperature);
- LIGHT or DARK (value); and
- BRIGHT or MUTED (Chroma).
In the original color analysis, the four seasons are distinct and separate. You can only be one or another. The twelve seasons color model, in contrast, acknowledges that not everyone falls distinctly into one of the four seasons; and adding the third color dimension of chroma allows for the fact that the seasons overlap or flow into each other. But before we find out why that is, let’s look at the twelve color seasons.
In the graphic below, you will notice that the original four seasons have been divided into three sub-seasons each, where the warm/cool (the ‘true’) sub-seasons represent the original four seasons:
So in this model, Spring is not only light and warm but also bright, creating the following sub-seasons:
- Bright Spring = bright + warm
- True Spring = warm + bright
- Light Spring = light + warm
Summer is not only light and cool but also muted. Sub-seasons are:
- Light Summer = light + cool
- True Summer = cool + muted
- Soft Summer = muted + cool
Autumn is warm and dark and also muted. Sub-seasons are:
- Soft Autumn = muted + warm
- True Autumn = warm + muted
- Dark Autumn = dark + warm
And while Winter is dark and cool, it is also bright. Its sub-seasons are:
- Dark Winter = dark + cool
- True Winter = cool + bright
- Bright Winter = bright + cool
And how does this model flow? As you can see, out of the three aspects of color, each sub-season features two main aspects. Take True Summer. Its primary aspect is cool, but it is also muted. Soft Summer is predominantly muted, but it’s also cool. And similarly, Soft Autumn is mainly muted, but it’s warm in contrast to Soft summer. So you can see how each color season flows seamlessly into the next along the three dimensions of color.
A new season is created at the points where the original seasons overlap. For example, Dark Autumn is a blend of Autumn and Winter. Someone falling into this season has the typical warmth of an Autumn but the intensity characteristic of a Winter.
If we take a look at the natural world again, we know that, for instance, summer does not start overnight when Spring is over (as the four seasons color model suggests). In reality, Spring moves gradually into summer and the early spring days feel and look different from the late spring days when the trees are covered in luscious green foliage. So it makes sense that the seasons flow into one another.
Matching Colours to the Seasons
Each season’s color palette is a replica of colors found in nature as it moves through the seasons. That means that each seasonal color palette consists of a set of harmonious colors. But what makes them harmonize?
Let’s examine autumnal colors. When we look at an autumn landscape, we see rich, warm, and darkish hues. We wouldn’t associate an icy blue with Autumn simply because it does not exist in the natural autumnal world.
What then do autumn colors have in common that makes them harmonious? Firstly, they are similar in hue/temperature (warm) and identical in chroma (muted). And while there are certainly lighter and darker colors, many of them cluster around a particular value level (dark). The same is true for each of the twelve color palettes.
Which colors belong to which season?
To understand which colors belong to each season, we need to go back to the three dimensions of color. Let’s start with temperature (warm vs. cool).
If you remember, warm color is based on yellow, whereas a cool color is based on blue. So a completely warm color has yellow undertones and no blue ones, and it will belong to either True Spring or True Autumn since these are the two ‘warm’ seasons. Completely cool colors have blue undertones and no yellow ones, and they will belong to either True Summer or True Winter – the ‘cool’ seasons.
Remember that within each hue, warm and cool are relative concepts. The color is warm or cool based on how much yellow or blue is added. For example, a warm yellow will be very yellowish, whereas a cool yellow will appear somewhat greenish. Why? Because if you mix blue into yellow, you get green. And vice versa, if you mix yellow into blue, it will appear greenish because of the yellow undertones.
So while you might find yellows on the Summer and Winter palettes, these will be very cool, greenish yellows compared to the warm, golden yellows of Autumn and Spring.
We know that cool colors belong either to True Summer or True Winter and that warm colors belong to True Spring or True Autumn. But how do we determine to which of these two seasons they belong?
We need to look at their value (lightness or darkness) and chroma (brightness or greyishness).
Let’s look at value first. We know that warm colors contain a lot of yellow. And yellow in its purest form is a light color, whereas blue in its purest form is a dark color. If you mix blue with yellow, it will become darker; and it will become lighter if you mix yellow into blue.
But that is not the only thing that happens here. Do you notice that the two hues in the middle of the chart are ‘muddier’ than the two hues on the outside? They are no longer pure or bright colors but muted tones. Adding the third dimension of color to the chart then results in:
As you can see, the purest forms of yellow and blue have the highest chroma. Where these pure colors mix, they not only change in value but also in chroma. They become less clear and less bright.
If we rearrange the chart once more, we can see the workings behind the basic seasonal color analysis model: While True Spring and True Winter contain the clearest, purest forms of yellow and blue, respectively, both True Autumn and True Summer have muted colors, which are blends of blue and yellow.
That means that:
- Spring is completely warm and bright and has many lighter colors (yellow is inherently warm and light). That’s why we find lots of tints in Spring.
- Autumn – being completely warm but muted, has darker colors (because light yellow has been mixed with dark blue causing the colors to become muddied and darker). That’s why we find tones as well as shades in Autumn.
- Being completely cool and bright, Winter has many darker colors (because blue is inherently cool and dark). However, Winter is the season of high contrast and high intensity. Consequently, we not only find shades but also tints in this season.
- Summer – being completely cool but muted, has lighter colors (because inherently dark blue has been mixed with inherently light yellow causing the colors to become more muted and more washed-out). That’s why we find lots of tones in Summer.
In summary, the colors you find on each color palette will have the following qualities:
How does this translate into the twelve seasons color analysis?
The same principles apply to the 12 seasons color model. Each season is further divided into three sub-seasons. There are three color palettes for each season instead of one. All three palettes will be pretty similar, but depending on the sub-season’s primary color aspect, the colors will be slightly brighter/more muted, lighter/darker, or warmer/cooler.
The summer season, for example, is divided into Light Summer, True Summer, and Soft Summer, these three seasons’ color aspects are similar, but not same. While all three palettes are on the cool side, True Summer is the coolest. This season’s primary color aspect is ‘cool.’ Light Summer is the lightest of the three, and Soft Summer is the most muted.