Seasonal Analysis uses three elements of color theory: hue, value, and chroma.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone tossing around their color season with words like muted or deep and you have no clue what they are talking about. Maybe you’ve done some research of your own and come across these properties and felt the same confusion. Today’s article is going to answer all your questions about these elements of color theory and how they are applied to seasonal color analysis.
Table of Contents
To understand how color affects our bodies, we need first discuss color theory. In all design areas, color theory comprises three elements: hue, value, and chroma. You can even see these at work in a program like Photoshop.
Hue refers to what we typically consider the name of a color: red, blue, yellow, etc. For the purposes of seasonal color analysis, only two attributes are included: warm and cool. When we look at the Munsell wheel there are certain colors which we would say are definitely warm or definitely cool, but in the majority of cases, we can find warm or cool in any shade.
Cool tones are those with a blue base, and warm tones are those with a red base. Let’s look at the color purple, my personal favorite!
In the center we see what’s called true purple, or secondary purple. This is the color that’s found on the basic color wheel by mixing primary red and primary blue. On the left side, you’ll see what happens when we add red to purple to make it a warm shade. Conversely, on the right, you’ll see how we make purple cool by adding more blue.
Secondary purple we could actually say is neutral, since the mix contains equal parts red and blue. However, this shade of purple doesn’t work well with all skin tones. The reason for this is because of two other factors that make up color analysis: value and chroma.
Value refers to the lightness and darkness of a color. To adjust the value of a color, we add either white (tint) or black (shade). Tint always throws me off, by the way, because I think of tinted windows as being darker, but in the world of color and art it actually means to add white to lighten a color!
So let’s look again at our purple to see what happens when we add light and dark. We still have the original secondary purple in the middle. When we add white on the left and black on the right to show different value levels for our purple.
Finally, chroma is the level of saturation of a color. Chroma is essentially the amount of gray in a color. As we move toward the gray end of the chroma scale the colors become very soft or muted. It is interesting to note that in real life scenarios, colors such as the purple we’ve been using are completely saturated. However, the use of computers actually allows that color to be adjusted with more saturation. So think of the primary/secondary color wheel as being the most saturated when dealing with textiles. Let’s go back to our purple one last time and add some gray.
By mixing these attributes together we could end up with a large number of color options. When we put it together for color analysis, we have something that looks like this:
Aha, we also have 12 seasons, so here’s a purple for every season, right?? Maybe! Before claiming a purple for yourself, let’s dig deeper into how the elements of color theory work on a person.
Warm vs Cool
When we begin color analysis we first look to see whether a person is warm or cool. Although the elements are found in the skin, eyes, and hair, the primary consideration for hue is skin. Why is this? Well, because clothing lays against the skin, usually under the face. Our skin reacts to every color we put on based on the undertones of our skin.
I’m going to talk more in depth about skin another time, but to simplify for warm vs cool it is the difference between red undertones and blue undertones.
The eyes are probably the easiest to determine hue! If you have blue eyes, congrats those are most likely cool! Brown eyes, congrats those are warm! Gray is also cool, while hazel is warm. Green eyes can actually go either way. So, if you have blue eyes does that immediately mean you’re a cool season? Well, no! But when looking at your eyes it will probably be the easiest warm/cool decision to make!
Finally the hair is a component of seasonal analysis. I have actually come to believe that hair is the least relevant when it comes to analysis. There are several reasons for this, and it’s primarily because hair is not a fixed color like skin and eyes. All of our features will see some changes as we reach adulthood and then mature. But the hair experiences the greatest changes.
It’s not uncommon for a young child with shocking white blonde hair to have medium brown hair as an adult. Also, outdoor time and sun exposure affect the hair, with most picking up some highlights during this time. Those highlights can be white, gold, or something in between.
Hair can be colored. It loses pigment as we get older. But our season doesn’t change because the colors that work best on us are actually a function of how our skin reacts to them! So yes, we’ll talk about your hair, but it’s more useful in determining secondary characteristic.
Now, let’s talk about the neutrals. Time and time again in color analysis people get stumped because they can’t determine if they are warm or cool. The truth is that out of a 12 season system, only four seasons are 100% cool or warm. That leaves 8 other seasons with some degree of neutrality in one of the features, or a blend of cool and warm. If you find that you can’t easily say that your primary characteristic is warm or cool, then light, dark, bright, and muted becomes options for the primary characteristic.
“I can’t figure out if I (my skin) is warm or cool.”
Awesome! Join the crowd because sometimes it’s really tough! I have neutral skin so I understand the struggle! Let’s just walk away from the warm vs cool discussion and consider if our three features together tells another story.
I call this the secondary characteristic because warm/cool should be the primary determining factor. But in many cases it is not that simple. We’ve been looking at our features at the micro level, individually by themselves. For the secondary characteristic we will take a step back and view the person in entirety.
We have four other descriptors that could be used to describe a person’s appearance, and those are light, dark, bright, and muted. The first 2 are fairly straightforward and easy to recognize.
Light individuals are colored fair for their ethnicity. Yes, people of color can be light! For those of European descent, the skin is fair and may be either warm or cool, the hair is usually blonde (can be red or brown though), and the eyes are light. In people of color their skin will be lighter than others of their ethnicity, the eyes may be colored or lighter shades of brown, and their hair will be a shade of brown and not black.
Dark individuals have an overall depth to their features. In people of color, this sometimes results in a monotone look between the hair and skin as their features go very deep. Those of European descent can also be dark, having deep brown hair, dark gray or brown eyes, and skin that is darker than others. These people may actually appear warm because they are dark, but that is not always the case.
If light and dark is also not the primary characteristic (nor warm/cool) then the final area to consider is chroma. We discussed chroma above as how much gray is added to a saturated color. People aren’t inherently gray so the way to visualize this as a primary characteristic is by looking at the degree of contrast.
Bright individuals usually have a striking look of contrast, be it warm or cool. Everything about their features “pops” a bit. These are the individuals that can wear really bright clothes without the clothes wearing them!
Conversely, muted or soft individuals have features that blend together in harmony. Oftentimes the coloring is what we would call “nondescript” but in reality these people are far from when wearing their power colors!
The niftiest trick to visualize this is by taking an image and going grayscale. It becomes evident when a person is high or low contrast. In the first image it’s obvious that the features are all the same low value contrast. In the second pictur you can see how the hair and eyes stand out from the skin.
Final Thoughts on Applied Color Theory
In summary thus far, we’ve discussed the primary and secondary characteristics of color analysis. We’ve learned that individuals will be primarily one of 6 things: warm, cool, light, dark, bright, or muted. Once the strongest characteristic is identified, we use a second option to place them into one of the 12 seasons. They break down like this:
- Warm, Leaning Dark (aka Warm Autumn)
- Warm, Leaning Light (aka Warm Spring)
- Cool, Leaning Dark (aka Cool Winter)
- Cool, Leaning Light (aka Cool Summer)
- Light and Warm (aka Light Spring)
- Light and Cool (aka Light Summer)
- Dark and Warm (aka Deep Autumn)
- Dark and Cool (aka Deep Winter)
- Muted and Warm (aka Soft Autumn)
- Muted and Cool (aka Soft Summer)
- Bright and Warm (aka Clear Spring)
- Bright and Cool (aka Clear Winter)
Are you able to determine your primary characteristic? Are you cool or warm, light or dark, bright or muted? Let me know in the comments!
Related Color Analysis Articles:
- Seasonal Eye Patterns
- Benefits of a Color Palette
- Free Color Palette Download
- Color Analysis Services
Applied Color Theory uses the basic elements of color theory to determine a person’s color season.
Stacey is the owner and creator behind Radiantly Dressed. She is a certified image consultant and AICI member focusing on creating simplicity in wardrobes via color and style.