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More than a Season: a better way to do colour analysis

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

When Carole Jackson published her book "Colour me Beautiful" in the 1980s, the concept of personal colour analysis took the world by storm. Suddenly everyone wanted to know if they were a Spring, an Autumn, a Winter or a Summer, and colour analysts, or image consultants, became very busy indeed.

You may remember this - you may even have had your own "colours done" (and you may even remember which one of the four "seasons" you were!) After your colour analysis you will have been given a booklet or swatch of twenty to thirty colours that you were allowed to wear, based on your skin and hair colours. I wonder if you still have it?

Based on basic colour theory, the seasons were categorised as follows:

four seasonal colour directions

Summer : cool (blue based) and soft (muted)

Winter: cool and clear (bright)

Autumn: warm (yellow based) and soft

Spring: warm and clear

Therefore, if you had red or strawberry blonde (light, warm) hair and blue or green eyes (bright), you were classified as a Spring, and you could wear light, warm and bright colours like lime green, orange and turquoise.

Seasonal colour system spring colour analysis

Or if you had auburn (dark, warm) hair and brown, green or hazel eyes, you were classified as an Autumn, and given dark, warm, muted colours like browns and olive greens to wear.

Seasonal colour system autumn colour analysis

Colour analysis seasons

This system worked well for those people who fit neatly into one the four stereotypical categories, but not so well for those that fell outside of it. What if you had honey blonde hair, light skin with a yellow undertone, and hazel or green eyes? Dark blondes are usually classed as Summers, but your skin tone and warm eyes make you quite warm-looking! Autumn colours would be too dark for you, and Summer colours would wash you out, being too cool. Spring colours would overwhelm you with their brightness, and Winter colours even worse.

The most obvious drawback of the original Seasons system was that it did not have enough categories. Due to genes being passed on fairly randomly, we are all a mixture of different attributes, colours and intensities. We don't all fit into one of four broad categories. In fact, most of us don't.

colour analysis for black people women

Moreover, the seasons system was originally designed with Caucasian appearance in mind. African-descent or Asian-descent and even Latino skin tones were woefully under-represented in its examples and application.

colour analysis for asian people women

While the Seasonal colour system may have revolutionised the way we dress, a lack of proper definition has led to problems. In particular, the system didn't take Value into account in its definition of the seasons. Value is the attribute of colour that describes how light or dark it is. When you have your hair dyed at a salon, the hair stylist will apply a colour to your hair in a number range from 0 (black/very dark) to 10 (white/platinum blonde), or from 0% to 100% on the LRV scale. This is the depth or value of the colour.

LRV scale light dark value colour analysis

The omission of Value in the original definition means that the definition (theory) and the description (application) are at odds. The Seasons are defined according to Hue (warm vs cool) and Chroma (clear/bright vs soft/muted). Spring, for example, is defined as Warm and Clear (with no mention or light and dark), but described as "blonde/light haired, warm skin tone and bright hair/skin/eyes". Value is introduced in the description. According to the definition, someone with dark brown hair, warm skin tone and bright hair/skin/eyes should also be a Spring, but this is rarely, if ever, applied in colour consultations, or reflected in the colour palettes/swatches.

snow white winter colours colour analysis

For instance, I have cool, clear colouring, with nearly-white skin. According to the Seasons system, "Cool" + "Clear" = "Winter".

Winters are described as having "dark hair, cool toned skin and a bright or clear appearance" (think Snow White or Dita von Teese). However, when I was younger I sported my natural hair colour: medium blonde - a typical Summer colour. I tried wearing Summer colours like peach, soft cool greens and greyish blues, but they did absolutely nothing for me! Despite being tall, sporty and actually quite funny, I often felt overlooked in social situations. I felt completely invisible.

Karin Davidson young and blonde My Tall Stylist

It was only when I discovered the delights of the brighter colours - cerise pink, fuchsia, red, bright blue, plum, brilliant white and even black - that I started becoming un-invisible. "That colour really suits you" became the most-received compliment when I wore these typically "Wintery" colours. I discovered that I was either a LIGHT WINTER or a CLEAR SUMMER (which is in itself an oxymoron, since Summer is defined as soft/muted).

The Seasons system has since been reworked in a number of ways over the years, adding attributes in order to compensate for the inadequacy of the original four seasons.

Depending on which system you use, you can be any of three categories of either Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn, like "Deep Autumn", "Soft Autumn" or "Warm Autumn", thus twelve categories in total (or sixteen in some systems).

While this is certainly an improvement, it still essentially works off the original system, which was two-dimensional to begin with, since it ignored Value in its definition of the seasons. This leads to a lot of confusion among colour consultants and clients alike. I've seen the same celebrities "diagnosed" as Summer, Spring and Autumn by different consultants, on different web pages. I've even heard image consultants complain that doing colour analysis is "hard", and that they don't love doing it.

munsell colour system colour analysis

OK, what if we started over?

What if, instead of ignoring one of the properties of colour, or adding it on as an afterthought, we created a system that works on the Munsell system of colour (which describes colour as having Hue, Chroma and Value), and gives everyone a place on its three-dimensional grid?

Imogen Lamport colour analysis Absolute Colour system Bespoke Image Inside Out Style Blog

Enter the wonderful, intrepid Imogen Lamport, from Bespoke Image in Melbourne. She realised after training in the Seasons system that all her clients' needs were not being met. And if there's anyone who is dedicated to meeting her clients' needs, it's Imogen.

So she sat down and painstakingly developed the Absolute Colour System, with eighteen colour directions; nine warm and nine cool, with Value and Chroma built into each colour direction.

In her own words: "I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years who have had multiple seasonal colour analyses and been given a different season each time, all quite different from each other. It’s only when they get their new colour from me they tell me that they finally feel at home in their colours, that they are the right ones at last." - from Imogen's "Inside Out Style Blog".

Not only does the Absolute Colour System cover more ground than the seasonal system, going outside the four seasons and also catching all those that fall between the cracks, but it is much, much easier to use and to explain to clients. Moreover, it works equally well across ALL ethnicities.

Virtual colour analysis clients mytallstylist Karin Davidson image consultant Perth

I LOVE doing colour the Absolute way! The drapes are consistent and so are the colour swatches, and I don't have to try and remember a list of formulas - holding the drapes up to the client makes the verdict very clear. My clients' eyes invariably light up when I put the right drape on them. They also cherish their colour swatches, because these are all their favourite colours! Plus, the colour directions have the most delectable names like "Rich", "Sophisticated", "Dramatic" and "Exotic".

In the next few weeks, I'll be posting some examples of clients and celebrities in their Absolute colours, and you can judge for yourself how much better it works.

Colour workshop clients my tall stylist Karin Davidson image consultant personal stylist colour analysis

Once you have made up your mind, you may want to take the plunge and have your colours analysed the better way! Click here to access a colour workshop or personal colour analysis (in-person or online) with me (Karin) at My Tall Stylist.

Karin Davidson image consultant personal stylist mytallstylist colour analysis

If you are keen on an in-person session and you can't get to me, click here for a list of some of the many graduates of Imogen Lamport's Academy of Professional Image. They have all been trained by Imogen in the Absolute Colour system and are based in Australia, the USA, the UK, Malaysia, Slovakia, Czechia and Spain.

Or you may want to train (or retrain) in the Absolute Colour system! Click here more information on training with Imogen at the Academy of Professional Image.

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