When building your wardrobe or understanding why certain clothes, as beautiful as they may be, don’t look good on us, it’s time to turn to colour theory. Colour theory is a technique used by fashion designers, interior designers, graphic designers, painters, architects, and even flower arrangers. But it is not just limited to them, did you know that using the same technique you can find the best colours for you which are categorized based on the information derived from your skin, eyes and hair colour?
Understanding the colours that work for us (and against us), is an art as well as a science. Good colour knowledge allows people to accurately choose the appropriate and complementing colours that enhances their looks and works for their lifestyle. While choosing the wrong colour variations can make us look sallow, dull, older and washed out. Learning this technique can help you in many ways in terms of saving time and money while shopping, improving self esteem and confidence, looking your best and a sense of harmony with your style and personality. There are various forms of colour analysis systems, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll focus on the principles of Munsell’s Colour System which focuses on hue, value and chroma:
1. Hue: this refers to the dominant colour we perceive, it can be either primary (red, yellow and blue), secondary (orange, purple and green) or tertiary colours (yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green).
2. Value: this measures the depth of the colour, how light or dark a colour is. Typically light colours have tints of white added (red+white=pink) and dark colours have some shade of black added to it (red+black= burgundy). Moreover, adding various degrees of grays to a hue can also make it look less vibrant.
3. Chroma: this refers to the clarity and intensity of a colour. High chroma reflects more light creating saturated colours (i.e. highlighters) while low chroma are tones that are softer and absorb more light producing muted colours (i.e. pastels).
How do we apply all this to the colours we wear?
Understand your skin tone- this is twofold and more often than not people get it confused. Firstly, we have our overtone which is the surface level and most predominant colour of our skin and is affected by the amount of melanin found in our skin. Then we have our undertone which is the underlying colour beneath the surface of the skin. The importance of understanding this is that while your overtone tone may change throughout the year due to sun exposure, your undertone won't change and is not affected by lighting, tanning, etc. Usually, the undertone is determined by looking at the veins on our wrists.
Blue - purple veins → Cool undertone:
There are two kinds of categories for the cool undertone: cool summer (those who are generally blonde or brunettes with light eye colours) or cool winter (those with dark hair and fair complexion).
The colours that look best on true summer cool tones look best in soft muted colours such as soft hues of blue, mauve, rose beige, taupe, soft white, deep raspberry, plum and darl blues. The colours that they should avoid in order to not look pale and washed out are black, orange and earth tones.
In the case of true winter cool tones, clear and brilliant colours look best. These include vibrant pinks, clear reds, bold purple, emerald green, bright whites and black. Earthy tones like golden browns and oranges don’t look very flattering on this undertone since the warmth of these colours clash with the icy coolness of the complexion making the wearer look faded and pasty.
Blue - Green veins → Neutral undertone
This undertone means your skin has a mix of cool and warm hues, or lack both. People with these undertones look good in both warm and cool colours and can generally wear anything in the colour wheel but softened or muted versions of colours look better than bright ones as oversaturated colours will make the wearer look overwhelming. Medium blues, jade green, dusty pink, whites, taupe, gray or offwhite look wonderful on neutral undertones.
Green - Olive veins → Warm Undertone
Warm undertones also have two categories: warm spring (those with more yellow saturation in their undertone which makes them look brighter) or warm autumn (those with more golden undertones as well as greyish pigments which make them look more muted and earthy).
Colours that look best in warm spring are baby blues, salmon pink, light grey, light yellows, teal, cream, warm brown and navy but should avoid dark and cool shades such as black, greys, plum, burgundy and fuchsia.
For warm autumn, colours that look best are cardinal red, blue-green, brown, turquoise, dark olive green, burnt orange, chocolate brown and off white but should avoid cool and soft colors, black, gray and lilac.
Understanding these principles gives people the chance to wear any colour under the sun as long as it’s the correct hue, value and chroma working in harmony with each other and flattering not only the skin tone but also the eye and hair colour of the wearer. Figuring out our undertones and seasons can be tricky and there are no hard and fast rules to it, however the above is a general guideline to better understand what colour works best for us. I hope this helps you!