How The Revival Of Colour Analysis Can Revolutionise Your Wardrobe
Illustration by Mr Travis Constantine
In a world where first impressions are formed within as little as seven seconds, confidence with colour can be a gamechanger. Visual cues inevitably influence these snap judgments. “Colour can profoundly impact people’s perceptions of a person or brand by eliciting specific emotions and associations,” says Ms Jane Boddy, a member of the Pantone Colour Institute and the former director of colour at WGSN. Its vital role in conveying identity, personality traits and cultural meanings helps explain the recent revival of colour analysis, a concept that first emerged in the 1970s.
I’m 30 minutes into an appointment with colour analyst Ms Marina Thomas and it’s quickly becoming apparent that the colours you like most aren’t always those that suit you best. We’ve already ruled out mossy greens, mustard yellows and scarlet red, and – as I’m wrapped in drapes of contrasting shades – I’m asked to focus on my face and observe how it appears against each hue.
“We see colour according to how a surface reflects or refracts light, which is why everyone suits different tones because of variations in our skin and hair colour,” says Thomas, who worked on Katharine Hamnett London’s design team before setting up image consultancy Mantis last year. “I’m sure at some point you’ve felt great but have had people asking if you’re feeling OK or, the opposite, when you’ve felt awful but people comment on how great you look. That’s the magic effect that colour can have.”
“We see colour according to how a surface reflects or refracts light, which is why everyone suits different tones”
The principles behind colour analysis have their roots in art and philosophy, with ancient Greeks and Renaissance figures contemplating theories on our responses to colour and scientists later establishing codes for colour standardisation. More recently, it was the work of artist Mr Johannes Itten, part of the Bauhaus group, that left a lasting impact in visual communication. He created a geometric colour wheel that illustrates his theory that every colour has either a blue or yellow undertone, with these categorisations further dissected into bright or soft shades.
This same colour wheel informed Ms Carole Jackson’s influential book, Color Me Beautiful, released more than 40 years ago. Jackson separated people into categories named after “seasons” based upon the tone of their hair, skin and eyes – launching the concept of “getting your colours done” into the mainstream.
“Choosing the right colours can make us look healthier”
According to Thomas, choosing the right colours can make us look healthier by reducing the appearance of imperfections in our face, smoothing wrinkles and darkness under the eyes and emphasising jawlines. Wear the wrong colour and it can add a jaundiced green tinge to the skin.
Based on my peaky appearance when juxtaposed with certain colours, we establish that it’s the colours on the blue half of the wheel, rather than yellow, that suit me best, making me a “winter” or “summer” person. And further comparisons are about to reveal whether it’s clothes in bright (winter) or soft (summer) tones that I should spend my paycheck on in future.
While colour analysis fell out of favour in the 1990, a phenomenon often linked to the rise of fast fashion, its recent revival – led by an explosion of interest on social media – has seen it connect with a new generation eager to assert their individuality. TikTok has turbo-charged the trend, relying on filters that project users’ faces against variations of Itten’s colour wheel, with #coloranalysis-tagged videos amassing hundreds of thousands of views.
“We’re living in an era in which people are really embracing brighter colours,” Boddy says, noting that after a lengthy period defined by muted tones, the emergence of the gender-neutral millennial pink in 2016 proved a turning point that saw many brands start experimenting with colour again.
“We’re living in an era in which people are really embracing brighter colours”
“Once upon a time, bright tones might have been more associated with street-style and youth,” Boddy says. “But it’s now reached all corners of fashion and interior design. It comes down to colour psychology – not all colours suit everyone, but there’s always a bright colour for you.”
In search of mine, another hyped pink, popularised by Barbie, proves overpowering. Thomas explains the need for harmony and balance between colour and complexion. “You want to be wearing the clothes rather than the clothes wearing you,” she says. Instead, she advises a dustier pink that’s less dominating and better suits the skin.
Tanning makes little difference as your skins undertones remain the same, and the only time that someone’s colours really change is when they go grey, which alters the contrast levels in your complexion. “When that happens, you’ll see some of the brighter shades you used to be able to wear don’t work quite so well as your colouring has softened.”
For those keen to land upon their own colours, an alternative might be to try a TikTok filter on for size, although lighting and screen resolution – not to mention the medium’s tendency for misinformation – can affect the accuracy of any conclusions. With everyone’s skin tones differing subtly, affected by factors such as the contrast in our complexions, general rules are hard to pin down – which is where the keen eyes of colour analysts come in.
“Not all colours suit everyone, but there’s always a bright colour for you”
Often, those with olive skins suit cooler colours and people with high contrast in their complexion tend to suit brighter colours. But Thomas notes that there are exceptions. Tanning tends to make little difference to your colours as the skins undertones remain the same, with the only time that someone’s colours really change is when they go grey, which changes the contrast levels in your complexion. “When that happens, you’ll see some of the brighter shades you used to be able to wear don’t work quite so well as your colouring has softened.”
Aside from providing welcome sartorial shortcuts, our renewed interest in colour analysis hints at a positive shift in consumer habits, with the rise of slow – in reaction to fast – fashion meaning that more people are willing to invest in something that really works for them, rather than buying 20 versions of the same thing. “Subconsciously, we all have a connection to colour and whether that’s bold or not, it’s about us wanting to express who we are,” Boddy says. “And if people gain an understanding of which colours really suit them, they’re more likely to hold onto pieces for far longer.”