By Rachel Lankester.
The fascinating process of colour analysis.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t pay to get my colours done but neither have I received any payment from House of Colour.
One Friday afternoon in July I had my colours done! Now there’s a strange turn of phrase. I’d recently been to a 40+ bloggers event and met the impossibly glamorous author of the Midlife Chic blog Nikki Garnett. I always like to know more about interesting people I meet so I had a good nose around her website. She mentioned having had her colours done and that it had been very useful. What did that mean, I wondered? What was colour analysis?
I’d never heard of people getting their colours done but I’ve often wondered if my choice of colours and outfits necessarily works. Sometimes I see a photo of myself in a colour I particularly like and think, oh, I don’t look very good in that after all. I’m also conscious that as we age and our skin tone and hair colour change, perhaps we need to adapt our colour choices too and not stay wedded to what worked in our youth.
So after a quick google and some emailing, I arrived at a terraced house in North London and was met by the impeccably turned out Fiona Ingham, a consultant for House of Colour. I went down some steps into her basement, a bright and airy colour lair. A large rack of coloured scarves took centre stage. On the wall was a wheel of colours. She proceeded to explain the science of analysing one’s colours and how it can inform the choices we make about clothes. It turns out it’s not just about which colours each of us can or can’t wear. It’s about which tones of each colour work best for us. And what determines that is our hair colour, our skin tone and the colour of our eyes.
The theory behind colour analysis was influenced by the work of the great masters and their individual pallets. Think summer colours from Monet and autumn ones from Constable. Their work has been distilled into a system which groups colours into warm and cold. These are further broken down into four quarters of a colour wheel. The names of these quarters are the seasons of the year. The warm colours are Autumn and Spring, the cool colours Winter and Summer. This applies to neutrals just as much as it does to colours.
It turns out the only people who can successfully wear true black and pure white are those who fall in the Winter section of the colour wheel. Wearing any old colour and choosing the absolute right colour for you is apparently the difference between looking fabulous and looking rather washed out! Fiona showed me some of the coloured scarves on herself demonstrating how some colours lit up her face, while others drained it of both colour and energy. It was surprisingly easy to see exactly what she meant. I found it quite fascinating.
Next it was my turn. Fiona sat me in front of a mirror and covered me in a white cape so she had a blank canvas with which to work. I’d been instructed to come with little or no makeup on and what I had, I removed with a cleansing wipe. The canvas was completely bare. I tried not to crack the mirror. Fiona then began her analysis by assessing whether I fitted best within the warm or cool colour range.
I already suspected I was likely to be in the warm category. I’ve been told by makeup consultants I have a slight yellow tone to my skin and I have auburnish hair and hazelish eyes. So I wasn’t surprised when Fiona confirmed I was indeed warm. This meant I was either Autumn or Spring when it came to the colour wheel. I was rather disconcerted to learn I should probably retire most if not all of my black wardrobe therefore. And certainly not wear it next to my face again. I now understood why I have never looked good in photographs wearing white. When black and pure white were draped around my neck together I looked like a nun!
Fiona then used a number of different coloured scarves to work out which season of the wheel I fitted in. She told me she had an idea what I would be, but would still need to see all the colours against my skin to make a final decision. It was amazing to see the difference in my eyes and skin tone with different colours next to my face. If I’d not seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Eventually I had around 14 different swathes of colour piled up around my neck and shoulders. They alternated good and bad colour choices against my skin. Fiona then removed them quickly in turn to show me what each looked like. I wasn’t surprised to be told I was an Autumn although I had hoped to be a Spring. The Autumn colours reminded me of my mum. (Sorry Mum!) But the Spring colours looked very unimpressive next to my skin.
Fiona then took each of the Autumn coloured scarves in turn and tested those against my face. She wrote down in an official House of Colour notebook how each performed. So I now have colours that are excellent and that I can wear head to toe and look fabulous in, colours that work well as part of an outfit and a few colours I should probably just stick to accessories in. After all that she decided I was a Blue Autumn. Good. I like blue.
She then presented me with a wallet with my 36 colours in it to take with me next time I go shopping. Unfortunately she also confirmed my life long addiction to silver jewellery and silver occasion wear was probably not the best choice! A beautiful fuchsia pink French Connection dress I bought last year probably isn’t going to see much wear in the future either.
I hadn’t realised the colour analysis session would also include make up. Fiona gave me advice on lip colours and blusher in particular that would accentuate the Autumn colour aspect for me. She thought my favourite blusher was too pink and I could see I looked quite good in a rather nice coral one. Along with a rust coloured lipstick! Was I turning into my mother after all?
I spent a full three hours being pampered. Fiona said most people go with friends or family rather than alone. It’s nice for people to get feedback from others who know them well and may be seeing them in completely different colours. It can also work out more economical in groups.
Apparently, while your colour ratings (in the notebook) may change as you age, your season doesn’t. But the gap between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ colours grows wider with age, so getting your colours done when older is even more valuable. It can also give guidance as hair colour and skin tone change, or if we need glasses. Fiona says a good lipstick can be one of the best ways of increasing colour contrast in the face as we grow older. I’ll vouch for that!
I asked how the process translates across different races but apparently there’s no data on that. That would be really interesting. I can see it works well for white skin but just how relevant it would be for brown and black skin, I don’t know. All the marketing and case studies I have seen seem focused on white women.
I think if you’d told me I would find such an exercise fascinating a few years ago, I would have laughed. How ridiculous! What nonsense! But now I’m really glad to have experienced colour analysis myself. I spent the afternoon of the following day sticking little gold stars on my top colours in my colour wallet. (I need an app for that!) Don’t judge me. I also browsed the website of Kettlewell which groups its clothes by the seasons of the colour wheel. I read the very interesting blogs on their website but I haven’t bought anything yet.
Since then I’ve thrown out a few clothes I’ve not worn in years and which aren’t in my palette. (Is there a connection I wonder?) In shops I’m looking at clothes I would never have considered before. One potential thorn is that my other half isn’t always very impressed with my new colour choices both in clothes and lipstick. He let slip that his mum had her colours done in the 70s and he didn’t sound impressed. Apparently it was popular back then but later fell out of favour with the fashion press. But what do they know?
My friend Michelle Cannon thinks he must be colour blind. Little did I know, Michelle had her colours done three years ago and is a convert. She always looks fabulous. I asked her what she thought and you can listen to our chat below.
Am I a convert too? Have a listen. But I think my French Connection dress probably needs a new home…..
Rachel has also written Lessons From A Month Off Booze and Sorry Kids! And Other Europeans…Brexit.
Rachel Lankester is the founder and editor of the Mutton Club. She has a background in corporate communications and sustainability, and has found her passion helping women feel good about life at any stage and particularly midlife. She’s rather introverted but still has an awful lot she wants to communicate to the world! She loves yoga, singing, travel and anything to do with China. On Twitter: @ (but mostly @) Read Rachel’s thoughts on Cuba and her review of Ai Weiwei’s controversial work.