Seasonal & Tonal Colour Analysis – What’s the Difference?

Benefits of colour analysis
Benefits of having a colour analysis


A couple of weeks ago I was invited to do a Facebook Live with Kettlewell’s in-house stylist, to explain the tonal system of colour analysis. For those of you who haven’t come across Kettlewell before,  it’s a clothing brand for women who love colour and effortless style. Kettlewell are huge advocates of the value of having your colours analysed.  The Live was for their Colour Club which has over 13,000 members who are passionate about the brand and the power of colour. Many have already had a colour analysis, whereas others are just starting their colour journey.

Which are the main systems of colour analysis?

There are several different colour analysis systems which can be a bit confusing if you’re trying to decide who to have your colour analysis with. Whichever system you go for though, their aims are the same; toDescription of the benefits of colour analysis identify the colours that will make you look your very best. There are however some differences in the approach used.
In the UK, the two main systems are seasonal and tonal colour analysis. One of the key differentiators is that most analysts using the seasonal approach look primarily at skin tone and eye colour and start by evaluating whether you have warm or cool undertones. Based on this, you will be categorised as either Spring or Autumn (warm) or Summer or Winter (cool). Broadly speaking, if you have warm undertones and look best in brighter colours you are a Spring and if you look best in softer colours you are an Autumn. Similarly, if you have cool undertones, you will be classified as either Summer (soft) or Winter (vibrant). You will generally receive one of  the four seasonal plattes and your analyst will guide you as to which subset of the  colours within that palette will most suit you. So, for example, a Pastel Spring is someone who looks best in the lighter colours within the Spring palette.

Colour Me Beautiful was one of the pioneers of seasonal analysis but moved on from using this approach some fifteen years ago. Our tonal system takes account of eye and skin tone too, but also hair colour. We feel this is important as your hair frames your face and is an important part of your overall look. Our starting point is to establish the most important aspect of your colouring, which we call your Dominant. Whilst for some people, this may be the degree of warmth or coolness of their look, often it will be something else such as the depth (Light/Deep) or clarity (Soft/Clear) of  their colouring. Once we have identified which of the six Dominants you fit into, we then dig deeper to establish your secondary and tertiary characteristics. So, for example, if you have lots of natural contrast and vibrancy to your colouring with very dark hair, bright eyes and perhaps a light skin (think Courtney Cox,  Zooey Deschanel or Adam Garcia), your Dominant is likely to be Clear. This means that you will look your best in clear (aka vibrant) and contrasting colours. If you are a Clear who looks best in vibrant colours that have a warm undertone, your secondary characteristic is Warm and you will be classified as Clear & Warm, whereas if you look better in the cool versions of vibrant colours, you will be Clear & Cool.  The final part of the analysis establishes whether you look better in lighter colours (making you Clear, Cool & Light) or deeper versions of colours (making you  Clear, Cool & Deep). Once we’ve taken all this into account, we put together your palette of 42 colours, and guide you through how to wear them. In order to provide this degree of granularity, we offer 24 variations of colour palette. All of the colours in your particular palette should work well on you but there will undoubtedly be some that are standouts and that you love.

Does your colouring change over time?

Some proponents of seasonal analysis maintain that your season never changes. Therefore, if you were a flame- haired Autumn in your youth, you remain an Autumn in your old age, even if your hair is now grey. They do encourage you to have occasional “re-rates” though as they acknowledge that your best colours within your seasonal palette may well change over time.

The tonal system of colour analysis recognises that your colouring is likely to change over time to some extent. After all, how many people do you know whose colouring looks the same in their seventies as it did in their twenties? By embracing the changes that time brings to your colouring and adapting your colour palette accordingly, you can continue to look your very best rather than looking like a faded version of your former self. For some people, this can just mean a few tweaks to their palette, whereas for others it may shift them into a different Dominant.

Woman with grey hair wearing different colours
Generally speaking, cooler colours become more flattering when you go grey.

Having been analysed under both the seasonal and tonal systems, I liked the flexibility of the tonal system and felt that it provided more colours that worked well for me, which is why I chose to train under Colour Me Beautiful. However, for people who are a “true” season (by which I mean they fit squarely within a single season), seasonal analysis can work really well. Perhaps more important than deciding between a tonal or seasonal analysis (which both have their merits) is to choose an experienced colour analysist whom you trust and feel comfortable building an ongoing relationship with. Because, once you’ve experienced the magic of a colour analysis, the chances are you will want to move on to looking at the style side of things too.

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