Which type of colour analysis is right for you?

I was prompted to write this blog by a visit from Kettlewell founder, Melissa Nicholson, and her in-house stylist, Jo, who came to see me to find out more about the tonal approach to colour analysis.

Kettlewell Colours, is an online shop selling good quality basics in over 300 glorious colours. Melissa founded the business in 2004 after she’d had a colour analysis and had struggled to find many of her best colours on the high street. She really appreciates the difference that wearing the right colours makes so is a huge advocate of colour analysis and, as you can see from the photos below, I’m a fan of Kettlewell, so it really was a meeting of minds!

Both Melissa and her in-house stylist, Jo, were originally analysed under the seasonal system, which Colour Me Beautiful (CMB) moved away from about fifteen years ago as we found it a little restrictive. They were interested to find out more about the more flexible tonal directions system which we now use and which provides a more nuanced approach to colour analysis. I was delighted when they asked if they could come and see me to pick my brains about it.

What a fabulous time we had! Jo and Melissa are both absolutely lovely and, as we all share a passion for helping women to look and feel their very best, the time just flew by. We talked about everything from colour analysis to body shapes and style personalities, as well as Melissa’s plans for Kettlewell.  They want to incorporate the tonal system more fully into the way that Kettlewell classify their colours as they believe it will enhance their offering. Obviously, given that CMB has twenty-four colour palettes whereas the seasonal system only has four (which can then be subdivided to give a total of sixteen colouring types), a direct correlation between the two systems isn’t possible but anything that helps more women understand and access the colours that are most flattering on them is definitely worthwhile.

Seasons Vs Tonal Directions

We discussed colour analysis and the differences of approach between the seasonal and tonal analysis systems. One of the key differentiators is that the seasonal approach looks primarily at skin tone and eye colour and takes as its starting point 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). Your analyst will guide you as to which subset of the 36 colours within your seasonal palette will most suit you. So, for example, a Pastel Spring is someone who looks best in the lighter colours within the Spring palette.

A CMB analysis 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 your 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 very light hair, skin and eyes, your dominant is likely to be Light. If you are a Light who looks best in cool colours, your secondary characteristic is Cool and you will be classified as Light & Cool, whereas if you look better in the warm versions of light colours, you will be Light & Warm. In this case, the final part of the analysis is to establish whether you look better in softer colours and combinations of colours (making you a Light, Warm, Soft) or more vibrant and contrasting colours (making you a Light, Warm, Clear). Once we’ve taken all this into account, we put together your palette of 42 colours, and guide you through how to wear them.

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 a “re-rate” though as they acknowledge that your best colours within that palette may have changed over time.

Woman with grey hair wearing different colours
Tonal analysis maintains that, generally speaking, cooler colours become more flattering when you go grey.

Those of us who use the tonal system maintain that your colouring does change over time so you may need to update your palette every 10 – 15 years or so to keep yourself looking your best. Hair colour is often the most obvious change, but eye and skin tone can also soften down with age. After all, how many people do you know who have the same vibrancy to their colouring in their seventies as in their twenties? If your overall look has changed dramatically over the years, you may need a complete change of palette but often we will just need to swap out some of your original colours for new ones to ensure your most flattering look.

Jo, looking good in strong deep colours.

CMB’s wider range of classifications means that we can accommodate people whose colouring doesn’t fit neatly within a single season.  Interestingly, Jo says that she falls between Autumn and Winter under the seasonal system. She tends to dress as an Autumn though because these are the colours that feel most in tune with her Natural style personality. We looked at where she would fit within the tonal system and we identified that she is Deep, Warm and Clear. In other words, her tonal palette that has clarity of the Winter palette and the warmth from the Autumn palette.

Melissa, Jo and I spent a fascinating and enjoyable day together and we all agreed that, whether you opt for a seasonal or a tonal analysis, the most important thing is to work with an experienced consultant who will look at you as an individual rather than trying to pigeon-hole you. If you take on board the professional advice you are given and then pick the colours from your palette that make your heart sing,  you won’t go wrong.

Style Personality

Colour is only one part of the story when it comes to looking and feeling your best though. Dressing to flatter your shape, scale and proportions is another and dressing in a way that accords with your personality and lifestyle is the final part. I have included this impromptu photo of the three of us because it neatly illustrates our different style personalities.

Myself  (City Chic) – I like fairly pared-back styles and don’t feel good in anything ultra-casual or fussy.

Melissa  (Princess/Romantic) – loves anything pretty and shiny and cannot understand why anyone would want to  a capsule wardrobe (“Why limit yourself when you never know what you might want to wear on any given day?!”)

Jo (Natural/Adventurer) whose priority is comfort (although she is also very stylish!) and loves having a very limited capsule wardrobe because it makes getting dressed so much quicker and easier.

As you can see, we are all different but we all feel happy and confident in our clothing choices, which is exactly what I want for my clients.

P.S You can see the blog that Kettlewell published based on their visit to me here.