March 1, 2013

Beginner’s Tip: Seasonal Colors

This blog has been all super-serious lately. I thought I’d change things up today, try to lighten the mood.

It wasn’t until this week that I wondered for the first time what my seasonal color palate is. As a man, I haven’t had much use for that bit of knowledge; while I know there are men out there who ascribe to it, I was generally happy sticking with things like black, denim, sports team blue and work boot brown. Dude color palatte!

That doesn’t mean I’ve never had an eye for color. I fancied myself an artist once, and I actually minored in Art in college (though I spent more time in Art History than in the art studio). To this day, painting tabletop miniatures is a hobby I enjoy, one that really requires a good eye for color. So it’s not that I’m color illiterate; I just didn’t care to apply it to my personal style.

So, I knew colors, but what the heck was up with the whole “seasons” thing? Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter didn’t fall into my art training at all. So I began to search and read and sort this whole thing out.

As it turns out, the whole Seasons thing is just an arbitrary label for groupings of complementary colors. But the idea behind them is based on three color attributes that I am familiar with: Value [Dark/Light], Hue [Warm/Cool], and Saturation [Soft/Sharp]. Apparently, someone figured out that a seasonal scheme could be applied to these vectors to create groupings of color that worked well together, and that by matching a woman’s own natural coloration with one of the groupings, each woman could have an easy shorthand for creating good-looking outfits.

There’s a ton of sites out there, but the one I found to be both clear and thorough was this guide from the Chic Fashionista. It divides things into twelve groups (there are also simple four-category groupings out there as well as more complex sixteen-category ones). Season is determined first by Light or Dark, which was tricky for me. My skin is light, but my hair is right in the middle and my eyes are blue. After some staring into a mirror and looking at pictures online, I determined that I am a Cool Summer [Dark-Cool-Soft] who could also lean into Cool Winter [Dark-Cool-Sharp].

Cool is my strongest trait [“Aaaaayyyyyy!”], and Cool means blue. The Cool fashion palates are all about blue and things mixed with blue: purples, greens, blue-touched reds, grays and roses and blue-black charcoals. All of those are actually colors I liked! Further, Cool’s antitheses are orange and yellow, which is fine by me; I have never liked orange or yellow.

The Summer grouping is a “Light” grouping, and so it’s all about more muted colors. Not pastels, but not bold, bright colors, either. That I sit on the fence with Winter means I can get away with the more bold, “pure” colors, though, like the occassional bright red or royal blue. I’m cool with that, too.

Honestly, I like to think that I’ve “known” my palate most of my life, thanks to my art training. I just didn’t know how to put it in fashion terms. If you were to look at my men’s wardrobe, you would see plenty of dark and neutral colors; but also a preference for things like burgundy reds, earthy greens, subdued purples, and blues of all kinds. It seems like I just need to bring those colors out more and be willing to introduce more softer colors into the mix (men’s clothes aren’t big on soft colors).

I’ve gotten lucky, I’ve been picking colors that “matched” me all along. If you’re not so articitically inclined, though, hie thee to the Chic Fashionista. At its heart, color theory is about visual analysis and artistic pairing, and that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored. Women’s clothes really ramp up the variety and intensity of colors over men’s clothes, and when you factor makeup into the equation, it seems like a no-brainer to be more aware of your colors. It will make you look better when you go en femme.

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  • Ali,

    Very informative post. The fog lifted a bit for me as I read your explanations and then rolled back in again when I tried to understand the Chic Fashionista site. Color me “Just Don’t Get It – Cool,” I guess. Maybe I’ll just stick with my All-Season Raincoat and just DARE someone to ask me what I have on underneath it!



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