Recently, I was commenting on the MMSL Forum's men's fashion thread (defunct, unfortunately) about color analysis. Several men asked for more information, and to stay on topic, I'm posting it here. Welcome friends of MMSL! Readers unfamiliar with Athol Kay's work, please refer to him for relationship advice and self-improvement tips.
This post will be the "elevator pitch" version of color analysis, aimed at men who want to look good but don't want to worry too much about clothes and shopping. I will include references at the end for those who want to learn more.
December 28, 2015- I tweaked this post a bit to answer some questions, include better photos, and simplify the Find Your Colors section.
What is color analysis?
Have you ever noticed that some people look great in some colors, but look terrible in colors that look great on other people? Wearing the best colors for you can make you look younger, healthier, and even sexier, but wearing the wrong colors can make you look sick, old, and tired.
The art of discovering your best colors is called color analysis.
I'm sure versions of color analysis have been around for a long time, but the modern system emerged in the 1980s. It has become less popular in recent years, but the original 4-category system has expanded to be more useful, with 12 or even 16 categories.
Once you figure out your category, you wear the colors in that category because they're the ones that will make you look great. You decide which category has "your colors" based on your skin tone, hair color, and eye color.
A note about color: The original system from the 1980s was heavily biased towards Europeans. However, the system works for people of all races and skin colors. If you're not sure where you fit in, try the t-shirts in each category until you find the one that fits you best.
The four category system
The 4 categories of the 1980s are named after the seasons:
Winter men have fresh, high-contrast colors. The hair is dark and the skin contrasts strongly with the hair (skin can be quite dark). The undertone of the skin is cool, pinkish instead of gold. The eyes can be brown or a strong light blue.
Black looks great on Winters, as does pure white. Bold, bright colors work well: bright red, blue, purple, green… anything bold and vibrant. For suits, choose black, gray and navy blue. Avoid browns, off-whites, muted colors, and pastel colors.
Spring people have warm and light colors. They are usually blonde, with golden undertones to their skin and hair. [If they are dark-skinned, they have an impression of warm lightness. Poetic I know, but that's the best way to describe it.] The eyes are soft green, brown, or blue, and there is little contrast between the color of the skin and the hair.
The colors that look best in spring are pale and warm colors. Think of a flower garden in spring - those are the colors of spring. At first, you might think that these colors don't appear in men's clothing... The traditional colors of men's shirts: off-white, light blue, light pink, peach, light yellow... and some more vivid colors too. For suits, think brown, warm khakis, medium gray, and the "icy color" suits. Black will probably make you look washed out, and pure white might be too strong for you.
Summer is another light color group, but summers are cool tones rather than warm springs. The eyes will be a shade of blue or gray, and you were probably blonde as a child (and you can still be blonde). The skin is not the golden hue of spring, but rather pink, or “reddish” as one of my ex-husbands put it.
The color range of summer is similar to that of spring, but the colors are cooler. For example, a spring red will have a bit of orange, but a summer one will be slightly blue. Good suit colors are charcoal and medium gray, cool tans and browns, and light navy. Black might work for you, white sometimes works.
Autumns have warm, high-contrast colors. Natural redheads are fall, but so are people with warm “dirty blonde” hair and a warm, pale skin tone, or who are very dark but warm. Eye colors are golden brown, green, or blue-green. The skin and hair have a lot of contrast with each other. There is none of the delicacy you see in spring.
Fall has a good name, as the best colors are those found in New England in October: warm oranges and yellows, cranberry reds, olive greens, and browns. Black and white are not good fall colors – stick with warm browns and off-whites. Good colors for suits are any shade of brown or dark blue.
Category 12 and 16 systems
Not all men fit perfectly into the 4 category system. For example, you might fit into the fall category, except bright orange and mustard look awful on you, and some of the summer colors work well too. The 12 and 16 category systems divide the 4 main categories into subcategories that branch off to the other seasons. So a "soft autumn" looks bad on higher contrast fall colors, but looks good on softer summer colors. [This is Hilda's coloring, by the way. I have reddish-brown hair, pale cool skin, and blue-gray eyes. Autumn hair, summer skin and eyes.]
I won't go into the full 12 and 16 category systems here; you can learn more in the "Further Reading" section below.
Here are color charts for the remaining 8 categories in the 12 category system. You will need these when you test your colors below.
finding your colors
If you ask a color consultant, you'll get all sorts of tricky methods to find out what your color category is. Complicated systems work and produce good results, but if you don't care about perfect results, you can find your category very easily. I am giving two methods here.
The best way to find your colors, folks, is to go shopping and try on T-shirts in the following test colors. These colors will help you narrow down your category.
Fuchsia ••••cool winter or summer
Orange ••••warm spring or autumn
Most people will look sick in hot pink or orange and either or the other color. It's okay if you don't like any... choose the color that makes you look worse. This tells you if you need warm colors (orange looks best) or cool colors (hot pink looks best).
The next test is to find and try on the best looking bright shirt and a pastel version of the same color. 🇧🇷Light orange ••••oPale pink ••••] Do you look better in the light or in the light?
This takes you to one of the 4 stations:
Bright Warm (bright orange) = Autumn
Bright Cool (hot pink) = Winter
Pale Warm (light orange) = Spring
Pale Cold (Pale Pink) = Summer
You now know your rank in the four rank system. Copy the correct color chart from the photos above and take it with you when you go shopping. Buy clothes that match the colors on your chart. Done.
You can also do this test with greens, although some men have a hard time distinguishing shades of green.
bright hot (olive green ••••) = autumn
bright cold (Emerald green ••••) = winter
warm pale (lime green ••••) = Primavera
pale cold (green mint ••••) = summer
If you still can't tell or get mixed results, you are one of these "mixed" categories. You can probably narrow it down to two seasons (in my case, summer and fall). Check out the color charts above and find out which total set is closest to the colors that look good on you. The outfits overlap, because many colors look good in different categories. Choose the best graphic and combine it with your clothing purchases.
That's very simple. Look at the photos of different men above, find the category of the man with the same color as you. [Hair, skin, eyes.] This will also be your category.
The man in the main photo is an autumn. The olive green shirt (autumn color) suits him much better than the mint green (spring-summer color).
One Final Note: Color Blindness
Many men are slightly color blind. You may not be able to tell emerald green from jade or coral from salmon. This is good. If you stick to "warm/cool, high/low contrast, light/dull" you should be fine. Good. You don't need perfect color vision to know if bright purple is your color.
If you are really confused, ask someone with a good sense of color for help. The best people to ask are:
- a trusted friend with a good colored eye and the honesty to tell you when something feels like a dog's breakfast to you.
- a menswear manufacturer you trust (many don't care how your clothes look as long as you buy them. Others care more about a long-term relationship and will be honest.)
- a woman who will give you honest answers. Don't automatically ask your wife/girlfriend! Many women will dress you in the colors they like, not the ones that make you look the best.
Note: Almost all color reviews are geared toward women, so read between the lines for advice for men. And some of the writing gets very, very cheesy.
Look in your library for these (links are to Amazon.com):
paint me beautiful, Carole Jackson The book that started the trend in the 1980s.
color revival, Lora Alexander (out of print) A full explanation of the 12 category system and the source of my main photo.
The science of personal clothing for men and boys., Irenee Riter. I don't know much about this book, but it feels like the book if you want to really dive into it.
all were online in December 2015
http://www.askandyaboutclothes.com/clothing/style-tips/practical-color-help/This is one of the few web posts I have come across written for men. Andy also covers basic color theory and how to coordinate colors.
http://www.12blueprints.com/tag/colour-analysis-men/This is a professional color analyst blog index search for articles on men's color.
http://www.30somethingurbangirl.comfrom there I got the collages of photos of men in different seasons. The blog is a little hard to find, but it has some good information.
http://inventyourimage.com/2014/01/03/invent-your-images-color-analysis-pages-for-men/Color charts designed for men in a 12 category system. I used some of these graphics above.
Pinterest has a few boards for men in different categories. Search in “Men's <season> color analysis”
Updated March 15, 2018 for some general fixes