Color Theory: What’s your best palete

I find color theory fascinating.  There are certain colors (and therefore outfits) that look amazing on others but awful on me.  Heck, I even have a Pinterest board titled “Can’t wear but wish I could” full of cute outfits in colors that just don’t work on me.

Back in the 80s I had my seasons done and was told I was a winter.  That didn’t seem quite right; I wear both gold and silver jewelry, have clothing in earthy shades of rust as well as bright red (while looking deathly ill in the lemon yellow that a winter is supposed to be able to wear), and looked considerably more yellow skin-toned than my husband.  Since then, however, there have been a number of refinements made to the seasonal model that make it seem closer to on the mark for me.

Specifically, the idea of adding dimensions of dark/light/true/bright came in, making subtle changes to the base colors.


What is neat about these additions is that they make clear why certain color combinations worked and others didn’t.  In fact I appear to be a dark winter or dark autumn (two palates that share a lot of the same colors).

It turns out that if you look at my “Can’t Wear” board, most of the items are soft colors (taupe, cream, dusty rose, lilac, etc).  Soft Autumn/Soft Summer colors.  Colors that wash me out.  However knowing the colors that work best on me has made shopping a great deal easier.  Even using two palates instead of one, it has made decisions a lot easier.

dark winter

dark autumn













The similarities in the palates are clear, although I believe that my home palate is still dark (sometimes called deep) winter; I have always looked better in a pure white than an off-white (which is one of the big tests of cool vs. warm palate).  It’s hard to miss the cross-over of colors, though, and there is an entire page by one web-based color site talking about how to tell the difference between the two.

The danger, of course, is that “your” colors aren’t always in style.  It’s a struggle to be a dark ANYTHING in the spring, which is why I wear so much black and white or color and white that time of the year.  The contrast works well on me.  Of course, it’s hard for a light spring to shop right now, whereas I am overwhelmed with the choices in my colors.

If you’ve never had your colors done, it may seem a bit overwhelming at first. However, there are some shortcuts and tools to use.

  1. Skin tone:  Use this chart to determine whether you have a cool, warm or neutral skin tone.  If you are clearly cool, that will make you a summer or winter.  If you are clearly warm, that will make you a spring or autumn.  If you are neutral, keep going.
  2. Jewelry:  Look at your jewelry.  Is it almost all silver or gold?  If it’s almost all silver, that suggests cool. If it’s almost all gold, that suggests warm.
  3. Eye and natural hair color:  Take a look at this chart.  It shows not just the skin tones (which can be hard to judge) but also the hair colors and eye colors that naturally appear, matched with their palate. I have dark brown eyes, pale skin, and medium brown hair.  Deep winter and deep autumn are the only palates that match that combination.
  4. The RED Test:  Finally follow these instructions using red clothing you already own to tip the scale between the cooler shades and warmer.  In my case, I don’t look as good in tomato red as I do in a true red or blue-tinted red, leading toward a conclusion of cool.

Once you have your colors, this pinner had a board for each color palate.  Use those colors as a guideline for what to add and what to consider a basic in your wardrobe.  This blog also has a TON of resources.

One last thought:  Just because a color isn’t in your palate doesn’t mean you can NEVER wear it.  It means you need to keep it away from your face.  A mustard sweater isn’t my best choice, but with a bold scarf in my colors it can be lovely.  Start collecting scarves NOW that can tie those other colors in and you will have an infinite number of combinations.


  1. s says:

    Love this post! I’m a (mostly) dark winter too, and can wear a lot of dark autumn shades. I have very dark brown hair and eyes and light to medium/olive skin. Lately I find it easier to think in terms of saturation and contrast than warm and cool colors. This isn’t supposed to be possible, but truly, I’m cool in the winter and warm in the summer (when I get a tan) – maybe this is due to my mixed race (Asian/Caucasian)? I go for saturated high contrast (cobalt, black) in the winter, and more muted neutral tones in the summer (olive green, lighter blues). I always always avoid yellows and oranges. I’ve also read that when winters go grey, they become clear winters, so I’ll be interested to see if that happens – I’m definitely beginnig to see sprinkles of salt in my pepper.


  2. Thank you so much for this post. I’m a dark autumn/dark winter. I’m far more drawn to the colours in dark winter though, which makes me think I innately know what suits me. Well, I never!