Advanced Color Palette Tips & Tricks

Because I talk about it so often, you know that I've been relying on my seasonal color palette (True Summer) to guide me to colors I look good in. For the most part, it's been a huge success. The color palette gave me guidelines. It showed me a ton of colors that work for me without my having to individually stumble onto each one. And it explained why colors which I kept trying, kept failing.

I've been spreading this dogma to several friends, identifying their colors (usually using this quiz) and then selling them on their palette like I'm getting a commission. "Oooh, you get LOTS of purples. I'm jealous!"

But being too dogmatic about this palette idea has also led me astray in subtle ways. For example, there's this shade of bright aqua that I've been CONVINCED should work for me. But I've never been really satisfied. Recently I decided it's "more of a Light Summer aqua," which I guess is an explanation I can live with. But really, even if were smack on the True Summer palette, there's no reason I need to wear it if it doesn't make me look healthy and alive!  

Here are some issues I've run into:

Varying Online Representations of the Palette
Monitors vary. Printers vary. Online sources vary. Eyes vary. Problems in any of these areas could lead to you toward clothes in slightly suboptimal shades. (Gasp!)

For best results, find an online source that lists twelve season variations (three variants of each of the four seasons). The old "Color Me Beautiful" way of sorting everyone into one of four seasons wasn't, in my experience, specific enough. The palette image for your season should include 50+ shades, enough to get a real idea of what's what, and they should be different enough from each other for you to tell the difference. Ideally, you'll print out your palette on a good, well-stocked color printer so you can hold it up to clothes in person.

Lossy Word Translations
The colors that are on the palette are very specific. You can't just say, for example, "Blue works on me, and red doesn't." In most palettes, it's not that simple. Some kinds of blue will work on you; some won't.

Because I am a verbal person, though, there is always a temptation to turn the color images into words in my head. Sometimes the words I choose are good rules of thumb because they describe incredibly specific shades: "peacock blue." Sometimes, though, the word includes multiple shades, and only some of them work: "aqua" is a tricky one for me. Some aquas work on me, but some, I've recently discovered, are really more part of the Light Summer palette. I've been wearing them anyway, slightly dissatisfied and unsure why, because I thought they MUST work, but when I look closely, some of these shades were not really on my palette to begin with!

What was most helpful here was familiarizing myself with the other, adjacent palettes; this introduced me to a variety of shades and helped me to see the subtle differences between, say, True Summer Hunter Green and Soft Summer (Slightly Grayer) Hunter Green. Some colors are legitimately on multiple palettes, but sometimes the sublte differences can be telling.

Being "Off By One"
You can think of the palettes as a continuum, with each palette having a lot in common with its neighbors, both within the same season, and in adjacent seasons the share similar characteristics. Dark Winter has some colors with in common with True Winter, and other colors in common with Dark Autumn.

This can make it tricky to pin down your palette, because you can say, "Well, dark vivid pear green works for me, so I must be a Dark Autumn," but that color is also on the Dark Winter palette! It's important to look not only for confirmation (colors in the palette that you know work for you), but disconfirmation (colors that definitely don't, or "diagnostic colors" that separate this palette from its neighbors).

Being Between Palettes
I'm lucky in that the True Summer palette is pretty much exactly me, but many people I know are sort of between palettes. For example, Practical Cranberry Nut Roll is sort of between Soft Summer and Soft Autumn. It's pretty common to be between two related palettes, so you have to kind of cobble together which shades work for you (and which don't!) from the two palettes.

Ultimately, the goal of the palette is to make it easier to find colors that make you look healthy and alive. The palette is a tool to steer you toward those colors. Following the palette is not, in and of itself, an end goal. When in doubt about a particular clothing item, don't ask: "Is this color on my palette?" Ask: "Does this color make me look healthy and alive?" (Or have someone else answer this for you.) There's no call to wear a color that doesn't work for you, even if it "should" work according to your palette. By the same token, if a color looks good on you, even if it's not on your palette, go ahead and wear it anyway! Over time, you can use the seasonal palette image as a starting point to create your own, personalized palette.


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