Do you follow the wonderful, funny, talented Nakisha Smith’s blog Dressmaking Debacles? She and I tested a jeans pattern together and I have followed her ever since. The other day she wrote an interesting blog on colour analysis. She concluded that it has nothing to say to people with darker skin shades, except “dark” – which sounds fairly dire.
Here she goes:
“I would encounter these conversations about colours and season and all that jazz and be utterly confused. I finally figured out the confusion – those “tests” were not for brown ladies! There was always one “dark” and it supposed to cover all of us women of colour. Like really? The cool browns, warm browns, the olive skinned … we are all just …”dark”. And that’s it. So I’ve always just gone off my own reaction to a colour when I encounter it and how I feel when It is on my body”.
Now Nakisha is highly competent at making clothes and she knows what suits her. She is very confident of her look and figure. She looks great in blues, greys and orange and she has agreed to me continuing this conversation on my blog. Although I cannot disagree with her “wear what you want” conclusion I felt I would like to respond to her critique.
The Winter palette
The “Seasonal” approach was the system used in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s start with “Winter”- the category that most people will darker skin would traditionally be put into. Funnily enough the archetype for this “season” was Snow White – with skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony wood and lips as red as blood.
Of course it was fairly odd to suggest that the whole world could be slotted into just one of four categories. The Seasons gave some people a clue, but it was rather crude and colour analysis has developed since the early days.
More recently the different companies have made the “tests”, as Nikisha describes them more sophisticated, looking to see what primary direction a person will have. Today we decide which of the following dichotomous groups of colour look best against someone’s face.
Deep or Light? Cool or Warm? Bright or Muted?
The old Winter palette would mean (if we tested Snow White herself), Deep (she has black hair and dark brown eyes), Cool (blue undertones) and Bright (lots of contrast and brightness – those lips for example). Walt Disney choosing red, white, blue, purple and orange with little touches of brown for Snow White’s costume – a cool, bright and deep wardrobe to complement her colouring.
The Deep colour direction
So let’s go back to “Deep” or “Dark”.
Deep doesn’t actually mean “dark” – it implies that the colours are intense and saturated. Light colours have lots of water in them, not lots of white. And deep colours are not blackened – they just contain more pigment. Does that help? A dark red might be deep, but so too is a strong scarlet or yellow. A light red would be pinky, a light yellow might be lemon.
Now let’s turn to Nakisha’s brown ladies or women of colour (some of our UK terminology is different, so please forgive me if I inadvertently offend). She is right that there are infinite versions of skin, hair and eye colour and actually we are all unique. Like white people, there is more than one version of black people in terms of colouring.
Here are a few of my family members and friends just to show what a wide range of skin, hair and eye colours black British people sport. Hello Rosa (Esme’s step-sister back row), Ade (next to Esme), Ted (behind Esme’s arm) and Kit!
Ade definitely suits deeper (more intense) colours, whereas Rosa’s primary direction is Muted. Ted suits cool bright colours, and I don’t know what is best for Kit as I haven’t run the test, but I would guess he will also suit the cools.
So black people will vary, exactly as Nakisha suggests, and if you do colour analysis on people of different ethnic groups you will see all the colour directions.
However if you have black hair (and you will see that Kit’s hair is brown and more similar to his Mum’s colouring than his Dad’s) you will probably suit black as a neutral. Most of the people of the world have black hair – those who come from India, China, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Southern Europe for example. So whenever I meet someone with black (actually very dark brown) hair, when someone has “blackness” in their colouring, it will normally be enhanced by black clothing. Black as a colour is deep, cool and bright. People who are fairer, who don’t have so much “deepness” or “blackness” in their colouring are usually complemented by wearing softer or lighter colours.
Skin, eye and lip colour is important too, but probably secondary to hair shade. When doing a colour analysis I also try to look at the whole picture of the face/hair/eyes and see which range of colours harmonises best. So there is some subtlety to the “test” beyond sticking people in categories.
While deep (saturated) colours look great against darker skins many black people can carry off a strong contrast in their look. Pair black with white, or pastel shades, or pair deep navy with orange, or put a vibrant pink scarf on with a charcoal overcoat, and you will have a great look. I would say avoid head to toe black or navy, and get some contrast in there – using pastels, or brights, or pattern.
Also many black people look good in head to toe brights, although in the UK at least (with our drizzly weather and dark evenings) this look can be too dramatic for the average person. I would say that Lupita Nyong’o has bright as her primary direction rather than deep.
The other colour palette that suits most black haired people is the cool palette – colours with a blue undertone. Cool is my primary direction too. So here is an interesting experiment I tried at work today. Shai and I are wearing an almost identical shade of violet. We both have cool undertones in our skin. While I am better in lighter shades, and Shai looks great in the deeper colours I would say this cool-bright colour looks good on us both (but probably a bit better on him!).