Discover Your Colours – Your Intensity – Clear or Soft
Ok, so hopefully you now have some idea of whether you are warm or cool and your undertone vs overtone from these posts. Now it’s time to figure out your intensity – what is intensity? It’s the saturation or brightness or dullness of the colour. Albert Munsell was the man who figured out that colour wasn’t just one thing – but a combination of several elements, he called intensity the chroma.
What is chroma? Colours are called chromatic. Black/White/Grey are called achromatic. So the chroma scale is the gradations of a colour from it’s brightest intensity (highest saturation or pure colour) down to the point where it’s a version of grey with a whisper of that colour left.
From this picture, you can see the green going from the brighter end, right down to a dull grey. Whether or not you suit the brighter, middle or duller version of a colour is based on your intensity.
When we are about 20 we’re at our natural brightest – if we have bright eyes and clear skin, and our hair is an intense colour (brown, black, bright blonde) then we are more likely to be able to wear bright or clear colours.
As we age and our hair starts going grey, the bad news is, not only are we losing pigments from our hair, we’re also losing pigments from our skin and eyes so need to start softening down the colours, as the high-intensity colours start to wear us instead of us wearing them. This is why so many women of a certain age feel they are becoming invisible, as grey is a receding colour, they are less noticeable than all the bright young things whose colouring makes them advance.
So then you think, shouldn’t I wear bright colours to make me more noticeable as I age? The answer lies in the concept of simultaneous contrast.
But wearing colours that are of a similar intensity to your colouring will actually make you appear brighter.Notice how the centre dots appear to be different intensity depending what they are next to. So the grey dot is brightest when next to a duller/darker grey, whilst the orange dot is brightest next to the cobalt blue (and this is a concept of complementary colours you can use to brighten your eyes and colouring, fodder for a future post).
So go and find a colour (in either a warm or cool range depending which suits you) in different intensities and try them on and do the ‘blink test’ that’s where you shut your eyes then open them (standing in front of a mirror) and see what you want to look at first – your face or the colour. If it’s the colour, the colour intensity may be too bright for you and taking away the attention from your face – so if you place that brighter colour on a body part that you don’t want people to notice, what will happen – attention will be drawn there. If people are drawn to look at your face because the colour intensity works for you, then they won’t notice that body part you’re keen on camouflaging, instead, they’ll notice your beautiful visage.
This is also why at 40 or 50 dying your hair back to your ‘natural’ colour may no longer suit you – your skin has lost the intensity that worked well with that natural colour you had at aged 20, your current natural colour is the colour of your hair as it grows from your head. So you may need to tone down the colour as you age so that it’s not so harsh on your skin. For instance, I used to have black hair (which is a 1.0 in hairdressing terminology – also based on the work of Albert Munsell), now, I use a brown that is a 4.0 as I can no longer take that depth or intensity of colour as it completely washes me out.
Makeup colour choice is also reflected in your intensity – the bright lipsticks of your youth will glare on your face in an unflattering way as you age, choose a softer more natural colour for a flattering look. As we all age and our colouring changes at different rates, there is no one point where you can say – don’t wear red lipstick – you can always wear a version of a red lipstick, it just might not be the super bright one you wore at 20.
Have you noticed that colours you used to wear and love no longer suit you? Which suit you bright clear colours, medium clear or softened colours?
If you’re not sure about the colours that suit you and would like my professional opinion, you can get this as part of my 7 Steps to Style program (it includes personal colour analysis as well as discovering more about your body shape, proportions, facial features and of course how your personality influences your style). Discover more here.
This is great. I was told years ago i was a spring and i have found red, coral, bright turquoise, Kelly green, lime green, violet, cobalt blue, orange, emerald green, periwinkle blue make me look the prettiest cause they are brighter.
However if i was just to wear ivory and beige its not very flattering, or if i just wore warm beige, really light turquoise, or really light peach i can look dull and sometimes washed out. I have to watch the way i wear neutrals too and sometimes i find this confusing cause i know i will get more mileage if i buy neutral colour jackets or overcoats. I also like purple but i need to again watch how i wear it cause it can look too heavy sometimes. I often find it hard to know what to wear in winter or in a corporate work situations. Also although i look prettiest when these colours are close to my face i also know i am top heavy.
Imogen, I've learned more about the technicalities of style and colour from a few weeks' reading your blog than in years of scanning magazines etc. Thank you.
This post answers what I was wondering about in respect of the ageing process. My eye has instinctively realised there's something off now with colours that used to suit me. Now I know why. That colour dot thing is great.
Thought i would also mention although i am 35 i dont think the brightness of my colours has changed over the years. But i think thats because my skin is still quite youthful. I have the peaches and cream skin and people think i look about 27. The only thing that i have noticed is where i had dark golden blonde hair as a kid i think its more golden brown or mousy brown now.
Hello Imogen, Thanks, thanks, thanks for your all the information you have posted on this site.
I'm what's called a "cool summer" in the 12-season CMB system, a less intense winter in other systems, and I have noticed that I don't want to wear deep pink as I age and that the perfect lemony yellow is even more elusive.
To my question: I have grey streaks in what used to be very dark brown hair, and I have noticed that the hair looks more grey when I wear the greyer end of colours such as mauve or cocoa, whereas with mid-intensity (?) blues or with aquas or dark charcoal my hair looks darker. I think all of those colours bring out my skin/eye colour and contrast. For best results, should a person hold off on wearing the greyer shades until they're very grey themselves? I think I need to go back and study the contrast and complementary business!
Imogen, you have *COMPLETELY* lost me. I'm going to have to read through these three posts to see if I can figure this out.
Katherine – this could be about your contrast levels (there was a post that a while ago). Some people look better in neutrals, other people look better in colour. Tops and shirts in great colours can be worn with neutrals in jackets and pants very easily and allow your wardrobe to mix and match more easily. Don't worry about being a bit top heavy and wearing colour next to your face – the right colour will actually make you want to look at your face, not your chest. Just make sure the style is flattering.
Tess – thanks so much! Magazines don't give you much and tend to regurgitate the same myths.
Katherine – at 35 you are probably still reasnably bright (I was too at 35) but by 40 I've had to soften down slightly, but I still don't suit the really smokey colours which look drab on me at the moment.
Fins – thanks for your comment – I'll cover off why your hair looks less grey when you're wearing blue in my next post!
AC – sorry to have lost you – I hope if you re-read everything I've written on colour it will make sense – let me know specifically what you find difficult to comprehend.
Yes! When I had my "colors done" in my late 20's, my best colors were bright, almost neon colors. Now I look much better in more muted versions (confirmed during your workshop).
Fascinating! Starts to make sense to me but I still have to study the miror…Now, is there an ultimate test we can make with a color or two we think are our bests? To be sure?
Also:Is the skin the only reference point?…or could it be hair colour too? I seem to be warm complexion , but then some cooler colors really enance my hair colour:Purples. Can they be considered beeing warm blues, instead of cold reds? Colour is such a territory!
I think this is what I was talking about in the first post of this series, when I said I had to reconcile looking better in brighter colors with liking styles that seem to favor more muted, distressed/faded/grayer colors. It's hard for me to picture a "colorful" grunge outfit, for example. But now I have a plaid shirt that is mostly cobalt blue, and I'm trying to remember to buy saturated blacks instead of faded blacks. I don't have any problem with this at work — love to do bright, saturated, and graphic for the office — so it shouldn't be too hard to get the hang of it.
I look way better in brighter/jewel tones of colours. Pastels make me look ill. I think this is due to a combination of things.
a) I have high contrast colouring, such as very fair skin and almost black hair with clear green eyes.
b) I am a "clear winter" in the 12 season sorter.
I am starting to really get this now!
Dear Imogen; As A-C, I´m lost too. I got the first part, I´m cool, on the summer side, I´ve understood. My skin tone, I think I go to the pink side. And- no bright colors anymore. I´ll have to read everything all over again.
Tank you for all the great post on colors this week Imogen. It´s my favorite subject. 🙂
My skin tone needs medium intensity and doesn't handle clear color to well, even though I am high contrast. I have yellow overtone, peach undertone, brown hair (now with some white hairs) and green muted eyes. I look well in reeds (if not clear) and some oranges. I don't do well with pink and yellow (except mustered). My confusion usually starts when I try to pic neutral colors. I was reading your post on them recently, but i am still confused. I don´t do well with grays or taupe, but i could go for both the warm and the cool neutral colors in your post. Why is that? Is it possible to have neutral skin tone? Tanks. /Laura
I know I've always been a winter, and I've noticed the intensity of the colors I choose can look better or worse depending on lots of things these days…if I've had too much sun and am tanned or if my hair color is fading. I also had true black hair but now at 45 dye it a dark brown with carmel highlights to soften it even more. Very complicated stuff, but your detailed posts make things clearer.
Imogen, will this rule of softening colors as you age also apply to asian/southeast asians? I see many older Indian, middle eastern and east asian women with dark hair and think it looks fine.
I'm still having problems with this. I have mid-blonde hair (naturally – it was white until I was about 12) but I have dark brown eyes and eyebrows and medium, sallowish skin. Hardly any grey yet despite being 50 now! I definitely look best in cool colours. I was told I was a "brown summer" once but I don't feel this is right. I look horrible when brown is close to my face – it is too drab for me, and I definitely need contrast in my clothes. Would I be cool, clear, high contrast?
I'm 44 and have a harder time with black than I used to – I think I spent my entire thirties in head to toe black. I think this is common, having to be more careful about black as we age. I have been trying to replace it with dark brown, but it still seems so much less chic than black, I have a hard time with it. After all, black is the urban dweller's uniform.
In terms of brights, I have a couple of bright orangey-red sweaters that I used to LOVE and for some reason have shoved them back in the drawer the last few times I tried them on. I guess I should probbaly replace them with something more in the burnt sienna range.
Great!… and confusing! I went shopping today and was doubting suddenly about my choices. Looking at other woman, what trhey wore and and were attracted to, I could'nt understand… Should'nt all these argentine woman ( italian complexions), be warm? And then why do they stick to neutrals and cool colors??? Why is then blues suiting them so well? I kept buying white, yellowish green and bright yellow because I discovered recentely that they where indcredibly tonic for me.
Funilly, my tendency with aging, I am 48, is to go to brighter colours. When I was young I looked too much like a doll when I would wear bright colours. I come from a long all black road. Today I tough that maybe black was a cool colour and now I would wear more warm colours. The most dificult thing for me always been neutrals, since beiges and ocres have always been awfull for me. I recentely saw that a soft pinkish brown looks sensual on me, blends with my skin, sofisticated said my friend. The neutrals are terrible on me, they have no lyrism, no drama, but I think they are usefull in an outfit, just as in a painting, to support the brighter colours? Blue is never as beautiful as when emerging from a brown. Please, how do we use all your info? I will it read many many many times more. Your are very analytic and I love it!
This is an awesome post!
Hi Imogen! this post is really interesting and explains why when we are young we may be "clear" but move to "soft" as we age. You explain it so well.
This post reminded me of how in my '20s I used to wear dark mauve lipsticks, such as Revlon Rosewine. I'm now in my 40s, and have been complimented when I use nude shades, such as Loreal Sunwash. I remember that around my late 30s I was struggling with makeup colors, I guess because my skin color was changing with age. I didn't realize all of this until I read this post. BTW, my red is Loreal 320. 🙂