Understanding Undertone and Ageing – Warm to Cool


Yesterday I wrote about how fast your colouring changes as you age. In the the question, I was also asked if you can have a neutral undertone – one that is neither warm nor cool.

In my decade of doing image consulting and having draped countless people, I’ve never seen someone who is purely neutral.  And I can tell you I’ve looked and draped a lot of people!


When you think about undertone, you need to think about it being on a continuum. From the very warm through the just a little warm, to the just a little cool, to the very cool.  It doesn’t matter if the colour is light, medium or dark, it can still be warmer or cooler.

So back to the question at hand.  The kinds of colours that aren’t particularly warm or cool, are those that are closer to the middle – they have been warmed up or cooled down in their undertone more slightly.

cool and warmYou will see that the colours through the middle of the picture above are also more muted than the ones on the left and right edges. As we lose our clarity of colour as we age, we need to soften down the colours that we wear.  When we are making a colour softer, we add the complementary colour (the one opposite on the colour wheel – so orange to blue, or yellow to purple etc.)  This not only greys the colour down, it also either warms it up slightly, or cools it down (depending on which side of the colour wheel you’re mixing in).  So the more greyed down colours tend to be closer to the middle of that warm <———————->cool continuum.

The colours that suit those who are not extreme in their warmth or coolness will usually be softer and smokier.  They won’t be obviously warm or cool (most people who aren’t trained to look at colour, would have to compare them to other colours to figure out if they are warmer or cooler – this is why having a colour swatch is so handy – it’s your comparison tool).

colouring and age

In the pictures above – you can see Helen Mirren needs softer colours in her clothing and makeup now that her skin is ageing.    Meryl Streep was warm (though probably never super warm) in her youth, but even with age her skin retains some of it’s warmth, it’s just softer and slightly less warm than it was when she was young.

As far as grey hair goes – usually if you have warm colouring, your hair will grey in a more yellow grey way, whilst if cool, in a silver/white way.  But sometimes I do see people with cool grey hair and still warm skins.

Interestingly and a little unusually, I’ve seen a few clients over the years who as they have aged, have lost the warmth of undertone in their face, but retained it in their arms and hands (which is why I don’t look at wrists, arms and hands when doing colour analysis).  It’s the reflection of colour onto the face that matters most as that is your communication centre, where we are looking when we speak to you, not your wrists!  Then I just advise to wear the cooler colours around their face and silver/platinum jewellery there, but then wear gold jewellery on wrists and hands.

Plus, once you’ve gone through the grey stage to the all white stage – you can start to brighten slightly again (though not the really bright colours, usually those with a high tint (lots of white added) not smoky (lots of grey in the colour).

I hope this has helped you understand colour properties a little more.  Let me know your questions!



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  • Thanks, Imogen, that has made a lot of sense. I have always struggled with this question. After reading the article I referred back to the booklet you provided when you did my colour analysis and can now make sense of things. And you will be pleased to know that I still carry my swatch in my handbag and if an item doesn’t match it it gets put back. And I treat black as invisible in the shops – it sure saves time.

  • Would love it if you could show us some samples of color that you describe in this comment…”Plus, once you’ve gone through the grey stage to the all white stage – you can start to brighten slightly again (though not the really bright colours, usually those with a high tint (lots of white added)” What colors are bright with lots of tint added?

  • Thanks v much for this too, Imogen.

    1. Didn’t you once say that Anne Hathaway is slightly warm? But doesn’t she suit bright colours?
    2. Can you give me an example of someone with bright but warm colouring?
    3. you once said that those with hazel eyes are always warm? overall, can you generalise that black people or Chinese people or Indian people are more likely to have a certain colouring or do they have as many variations as white people? finally, amongst white people until the age of 40 – is there an equal distribution of those with cool and bright, cool and muted, warm and bright, warm and muted or is one group more prevalent than others do you think?

    • You can suit brighter colours and not be either super warm or super cool. Can’t remember if I said she was warm or cool. But just looking at a few pics online I’d say cooler rather than warmer.

      Bright warm colouring – Mila Kunis, Eva Mendes, Christina Hendricks, Blake Lively – would all wear brighter warm colours well.

      Nope you can’t generalise with darker skins or whole races. They are just as diverse as Caucasians. Some races are more typically warm or cool, but not always! China is an enormous population and quite diverse. Most of SE Asia has a variety of colouring.

      NOpe there is no equal distribution of colours – it’s all dependent on genetics. Here in Australia we have more slightly muted people than bright as we are genetically very multicultural which softens down colouring (as people with different colouring are having kids – so not keeping the sameness in the colouring)

      • I second Lisa. (I personally don’t follow any other style blogs either.) Did you never want to have your own TV programme Trinny and Susanna style (theirs was so inaccurate and annoying anyhow) or just a documentary? You could make a terrific one merely on the basis of the contents of your blog, perhaps demonstrating aspects of what to wear with real-life clients/volunteers but also explaining the science behind it? If you were in Britain, it would be a huge hit, I’m sure.

  • You say so many important things in this piece Imogen! Its an area of colour and style that is very under discussed. As I’ve said before – I’ve gone from red brown hair and gold brown eyes in childhood to dark brown and olive green in adulthood, now changed again in the last two years to brighter, lighter, more definately green eyes and well – grey hair – dyed mid brown, at 60. In fact my eyes now have charcoal grey in the mix – a colour I’ve never seen on myself in my life before and never identified with, which truely feels very odd! I now find I can wear silver jewellery too, which I’ve always thought went with cool colouring. My skin is still pale and slightly warm (ivory) but it not as pale as it was in previous decades. I agree about having to wear softer, more muted colours too, although they only work for me if quite balanced between warm and cool, so I wear lots of soft teals, soft and warmish aubergine (eggplant) and greyed greens. Some really subtle and well observed comments in this piece, things that long needed saying. Can’t wait for your next posting!

    • Imogen, this post is great. As I age and my coloring changing, I’m all confused about what colors to wear. I find that I have to try colors that are entirely new to me — quite the odd feeling, as I sort out what works and what doesn’t.

      Trish, your comment was one that I could have made — I started life with red brown hair and dk green/brown eyes that are now dyed light brown (grey hair) and grey-green eyes. Similarly, I have found that I look best in softer, muted colors that are balanced warm and cool. Soft teals and green greys are some of my waredrobe staples. I’ll have to try soft aubergine since I’m not sure that I’ve ever worn that color, but sounds like it may work too.

    • Thanks Kate – there is a lot of bad information about on colour sadly. I love colour and have spent years looking at the colours people wear and how what they choose can really make a difference to their overall appearance. I love seeing people glow with health because the colour is just so part of them, rather than having the colour either drain them or do nothing for them.

  • This is so helpful; in my coloring I have both cool and warm grays with an ash dark brown deep in some of the roots( I’m about 85-95 percent gray and brighter in value) I notice that I can wear some grays better than others so I mix my grays balancing cooler or warmer silver jewelry depending on the outfit. However, your other content about the rosegold may help me with the issues I have. I’ve learned so much from your blog. Thank you so much.

  • Imogen, I’m looking forward to doing my colors with you as soon as possible.Thanks for visually showing these color qualities.

  • I agree with Lisa up there, your style blog is the best, and I visit, re-visit, lurk and binge read frequently. I am also prone to commenting on old posts. Your style suits my personality well-I like detail, explanation, I want to know why. I’ve always been fascinated by colour and I think I see it quite well compared to average(although I think it is often harder to see ourselves and I’ve had a bit of a journey with that). I’ve struggled more with line. That doesn’t surprise me as I do have a harder time with spatial relationships. You have helped me a lot and helped me better understand other systems too, like Kibbe. In the end I will choose flattering colour over hitting all the marks regarding ideal shape. It would be nearly impossible to get everything perfect every time. I would rather wrap myself in a bed sheet that is the perfect colour for me than a personally tailored dress that is the wrong colour.

  • I’m a cool tone- cool bright colors: Amethyst purple, eggplant, blue, colonial blue, brick red, medium dusty rose, navy, green, teal-blue and teal-green, silver jewelry. I mainly lean towards blues, greens purples.
    Gold looks washed out on me as with warm colors make me look sallow.

    My hair is dark brown with a sprinkling of white about 5% or 10%, hard to tell the hard water turned my white hair antique yellowish brown.
    Menopause didn’t help with the weight gain or skin texture, but I have been taking multi vitamins and my hair is silkier and soft, nails are stronger and breaks less plus no ridges, and skin texture changed to being healthy and supple. i still have my skin routine that changes as I got older.

    I heard that when someone who use to be a warm tends to go to cool tones as they age.
    My question is:
    so, can someone who is cool tone become a bit warm tone as they age?

  • Having gone through three years of cancer, chemo and removal of head tumor, I find I don’t know what my colours are, am I warm or cool.
    Lots of doctor appointments and time in hospital means I only have jeans and tops with stripes so really need help. Is there anyone in Bendigo who can help?

    • Helen – thanks for your comment. I don’t know of anyone in Bendigo (I’m in Melbourne if you’re down this way) or I can help through my 7 Steps to Style program too. Chemo can can sometimes change the way your colouring looks too while it’s going on. I would expect that your colouring has softened down with treatment.

  • Hi
    I came across this on pinterest. You have 7 rows shown. Three to the left and three to the right. Can I ask what colouring the exact centre row is? The exact middle row in the centre of the 3 to the left (warmer) and 3 to the right (cooler)

  • Oh my goodness, this is me! I’ve had such a hard time figuring out my coloring from other seasonal Color Analysis guides. I thought my face & neck color was cooler than my arms, but it was very confusing looking at my arms for undertones! I probably used to be a Spring but now my colors are cooling in my hair and face.

    • Yes colouring changes as you age Leslie and many seasonal colour analysis systems don’t take this into consideration. Some people stay warm, others actually move over to the cool end of the spectrum

  • Any chance of a personal look by email. I am 75 and would to figure out the aging chance in swift order. Would appreciate your help.

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