Winter is coming … and coming!

“What’s with all the winters (and bright springs)? Why do so many people seem to want to be one? Why do so many people think they’re one? I could swear I see people getting worn by these colours all the time out there on the street. What’s going on?”


And yet again we’re discussing winter colours! Maybe we can blame Coco Chanel (again). While we have much to thank her for (sports knits for women! the bateau-neck striped fishman’s jersey that is still a staple around here in North Sydney nearly 90 years on!), Gabrielle also started the whole aspirational monochrome contrast “thing” when, as previously quoted, she had this to say: “…. Black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.” So simple. So elegant. So easy.

Alas, Chanel was projecting her own comfort zone onto the rest of us. The dynamic duo of B&W really only works for that subset of the population we call “winters” and fashion, as this blog so frequently notes, is often sold on grounds of trying to make a generalization work for you when you really do better somewhere else.

Our previous article regarding subjective timbre covered a fair few of the issues that might be in play when someone dresses themselves as winter (or a Bright Spring) when they are more naturally placed somewhere else – cultural preferences, ease of access, fashion editorial, and the “supernormal stimulus” of high colour and contrast.

The more serious issue is that of how winters can be overdiagnosed in formal PCA or – much less commonly in my experience – passed over for something else.

Let’s start by looking at what happens when we put winter colours on someone of warmer or softer colouring. For warms, we tend to see a greying or pinching or perhaps cyanosis of the lips; for softer seasons, often a leaching or flattening, but whatever the effect on a given individual the common thread is a sense of disconnection and disagreement between colour and face. In most cases, the winter accent will “dominate”, that is, you will see the colour as more “forward in the mix” than the person (think of it as turning up the treble too much on your sound system, distorting the balance), while the black will create a sense of a prominent block of darkness, shadowing, and effacement.

All of these signs need to be distinguished from the positive effects of colour. Greying, pinching, leaching and lightening can all be confused with skin clearing, a bit like the “overexposed selfie” effect, and we may be so struck by the colour of the drape or drapes or the boldness of the dark or light against the person that we overlook the fact that we have been caught admiring the drape in isolation and not seeing that it dominates the person themselves.

As Kathryn Kalisz said, “Beauty presents as one harmonious whole.” Drape and client should enhance each other. The drape or drapes should not vie for your eye, and in so much as a drape colour may seem striking or appealing to the viewer, the client should be completely equal to the effect it poses. We certainly do direct our attention to specific local effects such as shadows around the eyes, diminution of blemishes and so on, and being able to identify and demonstrate these illusions is important, but if we get too tightly focused we also risk foregrounding the drapes at the expense of the client, and it is important to also step back visually and take a more panoramic perspective when looking for harmony overall.

Another factor is an over-reliance on makeup or (less often) hair colouring as a component of the analysis when it is really better thought of as a post-PCA option which then serves as a tonal accessory. Your colours should work for you out of the drawer and out of the shower and without any artificial enhancement. Don’t get me wrong. Make-up and hair processing are options that many of us really appreciate having and many analysts with a background in either or both enjoy offering their clients this added tuition, but you should be able to carry your tone effortlessly and easily without either, and this is the basic premise and central rationale of tonal placement in PCA.

You may choose to use makeup for fun, to pull a look towards your personal sense of glamour or theatre or drama, to accommodate workplace expectations, or simply because you feel more groomed and polished doing so, and for a similar spectrum of reasons you might chose to cover grey or chlorine bleaching or sun weathering (or a previous but unflattering salon process). All of these things are completely valid choices.

However the notion I sometimes hear and see, that “winters need makeup and/or hair dye to balance their saturation”, is a myth that can tap into and trap us into the very thinking that detaches us from our native timbre and which gets so many people confused about their best colours in the first place: the idea that more contrast, depth or chroma is inherently better and that anyone can wear anything as long as you compensate with cosmetology. While it is true that high-chroma seasons by definition can take a lot of the right colour on their face if they wish, they can all wear their palette without any such external help, whether child or adult, whether greying or white-haired, whether male or female, and my concern is that too much stress on makeup as quasi-obligatory or necessary to “balance” clothing colours is helping, literally, to “mask” true tonality. To reiterate the point: winters can do black and their accents without help from additives. That’s what makes them winters, whether they chose to leave it at that or not.

In TCI 12 Tone practice, makeup is better considered as a matter of style, subject to your native tone and to the extent which you personally chose to employ it as part of your look. Your tone and your sense of fashion style are independent things, but many people confuse the two. Not all softs go for a natural lip, nor all winters for a big red (and the wrong big red on a winter can be almost as bad as it would be on anyone else). Soft tones can do high glamour, while a winter can prefer a natural appearance, using their clothing for colour and contrast instead. I often think this question would be far less controversial if men discussed and underwent PCA in larger numbers, but for perspective, note that most of my male gender clients have zero interest in mascara or lipstick and seem to cope fine without it regardless of their 12 Tone placement.


To my eye, attempting to divert someone into a tone other than their own via makeup and hair colour is almost never entirely convincing, even in the hands of Hollywood masters, but it must be said that plenty of people do this routinely (and if you live in a work uniform which specifies everything up to lipstick options – yes, this has been done – you might feel you might as well do all you can to try to accommodate it). As in our previous article, though, we need to be careful not to get it backwards and confuse this tonal assimulation exercise with a true PCA result. If “winter” colours wash you out without makeup, you’re going to find another tone easier to live with (though not necessarily easier to find in the shops), and it bears stressing that there is no difference between the genders in this regard.