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PCA Myth Busters – Every colour in a palette can successfully be worn next to the face

“This is perhaps a strange question and one I may already know the answer to. Still I’d like to confirm it. Should one be able to wear every color in the palette near his/her face, no matter the depth? If anything is too dark, is that a sure fire sign that the season is off?”


I had a similar question from a client just this week; here is how the scenario unfolded. Lisa was clearly a 12-Tone (warm-neutral) Soft Autumn. Her natural colouring responded beautifully to the soft and gentle warm-neutral hues found in the 12-Tone Soft Autumn test drapes. Lisa had previously been diagnosed as a True Autumn within the 4 season system; a result that made total sense at the time, given the harsh effects caused by the cooler tones and the overwhelming brightness of  True Spring. Everything looked beautiful until we came to the 12-Tone Soft Autumn gold drape, (6.4 on the 12-Tone TCA palette).   Such a beautiful colour, yet Lisa blended in so much that she seemed to disappear. How can this be, and more importantly, what did it mean about her diagnosis?

The term colour harmony (as used in PCA) refers to the combined effect of two or more adjacent colours. The more the colours have in common, in respect of their relative hue, value and chroma, the more visual ‘pleasure’ experienced by the observer. Think of it as the difference between spending 7 hours inside an artificially lit shopping mall, exciting for the first 3 hours then ultimately draining to the point of exhaustion, compared to experience of hiking up a mountain. The natural experience is physically exhausting, yet strangely energizing at the same time, while the artificial stimulation of the mall creates overload, a mental meltdown.

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In short, colour harmony soothes, disharmony unsettles. There are many versions of colour harmony available in nature. The natural colour harmony found within the hues of a rock’s surface are just as perfect as those found within a flower. Which is more appealing? Now that is a matter of taste.



Back to Lisa and our dilemma with the 12-Tone Soft Autumn gold drape. Below is an example of the colour in question. In fashion terms I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who calls this an ‘accent’ colour. When we held a similar colour up to Lisa’s face she immediately said, I don’t like this, it looks bland. I had to agree, compared to many of the other drapes we had tried; this one provided the least excitement. So the question that had to be asked was – why was it there if it didn’t have the wow factor in someone clearly belonging to this tone?

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Colour decisions can only be made comparatively so in order to have something to compare it to, I selected a similar hue from the 12-Tone Light Spring hues – a little darker than 1.4 on the TCA Light Spring palette.  After a comparison was made there was no doubt that the Soft Autumn version was significantly better out of the two. The Light Spring colour, also a warm/neutral, was too light and too bright. Out of interest we then introduced a 12-Tone True Autumn ‘gold’ (6.3 on the TCA True Autumn palette) into the mix. Once again the Soft Autumn drape won hands down. I didn’t have a 12-Tone Dark Autumn colour which was close enough to provide a useful comparison so we went for the 12-Tone Bright Spring gold (another warm/neutral) and were nearly blinded by the light! The evidence was compelling; the 12-Tone Soft Autumn drape was the very best ‘gold’ tone available. It was not warm but warm/neutral, soft, gentle and delicate, not too light nor too dark. These were the exact qualities which Lisa needed to compliment her natural colouring.

Former Master Munsell Colourist and CEO of SciART Global, Kathryn Kalisz,  designed the Sci/Art Twelve Tone personal colour standard so that each of tone contained a range of colours that are intermixable within their respective palette and which can be used for a variety of purposes – hair, makeup, clothing, to name an obvious few. Each tone contains fashion ‘neutrals’ and accent or highlight colours. Each colour within a given tone is included because it will harmonise with the surrounding hues, remembering that colour harmony is not a matter of taste, but a particular visual effect which provides the least resistance or disturbance in the mind of the viewer.

In Lisa’s case we proved that the 12-Tone Soft Autumn gold hue was indeed the very best gold available for her natural colouring. As a matter of taste she may decide that it does not appeal to her sense of fashion, yet interestingly we did later realise that it was this exact colour used as highlights in her hair. It was I fact perfect for this purpose!

Going back to the original question which prompted this myth buster note, “should we be able to wear every colour in the palette near the face”. The answer is yes, if an accurate diagnosis has been made, an accurate colour palette is used and the best possible colour matching is achieved: then all the colours found within are the very best versions available for that particular tone. Would you choose to wear them all against the face? As Lisa and I discovered the Soft Autumn gold was so close in hue and value to her skin tone that on her it would work better as an accessory, coat, bag, jacket, shoe or indeed hair highlight.

Each human being has eyes, a nose and lips. Yet how many variations on a theme are available due to positioning, shape and bone structure? Billions – 7 billion living, at this point.  Each person’s natural colouring is individual, like a face we are all based around a certain theme, yet we must each learn to make adjustments based on our unique tonal structure, taste, availability, budget and comfort level.

An accurate colour palette is your guide, use it like you would a ruler.  Measure colours up against it, see if they fit within the scope.  Obviously the closer the better but even builders have tolerance levels.  A carpenter can have a tolerance of  5 mm within the framework for a building, meaning that measurements which fall between 0 and 5 mm are acceptable.  The point is, the framework still stands strong and tall, able to carry heavy loads of bricks and mortar, despite being ‘out’ by 5 mm!  Your colour choices are the same.  Allow for tolerance in your colour matching, whilst still aiming for the best you can.  Better to have a building to live in and clothing to wear than nothing at all.  Aim for perfection but definitely accept ‘good enough’.  It’s not a perfect world so why pull your hair out trying to be perfect!


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