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The Blonde Winter

Do we ever see an indisputably natural blonde 12 Tone True (cool) Winter?

This discussion point crops up at intervals, and can be considered in the light of both experience and theory. Dr Ted, our DA canine colourist, says that while he “never says never”, he has yet to see the genuine article despite the passage of many moons and a client base now numbering in four figures. It’s not for want of looking, especially given the bright hard daylight of Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the wintry nature of so much beachwear and corporate looks, which can turn a walk to the shops into a short study in random Tone spotting.

It goes without saying that draping must always proceed without agenda or prejudice and that we’re always delighted to see ANY of the 12 Tones come through for a given client …. but alas, the short answer is that no True Winter tow-heads have pipped our radar thus far.

There are seven billion people out there, though – so surely it can’t be ruled out?

Blonde Crowd

Well, the first red herring is that most of the adult blondes in our client base here aren’t all that blonde in reality, at least not as they’ve got older, so the link between the presented, modified hair colour and the actual tone beneath can be pretty loose. Plenty of winters lighten or streak their hair, and when you bleach eumelanin – whether by sun and surf or out of a bottle – the lightness/whiteness is achieved via stages of chestnut red/orange as the harsh treatment retools the original pigment base, incidentally imposing a transitional warmth which was never encoded by nature. Just google ‘black to blonde hair processing stages’ and you’ll get the idea.

The scope for confusion, then, starts in the swimming pool or over the bathroom sink, with bleach and processing confounding our sense of what is possible and distracting us out on the street.

This is not to say that there aren’t winters out there who can rock out a toned white-bottle-blonde platinum to striking effect, the all-over equivalent of a Mallen streak,

Mallen Streak

and in so much as this works, it is probably because they are running an early simulation of the low-to-high value switch that will happen as their hair naturally greys and whitens, a reverse of the usual covering-grey process, but don’t be fooled. Their adult original hair pigmentation is what it is, and the chemical camouflage job doesn’t alter the foundation.

Further, colour theory and the position of the tonal ranges in colour space tells us that a confirmed true-blonde TW sighting is improbable, particularly when we consider the typical western-European range of natural blondes/blonds seen on the streets around Sydney, with their natural hair darkening to some extent with age. Winter colouring by definition and demonstration extends to the polar extremes, running considerably darker and/or lighter/whiter than the mid-range values and softer chroma that the average adult with native blond/blonde colouring tends to encompass, while the lightest blondes are overwhelmed by winter darkness and chroma. Where does darker blonde hair shade into brown or dark ash? That’s a whole different debate, but the important thing is that we are in mid-value territory, given that we are debating it. The other point here is that very light straw or strawberry blonde hair implies some degree of warmth or neutrality, and not true coolness, and hair, skin and eyes will always be congruent, because “beauty presents as one unified whole.”

There’s nothing arbitrary about this. It’s just the way natural human colouring tends to work, and it’s all about the way the available possibilities in hair and skin colour are themselves positioned in colour space. Having said that, Kathryn Kalisz said repeatedly in her book that there may always be striking exceptions to any rough rules of thumb about the way that human colour traits usually cluster, so we take nothing for granted, zero all the dials on any expectations, cover all dyed hair, and drape meticulously, open above all to seeing what is really there. Even so, even these rarer types shouldn’t end up with a palette that is significantly lighter, darker, brighter or more contrasted than they are themselves, because the drapes probe these limits and we are always seeking true relatedness and harmony. In TCI 12 Tone PCA, we strive to see past any conditioned cultural expectations of artificially enhanced coloration and to demonstrate the inherent truth about that person’s colouring.


There have been a few avowed natural blonde clients over the years who have come in sincerely wondering if they can stick with the black power suiting, but the drapes weren’t having it. Both Light and True Summer can take more colour than people often think while blonde Soft Summers can still go reasonably dark, albeit muted, but none of them are at their very best in a true black or with the saturation dialed right up into the wintery “red” zone. They may enjoy the immediate effect, however once you stand them next to a genuine winter type wearing the same colours only one of the two faces will still bounce out, as opposed to being worn by the chroma. And – let’s be honest here – the true test is being able to go make up free. If it still works in the grey morning light before the lippy goes on then there is your answer!

Bright Spring also tends to help keep this question alive, as this Tone can take a lot of chroma and their neutrality can make it hard for them to discern their true Tone in the absence of careful draping. It’s not just these groups of clients who wonder, though – in practice, as we know, any Tone can be misplaced, and many non-winters cheat into the winter seasonal zone as a matter of course, to the extent where many viewers half-expect to see this supersaturated tone range more often than it really appears.

I’ve seen a LOT of winters emerge in the mirror. They’re certainly not the rarest tone in the population base I’m seeing here, but you need to be very careful that you’re seeing the client first, front and centre, and that you’re not having your judgement blown away by the sheer amount of colour in the drapes themselves, calling it for the drama of the jewel tones in the test fabrics and not for the client (see our previous article ). The more clients you see, the more you are struck by the difference between the same suite of colours on the person who can truly wear them versus on someone who is getting worn by the colour, however beautiful it is, and who does better elsewhere (and this of course applies to all the tones in their different ways).

A darker True Summer can look pretty good in True Winter drapes, until you stand him or her next to a True Winter tone client and see the whole situation instantly clarify because the very same fabrics have now landed on their ideal model. On the Summer, it’s “Wow, striking colours” but on your Winter, it’s “Wow, striking colouring”. With the benefit of comparison, our Summer client will look better in their own tone, giving their slightly softer colours and neutrals the very same ease and distinction that they can’t quite find in Winter.

As we’ve noted before, the fashion industry and Pantone with its “seasonal shades” suggests that we are all created interchangeably, which is a hard belief to shake if your eye has been jaded over the years by this insistence that everyone needs the excitement of jolts of chroma, bumped up by brighter hair and a brighter lip. And as we noted above, just about everyone at some point will wear things that aren’t strictly our natural Tone – we just have to be clear about what is really going on when we do, and remember how to find our way home.

Privacy considerations prevent me from publishing what is now a very extensive photographic database, but as I’ve said before on this blog, the ability of a bare-faced True Winter to handle a true black and white and their reds, yellows, strong blues and other accents stands out most strikingly when they are contrasted with non-winters of other tones trying the same drapes. A dearth of good examples of the differences in tonal fit in the average person’s life is perhaps the main reason other tones self-diagnose as Winters, especially once hair colouring and make-up are employed to help try to close the tonal gap. It’s human pragmatism to accept second-best colours when they are thrilling in themselves, and we are more likely to accept substitutes in the absence of direct comparison with the real thing and when the the genuine article hasn’t raised our expectations of the overall effect. Again, this is true in its way for every tone and every palette.

I promise you, however, that none of the Winter clientele in my files are naturally fair-haired (as an aside: Elvis was a blonde who dyed his hair black. This is the flip side of the present discussion and another blog post).


Never say never, then, we each meet only the tiniest fraction of the humans on the planet and so who knows (I have never draped anyone with complete albinism, for example, though in the absence of all melanin we would expect hair which most people would describe as white rather than blonde), but in my experience in the studio and as a keen observer on the street the Winter true blonde remains an elusive unicorn, and colour theory suggests some good reasons why this might ever remain so.

3 replies to “The Blonde Winter”

  1. I was toe headed as a child. By the time I was draped as a winter as a young teen, I had naturally light ash blonde hair. Now that I am older, my hair has darkened to ashy dishwasher blonde and I get light ash blonde highlights (no golden, brassy or orange tones). I have very cool toned fair skin, dark brown eyes and – even when my head hair was very light – extremely ashy brown eyebrows, so I am high contrast (just the opposite of those winters who have dark hair and light eyes).

    In terms of sci art, I look best in the deepest hues in the cool winter palette, which was especially true when I once died my hair ash brown in my early 20s. (I needed rather deep color on my face to look not washed out.) Pastels totally wash me out and most dark winter colors are too warm (although I can go very dark without looking too goth).

    So, depending on whether you count me as a natural blonde since I get highlights now, I think I am a blonde true winter. See photos.

  2. My best friend, a natural light ash blonde, is very likely a True Winter. She *might* be a True Summer, of course, but those colours look mostly quite meh and bland on her, while True Winter looks better. And I think seasonal colour about the maximum you can support, not what you look ok in, isn’t it? ;)

    And while I believe it may be hard to spot a natural light blonde in Australia, here in Northern Europe it’s another matter. ;)

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