If you have scrolled through TikTok of late, you might have seen videos of people draped in large pieces of coloured cloth as someone standing behind them tells them which hues look great — or terrible — on them. This process, known as colour analysis, has become increasingly popular in South Korea and Japan in recent years, partly thanks to celebrities such as Jisoo from Blackpink, who posted about her experience in April. Currently, there are more than 1.2 billion views for #coloranalysis on TikTok. Like so many other viral trends, this interest in colour analysis has made its way to our shores.
So much so that image consultant Gwendolyn Tan, who started her image consultancy Style Forth in 2020, decided to offer colour analysis as a standalone service this year. Attributing its rising popularity to Korean celebrities and variety shows, the Singaporean notes, “I’ve been doing colour analysis (as part of image-consulting) before it was a trend, and in the past, people really didn’t know much about it. But now, because there’s so much more content on colour analysis, people know more. And because they also see the difference when someone is wearing their best and worst colours, they also want to know their own colours.”
Tan uses a 12-colour system, but there are varying methodologies out there. Dutch colour stylist and personal-development coach Carmen Stevens, who started her colour-analysis company Carmen’s Colours shortly after arriving in Singapore four years ago, uses a 14-colour system. Others might utilise a 16-colour system. Regardless, these systems are essentially derived from a colour-analysis theory based on the four seasons, a concept first popularised by colour consultant Carole Jackson in the 1980s with her book, Colour Me Beautiful.
How it works
What drives colour analysis is the idea that certain hues and shades are naturally flattering and unflattering for different individuals. While many Asians might have the misconception that they are warm-toned, Stevens explains that this is not necessarily the case. “What we see when we look at someone is their surface colouring. That’s also the colouring that might change a bit when you get tanned. But what we look at in colour analysis is the undertone, not the surface colouring. If your undertone is cool and we match you with really warm colours, your face can get a bit sallow or even green-y because of those colours.”
When people see the difference when someone is wearing their best and worst colours, they also want to know their own colours.Gwendolyn Tan, Founder, Style Forth
Conducting a session for me, Tan observed that my complexion has mostly cool undertones. Along with my prominent features, among other factors, this apparently makes me a Bright Winter, which means that bright colours with cool undertones make my face look fresher. In a separate brief demonstration, Stevens similarly noted that I was a Winter type.
In August, aesthetic doctor Rachel Ho tried out a session during a trip to Seoul. She shares, “I was determined to be a Light Spring, and my best colours were pastels and light colours with warm undertones. My consultant also shared that outfits with classic silhouettes and medium contrast, and fine jewellery and makeup with warm undertones, were better for me. These are colours I gravitated to and things I already had a sense of prior to the session, as I felt they suited me better.”
Why colours matter
A key part of how we all get dressed, colours are broadly appealing, which explains the wide spectrum of customers seen by the consultants we spoke to. Aside from women of all ages, Tan and Stevens have also worked with a number of men who are keen to discover their most flattering palettes. Stevens muses, “Men usually wear fewer accessories and don’t wear makeup, so if they wear a shirt in a colour that’s just absolutely stunning, it’s like, wow.”
Tan’s first image-consulting client was a male financial executive director who used to sport a white shirt almost every day, even on the weekends. She shares, “His associates kept telling him that he was so boring, so he decided to do something about it. He’s actually not very concerned about what he wears, but he knows it’s important in his line of work to look presentable.” Tan got this client to wear colours that flattered his Dark Winter palette before graduating to prints, a wardrobe refresh that she says led to compliments from his friends.
For others, learning which colours help them look their best is one way to shop smarter. Stevens knows this firsthand. Prior to learning how to conduct colour analysis herself, she had had her own done, an experience she said was “an eye-opener”. She says, “I had quite a lot of clothes in my wardrobe, and I did have some bad buys. I would buy things that I liked on other people, and I’d be like, ‘Okay, this doesn’t look like it did on that person’. And those pieces would just end up sitting in my wardrobe. The fashion industry is a big polluter, so there are a lot of reasons to be mindful about what you buy.”
A world of possibilities
A word of caution, though. You might need to brace yourself for a little bit of disappointment at your first colour-analysis session. As someone who is pretty adventurous when it comes to wearing all kinds of colours, the wind was taken out of my (multi-coloured) sails a little when I was told that many of the hues I like — such as dusty pastels — were not doing me any favours. (While it takes a trained eye to quickly notice how certain colours emphasise eye circles or makes your skin look more ashen, even I could immediately see how a fabric swatch in dark taupe, draped under my face made me look like I had not slept in the past decade.)
But not to worry. Stevens explains, “Within one colour, there are lots of shades. It’s just about knowing what your shades are and what characteristics those shades need to have for you to look great in them. It’s not about narrowing down your choices or putting you in a box. It actually opens up more possibilities because when you know your colour palette, there will be lots of colours that you are surprised by, like, ‘Hey, I can wear that? Cool.’”
And if I really wanted to wear that particular deep taupe or warm orange, there are ways around it. I could, for example, wear said colours further away from my face (in the form of pants or a skirt, for example) or in smaller doses (such as accessories). Wearing makeup, both colour consultants add, can also go a long way in helping to put back the colour that unflattering colours might take away from your complexion.
Part of an equation
Colours, however, are just part of the equation when it comes to choosing what clothing works best for you. Both consultants agree on two other important factors with regard to getting dressed — style personality and body type.
Stevens explains, “While we first look at a person to determine their colour type, we can work within that palette to make it work for different personalities. So for instance, we could have two Winter types who can make different choices within their colour types.
It takes a trained eye to quickly notice how certain colours can make one look ashen, but even I could immediately see how dark taupe made me look like I had not slept in the past decade.
“One might be a little bit bolder because they like that, so they might wear louder colours. While the other person perhaps prefers quieter neutrals, they can work from their neutrals and add a touch of brightness to their outfits — perhaps a little earring, lipstick or nail polish. So wearing a colour can be in the form of little touches that go a long way, or it can be bigger gestures. That’s where personality comes in. How one uses their palette is up to the person and what they want.”
While acknowledging the impact that the colours you wear can have on how you look or how others respond to you, Dr Ho adds that it is certainly not the be all and end all. “I also take into consideration other factors such as cut, fabric and print, which also play a part in whether a piece of clothing is flattering on me,” she says. “Choose what brings you joy. Dressing is an art, not a science, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it.”