Are Your Favourite Colours Making You Look Bad? Don't Worry, There's An App For That

Welcome to the re-emerging discipline of finding your "season."
Yellow can be a tricky colour. Here's how to find out if any shades of it are you in your custom palette.
MStudioImages via Getty Images
Yellow can be a tricky colour. Here's how to find out if any shades of it are you in your custom palette.

Look around your living space or glance into your closet, and you’re sure to see one or two colours predominate. Those colours may be your preference, but they may not be doing you any favours. To help you make better choices, a new slew of apps, consultants and services have popped up leaning on expert guidance to help you make more flattering choices.

Welcome to the re-emerging discipline of finding your colour palette, power colours, knockout colours or even, in an echo of the “Color Me Beautiful” boom in the 1980s, your “season.” Back then, colour consultants insisted that the right colours can make the difference between looking washed-out and looking radiant. These days, fuelled by social media, a new breed of consultants and online services is ready to help you narrow down your perfect palette, shades and tones. They offer warnings about how the wrong colours can make you seem washed out or listless, along with advice on how the right ones can help you sparkle and shine. (And it might make a great holiday gift for someone you know.)

Here’s how it works

If you’re wondering what this “personal palette” is referring to, style and fashion expert Nikki Steele has a simple explanation: “A personal palette is a color scheme that’s supposed to be the best colours for a person to wear in clothing and makeup — colours that will bring out their best self,” she said. “Often, the colour palettes are described seasonally and referred to as winter, spring, summer and fall colours, all ranging from cool to warm tones.”

There are many of these types of these services online, including Show My Colors, Colorwise, My Best Colors and Dressika. Usually, you’ll be asked to upload selfies, then compete colour testing. Some services will even send fabric to you and ask you to upload photos with the swatches next to your face.

Other services, like House of Colour, are in-person only. Allison Crandall, a House of Colour consultant, explained it this way: “During a colour analysis appointment, we use the principles of colour science and a sophisticated, time-tested process to discover the best colour palette for your wardrobe.” It needs to be in person, she said, because it relies on “natural lighting and precision-dyed fabrics to determine a person’s undertone and seasonal palette.”

No matter how they work, most of the services make a similar promise — that, once you know your ideal palette, you’ll be able to shop smarter, select wisely and look your absolute best in every outfit you own. “These can be a good starting point,” Steele said. “but results should be taken with a grain of salt, as you’re the one who knows yourself best.”

DIY it with the vein test or at-home selfies

If you want to try this on your own, there are all kinds of home-grown methods to determine you palette. “A great way to start learning your palette at home is to look at the vein colour in your wrists in an area with good natural light,” Steele said. “If the veins are blueish-purple in colour, then you have more of a cooler undertone, and if your veins appear more blue-greenish, then you naturally have a warmer undertone.”

But that trick won’t work for darker complexions, noted Lindsey Myers, founder and CEO of the colour analysis and style company Created Colorful. “A big reason I started my company is because a lot of what’s online for determining skin tone is centred on white skin and isn’t accurate for people of colour.”

Expert consultation can come in handy when the vein test doesn't apply.
martinedoucet via Getty Images
Expert consultation can come in handy when the vein test doesn't apply.

She offered this test as a better option: “If you want to know which colours look best on you, actually hold different colours up to your face when it’s makeup-free and in natural light,” she said. “See how your eyes, skin and hair react to those colours in real time. Then drape clothing items of different colours across your shoulders and snap a selfie of each.” She suggests a friend-lifeline to help you decide. “Send a few friends a screenshot of your camera roll, with the grid of colour selfies. Where their responses overlap will reveal some of your best and least flattering colours.”

It’s not necessarily scientific, but it can be helpful. “This method will at least give you a bank of flattering colours you can rely on for special occasions, photo shoots and whenever you want to feel vibrant. It will also help you avoid investing in colours that are going to wash you out and drain your glow.”

How ageing affects your palette

Once you know your palette, it will stay pretty much the same for many years, experts said. “In most cases, your colouring and palette are stable from your late teens until around the time of menopause,” Myers said. “Our skin tends to cool slightly with age, and as our hair greys, it adds to this cooling effect.

“As they get older, some people in warm palettes might drop some of the warmest shades that previously flattered them, like pumpkin oranges or golden yellow, and start to add in some neutral blues, greens and pinks to the rotation. But the majority of their best colours will remain constant.”

Your palette extends from your wardrobe to your makeup bag

Stylist and fashion director Zadrian Smith said, “A personal makeup palette should be your go-to shades that will stick with you for all time. I love my personal palette that defines me and the colour of my skin, leaving me feeling confident and strong.”

Wondering how to translate your new palette knowledge into makeup choices? Jeanine Lobell is a makeup artist and founder of the Neen cosmetics brand. “Lucky me, I know how to do makeup, so I don’t personally need a lot of help, but TikTok is your friend,” she said. “Find an artist whose look is something you aspire to, and just kick back and watch.

If you’re still struggling, Smith suggested in-person consultation: “I’m a firm believer that in-store contact for cosmetics is the way to go, because you can see the products in person and try them on,” he said. “Online services are great for the people with ‘no time,’ but you won’t perfect your perfect shade via a screen.”

Is it worth it? Yes, say the experts

Steele said this is a topic worth considering. “I can’t emphasise enough to find a colour or colours you love, then seasonally or annually, start incorporating these colours into your wardrobe and makeup,” she said. Soon you’ll have curated your own personal colour palette, and you’ll be wearing colours you love. That always makes a person shine their brightest, no matter what the shade.”