by Joelle Steele

Color is the very first thing we notice when we see something or someone for the first time. That's why color is always such a critical design element, whether it is the color of our clothing, cars, homes — even our food. Color is first captured by the eye's retina, after which electric impulses carry it directly to the brain centers that manage our hormone and endocrine systems. It is from that point that we consciously respond to colors and make psychological associations about them.

Itten Star Swiss artist and author Johannes Itten was interested in the relationships between color and emotion, and he additionally noticed that his students preferred color palettes that were similar to their own coloring. In 1962, he developed a color wheel called a "color star" (right) that divided colors into four groups. In 1970, Angela Wright took Itten's color theory and associated it with Karl Jung's psychological theories, developing the seasonal colors typography or seasonal color analysis system.

This is what fashion experts and image consultants are talking about when they say that you are a winter, a spring, a summer, or a fall in personality and appearance. The seasonal colors are based on the undertones of the colors in each season, with spring and autumn having warm undertones of light yellow and red respectively, and summer and winter having cool undertones of light blue and dark blue respectively. Each group can, of course, be broken down further into two more groups, value and intensity, which can in turn be broken down into two more groups each, resulting in a greater number of color groupings for more finely narrowed selections.

Here's how the seasonal groups are further broken down:

Value. Lightness (tint) or darkness (shade). Shades also include browns, dark blues, and black. Tints or pastels are colors or shades that have been diluted with white.

Intensity. Brightness or mutedness. A bright color is one that is 100% saturated, or the brightest that a color can be. A muted or subdued color is one that is less than 100% saturated.

Here are some brief descriptions of the colors and personality traits of the four seasonal groups:

GROUP 1 - SPRING. Spring colors have light yellow undertones. They are warm, clean colors such as cream, peach, turquoise, cobalt, sky blue, lilac, scarlet, coral, grass green, daffodil yellow, camel, warm gray, and French navy – but no black. This color group is found everywhere, but in particular in Scandinavian countries.

The spring personality traits are friendly and warm, youthful and fresh, optimistic, vibrant, and alive. Extroverted, outgoing, but emotionally tender. Energetic, love being outdoors, have a practical nature. On the negative side, they can be frivolous and superficial.

GROUP 2 - SUMMER. Summer colors have light blue undertones. They are soft and subtle, cool colors such as rose, raspberry, maroon, powder blue, lavender, sage green, taupe, dove gray, and navy. There are fewer summers than any other color group in the world, although Norway supposedly has a monopoly on them.

The summer personality traits are graceful and elegant, calm and soothing. Introverted and sensitive. Witty, orderly, and diplomatic. Analytical yet creative. Negatively, a summer can be cool, aloof, or snobbish. Most summers have gray, blue, or soft green eyes with hair that is strawberry blond, blond, or light brown.

GROUP 3 - AUTUMN. Fall colors have red undertones containing black but no black by itself. They are warm, even fiery colors such as tomato, burnt orange, terracotta, butter, gold, rust, olive, moss, leaf green, teal, storm blue, peacock blue, eggplant, and most shades of brown.

The autumn personality traits, like those of spring, are warm and friendly. They are also traditional, earthy, and reliable, but with a certain air for eccentricity or flamboyancy. Extroverted, intense, and strong, they champion the underdog. Good at jobs that allow them to help others through writing or teaching. On the negative side, they can be boring and bossy. Autumns come in blond and brunette, and especially redheads, with all colors of eyes, usually with flecks of gold or brown in them. Hazel eyes only occur in this group. Autumns are the most common group found throughout the world, particularly in North and South America, Africa, Australia, and Europe.

GROUP 4 - WINTER. Winter colors have dark blue undertones and include black. They are very strong, clear, jewel-like colors such as crimson, magenta, violet, red-orange, lemon, jade, emerald, purple, midnight blue, indigo, ice blue, pure gray, white, and black.

The winter personality traits are ones of sophistication and excellence. Winters tend to be materialistic, dramatic, efficient, and modern. Introverted, goal-oriented, self-assured, neat. They command — even demand — respect and find it in high profile, money-making positions such as surgeons, attorneys, actors, and stock brokers. On the negative side, they can come across as cold, unfriendly, unsentimental, elitists. Most are platinum blond or dark brunette, with redheads occurring infrequently. This group is found everywhere, but primarily in Asia and the Middle East.


The current fashions tend to dictate what we wear, mainly because we buy what we find in the catalog and in the store, simply because it's there. But if you stop and think about it, you'll find that you often buy things that just sit in your drawer or hang in your closet, never worn, not even once. They may be beautiful, expensive, and fit you perfectly, but the color isn't you. You may even wish it was, because colors can be beautiful, even if they aren't your colors. The trick is to buy only those colors that go with everything else you own and that make you feel good, that make you want to wear them.

Oddly, many people wear black when only a very small percentage of all people actually look good in it. Many appear pale and washed out, even ashen, when wearing black. But then any color that is not your color will make you look less than vibrant. Black just happens to be everywhere these days — that and a rehash of colors from the 1970s. Designers aren't doing much that is particularly imaginative and creative — or flexible — with color. It can be very frustrating to shop when there is often such a limited color palette from which to select.


When selecting colors for certain occasions, it is important to think not just about what colors are in your seasonal group, but how you feel in those colors. For example, if cherry pink is in your color group and it makes you feel very flirtatious and sexy, then that is the color of romance for you. It could as easily be black if that is in your color group and you love black. Black can also be a power color or it can be a color of repression, depending on your color personality and what makes you feel powerful. Your power color could as easily be blood red. Or white. Or silver. Or gold. It might even be a charcoal gray. What makes you feel relaxed? Neutrals like beiges and grays, or soft greens, pinks, or peaches? And what makes you feel energized and ready to play? Prussian blue, Persian orange, goldenrod, Kelly green? And when you want to make an impression, do you opt for white, camel, gray, black — or hyacinth? Depends on the kind of impression you want to make and what's in your color group, doesn't it?

Others may perceive your colors a little differently than you do, but on the whole, most people have common perceptions of certain colors. For example, reds are usually colors of action and emotion, blues are calming and foster loyalty, greens are relaxing and natural, yellow is cheerful and memorable, orange is vibrant and stimulates the appetite, and purple is creative and mystical. You may have many other similar perceptions of these and other colors.

Most people gravitate to their season automatically, being relatively consistent in choosing the same types of colors again and again in their wardrobes, their cars, their home décor, and everything else in their lives. But if you need a little help, you'll find that there are many image consultants on the Internet who sell great little packages of colors samples that are just right for you. Just pop the words "seasonal color analysis" into your browser and then shop around.

This article last updated: 06/02/2015.