Can My Hair Colour Be Warmer Than My Palette?

Anyone who knows what personal colour analysis is, rather than what it was, lives with a growing sense of how well it works and how much it can improve your choices. The system divides human colouring into several groups, 12 in the one that I use. Since there are far more than 12 kinds of colouring once you get into the subdivisions, not every aspect of each group will apply equally to every person in it.

As you find your private garden and arrange the flowers and furniture to suit you, you ask some excellent questions. L sent me this,


I’ve been very happy with my Soft Summer colors and they’ve made a huge difference overall. The issue is though, that my hair color is just so much warmer than my palette that many of my neutrals don’t look that great. I stopped coloring my hair a couple of years ago and it’s neutral medium brown at the base and the lengths are quite warm, perhaps a light chestnut color would be accurate with even lighter ends. This warm brown just doesn’t look that wonderful with all the grayish-taupes which make up the majority of my neutrals. As an interior designer I wouldn’t put these colors next to each other, so it bothers me to do so when getting dressed.

According to old pics and my mother, this is my natural color. I had forgotten that since I’ve been coloring my hair for over 30 years. I’m just tired of trying to use toners and shampoos trying to cool it down. I’ve been looking at other companies SS and Summer fans and found wonderful browns in the CMAS Summer fan, and Lora Alexander’s ( Soft Summer fan. I was just curious about Sci-Art’s and your opinion about hair not being that great with the palette since you cover it during the consultation.

Overall, I’ve discovered that I lean a bit warm within Soft Summer and I really wish [the present palette] would give a wider range of neutral browns. I own the Soft Autumn fan and I don’t need to go that warm, but just a bit redder, rosier than my [present] fan.


Photo: artunet
Photo: artunet

Neutral to warm? Neutral to cool? Who knows? We’ll have to measure it somehow. That’s what the drapes do. Our eyes alone are not able without imposing some errors, because of how eyes and brains work. And because of the most misleading thing of all…assumptions.

Many of L’s comments could apply to all the Seasons fans. In any Tone, the likelihood of including even half the possible hair colours is less than 50/50 since hair colour is only moderately tied to Season. Why is that? My guess is that it’s because hair colour comes from melanin. Skin colour comes from melanin, hemoglobin, and carotene. Hair colours are an incomplete version of our truth, though what’s there is real and harmonized with us nonetheless. Just not detailed enough to do a PCA with. Hair also doesn’t change enough in response to colour to take accurate measurements. Skin tone does, therefore we use it to guide a colour analysis.

Soft Summer doesn’t tend to vary as widely as some but it certainly ranges in darkness, though it remains on the cool divide of neutrality. In all 12 Tones, eye colours seem to me to be more closely resembling the skin colours contained in the colour analyzed swatch palette, and yet they can appear very warm in persons of this Season. Test them and they still have the best energy in the cool-neutral Soft Summer drapes, not the warm-neutral Soft Autumn drapes.

Why isn’t eye colour tightly linked to Season? Similar reasons to the hair, adding in the Rayleigh scattering that makes the sky blue, and other aspects of the physics and biology of an eyeball, such as how it’s pigmented, where its blood layer is located, how it reflects light because it’s in a water-based jelly, and many other factors.


Photo: Krappweis
Photo: Krappweis

Soft Summer eyes can be darker, lighter, warmer, cooler. As long you give them what they care about most: colours that are soft.

A warm-eyed Soft Summer must mean that though we see lots of warm colours of yellows, golds, and oranges in the eyes, these are present in their cool-neutral versions and are outnumbered by the greens, grays, and blues of Soft Summer. You would think the two Soft Seasons’ yellows and golds to be quite different until you try to harmonize a colour palette and realize how close they actually are.

Soft Summer is also a Season where the Neutral persons are often quite warm, on the 49/51 divide between the Soft Summer and Soft Autumn. An analyst needs to be on her toes and own a seriously good set of drapes. They say that our hair and eye colours are among our neutral colours but I agree it is so if you know the real colours of your eyes. If you match what you think you see, which is never what colour really is, you’ll go too warm for your skin and turn yourself a little dull and jaundiced.


Photo: Krappweis
Photo: Krappweis

Whoa now, that’s a Winter eye! Same colour family, cool-neutral hues, similar value level (lightness/darkness), but what’s different? That third colour dimension. And the type of heat, which appears more Spring-yellow than Autumn-gold. Whole different feeling.

How can True Winter or Light Summer be a redhead? Combine their yellow and their red, I would think. Every Season has both in their own versions. The hair tends not be orange, it’s redder than that. But both have yellows, nearly primary yellow in Winter’s case, which is why their green drape can look so yellow in some situations.

L. is colour savvy enough to sense the best solution, which is to move very slightly to a warmer place without losing the harmony. Soft Summer skin is happy to negotiate on warmth of hue as long as the colour stays soft and dusty, not intensely saturated. In my Sci\ART drapes, there are 3 drape colours, identical fabrics, that are used in 2 places. The Soft Summer and Dark Winter burgundy red test is the same. The Soft Summer face is not as flattered as it could be. The client notices that. Seeing the difference is a better learning opportunity than if I just babble on about colour dimensions, because the client sees that she needs to buy dark&dusty, not dark&densely pigmented, and that darkness is not her shopping challenge issue. Saturation is. It’s a strength of the drapes, not a weakness. Makes me now wonder if I should put a few ‘don’t go here or here’ among the Test and Luxury Drape sets that I assemble. But no, you saw those during your 12 Tone colour analysis session.


Photo: dododront
Photo: dododront

Ah, back to Soft Summer eyes, neutral but cool, and soft soft soft.

Only dyed hair is, or approaches, all one colour. Natural hair has many colours to make an overall tone. You might see one colour but the rest of us don’t. How it reflects light and shows its colours requires its true colours to reveal the correct tones. Soft Summer has a drop of gold in her hair, not yellow. She is not a great blonde. A True cool Season in even slightly warm clothing or makeup has yellowed, dingy colour. If it’s silver hair, it looks like smoker’s yellow-gray instead of their beautiful clean silvered gray. The foundation colour must be accurate, hard to find in today’s overly yellow base makeup selections.

Others don’t see the discrepancy in our hair as we ourselves might. We don’t see hair as an object of one colour like a wall or a pillow. You might not pair those objects but they’re not coloured with hemoglobin, carotene, and melanin. We sense that living things are not coloured in the same way as objects, and that man-made objects are not coloured in the same way as Nature’s inorganic objects. Despite the difference, we are able to find the harmonizing colours and the relationships between them, as us and our clothes.

We can bring colours into our harmony too. Because it’s applied to our face, makeup interacts with the pigments in the skin. A lipstick that swatches on paper as Light Summers might fall flat on some Light Summer and be lovely on some Light Springs. This is called Making The System Work For You. Clothes don’t change so much. No question, in the same way that the drapes have an effect on us and we have an effect right back on them, so do we change our clothing colours somewhat, just not to the extent of makeup because of how it’s used. A Bright Winter can change True Summer’s beautiful, cool yellow into a grayed piece of cloth that’s been washed too many times.


Photo: Krappweis.
Photo: Krappweis

What kind of eye is this? Soft or saturated? Neutral? How Neutral? Spring’s yellow heat or Autumn’s gold? Of the 3 colour dimensions, which one matters above all? I have no idea. This is why I can’t look at photos and know Season. I have no comparisons and no ruler. All I can say is what I always do, whether I’m shown a photo or a real person in front of me: Could be this or could be that. If it’s a real person, I can say, Where’s my drapes, lights, and gray background when I need ’em?

L. knows that I would never advise any woman to colour her hair ever. Her natural colour will always be her best colour. Sometimes we can decorate up a little and keep the balance, and that’s good too. My advice is to save herself the time and money and wear her natural hair. Once her hairs grays, she’ll only look better. Gray is what the Soft Summer does better than anybody because gray is inherently cool, as they are, and they start off with more of it in the natural colours that define them than the other colouring types.

If L.’s discerning eye prefers to warm a few of her clothing browns, excellent. She has to feel well in what she wears. There will be no repercussions as long as the harmony is maintained (more on that in Getting More From Your 12 Tone Swatch Book). There would be more substantial repercussions if she tried to alter her hair colour.

What about L.’s question about the colours present in the Sci\ART palettes? Without stirring up a nest of hornets that have finally gone to sleep, I’ll take a guess. Only a guess. Please don’t come after me on this, I have no valid opinion to offer so I won’t say much. I do not know what was in the head of the person who designed the palettes. I’ll take a shot: As I understand the history, at the time of her passing, Kathryn Kalisz was adjusting the Season palettes, as she probably did a few times over the years for different reasons. She deeply wanted people to feel comfort in their colours, but some of the feedback sometimes said that the colours were too much, probably more in the saturated Seasons. Part of the reason for the choices may have reflected this, though I doubt it was the bigger part of it in this particular instance.

There was (is) also the question of whether the Neutral Season colours should be closer to the parent Seasons, as Soft Summer to True Summer, or to the other Neutral with which they share the most important colour dimension, as Soft Summer and Soft Autumn. Is one right and one wrong? Does there need to be a hard rule? I would say No and No as long as the dimensions of each Season is respected, though I’d be thrilled to talk about it. Where does one cloud in colour space end and the next begin? Is there an overlap? How big is it, what’s the rule? How big should it be, different question? You have thousands of colours. Maybe one day, someone will make 4 Colour Books of swatches for each Tone, not just 1. Smart woman that L. is, she found other options that contained what she was looking for and she knew how to select those that applied to her.

This completes my long-winded way of saying that L. made great choices and decisions on her own :) Nothing I love better than a woman empowered to work through the many choices about her best self, in any context, and come out right. Discernment is a beautiful thing.



22 thoughts on “Can My Hair Colour Be Warmer Than My Palette?”

  1. In my experience, Soft Summers have the most trouble adjusting to their season. Some,mostly the younger ones, want to bleach their lovely hair. Some, rather than seeing the colors as complementary and understated against their skin and hair, feel that the SSU pigments are too muted to call attention to their new look.. It takes a discerning eye to catch the relationships of the undertones in the lighter neutrals. Comparison of cool and warm in this neutral season is just as subtle as the colors themselves. L. sounds as though she is on the right track to pulling her own individual look together. When she gets everything adjusted she will be stunning.

  2. Marilyn Starr Harris is the author of a very large, colorful book titled “Unlocking Your Beauty Code” in which she has a very detailed chapter on getting your hair color right, if one colors it, which you might enjoy reading. She has a web site and very recently put up many You Tube videos about personal color analysis. It is interesting to learn about various systems and she goes into great depth about all aspects of personal color analysis. It must be very frustrating for an image consultant to see someone wearing their best palette but due to their artificial hair coloring it is not in sync with a person’s natural design. But it must be a delight when a color analyst sees someone totally reflecting their natural beauty–bottled or otherwise.

  3. I would be inclined to say, if she’s dying her hair the same colour as it was 30 years ago, it’s probably a bit too saturated now and it could explain why she’s noticing discordance between her palette and her hair colour.

  4. A one woman’s standing ovation to this one! Thank you for putting dots above so many i’s for Soft Summer. It also resonates with what I’ve been thinking about lately – that it’s better to swatch makeup when applied to face/eyes/lips/nails rather than on a piece of paper or the back of the hand. Is that what you meant?

  5. maybe it would be smart to begin to keep the hair out of the sun so that the cooler darker hair that comes out of her head is protected. eventually the lightened hair will be cut off.

  6. Christine,

    Can Soft Summer have a warm overtone–such as gold or something else?

  7. Another great post, Christine–thank you! You’re so right that while natural hair may look like one color in the mirror, others see many more. Some colors that don’t seem anywhere near a natural hair color actually harmonize with the hair. I wouldn’t describe my natural hair color as pinkish-brown, yet that’s one light brown I look good in and it doesn’t clash with my hair. Years ago I bought a warm light brown sweater that seemed to match my hair, only to find that it didn’t harmonize with either my hair or me. That’s when I gave up trying to match clothes with my hair!

  8. Shirley,
    Any colouring can have a yellow overtone that is false in too-warm colours. I think you’re asking something different though – along the lines of “Can a Soft Summer look warm and still be a Soft Summer?”
    Yes. Many Soft Summers look a little tanned even when they’re not, like Matthew McConaughey. In some women it’s quite noticeable too (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas). Soft Summer is also a colouring that often sits on the warm side of that Season, but the skin drapes better in Summer than Autumn. They can appear to have a lot of warmth in the eye, but correctly draped, the warm colours aren’t as warm as you thought, and the cool colours are more plentiful and cooler than they appear.

    I agree, Kirsten. Not only is colour never what you think it is, the harder you work at matching, the more it looks like ‘missed it by that much’.

  9. I don´t try to armonize clothes with my hair never because if I try brown clothes next to my (natural) brown hair, hair looks muddy and I turn invisible. I must use a blue to turn my hair rich and reddish brown! It happens too with my (dyed-highlighted) hair: a color wich is too close to my apparent dark blonde makes my hair and I muddy. So I can´t understand the statement ¨dress like you are¨, when, if I dress in colors my hair already is, I am not flattered at all. Can anybody explain it?

  10. Daenerys, it happens to me, too. Yet, for me at least, not any blue produces the the effect you mention. Maybe the statement “dress like you are” refers to the amount of warmth and the level of saturation of your own colours.

  11. May be, Inge, and thanks for the answer. By the way, what season are you, if you know?

  12. I have no idea! Soft Summer seemed a good choice, but no, it does not work at all. Also, my completely uneducated opinion is that I am not an Autumn of any kind, neither a True Spring, and probably no Winter as well.

  13. I don´t know what I am, too, but if there is a single thing I am sure is that I´m not an Autumn!
    Warm and muted colors are a no-no for me.

  14. Christine — thank you for again another well-written and informative post.
    Will you please do a post about yellow overtones and how they look in the wrong colors? This overtone/undertone thing is a key issue in PCA, IMHO, but not very well understood. Thanks!

  15. This is a good idea, Arienne. Not many words are coming into my head, unusually. Maybe this is one of those things you have to see in person. Or maybe I’m not understanding the full scope of the question.

    Wearing colour that’s too warm (yellow or gold) on a cooler person, compared to their own cooler yellows, makes them look yellow or gold – skin, teeth, eyes, hair, everything looks yellowish. The person often calls themselves ‘washed out’, because they’re not seeing themselves apart from the drape. The drape is yellow, they’re yellow, and they see a big yellow painting.

    If you’re a warm person, a cool (so, greenish) yellow will make you look sallow and drained, grayed.

    You’re right that the overtone / undertone thing isn’t understood by me. Someone might understand it but I have never met them. I can accept the undertone as a combined fingerprint of our personal versions of the 3 pigments that colour human beings.

    The overtone issue is another matter, and I don’t get how it happens. It stems back to not really getting why we look a certain way in certain colours, ie: PCA in general. I get that harmony means ‘on the same wavelength’, us and our clothes and that must be part of PCA. But PCA is really about simultaneous contrast and how does that really work?

    Let’s say we have a warm (reddish) yellow and a cool (blued, and therefore appears greenish) yellow and a cool person. Why does the red-yellow turn them yellow?
    Is it that it’s not their native yellow so it won’t blend with their colouring and just stays apart, like too-warm pigments in cosmetics? Can it be that simple?
    But PCA is about afterimage and simultaneous contrast. The red-yellow’s complement (afterimage) is a reddish blue…if that red-blue is being cast onto the colours of the face, how would that make a cool-toned person appear yellowed?
    A cool yellow’s complement is a green-blue, a cool blue (or considered cool, which is how it should stay when discussing the colours of a face, though it harmonizes with warm colours in compositions, which is a human construct like a painting or outfit)…why doesn’t this turn them falsely yellow? I guess because it harmonizes with their inherent blues?

    It comes down to any colour on anybody. Are we seeing the effect of the colour itself, or the glow of the afterimage being thrown up on the face, or both?

    Try it. Go here and pick a warm and cool version of the same colour.

    Then get their opposites here : and write down the code for the colour.

    Then compare them here

    Try with reds.
    fc3412 is a warm red. 98165d is a cool red. Their complements are 03cbed and 67e9a2 respectively, type them into the compare_colors page boxes. Why does the warm red and/or that first complement make a cool person look yellowed? Why does the cool red and/or that greener complement make a warm person look gray?

    And to make things more interesting, the theory is that afterimage takes place physiologically because of temporary fatigue by one set of wavelength-sensitive cells, so the others, that happen to create brain impressions of the colours we call complements, overcompensate until the exhausted cells recover…what role does this play in PCA? Is it continuous? In a striped shirt, the apparent colour of one stripe is very much affected by the afterimage of the colour of the adjacent stripe if the stripes are of a certain width. It takes 20 seconds to exhaust those cells. But we see colour effects on a face within 2-3 seconds.

    Anyhow. I can convolute things forever. The short answer to the nitty-gritty of your Q is IDK why it happens. I can’t get it to make complete sense. Maybe other analysts get why this happens and I’m out of the loop. Maybe I should do this as a blog post after all, as an invitation for anyone who can explain it to come forward.

  16. Hi! I really enjoyed this post, because I’ve been thinking about it for a while since I discovered I was a Soft Summer. My eyes do seem quite warm and “autumnal”–they have the orangey star around the pupil, and a hazel grey-green in the iris. My hair is kind of sandy/ashy light brown that gets highlighted in the summer sun. I *could* be a Soft Autumn if you just went by the color of my eyes and hair–but my skin is ultimately flattered by the Soft Summer colors–which also seem to cool down the warmth in my eyes and hair. Some of the warmer Soft Autumn colors seem to make my skin a little mucky. But, I do find my favorites are the warmer colors of the Soft Summer palette and some of the cooler colors of the Soft Autumn palette…does that make sense?

  17. Another insightful and well-written article, Christine! I appreciate this article because the same question has been burning in *my* mind. I am a red-haired Light Summer, and I’ve wondered how my hair could *possibly* harmonize with Light Summer colors. My skin, sure. My hair…noooo. To make it even harder for me to adjust to the Lt Su colors, my hair isn’t actually red. Neither does it have the good grace to be rose-brown or a cinnamon-red. It’s orange. Even strangers and children tell me (after studying me for a moment) that I’m actually an orange-head, and not a red-head like I call myself.

    I listened to what you told me a while ago about the Lt Su colors not looking as bad next to my hair as I thought they did. I appreciated that you had a different opinion than me. It strengthened my hope. I have continued to wear my new Lt Su colors and try to let a new idea form of how a red-head should dress.

    But I just *had* to know–so a few weeks ago I asked my sister to put several different seasonal fans next to my hair and to tell me which she thought looked best. I strongly suspected that she would say that either the Spring or Autumn fans looked best. After all, my hair is orange–and everyone knows that orange is *warm*. I was completely surprised when she told me that the Summer colors looked best with my hair. “Not the Autumn?” I asked. No. She thought one or two Autumn colors looked good, but that was all. “Not the Spring?” I asked. No again. One or two Spring colors looked good to her, but none of the others. I asked, “Well, how many of the Summer colors do you think look good with my warm orange hair?” I expected her to say two or three, or some other low number. “Almost all of them.” she said. Now, she could be off, or wrong, or biased (she is a Summer too). But I am hearing this from multiple people: “The Summer colors should look bad with your orange hair, but they don’t.” None of my friends or family knows why this is–and I certainly don’t. The only answer I have is what I have gotten from your various articles–that maybe my warm orange hair isn’t as warm as I think it is. Compare my orange hair to someone in a Spring or Autumn palette, and I’ll learn what warmth *really* is. :-)

  18. Just on the point about warmer hair color – when I asked my hair dresser about what foils might be nice – she said outright my hair is cool. I was puzzled as it can go quite ‘warm’. She explained this is the effect of sunlight and heat from styling. It changes the color of your natural hair as it grows out. Interesting.

  19. The hair industry speaks an entirely different vocabulary than colour analysts do. Shouldn’t be so but it is. Cosmetic artists as well. All 3 groups need more education and exposure to one another’s languages, since we are all on the client’s team.

  20. I’m 26 and I’ve never dyed my hair. I am pretty sure I’m a light summer but my hair can have a strawberry hue in certain light. It can also look really light or really dark depending on lighting and I have always felt that dye could never give me the range of colours that my natural hair does. Lots of people have turned up their nose to my natural hair but I love it. I’ve been reading your posts all night and I think I have always gravitated towards light summer colours but never known why. I don’t think I can take all the black out of my life yet though lol

  21. I encourage you to stick to your beliefs about your hair colour, Alinta. Dye can’t give anybody the range of colours in natural hair to get a sophisticated result that anyone could believe would have happened by itself. Your hair colour sounds beautiful, and possible for Light Summer, though many others as well (which may be one reason black appeals).

  22. I was first draped Soft Summer and then True Autumn, but eventually realized I was a very warm leaning SSummer, right on the border with Soft Autumn. I can wear warmer colors successfully as long as they are very muted and soft. This post feels like my struggles exactly. Not with my hair – I’ve always known it to be a sandy, mousy blonde-brown, neither here nor there – but my eyes are green brown hazel. I remember my first draping reveal photo and while I loved the SS colors and my skins harmony, my eyes stood out; very green and warm against the drapes which looked like frosting against them. I’ve tweaked things a bit, but the conclusion I’ve reached after all the drapings, emails, consultations is that I’m soft. Thats okay – I can work with that. No bright day-glo colors for me, no winter, no spring. Soft is where I live.

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