Even after many years of writing about fashion and beauty, I still find undertones to be confusing. When I first moved to Miami and started working as a fashion editor, I met a stylist who used the Color Me Beautiful system and he immediately classified me as a Winter. Just like the season, the coloring of a Winter woman is cool and deep, or, as the website puts it, “crisp and distinctive… rich and intense.”
And they’re right. To a point. Sure, bold shades and jewel tones flatter my complexion, but if I strictly stuck to this system, I would never wear bright orange, or lemon yellow, or gold jewelry, all of which I know to be flattering on me. After years of self examination, I have finally figured it out.
In terms of undertones, I am Switzerland. A neutral.
And that’s something the Color Me Beautiful system fails to address. The nuances in hair, skin, and eye color that makes each of us unique. For example, the hair of a pure Winter would never turn red/orange at the ends, but that is exactly what happens to me when I am out in the sun too long. Being a neutral means I can wear white and cream. Tomato red and cherry red. No wonder I was confused.
Why are undertones so important? Because knowing your undertones helps choose a flattering color palette for your wardrobe and your makeup. And many brands (most notably MAC) classify their colors that way. Confused? Don’t be. I’ll talk you through it! Simply answer these 5 easy questions.
5 Simple Questions to Determine Your Undertone
1. Check the veins in your wrist. What color are they?
2. Which best describes your hair color?
A. Dark brown, black, ash blonde
B. Golden brown, sandy blonde, red
3. Look into your eyes. Are they:
A. Dark and deep, or cool blue
B. Flecked with gold, or green
4. Now sift through your closet and pull out three favorite tops. Are the colors:
A. Berry, cherry, cobalt, plum and other jewel tones.
B. Earth tones, khaki, olive, yellow.
5. When it comes to choosing shoes and bags, do you go for:
A. Brown or beige
B. Black or gray
Mostly A’s: You have cool undertones.
Mostly B’s: You have warm undertones.
If you answered “both” to some of these, or have a mix of A’s and B’s. you are Neutral. See? Simple.
Now that you know your undertones, you can use it to select a color palette that will help guide you when buying makeup, clothes and accessories. But don’t see this process as limiting. See it as liberating. After all, most of us can wear most colors, if we choose the right shade, and I am not the kind of stylist that believes that you should limit your closet to your color palette. I am suggesting, however, that you consider them for the higher priced purchases, like a quality bag, shoes, or jewelry. For example, my color palette consists of: black, navy, white, tomato red, cherry red, wine (Marsala), plum, cobalt, silver and emerald. So when I splurged on my Valentino clutch, I chose it in wine, and not in terracotta, and as a result, it complements nearly everything else in my wardrobe.
Most of us already gravitate towards certain colors anyway. This process just makes it more deliberate, more intentional. A color palette would have prevented you, for example, from buying that mustard yellow sweater.
Because, let’s face it, in this age of social media, reminders of that unfortunate sweater can haunt you for a long, long time.