Thursday, September 10, 2015

Finding Your Undertone: A Colorful Journey That Matters As Much As You Want It To


If I were to rummage through your closet and makeup collection, what colors would I find? Lots of browns, yellows and earthy greens? There's a good chance you have warm, peachy or yellow undertones in your skin. A collection of bright whites, purples and blues? Better chance you have cool, blue or pink tones to your skin. No cohesive color palette? You either have neutral undertones or are confused; I was in the latter boat for years.

Everyone's skin color is made up of many shades of yellow, pink, green, blue, orange: every color of the rainbow, really. Understanding which of these colors is most prominent in your complexion can help determine which clothing, hair color and makeup is most harmonious-looking on you. My journey of skin undertone discovery has had three major turning points. If you'll bear with me through a bit of a personal history, I'd like to show you how this sometimes confusing process can be rewarding if you stick with it.

As a child, my mother once offhandedly told me that chartreuse and red looked good on me. I was a vain child (let's face it, I am a vain adult), the kind of kid who wouldn't wear the orthotic shoes her flat feet so desperately demanded because they were so unattractive. So this comment stuck with me. Later, as I was discovering teen magazines, I came across a quiz that asked, "Do you have a warm or cool skin tone?" One side of the page boasted a mosaic of sapphire, emeralds and magentas while the other showcased some brick reds, browns and, low and behold, chartreuse. I immediately placed myself in this second warm category. I loved that I had a makeup tribe, a color family to call my own. For years after this I would instinctively reach for ivory or mossy green clothes and warm chocolate eye shadows, not exclusively, but mostly.

In 2010, my third year of college, I posted a photo of myself on Facebook. I wore skinny jeans, an olive green tank top and a tan and brown sweater (I was in art school, OK?). Almost instantly, a former camp counselor and friend of mine sent me a message, essentially scolding me for wearing those colors because I was, "a classic winter." She pointed me in the direction of rich royal blues, lavenders, ruby reds and high contrast neutrals like black and white. I went to a thrift store, got a black and white sweater and a lavender blouse, and was reborn. From then until now, I've built a wardrobe around jewel tones and cool neutrals like black, gray and taupe. It's relatively easy for me to get dressed since nearly everything I own is in the same color family. My makeup collection follows suit, centering around pink- and blue-toned products. Shopping for either clothing or makeup has been worlds easier since then because I can instantly rule out anything that veers too orange or yellow. And so, it would seem, my winter color palette and I were riding off into the sunset.

A final (for now) shift in my thinking occurred earlier this summer when I went to a Sephora workshop on matching your blush to your lip color. I went not because I didn't understand this concept, but because I was curious to see if the team could find me a flattering lipstick that fits into the orange lips trend. I imagined them comically scratching their heads, shrugging and declaring, "Honey, stick to pink!" Instead, they whipped out a Color IQ color-match device to digitally "read" my skin tone. My match contained the letter Y. As in Yellow. As in, warm undertones. Though the actual reading was just barely on the warm side of neutral, my perception of my skin tone was turned on its head. After talking with the instructor, I realized that I'd been misconstruing my rosacea and surface redness (I turn the color of pink lemonade at any sign of cardio) for pink undertones, when I actually have quite neutral skin that happens to look pink a lot. The ladies helped me find a combo of a coral blush and killer orange-red lipstick that I've been loving this summer.

If you've stuck with me through that series of anecdotes, bless you.

Now, this post has become more self-indulgent than I meant for it to, but I hope those tales offered a few clues on discovering your true colors. A really simple way to start finding your own: look at your skin in daylight. Examine the colors you see as most prominent. Apply a warm brown eyeshadow on one eye and gray on the other. Observe what each does to your face; does one really pop out while the other blends right in? Do they both look equally great? Do the same thing with clothes, Cher Horowitz-style: take a snapshot of yourself wearing bright blue and one of yourself wearing yellow. Does your skin look right at home in one dress and glaringly out of place in the other? In other terms: PLAY! Try different things. As you can see from my stories above, this takes time to figure out and even if you do "figure this out," your opinions and tastes can change, and that's fine.

I urge you to think of this process as another tool to help you take control of your image and style. If you like the way brown, royal purple, muted yellow and black look together, awsome! Rock it. Just know that when you pair things with disharmonious tones, it can look cluttered and accidental; so for that big interview, you might want to go for a more cohesive palette. Same goes for makeup: for a balanced and harmonious look, stick with all corals and tans or all roses and taupes. But if you want to mix it up, do you thing!

I still don't think I look good in yellow or orange, and I still love the ease of having a wardrobe filled with colors from the same family. But, the bottom line is that you shouldn't feel constricted by "your" colors. If you're going to clash undertones (a raspberry lipstick with a mustard yellow dress), do it purposefully and with gusto.

So, what are you favorite color combinations? Do you notice a trend in your lip color, for instance, towards corals or rosy pinks?

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