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You know how you always get compliments when you wear that blue top? There’s a reason for that. We all have colors that make us look our best because there’s actually a science to figuring out what shades work with your complexion. It involves a process called color analysis. And no, it can’t be done through a DIY manual from the ’80s or an online quiz

The type of analysis I’m talking about was developed by House of Colour, and it has to be conducted by a professional, aka a House of Colour–trained consultant. The UK-based company has been certifying consultants in their proprietary color and style analysis process since 1985. Their system is based on the idea that everyone falls into a “season,” a palette of colors aptly categorized into fall, winter, spring or summer, all based on the skin’s undertones.

If you think you look killer in blue-based shades like ice blue or vivid raspberry, then you might be a winter or a summer. On the other hand, if you prefer to rock orange or warm yellow-based colors, you could be in the fall or spring camp.

Isn’t this something you could just look into a mirror to figure out? Not entirely. See, color consultants are trained to apply precision-dyed “drapes,” or squares of fabric, in 144 different shades. They know how to look for changes in your skin tone, eyes and lips that the untrained eye might miss as they apply different colors to whittle down the ones that work for you. Plus, it’s really hard to be objective while staring at yourself in the mirror for two hours, which is how long the typical color analysis process takes.

Curious to learn what my shades are (and after seeing some incredible before-and-after photos), I booked an appointment with Gretchen Mayhew, a House of Colour–trained color consultant.

When I arrived at her Barrington, Rhode Island, studio at 10 a.m. I was barefaced so that she could see my skin’s true undertones. The second I stepped through the door, she immediately began sizing me up, she told me later. Mayhew explained that color consultants notice what colors you’re wearing and what your features look like when you walk in and actually use that to inform what drapes they place on you. Because I came in wearing a lavender sweater and my features looked bright, she suspected I might be a winter or a spring, since those seasons are suited to bright, clear colors.

After I took a seat at her window-side setup, she began placing alternating warm- and cool-toned drapes on my shoulders, then removed them one by one as part of the “takedown process.” 

“Do you notice a difference?” she asked as I watched myself in the mirror. I totally did. The cool shades made my eyes look bright and my skin look glowy. But the warm tones were terrible. My skin became dull and yellow, and I looked almost sick.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s noticed what a difference the “right” colors can make. The hashtag #knowyourwowcolors on Instagram has racked up more than 3,000 before-and-after photos of women (and a few men) who’ve undergone color analysis and the difference is shocking. Wow colors, BTW, is a color-analysis term for something you could wear from head to toe and still see your features pop. One woman who underwent the process attests, “People ask me if I’ve lost weight or changed my hair, [but the difference] is simply following [my consultant’s] guidance on color and personal style.”

After completing my color analysis (a process that took almost two hours and cost $220) Mayhew determined that I am, in fact, a winter. Then she draped me in all 36 of the winter shades to determine which where the best of the best. The standouts included colors that I already wore on the reg (like gray and ice pink), but others, like electric blue, felt way out of my comfort zone. I was also pretty overjoyed to learn that winters are the only group that can pull off black. 

According to Mayhew, that’s one of the best parts of a color analysis. “It opens your eyes to the possibilities of many different colors and combinations,” she explained. In my case, it has inspired me to take risks with colors that I thought were too bold before. And while that may sound simple, the results are profound. “People cry, ‘Oh my gosh, I never thought I could look beautiful,’” Mayhew said of her previous clients.

The last part of the analysis involves getting your makeup done with House of Colour’s in-house makeup line. To be honest, this is the part of the process that I was most unsure about. I’m loyal to my BareMinerals tinted moisturizer, and I generally think my makeup looks pretty natural and flattering (if I do say so myself). But as soon as Mayhew swiped on blush in shade 22, which is a soft, dark pink, my doubts dissipated. I never look good in blush, but this one made my skin look bright and radiant. And yes, I bought it immediately.

Afterward, the idea is that you’ll shift over to wearing only your seasonal color palette. I’m not there (yet). But as I work on revamping my closet, I like being armed with the knowledge that these are my shades. Plus, it helps that every client is given a “color wallet,” complete with swatches of their 36 shades to help them sort through their closet or take on their next shopping trip. When I do wear my winter colors, I walk a little taller and feel better about what I’m wearing as I walk out the door. One Tuesday, I wore a deep purple sweater paired with bright pink lipstick to the office and found myself almost strutting to my desk.

Ultimately, that’s what a color analysis gives you: a foolproof guide to wearing something you’ll actually like, along with a confidence boost that lasts long after your consultation is over.   

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