Are You a ‘Spring’ or a ‘Winter’?
It Could Cost You $500 to Find Out.








Darcei Giles, left, and Tatum Schwerin, right, are among a number of content creators posting about seasonal color analysis on TikTok


By Callie Holtermann
April 5, 2024

Seasonal color analysis, a fad from the 1980s seeking to identify a person’s most flattering color palette, is drawing views and exasperation on TikTok.

A barefaced woman studies her reflection, trying on fabric bibs that could have been yanked from a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” In a video posted on TikTok last month, she is draped in lustrous silver, faint pink, a deep green that recalls a jalapeño pepper.

Standing behind her client as a hairdresser might, Tatum Schwerin oohs and aahs. “Stunning on you,” she says of one warm-toned tapestry. Another, with stripes of terra cotta and butter yellow, is “on the money.”

Ms. Schwerin, 44, calls herself the Color Analysis Queen on social media. She estimates that she conducts about 60 of these sessions a month at her home in Frisco, Texas, with the goal of identifying a palette that best suits a person’s skin, hair and eye colors.

Each 90-minute consultation costs $479. Ms. Schwerin said she was having trouble keeping up with demand.

Ms. Schwerin is among a wave of influencers turning seasonal color analysis, a classification system popular in the 1980s, into a viral phenomenon as well as a lucrative business. It posits that each person’s features can be sorted into a set of shades associated with winter, spring, summer or fall, and offers clothing and makeup recommendations to match.

The system’s fans might once have attended a get-together “halfway between a Tupperware party and group therapy,” according to a New York Times article published in 1983. Now they congregate on Instagram and TikTok, where videos of Ms. Schwerin’s consultations regularly attract hundreds of thousands of views. Her biggest hit has been seen more than 30 million times.

A healthy slice of those viewers don’t see why anyone would pay nearly $500 to be told that they look pasty in blue.

“Watching these I feel the same as when someone shows me their baby sonogram,” a commenter wrote on one of Ms. Schwerin’s videos. “I DON’T SEE IT.”

Ms. Schwerin, a former stylist who took two online courses on color analysis, is undeterred. “I always like to say, ‘Have you tried on lipstick?’” she said. If so, “you surely can recognize that not all colors are equal on your skin.”

The idea of color seasons was popularized in part by Carole Jackson’s 1980 best seller “Color Me Beautiful.” Ms. Jackson offered four seasonal palettes that drew from the colors present in nature at that time of year: rich golds and browns for autumn, icy blues and whites for winter and so on.

Ms. Jackson, who ran a thriving business training color consultants, argued that a person’s season could be determined by the colors that made them look the perkiest. “See how Summer Mary looks drab in the yellow-tone camel and orange lipstick,” she wrote of a model in the book, “but comes to life in the pink shirt and pink makeup tones that are so complementary to her natural coloring.”

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Sarah Novio, 34, noticed color analysis taking over her social media feeds last year and began uploading her own videos about celebrities including Rihanna and Jameela Jamil. “Even though there was a lot of color analysis, I didn’t see a lot of people talking about people of color, or people with more melanin in their skin,” she said.

Ms. Novio uses Photoshop to test out swatches of different hues next to a person’s face. She tries to determine whether a person’s “undertones” are more yellow (warm) or more blue (cool), and if they look better to her in bright or muted colors, occasionally consulting the color wheel that she learned about in art school to make her recommendations.

Humans are sensitive to extremely fine differences in facial complexions, said Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist and artist who has studied how humans see color. It is true that our perceptions of those colors may shift based on how they contrast with the clothing or makeup around them.

Still, he was skeptical of the strict prescriptions offered by some color analysts. “People take a little grain of science and then it gets inflated to become a whole world,” Dr. Conway said. What is “flattering,” he added, is highly subjective: “Using it as a tool is fine. I think starting to make normative claims about beauty is where I would draw the line.”

Luckily for color analysis, subjectivity and disagreement tend to feed, not squash, a social media trend.

Some TikTok users post videos surrounding their faces with rainbow color wheel filters, asking commenters to determine their color season for them. (Professed experts tend to sneer at this approach.) Others have tried outsourcing color analysis to ChatGPT, which seems to identify almost everyone as an autumn.

Armchair color analysts argue in the comment sections of videos about celebrities like Jenna Ortega, Hailey Bieber and Beyoncé. The actress Zooey Deschanel posted a video last month “setting the record straight,” she wrote in the caption, that her much-debated color season was winter.

Among the theory’s adherents, an in-person assessment remains the gold standard. Darcei Giles, a 32-year-old beauty content creator, flew 14 hours from Toronto to Seoul last year in part to get a color consultation there. She said her result — “bright spring” — had helped her shop more efficiently.

“It’s almost like finding out your zodiac sign for the first time and being like, Oh my god, that makes so much sense!” Ms. Giles said.

Ms. Novio thinks color analysis can make getting dressed less overwhelming, but she chalked up its popularity to a broader fascination with examining, rating and categorizing our appearances.

“People like to belong somewhere,” said Ms. Novio, who occasionally ignores her own “deep winter” classification to wear a favorite orange and brown striped sweater. “Being categorized in a season makes people feel that way.”


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