A blonde, a redhead and a brunette walk into a bar… They all could have been me in the past 18 months.
After roughly 15 years as a blonde, 5 of those years being what I call ‘contractually blonde’ (thanks to a lovely modelling contract which required that I not change my hair – a modelling contract being pretty rare for a woman in her forties) I finally broke out and went ‘rock ‘n roll red’. I felt the blonde had started to wash me out, and had become too sickly looking on me. The change was refreshing and I adored it.
Some of my recent hair colours, below. It’s been a ride.
Geena Davis, Vampira, kitty friends, marriage equality, love, sewing projects and self-care. A pretty good 2017 highlight wrap up for #bestnine2017 (because those things are all AWESOME – and writing a book does not a photograph make) #2017 #theyearthatwas #taramoss #vintage #geenadavis #vampira #sewing @sewingvintagewithtaramoss Quite a few images here are by my fella @berndtsellheimphotography
The bright red felt wonderful and with the blonde well and truly covered over I no longer felt washed out. People did actually treat me a little differently as well, though I took some time to come to terms with that. I have railed against the classic hair colour stereotyping for years (among other silly stereotypes), but it still frustratingly holds true for women’s lived experiences: some people perceive blonde women as ‘airheads’, particularly if hair is worn long or is bleached. Though it is unwise to cater your life or even your follicles to idiots who believe hair colour and IQ are linked, as a lived experience even the stereotypes about ‘fiery’ ‘dangerous’ redheads worked better for me than that very blonde look, and the difference was depressingly obvious at times. (That is a whole other blog for another day.)
Now, after about a year I have transitioned away from the bright cherry red, and I do miss it a bit at times, but I am also relieved. I had a good two weeks after each salon colour, but by week three my cool ashy regrowth stood out a mile against the bright red. The regrowth was much less forgiving than with highlights or blonde. That made it expensive. That red was the most high maintenance hair I have ever had, and as it turns out most dyed redheads will attest to this. There is the regrowth factor, the fade, and then there were also the baths turned pink like Koolaid and the poor towels… I was warned about this by my excellent hair dresser, but the upkeep really felt unsustainable after a year of it, and of course it was an unnatural colour on me and sometimes looked quite artificial. I had wanted to try that. Long term, it’s not for me, however. I just don’t want to spend that time or money, though I know many people do and it works a treat for them. Add to that the fact that my hair is extremely thick, and any very artificial colour is a big commitment.
Gee, I did enjoy it when the colour was working. (Which wasn’t all the time, sadly, particularly IRL, or on TV vs in photographs.)
Trying to tone down the sometimes ‘nuclear’ red to make it less high maintenance saw me with salon dyed colours that really grabbed and were too dark and harsh for my complexion. Often the hairdressers were shocked by how dark it came up. A dark blonde dye can read almost black on me, which was a surprise. I love dark hair, but when it does go too dark and doesn’t suit you, it’s like a light has gone out on your face. When this happened to me I used scarves and hats to break up the effect and hoped the next colour would work better.
Over 18 months of experimentation and way too many salon appointments I discovered that being too red was overly high maintenance for my lifestyle and bank account, and too dark was unflattering. Likewise, being too blonde washed me out. No regrets, but it was time to start looking at a colour that would work.
What else is there? I wondered.
This is where Soft Summer comes in. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that natural is always better for each individual and personality, I did want to rediscover my more natural colouring to see what it might be imagined to look like. The high maintenance hair probably helped to influence a new desire for something towards a more natural (for me) colour. But how many of us who have coloured hair really know what their natural colour is now? Hair changes with age. Not radically, perhaps, but it isn’t necessarily the same colour as in our youth. It is hard to tell what your natural hair is really doing with dyed colour just beyond the regrowth. This led me to colour theory, which has come along since the classic 4 seasons. Most theory now includes 12 tones or seasons, with each of the 4 seasons now having 3 categories. It is considered more accurate, and after looking into it I agree that the accuracy is significantly improved. Examples of this 12 type colour theory include Sci/Art, 12 Blueprints and TCI. Each are slightly different.
I did know I leaned ‘cool’, so that meant a likely Summer or Winter type. You can check whether you are warm or cool by looking at the veins in your wrist. If they are mostly green, you are warm and if they are mostly blue you are cool. But mine are a mostly blue with some green, so it was confusing until I understood that showed signs of some ‘neutral’. This would prove to be a good clue.
Most people in colour theory will tell you that you can’t be sure about which of the 12 types you are without a PCA, or ‘personal colour analysis’, during which you are draped in various colours while in a neutral environment with natural light. No makeup is worn and any artificially dyed hair colour is covered up, so you see the ‘real’ unaltered foundations you are born with. I booked one in as a luxury gift to myself (it is an investment, to my mind, and not affordable for everyone) but in the meantime I couldn’t help but start trying to figure it out on my own.
Although I like colours that are often thought to be autumnal, as in the photograph at the top of this blog and the Instagram post below, I am certainly a cooler type.
Is there is a cool autumn? I wondered. I’d never heard of it.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. – Albert Camus Enjoying the autumn leaves in today's 1940s look. Photograph by my beautiful husband @berndtsellheimphotography, on our way to meet the lovely Gretchen Hirsch of Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing for @sewingvintagewithtaramoss #1940sfashion #vintage #vintageclothing #taramoss #1940s #1940sstyle #woodyellen #autumn #autumnleaves #camus #redhead #rockitlikearedhead #redhairdontcare #vintagestyle
Soft Summer, also known as summer-autumn started providing clues. Like this clue at 12 Blueprints:
‘A woman who has had every hair colour is very often a Soft Summer or Soft Autumn. As we said in Soft Summer Landscapes, the medium-ness of this colouring allows it to be swayed in many directions, though seldom with big success if it rocks too far. The owner of said colouring can feel restless and questioning, Is this all there is for me? Peacock everywhere and I’m fog? What am I supposed to do with that?’
By peacock, I think she means ‘striking’, stand out, bright or high contrast.
Brighter isn’t always better, and even if you are a summer, all summers are simply not the same. This example with Adriana Lima at Truth Is Beauty is one I can relate to:
Here are some more examples of Soft Summer women: (though many analysts disagree on what season various celebrities are, and it is sometimes hard to tell from photographs which may not involve natural lighting, or may be filtered, etc)
Yes, I can relate to some of those complexions and the descriptions of skin tone and eye colour. Soft Summers are ‘the deepest of the three Summers’, and don’t suit the higher contrasts and saturated colours of the winter types, but also don’t tend to wear the paler colours of Light Summer. People who are SSu (as Soft Summer is sometimes called for short) should in general avoid warm colours (yellow-based) and over-saturated colours. Of course, as with all of this, you can and should wear what you want, but knowing your natural colouring can help you find your favourites faster, or explain why you look washed out or sickly in a particular colour, whether in your hair or in what you wear. This may be even more pertinent in the age of online shopping (vintage or otherwise), when it is hard to know what a fabric or garment will look like on you until it arrives.
This blog at 30 Something Urban Girl was very helpful: Are You A Summer-Autumn (Soft Summer)?
Yes, this seemed more correct all the time. I can wear silver and gold. I have coloured my hair a whole lot but my natural hair is very much Soft Summer ash. My sister, looking at this info, also thought I was naturally a Soft Summer by all descriptions, and she knows me very well.
But what I stumbled over was the ‘soft’ and the ‘summer’.
Could I really be ‘soft’ anything?
I finally had my PCA done yesterday, and it was a real treat. I went with Amelia Butler of TCI, which is based on Munsell colour science. Amelia spent three years under the personal mentorship of former Master Munsell Colourist and CEO of Sci\ART Global Kathryn Kalisz.
I have been unwell lately, and I have also been on deadline for my 12th book, so getting out and doing something like this for myself was a nice experience. It took 2.5 hours on a sunny Saturday up at Avalon, and my husband and daughter came along to check out some of the process. After a quite thorough session, which was explained to me step by step, we found I was a cool neutral, which I already thought was highly likely. Warm colours look muddy or sickly on me. I also have something called ‘Spring Aversion’ which was another strong clue. I knew this about myself already. While those colours are lovely on others, I have a strong aversion to warm spring colours. Those oranges and yellows be gone! We narrowed it down drape by drape. Pastels were awful, and in general light colours didn’t have enough punch to suit me.
Again, I came up a Soft Summer.
I brought some of my favourite clothes for a colour match, and the ‘Hunter Green’ and ‘Wine’ burgundies I love happen to precisely match those deeper Soft Summer drapes. The hues were identical. The favourite blue-green/grey Tahitian pearl earrings I’d brought were also Soft Summer colours, and have that classic SSu soft luminance that matches my eye colour combination. (I have a slight heterochromia I’ve noticed, one eye more green and one more blue.) Most of my makeup was soft summer, with the lighter colours on lids and the stronger, deeper berry colours in the lipsticks, to match my level of contrast (though I also have some stronger cool reds than the traditional Soft Summer palette). I had brought a Soft Summer kit, not knowing what it was called.
But ‘Soft’? ‘Summer’?
What I still stumbled over was the ‘soft’ and the ‘summer’ part of this result. Terminology can be unhelpful at times. I am not particularly soft, and I think of summer as pastels, which I can’t wear. I don’t particularly identify with Summer, certainly here in Australia, because I am from a cooler climate. And what about STRENGTH? I like structure, strength and femininity – probably one of the reasons I am drawn to 1940s vintage, which was WW2 era strong, often with shoulder pads and military lines and simplicity, but with femininity and red lipstick. Softness and strength are often described, rightly or wrongly, as opposite terms.
As it turns out, I am still a summer, but I wear the deeper colours. What one person calls ‘soft’, I might call velvety. What one person might call ‘subdued’, I might call cool or refined. This is an issue of terminology.
Strength – in appearance, colour style and personality – is still very much possible in a ‘soft’ season, as it turns out. This won’t come as a surprise to many in colour theory, but the terminology trips us up. For example, Angelina Jolie is believed by a number of analysts to be a Soft Summer-Autumn (or Jeweltone Summer in some systems). Soft? When I think of her, I think of strength. And look how beautifully the cool colours (silver, cool red, muted green) suit her? She is still dramatic and strong, but she isn’t wearing bright pop colours. Nor is she wearing warm colours, like a true autumn would. The summer-autumn cross over (soft summer/soft autumn) means this colour type can wear silver or gold, but in general silver is better for Soft Summer. Some of the cooler aspects of the autumn colours work, hence the cross over. Cooler greens, blues and reds come up well. These are my favourite colours.
I now have little doubt I am a Soft Summer type but I know that I am not one for pastels or light colours and I suit the darkest possible end of that SSu range. In fact, I have always gravitated towards those colours, including the (soft) black and charcoals in SSu. It isn’t true as a blanket statement that Soft Summers ‘can’t wear black’. My best black is just not the hardest black. Greyed black or vintage/aged black works well for some of us. Think soft black leather or suede instead of black PVC and you get the idea. The way natural light interacts with the black is softer. (Oops, there’s that word again.) Winter’s optic white is not my friend, but some softer whites (not too yellowed) are classic looking on me. I can wear black with red lipstick, but a soft black with a berry red will be the most easy for me to wear, while harder versions will require more makeup to compensate. I’ve noticed this in the past. We each do it our own way.
Though I may not like the terminology, in reality there is no good or bad colour, only what works for you. Likewise, there is no good or bad season or colour tone to be. We all have our own way of being, and our own natural skin tone and colouring. What we do with that is up to us. Being more aware of my natural colouring is just another tool in seeing the science behind why some things work better than others, and why I am drawn to one cool green and not another warmer one, or a blue-based red and not that yellowy tomato red.
How might this knowledge of my natural colouring fit into my love of vintage?
Amelia Butler described my palette as ‘very vintage’.
Vintage? Yes, actually. It’s as if the colours are slightly aged or washed. Not dirty, and in my case also not faded out, as the richer Soft Summer colours, sometimes called ‘jewel tone’ or ‘shaded’ are perfect. (In fact, ironically considering the peacock example above, many peacock colours are perfectly SSu). They are just not highly saturated colours. This colour process of less saturation is of course what happens to a lot of pre-1965 fabrics and clothing. The natural fibres fade out a touch with time and wear. Post 1965, with more synthetics, many of those saturated colours remain very bright. I have always preferred pre 1965 vintage on myself. Of the vintage look repro or ‘modern vintage’ options, the very bright dresses, particularly those on less than high quality fabrics, do me no favours. It all looks a touch too artificial and off on me, as if the dress is wearing me and not the other way around. Meanwhile, those pop colours really suit others, including a lot of other women in the vintage and pin-up scene.
This blog on Soft Summer at Elemental Colour further confirms it:
‘Some fabrics do not hold intense colours well, and so “black” on those often will, in fact, work for you (black jeans come to mind)…One of the many advantages of being a Soft — clothes can actually improve over time.’
Perfect. (50-70 year old vintage is my ideal!)
Interestingly, the cool toned red ‘berry’ or ‘cherry’ colour of my red hair was actually pretty close at times to the berry reds in the Soft Summer palette. In fact, my red at times was much like the wine colour in the Soft Summer colour fan (not unlike Adriana Lima’s sweater, above). This is one reason it sat well on my skin, though it was clearly artificial. Soft Summer natural hair colours are usually ashy, and cool blonde to brunette, as shown here: (my natural hair colours are the two on the left and my eye colour is on the upper left)
So there we have it. It is perhaps surprising that I had not known my season before, considering my career in fashion, but as it turns out, that is common with neutral season people. I once believed I was autumn, but couldn’t wear the warm colours, like olive, rust and yellowed browns and reds. Now I know I am a summer-autumn crossover. Oh look, and my favourite greens, and wine/burgundy colour and french navy are right here on the chart above. My favourite green, often called ‘Hunter Green’ is also on the chart, and in one my favourite dresses, below:
The ‘The Indigo Tones Personal Color Plume™’, also based on Munsell colour science, has the Soft Summer dark shades on the outside of the fan, making them clearer to demonstrate the dark SSu palette I am talking about in my own personal example:
Now I have purchased the TCI Soft Summer ‘corporate’ palette, as I feel the stronger colours are more ‘me’. As the lightest colours are at the top of the TCI fans, I feel I could almost cut off the top two squares across the whole fan and just focus on the deeper ones, darker ones those charcoals, deep greens, blues and berry reds. And the soft black of Soft Summer is lovely and velvety on me, and I notice many of my favourite black dresses come up as this soft black colour, either because they are vintage or because I bought them in that colour before realising what I was drawn to. Each of the 12 tones in the TCI system has 65-70 hues, so there is quite a range (there are also a number of crossover colours) and I am personally of the belief that our personalities as well as our individual colouring is likely to make us gravitate to different ends of that range of hues. For me, that means the darker ends of the SSu spectrum.
What about you? Have you had a PCA? How did you find the experience? Was it helpful?
So what will I do with my hair next? Maybe…nothing. I have cut it shorter and I am enjoying the bob. The cut will help me transition to another colour with healthier hair, and if I keep loving it I will continue to cut it in this low maintenance french bob style. I have been trying to get closer to my natural and I will keep moving in that direction, so for now I am letting my regrowth show itself. It’s not for everyone but I want to give it a try. That will be low maintenance and less expensive for me, and from many accounts, more suitable for my complexion. It’s not there yet, and with the now-warm fading red in it, it will take a while to find out what the colour is really like. We’ll see.
I am transitioning to my natural now (I don’t have SSu hair yet, except at the roots). Here I was photographed just a few days before my colour analysis, wearing a Soft Summer wine burgundy top that, as it turns out, is right there on my SSu colour fan. I look forward to trying the other aspects of the season. This palette might just work…
Below, in black but wearing Soft Summer makeup and my favourite Soft Summer Tahitian pearl earrings, a month before my TCI session identified my season: I had already gravitated towards some of the SSu elements without knowing what it was.
Thanks for reading. I would love to know your experiences with colour experimentation, below.
x Tara AKA Victory
NOTE *Colour theory is a sophisticated area and some analysts will possibly disagree with my personal analysis result and some of my interpretations of the system.