More Than Meets The Eye (Using Your Colour Fan)

all the colours you can find

Let’s face it:   Learning to use our colour fans to shop for clothes can be… daunting? To say the least.

Especially having to overcome an instinct to try matching the item colour with an individual colour in the fan.  We call this “dot matching” – and oh man, can it lead you astray.

The dot-matching approach is great for finding a potential lipstick to try on, for example, but it is seriously problematic when shopping for your clothes.

First:  for any given clothing colour, I can show you dots from several different seasons that look like they could be a match.  So a dot-match just cannot give you enough information to know that the item is in your season.      

But also:  with the dot-matching approach, you are automatically limiting yourself to the colours in your fan – meaning you lose out on the 100s and 100s of your season’s colours!  In contrast, the approach of the “fan drop” means the fan becomes a tool for identifying all your possible colours. 

But the downside is that “fan dropping” is definitely a skill that has to be worked on.  I wanted to try and capture, in a photo series, a slice of what I do with clients at our appointment, in showing them how to use the fan. We know that real life doesn’t always translate to photographs, but this comparison seemed a good choice. So here we go.  

The first step

Pink topSubmitted, for your consideration, is…. a pinky-peachy top. (Rod Serling callback for the older crowd…)

My first step when I’m figuring out the season of an item is simply looking at it, to see whether it appears more warm or cool, and more saturated or muted; this gets me into a neighbourhood before I drop the fan.  With this top, for me:  first, there is visible warmth, suggesting this is not a True Cool, and not likely a Cool Neutral season.  Next, it seems to lack the chroma intensity/muscle punch of colours in the upper half of the clock (i.e the 5 winter blends).

So just from eyeballing, I start with a guess of either Light Spring (LSp) or Soft Autumn (SA). 

For an LSp or SA person, the next step is to drop their fan on the clothing. The idea is that the fan is you — your face — and we are looking for harmony between the fan and the clothing colour, just as we did between you and the drapes during your analysis.  

There are a couple of key “fan drop” approaches:  my main ones are i) “all fan arms spread out”, and ii) “lipstick arms plus the greens”.  However, I am going to start this series with the instinctive approach of finding the colour dots in the fan that look closest to the colour of the clothing.

The instinctive approach vs the whole picture

Pink top with the Light Spring Fan

We find an arm or two in the Light Spring (LSp) fan with a colour dot that looks like it could be close to the colour of the top.

Hmm, not bad. The peachy dot at the top of the right arm in particular seems like a good possibility?  

But critically, this can be misleading. How about the whole fan? 



For me, harmony shows up as the fan sinking into the item, like sinking into a cushion, or melting into a painting made up of the colours in that season.  And both the fan and the material look lit up/energized by being next to each other.

Pink top and the whole fanThis is the whole Light Spring fan, with the arms spread out so you can see the material between the arms (the proper “fan drop”)

But here, the whole picture is less promissing. I seem to see the fan floating on top of the item, separate from it, looking too candy, too bright for the top in some ways, and yet also, for some arms, looking too… powdery?  And next to the fan, the fabric is diminished into the background; its hard to get to the item through the fan colours.

Pink top with the Soft Autumn fanHere is a fan drop with the Soft Autumn fan.

Ahhhhhh… for me, what a relief. Those deeper, mellow, amber-infused colours of the fan just sink into the fabric, are one with it.  This fan is not floating on top, rather its literally a part of the fabric colour.

And the energy of fan and fabric seems balanced, they are both energized by each other, not one disappearing the other. 

Going back and forth between the LSp fan drop, and the SA fan drop, you just keep seeing more… Look at how much better the SA yellow arm works, and the blues, than the cartoon yellows and blues of LSp fan. The LSp yellow looks like neon highlighter against the top.  And that LSp pink arm – so glad its gone!  The SA smoky greys seem so much better than the sharper LSp greys.. 

For me, these two photos really show spring heat as brighter jelly-bean warmth, vs fall heat as mellow velvety-earthy warmth.

Pink top with two different fans

In addition to the “whole fan” drop, it can be very helpful to look at a slice of the colours:  the lipstick arms (importantly, all of the lipstick arms in the fan, not just one), and the greens.

Would you wear those lipsticks with that colour top, or is something off? With the spring fan, one of the arms is alright, but the coral-orange in the other arms looks like kool-aid. Whereas with the autumn fan, all of the terra-cotta influenced lip colours resonate with the item. 

We say the greens can show up as great or gross; our gut just reacts.  With the spring fan, the greens look somewhat radioactive…while the blue-greens look almost drained. With the autumn fan, the olive and moss greens look belonging, and the blues include gorgeous desert turquoise.   

I know for me which fan is separate from the fabric, and which one is belonging.


The trusted colour swatches/fans you see here, which many of us use, are from True Colour International.

Lisa Kelly is located in Ottawa, Ontario. In-person Colour Analysis is available by appointment only. Please click the link buttons below for more information.
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