TikTok color analysis trend presents a vibrant business opportunity

A trend from the 1980s is back in a big way and gaining traction with a younger audience. There are corners of TikTok where you can’t escape videos of people “getting their colors done.” It usually involves a professional color consultant draping people in various colored scarves until they discover their “season” — a group of hues in which they look their best: winters in deep, saturated jewel tones, autumns in warm, earthy shades and so on.

Guessing at someone’s color season has become a popular internet parlor game. It’s also a growing business: for people looking to boost their professional image and the entrepreneurs ready to help them do that.

One of those is Ashley Dworak, who’s like a rainbow come to life. “I’m a spring,” she noted, “so the light, bright, warm colors of the world are best for me.”

On her Instagram feed, tens of thousands of followers weigh in on Dworak’s outfits — in vivid coral, lemon chiffon, kelly green, often pulled together with thrift store finds. 

But her style wasn’t always so confident. As an exhausted mom of four young kids, she said her wardrobe was mostly black, basic — and kind of sad. So six years ago, she went to get her colors done, something she’d watched her mom do back in the 1980s.

“I almost felt like it was a superficial, selfish thing to have had done,” said Dworak. “And then quickly, I realized that that’s complete garbage — it is not superficial at all. It made a huge impact on me.” 

She’s now a color consultant herself in the Omaha suburb of Papillion, Nebraska, evocatively named for the French word for butterfly.

“We see people from all over, that come to us with wanting to feel better about themselves and show who they are on the outside, that’s reflecting who they are on the inside,” she said.

In late May, 26-year-old Lauren Kreuzberg brought her mom, Debbie O’Keefe, to Dworak for color analysis.

Dworak sat them in front of a mirror and started to drape. 

“When I put this cool, rosy, sort of icy pink on you, it’s like I’ve sort of drained your coloring here,” Dworak told O’Keefe.

The pair paid $510 combined to find out if they’re warm or cool toned, muted, or bright, and ultimately which of the four color seasons and 16 sub-seasons they each fall into. Theories of color analysis have expanded the palettes to become more inclusive for a range of skin colors.

“Your skin and your eyes and everything are loving the warm colors,” Dworak told Kreuzberg as she draped her in a rich rust-orange.

Ashley Dworak’s color swatches, which she drapes over customers to help determine their seasons. (Dylan Miettinen/Marketplace)

The color business was far from a sure bet back in early 2020 when Dworak emptied her savings account to pay the $13,000 upfront cost to train in color theory and franchise with the British company House of Colour.

Since then, the franchise price has roughly doubled, and House of Colour has grown — along with the popularity of color analysis — from a few dozen consultants in the U.S. to more than 300. 

“People used to just think I was like way out there, basically, that I would pay somebody for a color palette. But now everybody knows what I’m talking about,” said Cedar Boschan, who has had several color and style consultations. She estimates she’s paid about $4,000 for the services over several years.

“I was typed as a winter in Four Seasons. And then as a bright winter or a clear winter. And then I crossed from winter into spring. I’m a vital spring,” she explained.

When we spoke she wore an emerald green dress with a navy shawl collar blazer and a classic red lipstick. She runs her own forensic accounting firm serving the entertainment industry, and said cultivating a strong personal brand is key to her business.

And in the age of social media, everyone has a personal brand, said marketing professor Americus Reed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“People are are starting to use these technologies to construct this identity and project it to the world. And color is powerful,” he said.

The global image consulting market overall is currently around around $4 billion, and the services are appealing to a broader audience than ever before, beyond women of a certain age and class. Reed said it’s tapped into an age-old need: “I think we’re hardwired to figure out these deeper questions of identity, who we are, who am I?”

Back in Papillion, Nebraska, Lauren Kreuzberg and Debbie O’Keefe have an answer.

“OK, you guys — autumns in the house!” Dworak exclaims. Kreuzberg was typed as a more neutral “Dark Blue Autumn,” while her mother Debbie O’Keefe was typed as a more classic “Autumn Leaf” in the House of Colour system.

As for the house that color built, Dworak said she’s gone from $0 in her bank account five years ago to earning enough to recently buy and renovate an historic building in downtown Papillion, where she moved her studio in June.

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TikTok color analysis trend presents a vibrant business opportunity:

A trend from the 1980s is back in a big way and gaining traction with a yo…