In which I actually write about color

Have you ever had your colors “done”?

I had a color analysis done, way back in the 1980s, just before I entered college. At the time, my small wardrobe consisted mainly of:

  • various shades of blue, my favorite color.
  • the occasional pink and green, my mother’s favorite colors.  If my mother took me shopping, I always came home with something pink or green. (To this day, I’m still amazed at how every gift I’ve ever received from my mother is some shade of pink or green!)

I had won an academic prize from a local women’s club. I was invited to their monthly meeting to receive my prize, and it just so happened that the theme of this meeting was “dressing for success”. They had a color analyst on hand, who proceeded to drape me in various swatches of fabric.

I was “diagnosed” as an Autumn. And, in fact, all of those deep warm colors did  look obviously prettier against my skin than the others did. I was instructed to wear brown tones as my neutral base, and to stay away from navy and pure white.

The ladies at the local makeup counters were also obviously savvy about the Color Me Beautiful system. They always steered me toward the peachy blushes and brownish-red lipsticks.

And that’s what I wore, for years and years.

Then, one day, I went shopping for new glasses. I’d been wearing wire rims for many years, but plastic frames were coming back into style. I tried on the usual brownish/neutral-colored frames, but none of them really looked that great on me.

And then I tried on a pair of cool berry-toned frames. And they looked great. I bought them, even though cool berry was not one of “my colors”.

This purchase got me thinking: Maybe I should try out some berry-toned lipsticks, or some pink blush. I did, and was amazed at how much brighter and healthier I looked. I now use a mix of cool and warm tones in my daily makeup.

Around the same time (about 10 years ago), I stumbled onto a book called 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom. I don’t think this book was ever a best-seller, probably because it has no pictures. It’s more about finding your own style and choosing clothes that reflect your personality and/or the image you want to project.

It’s written by Malcolm Levene and Kate Mayfield. If I remember correctly, Mr. Levene is the son of a bespoke tailor, and he used to own an upscale clothing store. Both of the authors worked as image consultants.

As the title implies, the book takes you through 10 steps to help you find your personal style. It’s very similar to what you usually find in books of this type.

But the chapter that stood out for me, and which has stayed with me long after I finished reading the book, was the chapter about color.

The authors basically throw out the whole seasonal-color-analysis theory. They call it a myth.

Instead, they advise you to wear colors that help you convey the image you want to project. (For example, wearing bolder tones to reflect a look of authority, despite the fact that beige might look great with your skin & hair.)

Color may also be used to enhance skin tone, but the choice isn’t based solely on undertones. For example, an ice-blue shirt may be recommended to “cool down” the ruddiness in your skin, regardless of whether your undertones are blue or yellow.

The authors also discuss fabric quality and how it relates to color. More expensive fabrics will be made with better dyes, and thus will look better against the skin. (It sounds snobby, but I have to agree with the authors here. You won’t find great color in cheap clothing.)


I do think there is something to the seasonal color-analysis theory. A lot of my prescribed colors do look good on me, because they complement my skin tone. But I’ve learned to try on colors before dismissing them. I think there is so much more to consider than just skin tone and hair color, when choosing colors.

Peaches and browns blend well with my light-olive skin tone, but they can also make me look tired and dull. Cool-toned pink makeup provides a bit of contrast to my yellowish skin, and livens up my face.

Likewise, saturated jewel tones (“Winter” shades) in my clothing make me feel bolder and more confident than the autumnal brown tones which blend in with my skin tone and look “quieter” on me.

I’m not suggesting that browns and beiges are bad. I think they can be great for someone who wants to convey more warmth or softness. I think the point is to use color to tilt the balance toward the image you want to convey.

As for the forbidden navy and white, I now wear them often. I think they fit right in with the simple, classic looks I like to wear. And I’m often complimented when I wear navy; so I figure it’s o.k. to wear it after all. 🙂

4 responses to “In which I actually write about color

  1. I sort of agree about color & cheap clothing. Black can get away with cheaper fabrics, but lighter colors, esp. white exposes a multitude of sins.

  2. Good point. Black does hide all sorts of imperfections, and most black fabrics are pretty much the same shade regardless of quality.

  3. Great post. I never had my colors “done” but I’ve looked at the various wheels. Jewel tones seem to fit best according to the guidelines and they tend to look best on me. This doesn’t stop me from wearing other colors. I know Kate Mayfield — she has one of the best blogs out there related to her upcoming memoir. In getting to know her (online) I also got that book and agree with most of the ideas. I absolutely agree that the bad dyes used in manufacturing inexpensive fabrics look hideous! Martin has found this too in shopping for fabrics for his sewing projects. Inexpensive blacks can be a problem too, especially if there’s poly in the fabric, after multiple washings. I wash my blacks by hand now to preserve prevent the purply sheen that sometimes develops.

  4. Oh, I didn’t know that Kate Mayfield was blogging. I will have to check out her blog!