March 5, 2013

Can I Wear This Color?

By: Christine Hall

 A bunch of years ago, someone introduced me to a handy little 1980s guide called “Color Me Beautiful” by Carole Jackson. It’s a guide to colors that flatter people of different skin tones, instructive for anyone who has hesitated over a purchase or wondered which shirt or tie to wear to a job interview or on a date, wondering if that color dress/top/tie/make up would be fetching or else look a bit frightful.The guide starts by grouping people according to two basic skin undertones: warm or cool. You may have the same surface tone (such as light, medium, dark) but a different undertone (such as olive versus pink). Warm tones will have a golden, yellow, or olive hue to their complexion. Cool tones will have pink, red, or bluish-red hues.

The guide then further divides warm tones into four color palettes: “spring” or “autumn” and cool tones into “summer” or “winter.” The spring and summer palettes tend to be lighter colors (such as pastels). I tend to think of Nicole Kidman as a classic spring and her pal Naomi Watts as a classic summer. The autumn and winter palettes tend to be darker or more vibrant colors. Cindy Crawford seems a classic autumn to me, with her amber-hued eyes and hair. Elizabeth Taylor and Alek Wek (two very disparate beauties and eras) seem to be classic winters.

Notwithstanding the cheesiness of the original video advertisement with its cringe-inducing 1980s styling, I’ve found the guide helpful over the years in styling myself and offering advice to others.

For example, if forced to choose, do you look best in white, navy blue, pink, and violet? Or gold, peach, pumpkin, or olive green? If the former colors tend to look best or bring the most compliments, you are probably a summer or winter. If it’s the latter, you are probably a spring or autumn. If you are unsure, get a few fabric swatches and view them against your face in a well-lit room with a mirror. Or, ask a friend, especially if you are terrible at judging colors or have some color blindness. (Take a little quiz at

Since I am a winter, I tend to choose colors such as black, violet, and deep blue red to wear on or near my face. But personal preference also matters. I could also choose pinks and fuchsias or other jewel tones; I just happen not to like them as well.

Sometimes, though, I choose to wear the “wrong” colors, such as mustard yellow (which is a ghastly color on me). Women can overcome an unflattering hue by heaping on make up in more appropriate colors. So, I may off-set that mustard yellow top with eye make up, blush, and lipstick in plum, which is a flattering color for me. Or, contrast the off-color top with a color-appropriate scarf that is nearer the face.

Color Me Beautiful is hardly a brand new concept; it’s merely a helpful grouping of color families and methodology. For example, I’ve since discovered an amusing make up guide from 1932, “Make Up” by Virginia Vincent, which assigns color palettes to women based on hair color. “Cosmetics for the golden blonde” advises a rose-colored rouge for naturally creamy skin or an orange-hued rouge for skin that is more white than cream.

Whatever colors you choose to wear, it’s best to put some thought into it to look your best for every occasion and have a cohesive color palette that’s easy to mix and match.

Famous Winters
Elizabeth Taylor
Alek Wek

Famous Summers
Naomi Watts
Princess Diana

Famous Autumns
Cindy Crawford
Julianne Moore

Famous Springs
Amber Valletta
Nicole Kidman

Christine Hall is the Director of Communications at the Competitive Enterprise Institute