I was at a Fourth of July party yesterday, when a makeup writer friend of mine and I got into a conversation about the book Color Me Beautiful. Most of you Frocktalkers are probably too young to remember this phenomenon, but using this book, you could determine whether you were a “winter”, “spring”, “summer” or “autumn”, and choose flattering clothing and makeup colors accordingly. My friend was wondering if the premise still held up today, thirty-plus years after the book was first published. It got me thinking…
The book and its photographs seem primitive by our modern standards. The language is at times archaic, bordering on offensive – the author (Carole Jackson) refers to Asian people as “Orientals”, among other cringe-worthy nuggets. The thrust of the book is about looking “pretty” in outward appearance, and about enhancing one’s beauty in a physical sense, using color. In a post-feminist reality, the book is an amusing throwback to a time when women sought to define and validate themselves primarily through beauty. These simplistic and vaguely patronizing ideas sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl today, but the meat of the book – the COLOR theory – holds up very well and deserves a second look.
Speaking as a costume designer, it would be very helpful to resurrect this color theory – it makes a good shorthand so that we could save time and shop for tones that complement the actor’s complexion. Every time I make that initial phone call to the actor, I ask, “What colors look good on you? What colors look bad on you?” Many people say, “No yellow! No orange!” but perhaps they haven’t found the right shade of yellow or orange yet. Color theory like Color Me Beautiful is very helpful in this regard.
The premise of the book is that there are four basic color groups. These color groups take skin tone, hair color and eye color into account, and most people fall into one of the four categories: winter, spring, summer or autumn.
The “winter” person usually has cool undertones to his/her skin, and the skin is either pale and translucent, or olive-toned (this applies to people of color as well). Eye color in a “winter” is typically black, blue, light grey, or light green. Contrast is the hallmark of a “winter”, and the associated color palette is rich with stark colors that really pop against a blue-undertone skin. Check out the “winter” palette from the book:
You can see that there is not much in the way of orange or warm, cozy tones. This palette is dramatic, with cool business neutrals and pops of blue-based color. I am not sure that I agree with the “icy” colors in this palette, but a bold, juicy color sure helps to enliven the complexion here. Check out Debi Mazar (great example of a “winter”) – see how beautiful and radiant she looks in these colors? Not many people can rock white and look this good.
The “spring” person has warm, peach, or freckly tones to his/her skin. Often referred to as “peaches and cream” complexion, the “spring” usually has light eyes: blue, grey or light green. The color palette here is meant to enhance those tones – you don’t see the “pop” or contrast like you see in a “winter”; it’s much more subtle. Here’s the “spring” palette:
A great celebrity example of a “spring” is Reese Witherspoon. With her light hair and eyes, and peachy complexion, she can wear a variety of fab colors including periwinkle and yellow – yes, yellow! I know that the wide variety of pinks must have been a blessing for the Legally Blonde series. They look fantastic on her.
“Summer” people have cool and muted skin tones. These are the ash brown hair, muted complexion types that tan easily. There is low contrast between hair color, skin tone and eye color, and these people look great in diluted colors as a result. Check out the color palette:
Vanessa Williams is the ultimate example of “summer” – look at how effortless these colors are on her complexion. A “summer” can wear these muted tones, even in the champagne/nude range, and never look washed out. Conversely, such a person might be overwhelmed by bright primary colors, as they don’t enhance the subtle harmony of the skin/hair/eye combination like the softer tones do.
An “autumn” has warm tones to his/her skin, and has warm honey tones – or auburn – in their hair. They usually have darker eyes: brown, dark grey, or hazel, and they look great in gold jewelry (as opposed to silver or platinum coloration). Take a look at this palette and note the difference to all the other palettes above:
My pick for quintessential “autumn” is Jessica Alba. She looks great in this saturated palette, and can you see how it makes her skin glow? Look at the richness of the gold jewelry on her skin tone. I can’t even picture her wearing silver when gold looks this good.
I recommend Color Me Beautiful, and it is still available on Amazon. Just read it with a grain of salt, regarding the language and insinuation about women. There is also the book Women of Color by Darlene Mathis, (with a foreword written by Color Me Beautiful author Carole Jackson) which seeks to remedy some of the missing complexion and complement information in Color Me Beautiful for people who don’t neatly fit into one category. I actually think that Women of Color is the better of the two books, because it addresses people as more than just color profiles. Check it out and tell me what you think!
When my friend Natalie’s mom did my color assessment way back when, I was a “summer”. After a few hair color changes and rosacea, I am probably an “autumn” now, but I’ll have to consult to the book to be sure.
Have a great weekend, everyone!