Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Playing with Color

I don't know about you, but early on my mother drilled into me certain rules about color. For instance, with a blue dress, wear blue or black shoes, or redheads can't wear red. Later, when she'd swallowed the "Color Me Beautiful" kool aid, she branded me an "autumn" and told me I needed to stick to orange, rust, green, and mustard.

In college, I learned black was cool, and wearing exuberant colors and prints was the sign of a rube. I purged my wardrobe of unsophisticated pastels. When I entered the working world with a plum job with the federal General Accounting Office (this is for real), I carefully constructed a wardrobe centered around navy blue, ivory, and camel for maximum practicality and professionalism. My accessories were gold tone. My pantyhose were Travel Buff. My personal style was nil.

This, my friends, was then. Now, I'm a free woman These days I mix plaids and florals with confidence and am never afraid to pin on some acid green rhinestones or tie a red scarf around my neck. I feel better, and I know I look better. All it took was a little playing with color. Here are a few of my discoveries:

Bend the "Seasons" Theory: I'm not going to tell you the whole "Color Me Beautiful" thing is a washout, because it's not. Certain people look best in certain colors, and that's a fact. But, if you think, for instance, that you look better in "warm" colors, like gold, and so had better not wear "cool" colors, like "blue", think again. Nothing wakes up a warm color better than a splash of a blue color.

For example, say you look good in gold. Imagine wearing a pale straw color, wool 1960s sheath dress. Now top it with a blue velvet bolero. Genius! You just created a tension that brings the whole outfit alive. Or, say you're wearing a chocolate brown (in other words, a "warm") cashmere sweater and matching brown pencil skirt. Add a bright red rhinestone brooch, and both items snap to attention. Sure, you could have added a gold brooch instead, and that would have been fine. But it would not have been as chic as the red rhinestone number. Every artist knows the trick of complementary colors.

Toss the old shoe color rules out the window: For some reason, there seem to be more rules about shoe colors than anything else. Well, forget about them. Let's think about a gorgeous 1940s navy blue suit. You might think you need a pair of navy blue shoes to go with it. That would work all right. Black shoes would be fine, too, if a little military. But imagine that blue suit with luggage brown shoes. Nice!

Most people think a black dress or skirt calls for black shoes. Not so! Try taupe shoes with a black dress. Very fresh, and your legs go on forever. If you're wearing all black, definitely wear a shoe with color. Say, satin green or mustard yellow. Also, when in doubt, wear gold shoes. Or maybe silver. If you feel they're too dressy, pair them with colored tights. It pays to have a pair of gold closed-toe sandals in your closet. You'll wear the heck out of them, I promise.

Forget about white shoes all together unless you're a five year old or a nurse. It's very hard to pull off a white pump. Face it, even brides should throw in the towel on that one.

Balance dull with bright: If you, like most of us, find yourself wearing a lot of black, brown, and other dull, neutral colors, toss in some bright. I understand that it's practical to buy a black or grey coat. Well, then, get yourself some lime green or pink gloves, preferably long ones to wear with bracelet sleeves. If you have stacks of neutral turtlenecks or Levis and white shirts or khaki anything, find some turquoise scarves, vivid red nail polish, or a canary yellow purse to wear with them. You love sky blue? Wear sky blue over-the-knee stockings with your black 1960s suit and Mary Janes. Add a dab of map green eyeliner and pink lipstick.

Vintage colors are hard to beat: Vintage clothing has some of the most remarkable colors, from the palest celery green to a true, lush puce, to every shade of red from cherry to scarlet.  The colors on vintage clothes turn heads, because people aren't used to seeing them in the sea of black, khaki, spruce green (only because we're in the Northwest), and chambray that floods the streets. I'm addicted to a special shade of peacock blue I've only seen on mid-century cashmere sweaters. The colors of vintage clothing are astounding. Wear them for some real style.


  1. I know how hard it is when you know your colors. I was told that I was a summer/autumn. I wore autumn's colors for a really long time. I had red hair, and when the white hairs started to come in, I desided not to dye my hair. I wear the cooler colors in summer's palette, instead of the oranges, golds, greens and browns of autumn. I found that my main neutral is gray, and it suits me,...for now. I like silver jewelry, and collected a lot of it. I had also color analysised my daughter, and husband. and they still do not know what a color palette is, or what color works for them. Now I don't care what color I wear. I do love to wear black though, and will when my hair is completely white!

  2. It's so true that the natural changes hair color goes through change what looks best on you! I'm a redhead, too, yet I always like a certain shade of pearl gray, even though I shouldn't be able to wear it.

    It sounds like you really know what suits you.