Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back to Basics: Revisiting Finding Your Best Colors

Hey y'all, I'm back from our safari trip to Africa and enjoying catching up on your blogs.  I've put 150 trip pix on my Facebook page, so if any of you are on FB and would like to be my FB friend to look at pix (among other fine reasons :-)), please e-mail me at jcauncmom@gmail.com!  Sneak peek:

The Mosela-sela Pride
18 lionesses and juveniles, Madikwe Game Reserve, May 2010

On to today's topic which has jolted me out of my post-vacation lurking laziness.  Hope y'all will find this interesting and fun!

One of my new favorite bloggers, Sue from ReBloomer, has a really thought-provoking post today called Are You In a Color Rut?  If I can paraphrase her, she's feeling pulled and tugged and a bit confused by the "colors du jour" in the fashion industry and especially by the invitingly-named colors at J. Crew. 

We all want to look "fresh" and at least current, if not trendy or faddish.  But we also want to look our best, right?  So with the rag trade in general and our favorite "What recession??" retailer in particular trying to tell us what colors are fashionable, what colors should we all be buying?
Big ol' thanks to Sue for bringing this up, because this issue hits a bulls-eye with me.

Back in the day when I sold expensive clothes, my clients would walk into our showroom and be knocked flat by the display.  We had 600-ish new pieces every season, and we arranged them beautifully, so it was just too much to take in, like some lavish buffet when you're hungry.  Our clients didn't know where to start, and my job was to help them instantly screen out the things that weren't even going to be worth a look for them.  We'd start by identifying pieces that weren't going to be flattering in proportion, shape or pattern.

Then we'd screen out the "wrong" colors, and of course to do that we had to zero in on the RIGHT colors.  For new clients, here's how I'd help them do that.

(1) Find the color palettes that work on you the best.  You'll have a primary and a secondary.  Despite the fact that it was a worked-to-death concept fifteen years ago, the whole "seasonal colors" idea really is legitimate.  There are four basic color palettes, and the "seasonal" labels of Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer work just fine for identifying them.  Everyone has one primary palette, and a companion/secondary season (Fall with Spring, Winter with Summer) that will also look good, just not quite AS good.

(2) Stick MOSTLY with your primary and secondary color palette when shopping, and this will build the most mix & match into your closet.

(3) Use colors outside your primary/secondary palettes ONLY for accessories or for a splash of color but keep those "outsider" colors away from your face!

There are several ways to go about figuring out which ones are your primary and secondary palettes, but I have always had great success using this simple method.

All you need to do is figure out is whether you have warm, yellow or peach undertones to your skin or cool, pink or blue undertones to your skin.  Everyone has one or the other, even people who are quite pale or quite dark.  And the only tools you need to determine which one you have are these:  A sheet of white computer paper and your own forearm -- UNTANNED, please!

Go someplace where there is strong, natural light. Now flip your arm over so that your palm is facing upwards, and lay your arm onto the white paper. Look closely at your forearm and compare your skin to the paper. Do you see yellow or peach? Do you see pink or blue, or even violet? If you're not sure, ask one or two other people to look and tell you what they see.

Once you know whether you're yellow-peach-warm or pink-blue-violet-cool, identifying your color palettes become really easy.

Warm, peachy-yellow undertones to your skin equals Fall and Spring color palettes. They're all colors that look like they've had a bit of yellow added to them. So you're talking about a buttery yellow (versus a lemon yellow, which is Winter/Summer), a yellow-y, watermelon-y coral (versus a pinky coral), an orange-y red (versus a blue-red), a yellow-y eggplant purple (versus a cool blueberry-pie purple) etc. Fall colors (which include all of the October leaf season landscape colors) are stronger than Spring colors; you might say that Spring colors are Fall colors with a bit of baby powder added to soften them up.

Choosing which of these two palettes is your "primary" is subjective, and it will depend upon how strongly colored and dark your hair and eyes are, and how pale your skin is.  Your primary and secondary can change from time to time, too, if you're prone (like me) to experimenting with your hair.  Just to give you an example, I'm a natural auburn brunette with hazel eyes and naturally pale, freckly, definitely yellow-undertoned Irish skin. So the best colors in my closet are the ones in the Fall/Spring palettes. When I'm wearing my hair darker, I can carry off the Fall colors beautifully -- warm olive green, strong honey-glaze yellow, true orange, warm chocolate brown, blazing autumn red. But if I've blonded up my hair quite a bit (as I periodically do), then the Fall colors are too much -- they overwhelm my face and I look better in the Spring palette. Say, a peachy coral instead of a strong orange. As my "blonder self" I can still wear my Fall colors, but I need to keep them away from my face.

By contrast, if you have cool pink-blue-violet undertones to your skin, you're going to look better in the Winter-Summer palettes. The Winter colors are clear, strong and cool. Think gem-stone colors, like a blue-red the color of rubies (or American Beauty roses), or the icy royal blue of a sapphire. 

And again, the Summer palette is the Winter color family with baby powder added to kind of "pastel" them out. If these are your two palettes, then, again, whether your "primary" is Winter or Summer will depend on the strength of your coloring.

Oh, and one other related thing. Fall/Spring gals generally look better in gold-toned jewelry (warmer). Winter/Summer gals look better in silver-toned jewelry (cooler).
The real beauty of finding your primary and secondary color palettes is discovering that you can wear some version of almost literally every color. If you've been told that you can't wear yellow, hogwash.  Everyone has a yellow that she can wear -- the trick is just figuring out whether that's lemony or buttery.  Every gal has a red -- some orange-red, some blue-red.  Every woman can wear some version of blue. 

You see this isn't rocket science, right?  And the simple truth is that when I practice what I preach and stick to those Fall/Spring colors, I look better with far less effort.  Period.  But here's the wrinkle.  I like many colors that I don't wear well at all, and lately I've been way too lazy about practicing what I preach about colors and I've made way too many purchasing mistakes.  Why?  Because I've been letting myself get wowed and wooed by the way items are styled in the J. Crew catalog.  And I'll confess that I've been even more influenced by the way things look on other JCA's.

As dumb as this seems when I write it down and think about it, the fact is that when I see a wonderful outfit in colors that I like on someone with a build similar to mine, I think "Oh wow, I could definitely wear that!"  I get all excited (especially if there's a sale going on) and I ignore the important "Yeah, but can I really wear those colors??" part of the equation and I order the outfit without trying it on.  And I end up taking at least some of the outfit back to my B&M because the colors don't do a thing for me, even if the garment shape works just fine on my body shape.

If I had a nickel and a gallon of gas for every time I've returned something because the colors looked somewhere between "Meh" and "Yeegads" on me, I'd have enough gas to drive to New York and enough money to -- well, treat my son the MTV Intern to lunch in Manhattan.


  1. Great post! Ok, so now I'm TOTALLY obsessed with this color palette concept. I did the white paper trick, but honestly I think I must have both tones in my skin because neither shows up more dominant. I read somewhere that you can try holding up a silver and a gold paper next to your face and see which one looks right...I'll try right after I manage to locate some silver and gold paper...I think this knowledge is great for us J. Crew lovers because their colors are so diverse and sophisticated, most shoppers haven't had much prior experience wearing them so it's hard to choose wisely. I just keep coming back to the fact that when a color works, you will know it instantly. I plan to force myself to try lots of them on. Thanks for the great exchange of ideas!

  2. JCAUNCMom to the rescue! I do remember the book about the seasonal colors many years ago and I can't remember what season I am so I am excited to find mine and daughter's colors. She seems to be all over the place with her shopping (without me!) getting stuff that doesn't coordinate with anything..she's just a mess. ;)

  3. I never attended one of those parties my friends were going to where a hostess figured out your seasons for you....thanks for sharing how to do it. I've been told "You are a Spring" or "You must be a "Summer" but now I will check it out for myself!

    THANK YOU for posting this! I love reBloomer's blog too! but yours came first in my google reader, haha.

    How do I email you to facebook friend you? I am quite envious of the safari and am dying to see the pics! Thanks!

  4. Suzy, so sorry -- e-mail me at jcauncmom@gmail.com!! Lovely to hear from you here, pretty girl!!! :-)

  5. I remember that book- its was Color Me Beautiful. It was all the rage, in the day. UNCMOM, I think we have exactly the same coloring, with the warm undertones. I read somewhere, in reference to haircolor, that the cooler brown tones look better on yellow/orange skin tone- do you find that's the case, too? Also, one trick is to look at the color of your veins on the inside of your wrist: if they are green, you are yellow/orange, blue then you are pink/blue.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Carol, you're exactly right about the veins in your arm trick -- and I'd forgotten that! You should see mine -- they're Atlantic Ocean green!! :-)

    Re: the hair color -- I had read that, too. So I was interested when last winter my hairdresser suggested that I darken my hair to a fairly cool dark brown. I agreed with some nervousness, but it really looked pretty and I liked it a lot -- at first. After a couple of weeks I started feeling that it made me look tired. Next time I went for color, my hairdresser said he believed he agreed with me, so he added some warmth to the brown as well as some dark caramel highlights, and we both felt that this looked more compatible with my skin tone. Since then I've made up with my former hairdresser (look back in mid-2009 for my post on breaking up with her ;-)) and she and I have taken my color even a smidge warmer for summertime. And I like it very much -- it's a rich chestnut brown now with subtle, thin, lighter caramel highlights.

  7. eek...I have the original "Color Me Beautiful" book... it was a gift, and I am very amused by colors and color theory. There is a line in it about how springs should never wear a pink as dark as fuchsia because it drains all the life out of them. Of course I like the color fuchsia, and it is really popular this year, so I am always wearing it and putting on an intervening scarf, to keep it from my face.

  8. Hey C! Thanks for visiting! The book is absolutely right about Spring/Fall girls and fuchsia -- we look like death warmed over, as my mom would have said. But don't think you can't wear a dark pink if you're a Spring/Fall. Try a really dark watermelon pink -- like J. Crew's "Bright Rhubarb" -- and you'll be shocked. It's BEAUTIFUL on a Spring/Fall because it's like fuchsia with some yellow added!!

  9. Fun post! And very educational (I always love it when you share your retail experience!!).

    I'll have to go back and re-check my colors. It's funny - I always thought I was a fall, but I get as many compliments when I'm wearing gray as when I'm wearing orange - but I'm thinking that I get the compliments when I wear J Crew's dark charcoal which actually is a warmer version of gray.

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