For the last two weeks I have been in Color Boot Camp; a challenge to myself and readers to really figure out what colors look best on us, and to shake us out of our neutral color zones. The plan was to wear a different color everyday and keep track of how we felt and how others reacted to us.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
For me, the first week went OK. As expected, blue was a hit, as were deep red and white. My favorite bright red plaid shirt scored zero comments. Not even from my husband. Whatever, I’m going to wear it anyway.
Olive was a mixed bag. I love this color, and wear it all the time. One jacket garnered a lot of positive reaction, while a dress seemed to make me look sallow.
By day 6, I was running out of colors. The challenge had resulted in a mini closet purge, as I pulled out a number of colorful items I hadn’t been wearing, and after 10 minutes walking around the house realized I was never going to wear. I began to long for my gray t-shirts. I got sick. I tried to keep up the challenge, but… I was sick and looked sick in anything I put on. I began to wonder why I’d come up with this dumb idea in the first place.
Then I had a hair appointment. The world is always better when I get a text reminding me there’s a trim coming up. I absolutely love how my hair goes from raggedy-frizzy to shiny-smooth in a magical two hours with Margaret Fairchild, the wizard of keratin and perfectly subtle layers.
“How’s your color challenge going?” she asked, draping me in a chocolate brown smock. I babbled everything to her I’ve just babbled to you about this hackneyed experiment. She listened thoughtfully, then said. “I bet blues worked really well,” she said. “And white?” Absolutely. How did she know this? “And maybe lavender, and gray, you look so beautiful in gray.*”
It turns out that Margaret used to be a professional color draper, back in the day. She has all the color swatches and everything.** Apparently, I’m a summer.
As Margaret worked her magic on my hair and explained this color theory to me, I went into hyper focus. I have never understood the Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter Color Me Beautiful concept, and while it has been expanded on greatly, it really is the only time-tested theory out there. I’ve read dozens of internet articles on the topic but never could figure out what season I was. Here was my chance to get it!
According to Margaret, summer and winter are people with cool undertones to their skin. Spring and fall are people with warm undertones. To figure out which one you are, just ask if you would look better in a silver silk blouse or a gold one. You may already gravitate towards the metal that works best on your skin.***
Autumn and winter then are people who have more contrast between their hair, eyes and skin. So my friend Julie and I both have cool undertones. She has dark hair and eyes, and delicate pale skin, making her a winter. I have lighter hair and eyes, and less contrast with my skin color. Julie can pull of bolder colors that play up that contrast, while I do better in lighter colors.****
So the reds and olives that look good on me have cool undertones, while the bright red of my favorite plaid shirt has just enough warmth in it to wash me out. This is why peach never, ever works on me. It explains why that gold-toned bridesmaid dress was such an abomination. It explains why painting my bathroom lavender made me look fantastic in the mirror.
Here are a few more basics I learned from Margaret.
Your season may change
While you will have a squarely cool or warm skin tone, the contrast between our skin and hair may change as you color your hair, tan or even age. I look better in white at the end of the summer, and deep red in February. That old rule about not wearing white after Labor Day may have been made up by a summer.
Most of us are probably doing a lot right already
Intuitively, you probably already discovered your best colors years ago. Julie has always worn a lot of black, red and gray. While she can expand on that, at the end of the day she looks really good in black, red and gray. All of the chambray shirts and dresses in my closet got there because they looked great on me in the dressing room. Your go-to colors will probably tell you a lot about your ideal color pallet.
It’s OK not to like your color pallet
Margaret (a spring) and I talked about a number of the “Easter egg” colors in our pallets that we don’t love. I’m drawn towards earth tones (they don’t show dirt) and can wear them as much as I like. I just need to consider the colors I wear next to the face. This is a great excuse to go buy a couple of cute pocket scarves.
As Margaret finished styling my hair we applied these ideas of cool/warm, high contrast/low contrast to people we knew. I enjoyed the old familiar pleasure of learning something that changes the way I view the world. Like when I finally grasped the effects of Bolivian silver mining on the economy of China during the Ming Dynasty, or the fact that butter was probably better for me than margarine. My color experiment pushed me out of my comfort zone, and put me in a place where I was open to Margaret’s understanding of color theory.
So I guess it was a good idea after all. Did you participate in Color Boot Camp? I’d love to hear how it went for you. Comment below or send a picture to firstname.lastname@example.org
* I love my hairdresser
** Anyone else feel like we should have a 1980s-themed party with wine coolers and color draping?
*** I don’t, I’ve always preferred gold, but a pretty gold ring on my finger isn’t going to wash out my entire completion.
**** This in no way is going to deter me from borrowing Julie’s clothes. We’re still the same size.