Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Color Me This

"Before I had my colors, I spent five years trying to buy a wool pantsuit."
--Carole Jackson, Color Me Beautiful (1984)

Most colors look odd on me. I'm happiest in dark neutrals: black, chocolate, navy, or in white. Over time I've learned that the two most flattering colors on me are deep purple and bright turquoise, colors I am not naturally inclined towards. There's always been a certain type of woman who wears a lot of purple. Perhaps she's deeply into astrology and batik. She wears what I like to call coffee-table jewelry: over-sized, colorful, heavy. But so be it. Purple, I thought, is best used sparingly. I slowly acquired a handful of purple items, and the color grew on me.

And now this. Purple has become The It Color. I hate wearing The It Color, but more than that I hate, hate when something I consider a signature becomes a trend. My sister and I have huge, matching red wool ponchos that we both adore and plan to wear for the rest of our lives. They are very Little Red Riding Hood, and not for wearing often, but perfect in the country or for the movies (like a big cozy blanket). They are also good for a few select days in the city each year with boots. Late in October, one of us calls the other one and announces (in a fake Scottish accent, but that's another story) It's time!
We were very disgruntled a few years ago when poncho-mania hit. Do you remember? Every second girl on the street wore a shaggy crocheted throw. I put mine in storage. When something is an It item for a season or two, it leaves a bad aftertaste for another couple years. Instead of looking like a unique or daring choice, it just looks dated.
So what to do about the purple? I still hold that it is not a color that should ever be done head-to-toe. But I'm not going to be able to give up my lavender glass ring.


When I was a child, my best friend and I poured over Color Me Beautiful like it was a religious text. Her mother was a Mary Kay lady and had redone her basement into a venue for hosting makeover parties. We spent about 90% of our free time meddling in the cosmetics, and asking each other questions prescribed by Carole Jackson such as:

Am I really terrific in ivory, camel and golden browns (Spring) or am I better in navy, pure white, and dark colors (Winter)?

We thought I was probably a spring, but inside I suspected that I was the dreaded Autumn, doomed to wear the shades of forest and rust seldom admired in my fourth grade classroom.

As a courtesy to me, and to Carole Jackson, please ignore that in the above photo, the seasonal models seem to be wearing the same colors, with adjusted lighting. Just believe.

I bought I copy of Color Me Beautiful on E-bay a few years ago when I was doing research for my book. On the second of January that year, I went to meet a friend for coffee and leafed through my newly received book while I waited. She found me there, in public, with my hair in two ponytails, wearing an old waffle-knit top and no makeup, reading Color Me Beautiful. She pointed out that since the year had just begun I looked like I was fulfilling a New Year's resolution to find my colors and make myself over. Just research, I tell you. This started a game that we play every time we are in a bookstore together called The Most Embarrassing Book to Read on the Subway. For example.

But finding ones colors is no laughing matter. Carole Jackson's childhood was rendered Dickensian by the wrong pastel:

While the powder blue uniform required at my school made some of the girls look great, it did nothing for me. It in fact made me look gray, dull, and lifeless. The color of that daily uniform robbed me of some potentially good feelings about myself well into adult life.

Back in my childhood, I remember listening intently to a conversation between a couple of the Mary Kay ladies. One of their own had become confused and was teaching customers to wear colors that contrasted with their natural coloring, rather than enhance it. She must be stopped, was the consensus, but how to approach it with tact?

Her mistake does not surprise me. The system is baffling and I do not fit one clean type. Apparently Carole Jackson has become somewhat more open-minded with her approach. Turns out she and the Color Me Beautiful System are still going strong, and the four seasonal types have been expanded and divided with with helpful subtypes such as Soft and Clear. There is also a line of cosmetics.

Perhaps after I invite the ladies over for that Bible Beauty party, we should have our colors done. Who's with me?

Anyone?