Book Club, 3rd ed: Color Me Beautiful

Let’s get one thing out of the way, I would normally spell color the Canadian way (colour!) and I will, except when referring to the title of this book and its philosophy: Color Me Beautiful.

Carole Jackson. Color Me Beautiful. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981.

Carole Jackson. Color Me Beautiful. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981.

Back in the bad old days, specifically the 1980s, women would go get their “colours done”. In those days, Color Me Beautiful was an empire. Today, not so much. In fact, I was surprised to see that they still exist. But even though we don’t hear about Color Me Beautiful very much, its influence still lingers!

When I started working at a cosmetics counter in 2000 , I was very thankful to have had a makeup teacher that went over the “seasons” in her classes. Many women would walk right up and say things like “I have to wear pink lipstick; I’m a Summer”. And too often I would have to bite my tongue not to blurt out “but you’re not even a Summer, you’re a Spring!”. You can’t just go around telling people what they’ve believed for the last 15 years is wrong.

The basic philosophy of Color Me Beautiful was that everyone could be assigned a season based on their natural hair and skin tone. Once your season had been determined, you would learn the 30 colours to wear that suited you best. Essentially, someone with yellow or gold undertones to their skin (a classic example is a freckled redhead) would be a spring if they had light hair, or an autumn if they had dark hair. I’m an autumn. Someone with pink or blue undertones to their skin (like a blue-eyed blond, or a very dark skinned black person), would be a summer is she had light hair, or a winter if she had dark hair.

The 4 seasons

From left to right: Winter, Summer, Autumn, Spring

Now, setting aside the fact that many Color Me Beautiful employees made mistakes (it’s indisputable, I’ve seen it with my own eyes… Autumns thinking they’re Winters, Winters thinking they’re Summers, oh the horror!) – Is this even a useful system? The answer: it’s somewhat useful for some people. And those people are white. Anyone of colour should just ignore it completely. Here’s a quote from the book:

Most olive-skinned people, blacks, and Orientals are Winters, although a few are Autumns. Olive and Oriental skins can be confusing because they appear golden, as do the skins of some light blacks. But golden colors will make them appear sallow, while the cool Winter colors bring them to life. (Page 46)

Beyoncé looking amazing in an Autumn colour

Beyoncé looking amazing in an Autumn colour

So, got that all you blacks and “Orientals”? Just pick Winter and be done with it. This is so wrong! Who among us will tell Beyoncé she doesn’t look good in orange, WHO?! Not me, Beyoncé looks amazing in orange. And in pink. And in yellow. And in gold. Dammit, Beyoncé probably looks good in a potato sack… yet I’m thinking potato sack isn’t her best colour. Which leads us to Brenda’s theory of colour — Let’s call it “Colour Me Intense”.

See, the bolder the features, the more colours a person can wear. A good example might be Bollywood film actresses. Most have medium to light brown skin, most have black hair, and most have bold features such as large eyes and full lips. These ladies wear a ton of makeup, I mean just a serious amount of eyeliner, eye shadows, lipstick, blush, and sometimes added decoration like bindis, without looking overdone. And what do they normally wear? Bright colours. Or intense colours like black, white, and metallics. I’ve never seen a kaki or a camel sari; I’m guessing those colours would wash out the complexion (and they definitely make olive skinned people look green!). In fact, the only colours brown skinned people have to be wary of are colours too close to their own skin colour, such as browns, beiges and kakis. A dark chocolate brown might look good, whereas as lighter yellow-browns could make the skin look sallow.

What I’m saying is that what colours people should wear doesn’t only depend on skin’s undertones. People’s features also matter; the bolder and more high-contrast the features, the more variety of colours a person can wear.

Indian bride wearing gold beautifully

Indian bride wearing gold beautifully

So white people and very dark skinned black people, listen up. You have to be a little careful. If your features don’t stand out very much from your face (example: light eyes, light eyelashes, light skin), then follow the Color Me Beautiful guidelines and stay away from colours that will overpower you. You have light peachy skin, small green eyes, and strawberry blond hair and you want to wear bright orange? You might get away with it if you take care to add lots of definition to your features with makeup but, otherwise, the orange will swallow your face. If your skin is blue-black and you’re wearing bright yellow… well, it’s a statement, but don’t expect anyone to notice your pretty eyes. All they’ll be seeing is yellow!

On the other hand, if, like me, your features are fairly bold and there’s a high contrast between your skin and hair, then you can be someone who wears bold colours from seasons other than your own from time to time. And stay away from the more subdued colours, they aren’t the best.

Have you ever had your colours done? How was the experience?


  1. This sounds interesting. It may be bad what I do, but I can’t help it—I like variety! I have every kind of color in my drawers for tops and bottoms and I put on any type of color for eyes and lips because I like all kinds of colors. My face has to match my outfits and jewelry. My skin is pale, while my hair is mousy brown with bronze highlights. However, I usually wear makeup so that I don’t look too pale, so that might be the answer. At this point, I don’t know what color looks good on me since I have everything. Is that wrong?

  2. Thanks, Brenda! I feel better now 🙂

  3. LibrarianJen says:

    I had my colours “done” when I was 12 or 13, mostly because I’d always loved my mother’s little book of fabric swatches and I wanted one of my own. I can’t remember now if I got one; if I did, I haven’t seen it in years and I have no memory of what season I got, except that I disagreed with it! So it never made much of an impact on my colour choices. I will always be drawn to reds and burgundys and pinks, and if that’s wrong then I don’t want to be right 😉

    • Ha! Well, you’re definitely a spring… But those swatches weren’t made up of the most modern colours. By the time you got your colours done, they would’ve been quite outdated.

  4. overheard at the Bay (correction “Hudson’s Bay”) last Saturday:
    “Hey, this is pretty – would be great on you’
    and the reply “It’s a great dress – but I can’t wear that colour I’m a Winter”
    Maybe I should get my colours done!!

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