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A Vintage Color Analysis, For A Woman Of Style

My mother has Style. Very classic, but with a twist, and a clear sense of color. In fact, she had her colors, “done” back in 1980. This weekend she presented me with an historical artifact. Foxed and faded as old documents often are.

If I bring my mother to mind, there’s always peach in the vicinity. Although I can’t say I’ve ever seen her in peach lace, exactly.

Apparently, this color typing system, in which you are cast as a season, had been around even longer than I knew. And is that a Liberty print? Copyright, 1963.

However, choosing colors to wear is not just about which hues make you look good, it’s how much, how often, in what combinations. As Imogen is discussing this week, with her usual intelligence, over on Inside Out Style.

My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom, of the gracious generation. She decked her four out children in clean and matching clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue. Every day. Cooked like a foodie, when Alice Waters of Chez Panisse was in junior high. And dressed to complete an identity. To express herself.

Mom’s not afraid of color. She will go head to toe pale yellow. Or rose. When she wears black and white, she WEARS them. Black cashmere tunic with white stripes, silver and black beads at neck and wrist, black patent flats with a lucite toe ornament. Still dignified, even with all that sartorial detail.

I don’t dress like my mother. How many of us do? Maybe it’s because I spent most of my middle years in corporate America. Fighting like hell to prevail, against customers, peers, subordinates. Managing up and managing down. My clothing wasn’t self-expression, it was protective gear. Aqua makes a piss-poor weapon. See? Even the language changes when I put myself back into that world.

But just as likely my color-avoidance is due only in part to what we might lovingly call, “the suits.” I was protecting myself not only from the corporate environment, but also from my own senses. I am thin-skinned. Color startles me. Too much causes dangerous rapture, to the point where I shudder at the thought of vivid flowers out my back windows. But you know, you work with what you’re given all around. I am imagining a set of temperament swatches, one that we could carry to the office, or to our kids’ schools, a guide to put in our pockets to remind ourselves of our emotional makeup. Pale green chiffon for anxiety, navy satin for dignity, cream chenille for affectionate, orange burlap for irritable. Black velvet for the mysterious part we will never figure out.

41 Responses

  1. I find colour is so about attitude – I have a big personality so I can wear big colours…Bestie has a quiet personality and just cant pull off hot pink!

    Fortunately I turned out to be a Summer back when these colour parties were all the rage – the best colours are in the Summer group!

  2. *I* dress like my mother did at my age, without the hats (Mom had a serious thing for hats). I didn't realize it until a couple of years ago, when I saw my sister for the first time after moving to Ohio. She took one look at me and said, "Mom would have LOVED that outfit."

    That was my "OMG, I've turned into my mother" moment.

  3. I had my colors done once, and now I can't remember what I am. Summer, maybe? Anyhoo, love the description of your mother. Love to see women who can pull off bold colors and wear them with confidence. Because I work in corporate America as well, I gravitate toward earth tones. Plenty of black in my closet, although a touch of color will pop out every now and then. :)

  4. Great post. I find it fascinating how we express ourselves through color/fashion. I think I complete my identity in my outfit choices. I'm lucky enough to work in a field where flip flops are de rigeur (ugh), so I can dress as I please and it won't impede what people think of me professionally. Of course I would NEVER wear flip flops to work (the horror!), but it's still fun to have that freedom.

  5. Great Post. And I completely agree with what you said about how you dressed for the corporate world. I recall a very uncomfortable meeting years ago when 2 "Brutus" types in my department were attempting to have me dethroned. We all arrived at the meeting in black. I was humored by it. Oh, the outcome? I was department chair until I resigned one year prior to retirement so I could train the new leader! Ha! Guess I showed them. My black must've been more powerful! xoxo

  6. Hi LPC,

    I love the story about your mom. I loved that she dressed with so much enthusiasm. I think that is lacking today, don't you?

    I think we were each just born with a set of likes and dislikes. I have to live in a pale, pared down interior but love lots of color in my garden. I think we just gravitate towards what makes us feel good. We are who we are!


  7. Wonderful post.. I started to wear dashing colors after I quit banking. It as such a welcoming change..

  8. Your mother's swatches look like part of my closet. I have a section for the power suits, but the tops and casual jackets are definitely "spring" clolors. If I ever get my computer/camera issues fixed, I will send you a photo.

  9. My mother was the exact duplicate of Jackie O down to the hair, hats, and incredible lines of suiting. She was blessed with her very own seamstress- her mother, who had the unbelievable knack of looking at a picture, then whipping up the outfit, sans pattern or instruction. When vogue hit the stands, the very next day, my mother would hit the pavement in the latest- pretty fashion forward for little Cookeville, TN.
    This obsession led her to open a 5600 sq. ft. fabric store, and proceed to arrange it into a cornucopia of lushness unparalleled by even nature itself.
    Yes, I got it from her. And, yes, she is amazing.
    Love your post- I am a proud winter.

  10. I loved seeing those color swatches and the accompanying advice. I had my color done in the mid-80's and at the time was a "spring." I remember having a top with some peach lace not unlike that in your mother's swatches. She sounds like a very stylish woman!

    I'm with you on the workplace neutrals. I've always felt more authoritative in dark neutrals, even when our dress codes relaxed this past decade. Gloria Allred's red suits aside, there's an armorlike quality to neutral colors, a lack of emotion.

  11. Oh I love the stories of everyone's mothers…and the corporate workplaces, for that matter. Send photos:).

  12. This post brought back a few laughs as this "spring" and "summer" girl couldn't stop laughing that I was both? How accurate could it be if you are two of the seasons? Your mother sounds fabulous.

  13. Dear LPC, I feel somehow "adressed" with you posting, after commenting on color-coaching and so earlier. I reactivated my color-sample-booklet again and it is worth it. I love your mothers sample-sheet. Really nicely arranged, all sorts of textures and textiles. A memorable souvenir.

  14. The sample-sheet (?) needs to be framed. It is too pretty to be kept in a drawer. A great post again: )

  15. Your mother sounds so confidently stylish. My MIL also had her colours done and had a set of swatches in a checkbook-like folder that she carried with her almost always, just in case . . . I was once told I was a summer, and operated on that basis which seemed to work for a long while, but recently have been gravitating towards warmer colours which now seem to work. Not sure what that's about beyond aging, but perhaps I was only a summer by wish all those years.

  16. "Temperament palette": I once learned from a goddess GF the art of deliberately hardening and softening. My corporate drag was hard: gabardine and fine wool, a bit of dense tweed, double knits. The off-work (or nearly-saying-goodbye to corporate life) me is lofty cashmere, plush velvet, lush jamavar shawls. SO it is colour but also so much about texture. A drift of mohair coat in navy is another planet from a navy gab coat.

  17. My mother is a corporate leader, as well. According to my untrained eyes, she appears as a fall: lots of warm, golden, or murky hues really bring her warmth. However, her color personality has always been winter – quite the opposite. I remember she liked a shocking pink lipstick for probably 10 years, and some pink now and then, but has now dropped all that. Black has been her favorite color throughout the times, and I guess it has to do with feeling powerful and radiating competence in a workplace environment. She is very stylish, but I honestly would like to see more of the warmer tones on her. Guess it's just her color personality or temperament, as you called it. Interesting, since color stylists usually say that we often intuitively feel good in those colors that suit us best.

  18. My mother, my sisters, and myself are all winters. Generally, I only wore navy, black, and the daring brown(!) in my early litigating years. Now, I am the person wearing the egg yolk wool blazer from Boden, the only splash of color in the courtroom.

  19. I remember my mother having her colors done, and her offering to have mine done as well. At the time, I was in school–about to become a "serious" journalist. I am sure I was insultingly smug about doing anything so trivial as having my colors done. Nevertheless, I sneaked a look at her portfolio and deduced that I, too, would be a "winter," which meant–hooray–black. Turned out serious journalism and true love aren't that compatible, so I went with love– and public relations, and "winter" worked. Now, of course, I'm coloring my hair and beginning to enjoy more color and warmer tones.

  20. I LOVE this post. Any mention of black velvet and pale green chiffon in the same paragraph makes me happy.

    I want to meet your mother please send her out on the next plane over. You should come too.

    Meanwhile I do not dress at all like my Mum. She has a white grey bob wears no makeup or jewellery lives in the country and favours neutrals, whereas I have a dyed blonde 'do and favour all colours and patterns and wear my body weight in jewels.

    Mr FF's mother once did a Colour Me Beautiful Course in about 1981 which she rigidly sticks to and I feel it restricts her clothing and fashion choices. She misses out on a lot of stuff that would look nice because of her "colours". And she says that Mr FF shouldn't wear green which is completely and utterly bogus because it suits him.

    Love the blog as always.

  21. OMG. Yes, my mother also got color-typed in the 80s and still has her little swatch book. And she still likes to remind me that I, too, am an AUTUMN.

  22. Maybe I like color so much because I had to wear that stupid white nursing uniform so many years. With minimal makeup and a ponytail.
    I remember being told I was an autumn. Now, I wear what I like that makes me happy.

  23. I have no idea what my "colors" are but I love them! I love to wear them and I love my home to wear them! Not to say I don't love black or white…

  24. get ready to laugh- I've been color analysized. spring. MoMo somehow was a winter AND spring. they broke the mold when they made her! you're right about it being generational- even though MoMo is a teacher, she could outfit Morticia Adams with all of the black in her wardrobe. navy if she is feeling spunky!



  25. You mother sounds fabulous. Classic with a twist = good taste with some pizzazz. I'm sure we would all like to see pictures of your stylish mum. (If she is shy, faces can be covered.)

    I am intrigued by her pretty swatch book which is labeled "early" spring. When I received mine, the color analyst marked which of the "winter" colors were the best for me. Same thing, perhaps.

    I had my colors "done" in the 80's but still have the swatch book safely tucked away in a dresser drawer. Last summer I bought a pale yellow blouse that looked very good on me. I was shocked since "winters" don't do yellow. I pulled out my swatch book and sure enough "ice yellow" was selected as one of my best colors!?

  26. Do you know who did her colours? Colour analysis has been around for a long time – Suzanne Caygill was a master way back in the 40s I think she used to have something like 64 groups which she'd work with.

    It was Gerrie Pinkney who trained with Suzanne Caygill who 'dumbed down' colour to 4 seasons and wrote Colour Me a Season in 1978, and the authors (names escape me at this moment) of Colour Me Beautiful trained with Gerrie Pinkney.

    To me, your mother's swatch looks pretty close to what I now call my Intriguing palette.

  27. Oh, and your colours change through your life, you don't have the same colouring at 20 as you did at 5, and you don't have the same at 50 as you did at 20. So it's worth reassessing the colours that suit you every 10 or so years.

    Also, we are not supposed to stick to that swatch of colours = that swatch is a tool of a limited number of colours to help you find the million colours out there that you can wear successfully, it's a guide not an absolute.

  28. Hi LPC, I am back…
    I love posts about your mother.

    I had colours done too, although much more informally and I can't remember what I am either. My favorite things are either black and grey or lots and lots of color. One extreme or the other. I have no idea why. Maybe I am a drout and a blizzard.

  29. Color Me Beautiful and a winter. I think the last time I ever had orange, peach or gold to my face was during the draping experimentation. :) xoxo

  30. My colors are blush and bashful. Actually, because I am both a cool and warm person in terms of skin tone, I can swing both ways, so my colors are navy blue, turquoise, reds, oranges, pinks. I have JUST recently discovered purple. The Preppy Handbook, ca. 1980 admonishes against it, but I discovered that I look wonderful in it. Also, I have found that yellow makes me happy.

    Great post. You are completely right about I would love to see pictures of your mother dressed. She sounds like a gem.

  31. Eeks… meant to say "You are completely right about corporate armor" before "I would love to see…"

  32. Love this post. Having my colors done way back when really did help me begin to think I could, just maybe, be pretty. My colors were done by a Color1 specialist. The term used to identify my coloring was Light/Bright. Color1 went beyond the seasonal lables and delt with the amount of contrast one should incorporate into their look. For me, a Spring ~ Light/Bright, that meant that with my Clear Bright colors I needed to add a clear light pastel version of the color or an ivory, white or cream color. When I figured out that it was all about the Light/Bright Contrast the Spring colors really worked for me.
    This coloring has a hard time dressing to fit into the corporate world. Think, Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blond;)

  33. Another classic post, perhaps because we remember TQM's announcement that she was a "winter" after she had her colors done. What we remember more clearly though are specific outfits as opposed to palettes, she loved color, and still does.

    The corporate armor comment couldn't be any more on the money, of course the apparel and makeup were weapons and protection devices, not having those in the arsenal is a very scary thought. I didn't think my brains or experience were enough, so the clothing had to compensate for my imagined shortcomings.

    Love this one!

  34. Anna, your mom sounds very, very senior. Lovelybird, we moms are always looking for our daughters to resemble us, no? Loretta, yellow Boden in the courtroom. Go you. Barbour, I love that, your colors are blush and bashful. Audi – yes, hmm, cement. Mrs. G, very tough to put on armor in those colors. Princess, I know you know whereof you speak. Clearly your experience has been enough.

  35. My sister Camilla (also known as "Sister") went through a colors madness in the early 1980s, where all were classified as one of the four seasons. She became a self-styled expert at assigning such designations, and generously "did" the colors for each of her three siblings, Reggie included. Turns out I am an Autumn, and should wear nothing but earthy, autumnal colors — mossy greens, goldenrod, oranges, browns, and stone. Not exactly in the preppy pantheon of navy, white, gray, and red. But then I suppose there is always the tyrolean uniform of loden jackets, lederhosen, and hats with pheasant feathers to consider…

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