Color Theory

Carole Jackson is my hero. She wrote Color Me Beautiful

Had I been born a decade earlier, odds are I’d have bounded into the 80s as a spry 20-something yuppie with color swatches tucked safely under my right elbow. I’d have been ready at a moment’s notice to whip out the swatches and illuminate women to their correct seasonal palette.



In case you don’t know, Color Me Beautiful is the most successful of all color typing books. First published in 1980, Color Me Beautiful is to color analysis what The Godfather is to mobster movies. All subsequent books advising women of their best colors owe their existence to Ms. Jackson’s four seasonal palettes. Depending on the combination of your hair and eye colors and your skin tone, you are either a Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall. The colors that make up your seasonal palette are the colors that look best on you.

Modern fashion advisors (Stacy and Clinton) try to buck the system and deviate from Ms. Jackson’s palettes. They say you can wear any color you want as long as you choose the right shade. This is America; you can wear any color you want. Some colors that aren’t in your seasonal palette may even look good on you. But you and I and Ms. Jackson aren’t interested in good; we want best.

We want to wear the colors that look best on us.

As Paula Reed writes in Style Clinic, “Find out what colors light up your face, bring out the color of your eyes, and flatter your hair and wear them—all the time.” Touché!

Ollie Jean Owen

Ollie Jean Owen

Ms. Jackson and I have been together now for years. My mom picked up a first edition Color Me Beautiful book at a garage sale. Mom was a Bargainista before Bargainistas were cool, but that is another post. Prior to my mom, the book belonged to Ollie Jean Owen. I know this because Ollie signed the inside cover. I wonder if she read the book. Maybe color theory didn’t stick with her or she thought she’d mastered it. For whatever reason, Ollie’s copy landed in the garage sale pile. Little did she know she sold a diamond for a dollar that day. If she’s still around, I hope she’s wearing her palette.

Mom color analyzed me, a teenager, as soon as she acquired the book. I was and still am a Winter. Mine is the only palette that includes pure black and white. Orange is dead to me. My yellow is lemon. My browns are limited to chocolate so dark it looks black (also my favorite flavor at Baskin-Robbins).

Although I’ve known for close to three decades what colors I’m supposed to wear, staying within my palette has been a process. Four short years ago my closet was an overflowing mess. Nothing to Wear? by Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo initiated the detox. It remains my favorite closet purging book. It’s So You! by Mary Sheehan Warren was a godsend, as was I Don’t Have a Thing to Wear by Julie Taggart and Jackie Walker.

paint swatches

pick your palette

Sheehan Warren offered an updated color chart based on Ms. Jackson’s palettes. So did Garza and Lupo in their 2008 book Life in Color. But you know there ain’t nothing like the real thing.

For wardrobe color correction, I returned to Ms. Jackson’s pages.

Today I love and wear every item in my closet, and every one is in my palette. Well, almost every one. I keep a favorite mistake, purchased on a shopping trip to Chicago with my BFF. She’s a Spring. The blouse spoke to me from the rack with its vibrant reddish-orange, stained-glass design. I HAD to have it. So while my fair-faced friend bought two black dresses meant for a Winter like me, I bought a shirt that should be worn by a Spring like her.

With the exception of that blouse, the rest of my closet sings of navy, true red, fuchsia, blue, indigo, emerald, black, and white. It’s been a good year for jewel tones. Ms. Jackson would be proud, and so would my mom.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet. Proverbs 31:21 NIV

My Yellow is also Coldplay with their strange, mesmerizing song.

What’s your best color to wear?
What’s your favorite mistake?

This post marks our 300th. Thank you for reading!


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22 Responses to Color Theory

  1. I’m a deep autumn, borderline winter. I can wear black well, but I’m best in a true red. I’m drawn to olive greens. I love pink, but I just can’t wear it. . .to occasional fuchsia. I read Color Me Beautiful in my short stint as a Mary Kay Lady in Atlanta. . .that did not last long. . .I don’t wear nearly enough make up to be competitive in the south!

    • Aimee

      Yes, the south knows how to do makeup (I can say that bc I was raised there). You sound like a winter if you wear black and true red well. Oh, if I only had a set of swatches to color type you appropriately…

  2. Happy 300th! I have no idea what my colors are. I wear mostly earth tones: brown, deep purple, some red. Most people have more fashion sense in their little fingers than I do in my entire body. (!)

    • Aimee

      I’m betting you’re a Fall or Winter, but I’ve never met you in real life, so I can’t be sure. It might be fun to pick up a copy of Jackson’s book or Garza and Lupo’s Life in Color at the library, just for kicks. Let me know if you do!

  3. I’d love for someone to color type me! I do best with darker, richer colors.

    • Aimee

      That’s interesting, Annie. Specifically, which darker, richer colors do you like best?

      • Brown, maroon, black, plum, darker orange, etc.

        • Aimee

          All the colors you mentioned except black are in the Autumn palette. Many women, like my friend who’s a Spring, enjoy wearing black even though it’s not in their season. It’s become a go-to, professional color. Think Donna Karan. So it makes sense black would appear in your “best” list.

  4. I don’t know what pallet I am. I’m incredibly fair (I know redheads who have a darker skin tone than me) with light-to-medium-brown hair (my natural color anyways) and eyes that can be anywhere between green, blue, and gray depending on my colors.

    I wear what I want. Some things work. Some things don’t. I’m unapologetic about it. I own way too much black and other dark neutrals, which I’m told is a travesty because I have a very “bright” personality.

    I want to be better at this. I just don’t prioritize it high enough. I should just get a fashion consultant.

    • Aimee

      You can do this yourself, Kelly. Pick up a couple of the books I mentioned at the library. There will be more on the subject in their section. Take it all with a grain of salt, but try out what makes sense to you.

      By the way, I know we’ve never met IRL, but I’m 99.9% sure you’re a Summer. The profile photo of you wearing pink earlier this year gives you away!

  5. Ging

    300! I’m so excited for you. Bitter Pants is still my fav. And the one about the fighting heifers. LOVE this post. I’ve been wondering what my palette is since I’ve heard how you follow yours so closely. I’ll have to check out the book. I LOVE kelly green, since my grandfather bought me a green pinafore when I was in grade school that color has a soft spot in my heart. And vintage red the more orange than blue red color. BUT too orange and I get in big trouble. I can’t do most yellows, white or beige or really light pink. Anything fleshy colored and I look like I have the flu.

    • Aimee

      Thank you, G. Bitter Pants is still one of my favorites, too. It’s hard to beat chartreuse and all that goes with it :)

      Kelly green, huh? And vintage red. G, my guess is you’re a Spring or Summer. How do you feel about blues?

      • Ging

        I really like blues :). All of them and some of their cousins like turquoise…

        • Aimee

          Thought so. You’re a Summer. Ms. Jackson calls that vintage red you like “Watermelon.” There are some very nice kelly greens in that palette, too.

  6. I have a difficult relationship with my color palette. Ms. Jackson tells me I’m a spring, but my personality is definitely autumn. I simply have a hard time envisioning myself in bright salmon or aqua or green. I don’t really like greens or brights; I tend to go after grey, blue, black, and brick red. So maybe all of my clothes are a mistake, but I like them!

    • Aimee

      Gray, blue, and black are Winter colors. Gee, you do have a complicated relationship with your palette! Just kidding :)

      Many Springs and Summers I know go for gray, blue, and black because they’re professional, urban colors. That’s okay. As you mentioned, you like your clothes!

      I find color typing Springs to be tricky. I was sure my BFF was an Autumn, but she looks fabulous in navy! It all made sense when I discovered navy is on the Spring palette. So is light gray. Do you like camel?

      • Ah, that makes sense now that you say light gray and navy are on the Spring palette. I do like camel quite a bit as well, though I don’t choose it as often as gray. I’m assuming it’s a Spring color?

        • Aimee

          Yes, it is. So is cream. Garza and Lupo call it the “creamy dreamy” look when women wear it head to toe. I love cream and camel, but they’re not in my palette. Taupe is, but wearing taupe head to toe is more “Out of Africa” vs. “creamy dreamy.”

  7. I have no idea what I am…and I am sure that I am completely far and away from what I should be wearing… I should probably be more invested in this kind of stuff!!! I know I look good in blues and greens…but often wear blacks and greys and whites too. I should wear more colors I’m sure of that!!

    • Aimee

      Chris, I’ve found knowing what colors look best on me to be really helpful in saving time and money by cutting down on the number of “mistakes” I purchase (although as I admitted in the post, I still sometimes knowingly impulse buy things that aren’t the right color!). You might check out a few of the titles I mentioned from the library. There will be others in that same section if these aren’t in. Lots of good resources and suggestions. I don’t feel like I have to follow ALL the advice, but I do try to implement ideas that are helpful to me.

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