Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ideas about how to use Color effectively

The bee in my bonnet, it seems.

I've been considering my previous posts about color. Here are some resources that I really like that provide new perspectives on color and how to wear it, appreciate it, risk it.

The blog The Vivienne Files: the writer provides countless examples of how to wear, mix, match color and to think outside the box. Nicely done.

The site Polyvore: a site where members can build sets, explore how other members create outfits, sets and use color.

The site Colourlovers: a site where members can explore color and patterns.

There are a number of books on Amazon (and obviously on other book sites) that foreground color. All of then usually include quizzes and a series of "types" that give the reader her correct palette to help anyone find the right colors for hair/skin/eye/taste. Dior or Chanel or Mickael Kors use color palettes. There are also lots and lots of books on designers with color photographs: see how I highly recommend spending a couple hours in the Barnes & Noble or a used bookstore checking out a stack of books. Buy a quiz book if you like those, buy a style book on Ralph Lauren if you like.

Hint: look at decorating books. If you like a house full of color, or full or nautical ideas, or Western, or French country, or Bohemian? Go with the pictures you respond to and try out those colors. Cheap ways? T-shirts from Target. Go get paint chips from Lowes or Home Depot.

Another hint: go to a department store (not a big box store, but a for-real department store like Macy's, Nordstrom's, Sears or Neiman-Marcus (do not be intimidated, just go) and try on dresses, sweaters, blouses and suits, strictly for color against your face and hair. Wear your usual make-up and hairstyle. You're not there to buy but to look, so try on crazy things you'd never, ever buy.

The best place to start might be a simple palette. Some of the best advice I ever found was in The Dress Doctor by Edith Head, where she advised choosing a simple palette of three colors and building a wardrobe around that trio. Head chose for herself a trio of white, beige and black. This series of neutrals worked for her--as the designer of fabulous costumes for major films, her own neutral self stood aside from the colors, fabrics and textures of her costumes.

Start small like Head and focus on three colors, one of which should be a neutral like white, black, beige, brown, gray or navy. Or go a little bit bigger and start with five colors, including two neutrals--I like this better because I need more variety. Finding the right shade sof the colors you choose is the challenge: green, for example, might be emerald or lime, olive or sour apple, pine or mint, avocado or kelly. That's where the choice comes.

In the end, it is also about what makes you feel good, as well as what you discover makes you look good. If you love orange, but the quizzes day NO!, find a way to wear it in shoes, accessories, scarves, jewelry. Or if you love orange and your workplace is conservative, same goes.

Consider, then, in choosing:
  • what you like
  • what you feel good in
  • what works with your skin, hair and eye coloring
  • what suits your workplace style and your non-work style
Go forth and experiment!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Frugality and Summer 2012

Sadly, I went a leetle off the rails this summer.

Well, one month in Paris (June) and one month in Oxford (July) earning and yet spending... yeah, that was "off the rails."

I had a great time in both cities plus London and I loved the museum exhibits, theatre, books and meals I indulged in... which is where a great deal of the money went. Oh, and clothes, cosmetics and shoes. Mmmm, shoes!

How do I feel about that?

Mostly, pretty good. I thrive personally when I go to museums and theatre, when I see well-curated exhibits, a variety of art and cultural projects, and enjoy delicious cafe meals. These choices replenish my spirit. I went to eleven exhibitions at nine different museums or foundations, and visited several more museum book shops. I went to eleven cultural sites beyond that, of varying kinds from the White Horse to Kelmscott Manor.

The fact is that while I do believe I spent too much, I was thoughtful about nearly every purchase. I knew, for example, that I wanted to visit my favorite pharmacy and indulge in skin care and homeopathic teas I cannot find at home--and that everything would be on sale there during the second week of June (an annual event!). I knew that I wanted to buy two pairs of ballerines at Repetto, since the black ones I bought in 2010 were so great. I did buy two pairs, both 25% reduced. I bought pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, notebooks, magnets, buttons/badges and "stuff" to give out to the students in one of my classes who get high marks on quizzes. I bought a very few books, but plan to add to that by purchasing the exhibition catalogs on Amazon (didn't have to carry them home, that way).

I did buy ridiculous amounts of postcards, as per usual, including some repetitions of Richter and Degas paintings.

What's the outcome? I'm paying off credit cards. Sigh. Weighing it through, I'm not sorry... mostly.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's talk about COLOR

All the pictures I used in yesterday's post as examples were famous women: women in government, women in the arts, women in economic and business leadership. They aren't "regular" folks, perhaps, but I maintain they're still great examples for the rest of us.

First, there is not an abundance of BLACK here. Which is good. Middle-aged women have come to rely on black (and its other neutral cousin beige) too much. I'm completely guilty of this.

Good black: the LBD that goes everywhere and makes you feel chic, sophisticated and sexy wherever you wear it. The black suit (skirt or pants) that makes you feel like a successful executive or the well-dressed woman at a formal event, like church or a funeral or a business dinner. The black accent that adds style to accessories like shoes, bags, scarves or gloves.

Bad black: the black outfit or piece you hide in, telling yourself you look thinner or taller but really only makes you look like a shadow. Possibly a bulky shadow.

Example: this summer I bought two linen maxi-dresses from a catalog. I bought one in light fuschia and one in black, but I took the black one to my tailor to cut it off just above the knees. Why? Because when I wore the dress in its original long form, I looked like a little old Sicilian gramma. All I needed was a headscarf and some tomato sauce to stir. Not my preferred look.

So I cut off the dress.

Second of all, each of these women has invested in good hair. Some of their styles are carefree and some are high maintenance, but each woman is paying attention to both cut and color.

You wear your hair everyday, no matter the weather, lack of time and your emotional stress. Therefore, unless you enjoy working your hair everyday (which I don't), a good cut that lasts between salon visits and holds its color is a necessity. It is an investment that pays off, if only because you know you look good everyday without fussing about it.

And yes, color is something to consider. At home if you can handle it, but at a salon if not. Why? Because we all go gray, silver, or white. You can go all the way that way and color your hair the right shade of gray, silver, or white for you, or you can choose a brunette, blonde, or red that brightens your face, suits your coloring and makes you smile.

Nervous? There are now temporary colors that fade without leaving dramatic roots. The color lasts anywhere from five to eight weeks. How do I know? I do it.

Get your stylist or colorist to give you tips about products, too. Hair masks, styling gels and waxes and tools like blowdryers that will, again, save you time and thought by delivering everyday.

Please note that none of these women has long, flowing locks more appropriate for rock stars or the CW's high school shows (think Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars).

As a side note, notice the investment in good subtle jewelry, watches and scarves.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Color for Middle-Aged Women

And here are some great photos of "real" middle-aged women looking professional... not "junior." Using color, including neutrals, pastels and brights.



Here's neutrals and bright colors, here's covered arms and knees, here's attractive necklines without gaping cleavage, here's polished-looking hair and makeup without an overload of color but (BUT!) no clown makeup or bare-faced blandness.
Yes, lots of jackets, lots of v-necks, lots of feminine accessories like scarves and necklaces. Lots of colored and well-cut hair. Whoo-ee. And these are busy women, y'all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Color and the Middle-Aged Woman

We all know that color has the ability to enhance our mood, influence our decision-making, and help us achieve what we want and need.
  • Hospitals and police stations use color to soothe, control and direct those who work there and those who have to visit these (usually) high-drama sites
  • Grocery stores and restaurants use color to make you hungry (meaning buy more NOW!) and to make you leave quickly (for high turnover)
  • Leaders use color to influence our feelings about them, because spectators, listeners and critics respond first to color and the way it makes us feel rather than the specifics of a message
  • Sports teams choose team colors to influence athletes on their teams (and oppositions!) and spectators
Why, then, do middle-aged women refuse to use color as a conscious choice to make us visible, raise our self-esteem, enhance our attractiveness and demonstrate our power on a variety of levels? Or simply to make us feel better about what we see when we look in the mirror?

Last week I was at a professional event -- a casual professional event -- and the theme was "putting your best foot forward." Now, all of the membership at the event were women (it's a women's organization), and most of us were middle-aged (meaning between 40 and 60). It was on a Sunday afternoon in a salon/spa and about 25 women attended, including the salon personnel.

Three women got hair consultations from the salon where we met, we all listened to an image consultant talk about color, and we chatted and snacked.

Here's what I noticed:
  • Almost every woman there wore pants and a t-shirt variation
  • Only one woman was in bright color throughout, although about half of the women used some bright color in an accessory
  • Most women wore neutrals like denim, khaki, black or beige or grayed colors like loden, teal, gray (!) or faded navy without any color pop
  • Most of us had little or no color in her makeup, meaning everything was neutral or black (like eyeliner) and many looked as if they'd spent less than five minutes on their makeup
  • Very few of the women in the room looked as if they had pulled together a complete look from head to toe, meaning clothing, shoes, accessories, makeup, hair and bag; instead, we looked as if we simply pulled individual pieces together without much thought or more than two pieces (shirt + pants) in our mind
  • Despite being mid-afternoon, most of us looked tired and slightly faded; it was a rainy afternoon, and we should have brought a colorful raincoat, unbrella, boot or shoe, or scarf to combat the weather's effect.
Overall, the meeting didn't feel professional. I didn't feel as if I was meeting women brought together by a shared profession (although that's why we were all there) to network, make connections and learn something; I felt more like I was at a group meeting grounded in personal choice, like a church or neighborhood gathering.

There were two problems in our overall style on Sunday: the first was the clothing/accessory choices and the second was COLOR.

Here's my problem with middle-aged women dressing in neutral colors and grayed colors: we are already one of the most invisible portions of the population by virtue of our age.

Oh, yeah: didn't you notice how invisible you've become? I've been noticing it for a few years now. And it's not just me.

I've also noticed the invisibility from two directions. It comes from within me and it comes from others/society.
  • Middle-aged women are in a confusing position: we're no longer supposed to be sexy, we're too old to be new mothers (or fertile) while old enough to be established mothers (Mom-jeans) and when we dress to truly advertise our intellectual/economic/experiential power it makes others really, really nervous (yeah, Hillary!)
  • Middle-aged women aren't sexy in the way young women are, but magazines/celebrities/media tells us to use the same old techniques and recycle the same old looks given us when we were sixteen, like long flowing hair, glowing firm skin and perky figure parts... which most of us don't have in abundance
  • Middle-aged women know they're being compared to twenty-year old women, and feel bad about it (see sexy, fertile, perky above)
  • Middle-aged women are still dressing to compete for the attention of men, to fit in with cheerleaders and models, and to look "young." Still?
  • Middle-aged women feel guilty about caring about their appearance, spending money and time on something so "frivolous," and unprofessional by focusing on "surface" when they are serious thinkers, leaders and collaborators... even though we've earned the time and right to care about what heel height, what skirt height, and what color makes us look and feel best
And yeah, I'm tired of stovepipe/skinny jeans, sleeveless dresses, satin tops, short skirts, stilleto heels and everything else that suits a "perfect" twenty-year-old figure of 118 pounds but shows my age in every possible way, in fabric and style and fit... ugh. Makes me look and feel bad, makes me desperate to find something (anything!) else to wear, makes me want to kick something. Hard.

What I've noticed is that most middle-aged women go to bland or invisible rather than go Tammy Faye Bakker or Demi Moore or Grandma Moses (see above to choose your perfect "middle-aged" look). So...

#1: choose color. In your outfit and your face and your hair, dudettes!
  • Even if your choice is on the muted side, say wines and violets and spice, or pastel shades like mint or buttercup or sky... get out and find yourself some color.
  • If you like neutrals like beige and navy, team them with accessories or a single piece (a top) in color like clear red, green apple, bright white or carnation pink.
  • If you like pastels, bump up the intensity a notch: instead of faded colors, go for pastels with a bright bump.
  • Neutral clothes? How about using color on your lips, cheeks, eyeliner or hair? or accessories, like bags and shoes?
#2: learn which colors complement each other, accent each other, and fight each other...

#3: figure out which colors work for you emotionally, starting with the primary/secondary Purple/Blue/Green/Yellow/Orange/Red spectrum and then working through clear, jewel-toned, muted, pastel

#4: realize that NEUTRAL means how you feel as well as how others feel about you... neutral and don't blame anyone else for making you feel invisible, overlooked and bland. Camel can be chic, black can be chic, navy can be chic... it can also be the wallpaper behind you.

Next week: examples!