Where have all the colors gone? Twenty-three years ago it was deemed perfectly acceptable to paint your eyelids like a parrot with lemon yellow on the brow bone, bright purple on the lid and electric-blue eyeliner to top it all off.
I remember looking like a cross between Zandra Rhodes and Deborah Harry of Blondie, and wanting to be a Technicolor punkette. I went to dance-supply shops in search of cherry-red opaque stockings as well as stacking fluorescent anodized metal bracelets up my arms in homage to the B-52′s.
Why am I subjecting you to this retro reverie? Because, gentle reader, every hysterical color trend I can recall is back. From Day-Glo orange chiffon to fierce fuchsia lip gloss, the plastic rainbow of the early ’80s palette is now hot and black is no longer instantly cool.
“Thank Heavens!” I hear you cry as you stuff ink-colored cardigans and sad black slacks into Hefty bags, but I quickly hear you add, “Now what?” How does a woman teach herself to sport a spot of color after wearing a black suit to work, a black cocktail dress to dinner and a black negligee to bed for almost two decades? After being so long in the dark, color feels weird…something like theme dressing.
Start with baby steps. Replace some of your basics (even one of those little black skirts!) with a reliable wardrobe element in brilliant color. A scarlet pencil skirt looks sexy with a crisp white business shirt, a pale-pink blazer with a white tank looks fresh. Even cargo pants look better in color, especially if they’re made of satin.
Buying accessories in color takes a bit of training—there’s a reason that tangerine handbags are always on sale. Unless you dress in all-white with tan leather accents, they look anachronistic. Hot-pink pumps or violet camisoles used to be associated with our daughters’ dress-up boxes, but now they are the height of chic. Uncork the pink champagne and legalize forest-green mascara! Now is the moment to wear a shade you have always secretly craved: That purple cashmere sweater, the baby blue Donna Karanpolka-dot dress, the slightly kooky lemon-yellow caftan with white Moroccan trim. And yes, Pucci!
If you need more bolstering about banishing black and becoming a child of the rainbow, consider these five points: Black is slimming but aging, black drains the color from your face, black attracts pet hair, black makes people act way too seriously, black causes you to disappear in the lobby of any train station or opera house.
10 TERRIFIC WAYS TO WEAR COLOR
Women of color: African-American, Asian, Native-American, Latina…all gravitate to white in summer. It’s the shade that offsets shiny black hair and glossy dark skin the best. But why not tiptoe into a little lemon yellow? Bite into some poppy-pink lip gloss or a radical slick of violet liquid liner with Laura Mercier Shimmer Eye Color in Iris and that wild Missoni bikini. Don’t shy away from fire-engine red (especially flattering to skin with yellow and olive tones), pale lavender and bright purple (best with dark brown and rich coffee complexions) and the new fluorescent limes, yellows and cotton-candy pinks that suit just about everyone.
Redheads: Vamps with flaming manes are not doomed to wearing St. Patrick’s Day green and burned orange forever. Icy pastels like mint green and aqua lift a pale, freckled face into the heavens and sheer color on the cheeks and eyes in shades of ice pink and sky blue lend an angelic hue to already delicate features.
Redheads can wear red lipstick, it just has to be the right tone and the right texture. Steer away from lipstick with too much blue in it (better for brunettes) or too much matte density. Pink loves you, so gravitate to make-up and clothes with a rosy hue.
Color-correct high coloring with a translucent powder tinged with green or go the opposite route and play it up. On a summer’s day there’s nothing sweeter than a natural blush!
Golden girls: Blondes have much more fun out of the honeyed beiges and buttered shades of straw they so frequently wear. Try a little mermaid style in pistachio and pale lilac. Dare to wear a hot-pink halter or some cherry-red sandals. Be bold with your clothes and accessories, but go softly into color for makeup. Red lipstick and heavy blue eye-shadow are not for the flaxen, the look is too blunt for you and too blatant. Opt for a faintly ’80s pouty-pink lipstick like Laura Mercier Sheer Lipcolor in French Lips.
Brunettes: Raven-haired beauties corner the market on radical color options. They can and should wear electric blue. They should all rent Cleopatra and check out Elizabeth Taylor’s radical cream shadows, peacock eyeliner and metallic turbans. Inspired, I tried purple eyelids (Lancôme Color Focus eye shadow in Electric Dream) and a streak of turquoise on the lower lid (L’Oreal On the Loose Shimmering Powder in Diva Down) and still dodged an arrest at the hands of the fashion police. The joy of dark hair and very pale skin is the contrast it lends to makeup and to clothes. Work it with ruby-colored lips, a royal blue and white striped t-shirt, white cargos and a bright red high heels.
Create a white-out: Ban white underwear! Ban white tank tops, ban white bedding, white walls, white teacups and white curtains. Start with your wardrobe and work your way into the rainbow for your home. Nothing looks better than a girl in a green dress holding a blue cocktail against a pink wall. Here’s a secret: Pink light bulbs make you see your thighs through rose-colored glasses!
The eyes have it: Do your sunglasses need to be black or tortoiseshell? Do your eyes have to be blue every day of the week? I always thought pink cat-eye frames were for Grandma and tinted contact lenses were for exotic dancers but hey, lighten up! Have violet eyes for a week and see what happens to you.
Fabulous footwear: Shoes are the simplest way to add color to your wardrobe. With a white dress you can wear any shade from lemon to guava. Buy some bright shoes in a disposable style—some kick-on mules or Indian embroidered slippers, and then grow bolder. The sales racks are the best place to head for tropical toes…and remember gold evening sandals never ever go out of style.
Exercise some color caution: Beware of wearing Technicolor prints head-to-toe à la Austin Powers. A squaresilk scarf, a silk shell or a floppy beach hat might be just enough of a wild print. Don’t let the rainbow eat you whole!
Rise to the challenge: Magenta, lime green and bright orange are probably the hardest shades on earth to wear well. Slip them into your existing style with a wide belt, awedge heel, a handbag or raincoat. Lining in electric color is sweetly chic! Give yourself a thrill every time you step into the drizzle or go searching for a cell phone.
Face it: Always wear color near your face…whether it is three strands of glittering Venetian beads, a Hermes plissé scarf, a broad grosgrain ribbon or a loosely woven straw hat. Color is not just a fashion accent and a mood lifter it is a supremely flattering substance. So, remember to think pink…or indigo, or topaz, or peach or robin’s-egg blue!