Book Review: Colo(u)r Right Dress Right

Book Review: Color Right Dress Right (US), Colour Right Dress Right (UK)

Author:  Liz E. London & Anne H. Adams

Date: 1985

Publisher: Dorling Kindersley (UK), Crown (US)

ISBN: 0-517-55869-6

Length: 96 pages

Illustrations: many color photos

Quote: “Women are instinctively attracted to the colors that most become them.”

The colors that “most become” women have changed with the fashions. The colors agreed to be a woman’s “best” in 1984 might have been agreed to be her  “worst” in 1954. So, is it true that people (not always only women) are attracted to their “best” colors? Often it is; most of us do agree that colors work together to produce certain effects, whether the effect is to emphasize warm or cool tones by combining them, as in 1984 fashion photos, or to “balance” warm and cool tones, as in 1954 fashion photos.

Men who see the full color spectrum, incidentally, relate to color theory in the same way women do, although they’re less likely to talk about it. The gender difference is that a substantial minority of men don’t see as many different colors as the average person does. When bright colors are in fashion for men, these guys can be recognized by the peculiar combinations they wear—orange-red and purplish-red may look like the same shade of brown to them, and green may look like gray. There is undoubtedly a connection between this fact and the fact that, around the time a full spectrum of dyed colors became available in clothing, fashion decreed that only black, white, gray, and blue were suitable colors for men’s business or evening clothes.

Color Right Dress Right came out about the same time Alive with Color and Color Me Beautiful did. Its presupposition that all readers would be women could be considered an advantage or a disadvantage.

Another disadvantage is that, as of 1985, both Carole Jackson’s Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn and Leatrice Eiseman’s Sunrise/Sunset/Sunlight color classifications were taken. The authors bump along with more literal and traditional descriptions of complexion types. Basically they advise women to choose the same colors Color Me Beautiful recommended. They don’t call a pale ash-blonde reader “a Summer” or “a Sunrise,” but they do advise her to choose soft white, cool pastel colors, beige or grey.

Then they proceed through brief discussions of cosmetic effects, hair styles, figure types, and clothing styles. Being influenced by 1980s fashions, they consistently approve and disapprove of the same effects discussed in Color Me Beautiful, but in less detail.

The “makeover” chapter is a real hoot. Although only four pages are devoted to makeovers, the familiar phenomenon in which fashion experts ruin a plain, decent look can be observed. A model described as “busy mother of five” has a nice easy-care hairstyle and one-piece dress; the only real problem with her “Before” picture is that it’s taken with bright light casting weird shadows on her face. In the “After” picture the hair’s been dried out and broken off, full lips that needed no exaggeration have been turned into pale liver, the simple dress has been replaced by five pieces stacked in four layers, and the woman looks as if she’s gained fifty pounds. (And, can a “busy mother of five” find time to match lots of pieces of clothes? I can’t, and I don’t even have children.)

That was what 1980s fashion, apart from the color effects, was all about: dressing like coltish Diana Spencer and/or like gaunt Nancy Reagan, in styles designed to flatter their peculiar bodies, meant that most of us looked fat. Two of the other makeover victims also look fat in the “After” pictures. The fourth, the only one young and thin enough to model fashions in the U.S., wouldn’t look fat in anything, but her teenybopper look has been upgraded to a college look, rather than the grown-up, businesslike look we’re told she wanted.

It doesn’t have to be this bad, of course. Using the general guidelines in the book and looking in the mirror as you go along can help you avoid becoming as much of a fashion victim as the “makeover” survivors. There are years when women have to choose between buying clothes that make us look fat, and wearing clothes that make us look out of fashion; this book happened to be written during one of them. Apart from that, the fashionable sense of color hasn’t changed, so this book can still be used as a shopping guide, although Color Me Beautiful contains more patches of colors you can match.

Alternatively, if you want to use Color Right Dress Right as a guide to costuming characters for a book, play, or video about the 1980s, it’s a nice, short, simple, mostly pictorial guide. Accurate? Very. For this purpose it’s highly recommended.

A person, or persons, called Anne H. Adams is or are active in cyberspace, and this book is recent enough that there’s no reason to doubt that London and Adams are still alive, so let’s call this a Fair Trade Book. If and when you buy it here, I’ll make an effort to track down London and/or Adams and send $1 for each book you buy to one of them or to a charity of her choice. As usual, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen; you could probably get five copies of this slim book into a package for a total of $30, but I’d still send $5 to the writers and/or their charities–in the case of $5, parcelling out $1 to each.

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