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The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. I was at a Fourth of July party yesterday, when a makeup writer friend of mine and I got into a conversation about the book Color Me Beautiful. Speaking as a costume designer, it would be very helpful to resurrect this color theory – it makes a good shorthand so that we could save time and shop for tones that complement the actor’s complexion. Vanessa Williams is the ultimate example of “summer” – look at how effortless these colors are on her complexion. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures.
Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets.
Most of you Frocktalkers are probably too young to remember this phenomenon, but using this book, you could determine whether you were a “winter”, “spring”, “summer” or “autumn”, and choose flattering clothing and makeup colors accordingly.
The language is at times archaic, bordering on offensive – the author (Carole Jackson) refers to Asian people as “Orientals”, among other cringe-worthy nuggets.
Every time I make that initial phone call to the actor, I ask, “What colors look good on you? These color groups take skin tone, hair color and eye color into account, and most people fall into one of the four categories: winter, spring, summer or autumn.

Often referred to as “peaches and cream” complexion, the “spring” usually has light eyes: blue, grey or light green. With her light hair and eyes, and peachy complexion, she can wear a variety of fab colors including periwinkle and yellow – yes, yellow! They usually have darker eyes: brown, dark grey, or hazel, and they look great in gold jewelry (as opposed to silver or platinum coloration). After a few hair color changes and rosacea, I am probably an “autumn” now, but I’ll have to consult to the book to be sure.
Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. My friend was wondering if the premise still held up today, thirty-plus years after the book was first published.
The thrust of the book is about looking “pretty” in outward appearance, and about enhancing one’s beauty in a physical sense, using color. Contrast is the hallmark of a “winter”, and the associated color palette is rich with stark colors that really pop against a blue-undertone skin.
I am not sure that I agree with the “icy” colors in this palette, but a bold, juicy color sure helps to enliven the complexion here. The color palette here is meant to enhance those tones – you don’t see the “pop” or contrast like you see in a “winter”; it’s much more subtle.

I know that the wide variety of pinks must have been a blessing for the Legally Blonde series. There is also the book Women of Color by Darlene Mathis, (with a foreword written by Color Me Beautiful author Carole Jackson) which seeks to remedy some of the missing complexion and complement information in Color Me Beautiful for people who don’t neatly fit into one category. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth.
In a post-feminist reality, the book is an amusing throwback to a time when women sought to define and validate themselves primarily through beauty. Check out Debi Mazar (great example of a “winter”) – see how beautiful and radiant she looks in these colors?
I actually think that Women of Color is the better of the two books, because it addresses people as more than just color profiles. These simplistic and vaguely patronizing ideas sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl today, but the meat of the book – the COLOR theory – holds up very well and deserves a second look.

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