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Playing With Color

( Originally Published 1924 )

Like the Sleeping Princess who could be awakened by the right Prince only, so, in colors, beauty may be asleep until the right touch brings to life all its witchery and charm. One may search and search through silken treasures and never find the one elusive tone the heart is set upon. It is there, but hiding behind the edge of magic waiting for you —if you are the right one to possess it.

Let us experiment a little with color ourselves, and see what magic we can devise based upon some of the principles we have been considering.

Here is a lustrous vermilion satin, too insistent —too red with eagerness to please you. Take a cobweb turquoise chiffon, pose it softly over the vermilion. Is this melting tone the purple you have been longing for? But perhaps it is a certain green you seek. Try this blue chiffon. Throw over it a gossamer yellow. (If you wish a paler green, use a paler yellow.) Or perhaps, again, it is a wonderful brown you want. Red, yellow, and blue we know, if rightly mixed in paints, can give us brown; but it is you yourself who must experiment until your choice in red, yellow, and blue balances to your ideas.

You can improvise and carry out your knowledge of harmonies. Let your fancy play! You may catch new combinations. You may mimic the red and orange which Nature presents in bitter-sweet, the gray-brown of a pussy-willow with its glimpsing of yellow. Orange flame and geranium over silver, lemon yellow over vivid shimmering green, wax red over Chinese yellow, powder blue over ivory with a bouquet of flowers in ashes-of-roses, gray over gold, brown over amber, silvery green over blue with yellow flowers—what a mirage of lure may be materialized before us!


Now you know why black, practical and convenient as it is, must not be always your choice. In "Chanticler," Rostand inspires Patou, the dog, to reply to Chanticler's comment on Blackbird, "Taste, he unmistakably has"—"Ye-e-es ! But not much taste ! To wear black is too easy a way of having taste; One should have the courage of colors on his wing!"

To the extreme blonde, however, black is more becoming than to any other type.

Black and White

There is a certain stamp of dignity on the union of black and white which bestows real distinction on its wearer. It is most successful for the one who has coal-black hair and eyes—a type which is really definite in value. For the ash-blonde or in-between type, it would be disastrous. Too often the good effect is ruined because, in the black and white combination, too much white is used. A black velvet gown with white ermine collar is effective, but when cuffs and waist decoration of the same white are used, it becomes less and less attractive; and if the hat is trimmed in white there is a cataclysm. If, with a costume of white, touches of black, such as an all-black hat and black shoes, are worn, there is a very pleasing effect. The black and white combination is pleasing when pearls are used to give the white touch, such as two or three strands about the neck, the bracelet, and the earrings.

Color with White

Red, yellow, and blue gain luminosity by their nearness to white, and this has a great influence upon the pleasure which comes from the combination. The tints, such as light blue and rose, combine more pleasantly with white than do the middle values of these same colors, because in the latter the contrast is too great. An attractive red costume can be ruined by the addition of a white collar and pure white gloves. Deep écru would not have the same effect and would be a transition between the red and the flesh tones. Red placed near to the face is not at all flattering, because it brings out the green tones in the skin. Navy blue and white give the same effect that black and white do, and the rule as to the amount of each color used should be the same as with black and white. Deep yellow, bright green, violet of a light tone, and orange with white are agreeable combinations—altho some may consider orange and white too brilliant for any occasion except a costume ball.

Colors with Black

The Chinese display judgment and artistry in employing black. This artistry may be applied to costuming with great profit. Black with the primary colors, red or blue, is not disagreeable because there is not the contrast in value which is produced when combining white with these hues. The deep color tones with black form harmony and not contrast. Blue and black, violet and black can be used only when somber colors are desired. There is a Cathedral-like quality about King's blue with black, somewhat of a contralto tone that is pulsing with depth. Brighter assortments also present pleasing contrasts. A black gown may pass from the funeral to the festive by the magic touch of a little vermilion. Yellow which is combined with black must be brilliant, because black tends to impoverish the yellow while it loses some of its own quality of depth. Shimmering black satin with a very long chain of dull beaten gold shows the effect of black with yellow of middle value—it has a grand and priestly quality.


A recurring yearly fondness for grays rules some women. What wonder is it when we consider the penchant Nature herself has for grays, muted shades of clouds, of seas shadowed and mysterious, of refreshing cleansing rain, the majestic far-off mountains, hushed city streets where Dawn is playing porter at the doorways, and Twilight with her restful dimness. Since we achieve gray by combining all the primary colors—red, which 'denotes vitality and therefore life; blue, which suggests calm and poise ; yellow, which breathes of youth and happiness—what wonder is it that this maturer color should be expressive of Experience and hold in its deep lights and shadows an air of quiet under-standing and knowledge? The hue of gray is marked by a primary color which dominates its composition—we rarely find an absolutely neutral gray. If the dominant color is red, we have the warm tone —a rose tint of pearls, the gray which may be worn by either the gray-haired or the brown-haired one.

A blue-gray is somewhat colder ; those with blue eyes or those with gray eyes can wear it equally well if the complexion is clear. For the brown eyes there is cinder-gray--very near the soft tan tone. Cinderella probably made this color her very own. Phantom, and London Smoke are the dark grays which we find in wool fabrics and are veritable gifts of the gods to women who crave distinction!

Colors with Gray

Their proximity to light gray increases the brilliancy of colors, but dark gray decreases this quality. Gray and blue, and gray and violet are pleasingly associated when the values are close. These harmonies are more restful than contrasts. What can express the spiritual quality of a gray-haired woman who has grown old gracefully better than a pearl-gray gown with amethysts, or a deeper gray with sapphires? Burnt orange, yellow gold, apple-green, contrast with dark gray to give it the more youthful qualities of spontaneity and dash because they form arrangements of contrast. Light gray and rose sing a sentimental duet, pretty and shallow.


Have you ever picked out colors as you motored over country roads? If so, you have noted how sparing Nature is of red. She uses it only for her occasional splashes and her high lights. How mad we should all become in a totally red world ! Perhaps that is why the inhabitants of Mars, the red planet, were like the gingham dog and the calico cat, you remember—they "ate each other up !" Here and there we glimpse a woman who with rare courage attempts the unusual and wears vivid red. She may possibly do so with success in a public place, but with much more charm under her own roof-tree. Sometimes, however, in the tumult and shouting of the costume ball, this gay color seems singularly in place. It is primarily a festival color. The dark brunette, with "hair of gloomy midnight and eyes of bloomy moonshine," may bring to mind some old master's priceless canvas in her raiment of deep, slumberous, vintage claret. Especially alluring is she if this color is enhanced by the texture and depth of velvet, such as woven only by the Lyonese who for centuries have given to Coronation robes such regal splendor.

Red, in the dyer's hands, may catch yellow sun-light and develop copper tones, subtly blended bits of color alchemy. This copper red would be fatal to some, but she who is blest with milk-like skin, eyes of green, and chestnut hair will be vitalized with just such copper red; she would out-Cleopatra the Egyptian queen in her influence of Beauty.

Pink is becoming to most people, more so than any other color; but it is not the color for age except in its most delicate flesh-tone. Strawberry, watermelon, spark (whose flicker it is not hard to guess), rose, holly-berry, withered rose, deep India red, carnelian, blush rose, tapestry red, —what endless riches there are in reds, for every type and temperament !


There is a yellow for every woman. For the brunette, yellow is definitely suitable; but the blonde should use it with discrimination, for yellow imparts violet to a fair skin. To those skins which are more yellow than orange it imparts white; but this combination is insipid. When the skin is tinted more with orange than with yellow, we can make it rosy by neutralizing the yellow; it produces this effect upon the dark-haired type. There are cold yellows—citron, lemon, and olive—for the fair-skinned brunette. Faint yellows we find for the ash-blondes who have bright flesh tints.


Navy blue is unfailing—year by year it is chosen by discriminating women who know that it is the most generally becoming of all colors. Its service-ability suggests tailored smartness. In its inconspicuousness it is correct for all occasions. Too, there is a warmer blue, lighter in tone, so blue that it hints of Italian skies and the Bay of Naples, or developed in a deeper tone to suggest the deep Pacific as it breaks on the beach at Waikiki. The blonde will look her blondest in this color, and Miss Brunette with her pink skin can wear it effectively too. Pastel-blue—there are times when this innocent color enhances beauty; but as a rule its appeal is very weak and it should be reserved for the rose-bud charm of childhood. Blue-greens, such as Luxor or Blue Lotus—how they reincarnate the charm of Cleopatra ! From the blended twilight tones of ancient tapestries have come the inspiration for those clear blue tones which we know as Sistine, Gobelin, and Flemish. Blue of sky, blue of sea, blue of sapphire, blue of children's eyes—all these tones and many more the chemist has imprisoned in the dyes in which commonplace fabrics are transformed.


Bright orange seldom suits any one; but once in a while we see a brunette who can wear it because it whitens her skin. It is daring, and must, therefore, be used discriminatingly. Apricot, which is yellow-orange weakened in intensity and raised to a high value, is a lovely evening tint for the Titian-haired girl. Orange is too brilliant to denote elegance, and, because it lends a bluish tinge to the skin and hair, it is not generally becoming.

Orange fabrics bring to us all the glamour of burnished gold; it may be Florentine, as rich as the wealth laden ships of Italy, or Mandarin, a gift from China.


"It is a sign of genius to like green," said Oscar Wilde. We must be developing a race of geniuses, for green is very popular.

The red-haired girl has no better choice of color than green, especially if she is careful to select the same value as her own coloring. The girl with light hair and a fair skin should choose almond or some lighter shade, but the bronze-haired girl may safely wear a Tyrolian green. Green brings a pinker color to the skin and reddens the hair.

Green gowns are contributing their attractive note to the Opera; a distinctive green of turquoise matrix for the languorous maiden with heavy eyes; endless other greens of feldspar, greens of Eucalyptus, Pine-tree, and the Everglades ; greens of Faience enamel, and the mesmerizing coolness of a deep green whirlpool.


This color is used for coronation robes and for robes of ceremony, but it is not generally worn in daily life. Intense purple will make any woman seem old, unless her own color is extremely brilliant. Therefore, it is seldom used except in hats where it can not be quite so cruel as in gowns. When purple is grayed and unassertive, as in taupe, or lightened in value, as in mauve or heliotrope, it will prove attractive even to those who as a rule are not fond of the color. Orchid, wisteria, lilac, mountain haze, amethyst, these are the colors beloved of all.

Orchid, a red-violet of high value, is becoming to many and can be safely worn when lavender would be out of the question.


In every autumn fashion journal, writers announce, "This is the season of brown." It is fitting, for Nature sets the style—as shown in the brown of fur and plumage, of bark and withered leaves, and of wet earth. Observe women and note that most of them have brown hair of some shade, many have brown eyes. Possibilities exist in brown for all women; soft tan, light dust brown, fawn are equally good for the blonde with delicate coloring and the pronounced brunette who has a clear skin.

For general wear, a darker shade, grayer, greener, is becoming to varied types and occasions, rivaling navy blue for solid service. The cleaner's services will not be needed often when this brown is selected which, tho not somber, does not readily show soil. Malay brown, with its red-violet cast which aids to its becomingness, gives an air of quiet elegance.

Tête de Nègre, so dark that it is almost black, is attractive because of its depth, and is the only brown which some women can wear.

Nothing is more pathetic than a drab or dark skinned woman dressed in a warm brown. It gives her that faded look of dead leaves.

Cigarette, Havana, Perique, and other tobacco browns ; beige, thrush, hazel, all have warm tones. Spicy golden browns, Burma, Punjab, and ginger remind us of Rickey-ticky-tavy, Wee Willie Winkie, and other India associations. One finds romance in even the names of colors !

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