Relating the Colors Worn to the Pigmentation of the Skin (1931)

The latest in a series of excerpts from “A Correct Costume Enhances the Wearer: Color and Line in Dress” by Laurine Hempstead, copyright 1931 – a delightful book on dressing to complement your figure with vintage tips that hold true today.

Chapter V: Relating the Colors Worn to the Pigmentation of the Skin

Although one may make general classification of colors suited to types, specific recommendations of colors becoming to individuals should be based upon analysis of their skin, hair, and eyes.


 hues found in background skin tones

Powder should match background color – Powder should be used, not to change the color of the skin, but to improve its texture, remove shine, and veil imperfections.
Hue of rouge should match skin – The color of rouge and lipstick has great influence upon the apparent coloring of the individual. In most instances, rouge and lipstick should match the hue found in the wearer’s skin. Make-up blends best with the coloring of the skin, giving it a softer, more transparent effect, if it matches not only in hue but in value (lightness or darkness) and in intensity (purity, brightness, or grayness).
Placement changes size and shape of face – As a general rule, rouge should be placed where the natural color appears. Slight but not startling deviations from this rule may improve the contour of the face, making it appear more truly the ideal oval.
Mouth changed by lipstick – The expression of the mouth may be greatly changed by the wise use of lipstick and totally eradicated by the unwise use of it. If spread on with a thick, waxy appearance, or extended beyond the actual outlines of the lips, it gives a hard, unnatural appearance to the entire face. Too vivid color, or color dissimilar to the natural color of the lips, may also have this effect.

Devices That Affect the Color of the Face

hues found in lips and cheeks

Emphasizing color in cheeks – The use of a color complementary to the flesh tints may increase the apparent amount of color in the face. The blue-greens complementary to orange-red and violet-red hues, therefore, are especially becoming to persons who need to increase the amount of color in their face and lips.
High and low values – The use near the face of light colors in the flesh tints, pale orange-red or violet-red (the former most becoming to the majority of persons), increases by means of reflection the apparent amount of color in the face. Thus, of these flesh tints, the warmer off-white colors are especially becoming to the woman who needs to increase the apparent amount of color in her face, and difficult for the woman with a florid skin.
Vivid hues – The use of extremely vivid, intense colors lessens the appearance of color in the face, fading or neutralizing it by means of their greater strength.
Minimizing yellow in the face – The use of colors analogous to yellow, expecially orange and red-orange, lessens the apparent amount of yellow in the skin. The red in these colors reflects red into the face, while the yellow blends with the coloring of the skin, making the yellowness of the skin inconspicuous.

Devices That Change Becomingness of Colors

Light values near face – The use of white, of off-whites, or of other light values near the face gives a relief from extremely vivid intensities or from hues that force yellow or other undesireable tinges in the skin. It is notable that light colors, which might be unbecoming if used in entirety for the costume, may make a most effective contrast if used as a relief from darker or more vivid colors.
Decollete softens unbecoming colors – The expanse of flesh showing when an evening gown with low-cut neckline and no sleeves is worn separates the face from unbecoming colors. For this reason, many women are able to use colors for formal wear that would be exceedingly trying for more informal occasions, even under kindly artificial lights.
Dark value near face – A small not of black or other dark value contrast used near the face may increase the becomingness of light colors. A dark hat, or a dark note in a necklace, earrings, a brooch, a flower, a collar, or a scarf, may give the individual the emphasis needed to permit her to wear light, bright, or neutral colors.
Color contrast near face lends vitality – No other factor is more effective than color contrast in making the face the center of t interest in the composition created by the costume and the individual. Wisely chosen color accent will enhance the coloring of the wearer, making the eyes look darker and more colorful, the hair brighter, and the skin clearer with more pleasing flesh tints.
Textures change effect of colors – Textures have great influence on the becomingness of colors. Intense vivid colors are more becoming, less likely to overshadow the personality of the wearer, if they are used in soft, dull-surfaced fabrics. On the other hand, dark colors, particularly black, which tends to absorb color from the face, will be more becoming in a lustrous material like velvet.
Coloring changed by hats – Colors worn above the face, especially those worn in hats covering the hair, change the apparent coloring of the wearer in a most perceptible manner. No on should decide definitely that she can or cannot wear a color until she has tried it with light and dark hats, and until she has tried to wear the color itself in a hat.

Want to read more?
Start at the beginning – The Hairdress Shapes the Face
Go to the previous post – The Hat is the Background for the Face (Continued)
Go to the next post  – Relating the Colors Worn to the Pigmentation of Hair and Eyes

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