The popularity of "getting your colors done" may have peaked in the '80s, but the basic idea behind it -- that certain hues can accent what Mother Nature (or plastic surgeon, colorist or tinted lenses) gave you, while others leave you looking wan and washed out -- still holds true. And lately, color consultants on both coasts peg an uptick in business to the economy. The reasoning? An off-palette purchase (no matter what the price) is costly in more ways than one.
"Wearing the right colors is like having arrows pointing toward your face," says color consultant Jill Kirsh, who has been practicing her craft for more than two decades. "And the wrong colors are arrows pulling focus away."
As a guy, I'd always operated under the assumption that color wheeling the wardrobe was a ladies-only proposition. Then Kirsch, who had called out of the blue, launched a campaign to change my mind. That's how I ended up with the former soap opera actress dumping a large, swatch-stuffed duffel onto my kitchen floor on a recent Friday afternoon.
"Guys will always look at me warily when I'm working with their wives, but by the end they'll be interested," Kirsh told me as she began to assemble a full-spectrum-lighting cosmetics mirror on my kitchen island. "When they see it with their own eyes, they get really into it."
What I was about to experience was one of Kirsh's 90-minute, $300 one-on-one, in-home consultations. I would spend about half that time in front of the aforementioned mirror, draped in dozens of pieces of fabric, which Kirsch deftly snatched from the piles in front of her. Once she'd homed in on my hues, we'd move on to exorcising my closet demons. (For an extra $50, Kirsh will foolproof the experience with a pocket swatch book that contains 40 paint-chip-sized pieces of fabric.)
"The concept is divided into four groups and it's really simple," she said as she whipped pillowcase-size pieces of cloth under my chin and pulled them away. "There are cool colors and warm colors, each in two intensities. Cool colors are ones with more blue running through them. The warm colors have more yellow tones."
That goes for metal accessories as well; white gold, platinum and silver are cool metals, traditional yellow gold is a warm one.
"Everyone is either a cool or a warm," Kirsh said, "and wearing the wrong colors pulls you way out of sync." Those contrasting hits of color function a lot like renegade oarsmen paddling against the rest of the crew.
Using hair color as a starting point and taking into account skin tone and eye color, she works from obvious to more subtle choices, and the process feels a lot like going to the optometrist -- only instead of asking which looks better, she says: "This blue really makes your eyes pop," or "That olive makes you look washed out."
Based on Kirsh's assessment, my blue-green eyes nudge me into "cool" territory, and ash blond and gray hair works best with a muted, dusty intensity. (She laughs when I suggest that bald men must then look best in "clear.")
It turns out I am "low-intensity cool" (which sounds like a Quentin Tarantino movie or brand of smokeless menthol cigarettes), a label I kept in mind during the all-out assault on my closet that followed. My navy blue blazer, pink polos and assortment of denim were deemed safe, but a barley-colored linen blazer, drawer full of khakis and a pumpkin-colored dress shirt (what was I thinking?) were not.
The bulk of my belongings already conform to Kirsh's assessment, thanks to my spouse. Still, there were a couple of colors that caught me by surprise, including a minty fresh leprechaun green and a pale, dusty shade of violet, both of which I now feel emboldened to work into my wardrobe.
As the color-coordinated piles of jackets, trousers, polos and dress shirts grew on my bed, Kirsch assembled a rapid-fire collection of outfits. "If you stay within your colors, everything will go with everything," she said, bringing up perhaps the best reason to reconsider running down the rainbow.
"In this economy, a $7 T-shirt from J. Crew that's not a flattering color isn't even worth $7, and one that highlights your best features -- and goes with the rest of your wardrobe -- is worth a lot more than $7."
And, with the recession in full swing, no one needs a color consultant to point out the one shade of green that makes everything look better.
Jill Kirsh Color, (800) 315-0108 and www.jillkirshcolor.com