1930s advice on colours

This morning I was doing some scanning from a 1930s book for a friend, and flicked through another book in the same box, Modern Beauty Culture. It was given to me back in the very early days of the robot, when I moved magazines from Simply Knitting to N-Photo. (Recently I moved again, to Official PlayStation Magazine. Stay versatile, stay lively!) I was flicking through it and thought you might like what it had to say about colours in clothing. One thing that I found fascinating was that in all discussions on colours, whether changing hair colour or choosing clothes, the eyes were the most important thing: "the colour of the eye must be considered, and never made to appear washed out. Beyond that, with a little skill and practice, the skin may be encouraged to meet almost any colour half way."

"Black is the intensity of all colour; therefore to wear it one must be prepared to feel interesting and alert, intense in every detail, faultlessly groomed, unworried and glowing in a clean fresh sort of way. Black should not be worn simply because it is the only clothing without colour, and because it does not show the dirt, but because it is arresting. A deep-coloured lipstick, and plenty of gloss on the hair and eyebrows, will suggest the wearer is "alive".

"Brown is kind to people with dark or light brown or hazel eyes. Just a few shades darker than a warm brown eye is a perfect choice of colouring, especially if worn in large, simple masses. Cream or pink skin-colouring must be assured, for brown brings out more brown in the complexion, and sallowness must be avoided at all costs. Only lipstick and warm-coloured rouge should be used.

"Beige is an easy colour to wear because green, blue or pink can be introduced in small quantities by means of any favourite string of beads. All hair from golden to black (except mouse-grey) can be seen happily with beige, and as long as the eyes are not blue, almost any eye fits in with the many lights and shades playing over beige in its darker and lighter tones. It compels cleanliness and good grooming, and does not insist on any extreme make-up.

"Blue is a colour that very few people should wear, because it draws all the natural warmth from the face, accentuates lines, fills hollows with a greyish blue of its own reflection, changes deep pink to pale cream, and generally creates an illusion of yellow or drab over everything that is not of its own composition."
I hope that's not blue, Nora Charles!
[I'm not going to repeat everything the book says about blue, which it says is only for 'golden-haired people, or the golden-brown-haired girl with ruddy cheeks and a snowy neck', though it concedes that some black-haired people can wear navy! It also forbids blue with suntans. This really surprised me as I think of blue as a perfect colour for 1930s styles.  Clearly the writer, Maria Verni, really didn't like it, and goes on at some length about it.]

"Green is easier for all eyes but blue, and for all skins but the purple red, and that can be tones with a faintly green powder at night or for wear with artificial light. Jade green is for the black-haired, exotic girl, the type who should wear jade necklaces and earrings, or for the very fair.

"Grey is for the woman who depends on her grooming for effect. Pale pearl-grey and pale golden hair is arrestingly beautiful, but grooming must come first, and the grey clothing must be extremely well cut.

"Red reflects warmth, and will provide a colour for the pale. It challenges the make-up more than natural colour, and those who choose a lipstick for use with a red dress must have the red with them - a memory of it is not enough; nothing is more mistaken than a bright orange-red lipstick with a deeper red dress. Deep, glowing red will need a deeper lipstick, but very little or no rouge, and the darkets brown eyebrow and lash colouring and warm-brown eye shadows.

"Violet needs warm red lipstick, very dark brows and lashes, a little rouge, and very brilliant head grooming. It is not for the casual curls, but for slender elegance in hair dressing.

"White is for the deeply sunburned [suntanned] and the naturally ruddy of any age."
So here sit I, in my jade green dress while neither exotic nor very fair, wondering, who's wearing blue today? I like blue. Verni doesn't even mention yellow, from which I conclude she didn't think you'd be even suggest it... I do find the way different decades view colours fascinating, both in terms of the colours assigned to particular wearers, and in the way colours are paired. Could anything be more 1980s than pink and dove grey? Or more 60s than orange with lime green? What colours are you wearing today?


  1. I practically live in blue! Mind you, I also have blue eyes, which she seems to rule out for several of the other colours, so maybe I'm just being ridiculously coordinated.

  2. What an interesting read. I'm fascinated by vintage fashion advice, it's so ridiculously rigid.
    I can't think of anyone who doesn't look good in blue. One of my friends works in a gents outfitters and always advise customers to go for a blue shirt as it suits all skin colours.
    I'm wearing a psychedelic maxi in orange, bubblegum pink chartreuse and mauve because I had an early appointment this morning and couldn't be arsed to wear make-up - wearing colour is a wonderful tactic to divert attention from a pale face! xxx

  3. I love blue and am wearing it right now! In fact, most of my dresses are blue! Silly woman and as for not mentioning yellow, lets not go there, especially when it looks so beautiful teamed with blue! :) xx

  4. Oh, that sort of advice does make me laugh! Mind you, I'm wearing black today (with mustard) and I've got the red lips and gloss on my eyebrows (Vaseline - I put it on my eyebrows every day) and some Argan oil for gloss on my hair!

    It's weird that she doesn't like blue - it's usually most people's favourite colour...

    Have a great weekend


  5. Oh dear she really has taken against blue hasn't she?? I think it suits pretty much everyone and I love wearing it but then as I am one of the golden haired exceptions I would wouldn't I??
    Today I'm in black and definitely not glossy and groomed = fail.

  6. Well, well... This lady would not be impressed with a number of my dresses and jumpers. Today I'm wearing my Lavenda Rainbow jumper, welt, cuffs and yoke in deep red, the rest of the jumper striped with deep red, beige/brown, dark purple, light blue and dark blue.

  7. Very interesting. I love blue and I hate rules. I like every color, even black though it's my least favorite

  8. Very interesting. I find this aspect of Ms Verni's advice fascinating-
    "Cream or pink skin-colouring must be assured, for brown brings out more brown in the complexion, and sallowness must be avoided at all costs."

    "Sallowness" or what we now call 'warm toned' skin was evidently considered unattractive in the West up until the 80's. Pretty much every makeup foundation you bought up until the late 80's was excessively pink for any human being. I remember being told as a young teen by an Elizabeth Arden makeup artist that foundation was to add color to my skintone (which I thought was odd since I have a VERY warm 'peaches & cream' complexion.) Thank Allah the 90's brought in more color options & foundation that evens out one's skin tone instead of making you look a garish mauve.

    "Blue is a colour that very few people should wear, because it draws all the natural warmth from the face, accentuates lines, fills hollows with a greyish blue of its own reflection, changes deep pink to pale cream, and generally creates an illusion of yellow or drab over everything that is not of its own composition."

    See? Yellowness is drab & unhealthy.

    Ms Verni doesn't address redheads at all, what's that about?

    "Grooming" appears to be a big deal & not simply about brushing one's teeth either.

    There's a shade of blue for everyone I say!

    Now I'll be changing from my black silky pajamas with rhinestone and pearl embellishments to a muted purple and white blockprinted Indian tunic and maroon churidar trousers!

  9. That's a fascinating read, Mim, although I can't say I agree with all the advice. I'm always being told that blue suits me well and so does jade green, although I am not black-haired. Today, however, I am wearing orange and brown. xxx

  10. I find general colour advice amusing, it's never accurate! I look undead in beige, but deep blues suit me well, despite my pale yet ruddy complexion.

  11. Look at me, all interesting and alert as I swish about wearing mostly black! I love these sorts of things.

    My mother told me once that I shouldn't wear red and pink together, I hate colour rules so I ignore her too. I like a bit of colour clashing and I thought she'd like a bit of opposition in the colour stakes, being a young thing in the seventies, but then she's mostly found in black and purple channeling her inner goth xxx

  12. And here was me, thinking that gray is, to my, not so much a "fun" and "social" color. I suppose if we wanted to succeed in 1930s we should re-consider our own personal view.
    Do you think it mattered to everyone?


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