Edith Head's Complexion Guide: Episode 1

 Edith Head's Hollywood Designs

Edith Head remains Hollywood's most revered costume designer: the woman behind Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren's (to name a handful) iconic film dresses. She was nominated for 35 Oscars, and won 8. Edith Head believed in a color relationship between complexion and fabric, which she outlined in her book How to Dress for Success

In the following series, we'll explore her complexion categories and the color recommendations for each. This is a guideline of what colors Ms. Head would have sketched for you, had you been a film star during her 50-year career. But remember, she strayed from her own rules, so don't be afraid to experiment. Finally, it is a truth universally acknowledged that white and black flatters everyone, so those colors are excluded from Edith's recommended lists. 

Carmen Dell'Orefice 

HAIR: White

SKIN: Fair

EYES: Light blue or violet

Linda Evangelista




Violet: Interestingly, violet is not a flowery word for purple, but its own color. Violet is a true color, meaning it appears on the spectrum of visible light, whereas purple is a composite of red and blue. Violet is less intense and bright than purple, and appears naturally in lavender and amethyst. In part due to the extremely time consuming and difficult task required to dye fabrics violet in premodern times, the color has historically denoted royalty. The process required that two species of sea snails soak for days. After decomposing, tiny glands had to be removed from the snails and exposed to sunlight in order to transform from a milky color to deep violet. In a modern experiment recreating the original formula, 12,000 sea snails were required to produce enough solution to dye a single handkerchief. Byzantine emperors, Roman emperors, bishops, Cleopatra, and the Virgin Mary have been cloaked in violet throughout history.  

Check out a favorite makeup tutorial by Lisa Eldridge using a violet palette on the fair-complexioned Sophie Dahl: 

Aqua: The color is synonymous with the Tiffany 'blue'. Despite its brightness, aqua is extremely soothing, which is one reason why surgeons switched from white gowns to aqua ones in the 20th century. Water absorbs red light, so our eyes perceive colorless water as blueish-green; hence the Latin word aqua for the color below, and why we instantly associate the beautiful color with tropical beaches. 


Soft Rose: The hue is often associated with gentility, grace, and sensitivity. Soft pastel pink is universally flattering and feminine. 

Soft Rose

Sapphire Blue: Sapphires have long been associated with the heavens, for example ancient Persians believed the blue sky was a celestial reflection of sapphires. For thousands of years, kings in a diversity of cultures wore blue sapphires as a protective amulet. The rich color is royal, elegant, and entrancing. 

Sapphire blue


Next week: Edith Head's color recommendations for women with silver/gray hair, fair skin, and light blue/violet eyes.