Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

orange lipstick

Sometimes I think a lot of the so-called facts that we’ve come to accept as “part of the natural order of things” or “just life, man” are not facts at all but borderline ridiculous schemes designed to divide, confuse, part us with our wallets or all three. Take the Great Pantyhose Conspiracy, for instance. It’s 2011. We put a man on the moon. Someone invented the Internet. Are you seriously telling me that they can’t come out with a pantyhose that won’t run after one wearing? It isn’t right.

And it’s the same with all of these rules about the colour of your makeup and hair vis-à-vis your skin tone. Just like everybody’s an expert these days (including me—hah!), everyone also loves to tell other people what they can and (mostly) can’t do. Avoid blue eyeshadow if you have blue eyes! Never go blonde if you have olive skin! Don’t you DARE wear orange lipstick if you’ve got a cool complexion!

It’s so exhausting, non? And maybe even wrong. I’ve been feeling for a while now—encouraged by interviews with such fearless colour trailblazers as Giorgio Armani makeup artist Reza Zaimeche and Clairol celebrity colourist Marie Robinson—that the beauty rules are a lot bendier than we think. Sure, there are still a few that hold up, but it’s clear to me that we’re entering a brave new world where there’s a way to wear just about any colour whenever the mood strikes.

The Old Rules

There are so many. None of this will be news to you, but obviously the most basic is the whole cool versus warm complexion thing. Cool people are not only sought after throughout the world by famous VIPs, but also have skin with more of a pinkish undertone. Supposedly they look best in these shades:

Cool Colours Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair tooWarms, on the other hand, are generally nicer, never need to sleep with the extra blanket, and have more yellow-based skintones. These are the colours that look ravishing on them:

Warm Colors Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

You can get even more complex, should you so desire, with the whole Spring/Fall/Summer/Winter colour theory (which I showcased in this post about nail maven Essie Weingarten’s musings on signature nail polish colours). But the question is, who would WANT to? I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when I’m getting dressed or applying my eyeliner is to refer to a chart to make sure I’m doin’ it rite. Some people take the fun out of everything—and I say this colour business has more to do with what you’re naturally drawn to than some chart from the 1980s.

Not that it doesn’t have some merit. Personally, I’ve always identified my colouring with the Summer area… and trust me, this is NOT because I enjoy wearing baby pink and baby blue. But I’ve also wondered, at times, if I’m really a Winter (when my hair was dark) or a Spring (now that I’m more strawberry). Just about the only colours I know I look ghastly in are the Fall ones—rust, orange, brown—and even then I don’t think it applies to makeup and hair, because who doesn’t look half-decent in brown eyeshadow?

So really, my colour philosophy is getting more and more simple by the day. For makeup, hair and also clothing, if you like it, find yourself drawn to it, think you look pretty damn cute in it? WEAR. IT.

Silly Rules Give Me the Sads

Let’s pause for a moment here, and just think about what kind of world it would be if we had to stick to our prescribed “colours.”

A very sad world indeed. This would not happen:

Gucci SS09 makeup Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

Nor would this (ignoring the fact that poor Rach needs a quick shot of Visine):

Rachel McAdams Morning Glory Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

Or probably even this:

Marc by Marc Jacobs 2010 Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

You know what? I’m actually starting to think that wearing the OPPOSITE colour of what the “experts” recommend actually looks cooler than getting all matchy-matchy on your skin tone. I mean, I am pretty sure that Natalie Portman is not a Summer, but this fuchsia lipstick, as we’ve already discussed ad nauseum, is fantastic:

Natalie Portman Gotham awards 2010 Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

Conclusion: Rules are kinda useless. Do what you want. The key is to just find the specific tone that flatters you within the overall colour family. This takes experimentation. For example, I’d been avoiding orange—since it’s definitely not an “approved” colour—for my entire adult life until last year, when I realized it looked kind of amazing, especially with blonde hair. I just make sure to wear one that’s more of a coral, with some pink in it, instead of a yellow-based orange. But you really do have to try before you buy.

One more thing will help, however. Make sure you still pay attention to…

The Great Equalizers: Blush and Foundation

Fendi backstage Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

None of this colour experimentation should apply to your SKIN. Breaking the rulez about wearing the right shade of foundation is never going to be a beauty “do.” Please, for the love of God, get thyself a good mirror, a bright window and swatch your jaw ’til the cows come home—or at least, until you find a base that’s an exact match to your skin tone. (If in doubt, go darker.) When your skin looks good—healthy, glowing, luminous good—then the rest of your makeup is 271 percent easier to pull off.

Blush helps, too, A LOT. Applied with a subtle hand, a healthy flush tones everything down and takes away any harshness that’s happening on the eyes or lips. You’ll look younger and fresher and of course, better—just go for your choice of a pink, peach or coral.

A Quick Word about Hair Colour

Emma Stone Newsflash! There are no more colour rules when it comes to makeup, and maybe even hair too

Remember when Charles Baker Strahan told us that everyone should do warm tones in their hair? I wholeheartedly agree, even though it’s sort of against conventional hairdresser wisdom and, well, another rule (whoops!). Well, here’s another gem, courtesy of celebrity colourist Marie Robinson. There is a way to do wear every hair colour, no matter what your skin tone.

I don’t want to apply this to the extremes—black hair is pretty risky on the über-pale, as is blonde on the über-dark or Asian—but I think she’s right. Just like there’s a version of every lipstick shade that will suit you, it IS possible to find a hair colour that does the same. Just look at Emma Stone, for instance (who is one of Marie’s clients). She effortlessly flips from auburn to blonde, as natural as can be. And J. Lo is a great example of how even olive skin tones can go blonde, as long as it’s the right blonde.

You do need a good colourist for this. A good starting point is to go with what you’re drawn to, and then expect a bit of trial and error from there. I’ve been experimenting with hair colour for, like, five years now, and I only JUST feel like I’ve finally got it right. (Turns out my instincts, which were to go a bit reddish, were correct—thanks to Marie for pointing it out and Tony Chaar for his fabulous execution. Getting rid of my ashy base colour and breaking free of the cool-toned blonde highlights was life-changing, I tell you. Really.)

So now tell me:

Do you follow certain colour rules when it comes to your hair and makeup?
Might you ditch them or are you a hard-core believer?
Will you or will you not try orange lipstick this spring?


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 8:43 am

Michelle! I LOVE your posts and this one is amazing. You might be the one person to get me to wear a bright lip! Genius. I was LOLing with a friend the other day about the whole Colour Me Beautiful thing, saying “what the heck were we thinking”


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:04 pm

OMG I didn’t realize you were in the non-bright lip camp! We will have to change that :-)

Re: Colour Me Beautiful, so cringey… I actually discovered a worse one not that long ago that I MUST blog about, it was written up in Maclean’s and is so offensive to my standards of taste that I can’t even begin. It’s called Dressing Your Truth.


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 9:48 am

I 2nd this motion! I think the colours that look good on a person are more about personal style than undertones and conventional wisdom. Theoretically, I “should” look better in Russian Red, and it looks fine, but in spite of its crazy brightness, it just feels so boring that I always reach for Lady Danger instead. That being said, I’m kind of an oddball, so I think that Russian Red would probably be more flattering on a person of my colouring who has a more staid personality, you see what I mean? My only trouble is figuring out what blushes to wear with bright lippies. I always feel too… colour-y, even when I use very little. Maybe my choices are just too pigmented.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:09 pm

Yes, exactly. It’s hard for me to deal with all of these “rules” since I’ve always been a visual person, into interior design and art etc…. but then I suppose there are loads of people out there with no intuitive sense of what works, or even what they LIKE. So I guess if you have absolutely no clue, they can help – but I’m with you, it’s also slightly boring.

Re: blush – I alternate between YSL cream blushes in pale peach and pink, and they seem to match everything. If I don’t wear blush with a big lip then I feel too pale and Goth-like. Maybe do a bit of bronzer instead?


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 9:57 am

My personal most hated ‘rule’ is dye your hair dark in the winter and light in the summer. I think you’ve posted on this before as well, Michelle. As if everything isn’t drab enough in the winter time, do we really need dark hair on pale skin to emphasize this?? I dyed my hair ombre blonde this winter and was thrilled about it!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:09 pm
Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 12:24 pm

The “colour seasons” made me mental. Some clueless consultant dubbed me a Summer, since I have blonde hair & cooler colouring. Despite the fact that I have dark grey/green eyes, dark blonde hair with a hint of red, and look like a dead thing in pastels.

Winter was closer, didn’t clash, but didn’t add anything either. Then on a discount rack I found a different “colour system”, Colour Times. Much, much better! Warms & cools in every “time”, just tweaked to favour different kinds of colouring. While some of it didn’t work (e.g. I still look corpsey in the suggested yellows), it is a lot more flexible & gave me a lot more ideas. Which is really what I’m looking for with this stuff. IDEAS! Challenge me!

I gotta admit, I believe in wearing whatever you want if you like it & it makes you happy. Go for it. Truly. But that is NOT the same thing as looking good in it! I can love butter yellow & tangerine all I want, and it will still look hideous on me!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:11 pm

Oh interesting – I’ve never heard of Colour Times, but I’ll look that up. My geeky side loves this stuff but then I usually ignore most of the advice. :-)


Sunday, May 1/2011 at 10:59 am

The website is

Website doesn’t show much that’s very helpful, but I really liked the book. Like I said, just a more useful set of guideline for people who want a bit if guidance or ideas.

I’m not new to colour (B.A. in Studio Art) but wore practically nothing but black for so long I didn’t know where to start when it came to clothes. Colour suddenly seemed so Scary. Needed some outside ideas to break through my shell, get me started.

And I am a hardcore beauty-book geek too! Most of my treasures are from discount racks, they never sell all of them, so I can pick them up cheap!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, May 1/2011 at 5:25 pm

Thanks – I just ordered it from the library!


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 1:10 pm

I have never even bothered to begin to try to figure out the whole seasons thing. I would hate not being able to not wear a super cute top or something just because it wasn’t in my colour scheme D:

by the way I’m experiencing extreme beauty envy from the second to last picture, the lips colour and make up in general is gorgeous and I love her hair colour <3


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:13 pm

Oh I know! That’s from Fendi.


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 2:18 pm

If you’re 15-25, with a great complexion, nice features, and a good figure, you can do anything you want, and you’ll still look cute. If you’re not, wearing colors that really flatter helps in a real big way. Hell no, I’m not wearing orange lipstick. The fashion industry gets enough of my dime as it is, without me running out and buying every color of the minute, only to wonder, after the craze is over, what on earth induced me to buy it.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:15 pm

I agree with you to a point… you can definitely get away with a lot more when you’re younger…. however I caution against getting too stuck in your ways as that’s when beauty ruts happen. It’s always a good idea to experiment (in a subtle way) every once in a while, you could surprise yourself! I’ve discovered a lot of my favourite looks that way….


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 7:24 pm

Great post. I think people should try on a colour, and if it makes you feel good then wear it. I think it’s a lot easier to see with clothes. When I put on certain colours, I can see my skin looks way better than in others. Ultimately, we should wear stuff that we feel good in regardless of whether other people or a colour chart agree.

Do you know what that neon pink lip colour for Fendi is? I’m guessing some custom Chanel I’ll never be able to get my hands on. It just GLOWS.


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 7:25 pm

Just wanted to add – Emma Stones looks great, but I feel like her complexion has completely changed. Here she looks so pink


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:20 pm

Yep, it’s Chanel – but apparently the MUA hand-blended “a dozen different shades” … darn!


Tuesday, April 26/2011 at 8:06 pm

“We put a man on the moon. Someone invented the Internet. Are you seriously telling me that they can’t come out with a pantyhose that won’t run after one wearing? It isn’t right.” A-MEN WOMAN!!!!! Speaking of! I had an epic nylon fail just today, bought some black knee socks, I didn’t even get to WEAR them, I put ONE of them on and it ripped apart faster than I could say “F*** me!”.

Anyways… I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly on the color “rules” being some sort of guide for beauty idiots, but regarding the “rule-breakers”.. Chanel Iman?! COME ON! She doesn’t count! :P lol Nothing in this world could make that woman look bad, she could wear black lipstick and neon green shadow up to the eyebrows and still look amazing!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:21 pm

Haha! Ok, true – Chanel Iman can do no wrong, beauty-wise.


Wednesday, April 27/2011 at 3:47 am

I think Captain Barbossa had it right when he said “the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules” – which colours you should or shouldn’t wear due to skin tone etc (like the cool/warm or seasons systems you mentioned Michelle) are a great starting point, or guide, but thats all.

(And yes, finely woven teflon pantihose would be fabulous!)


Wednesday, April 27/2011 at 12:36 pm

Captain Barbossa is my new style icon! Now, where’s my monkey?


Wednesday, April 27/2011 at 12:27 pm

Petty comment but it’s nice to see even supermodels have skin issues. Looking at you, Chanel Iman!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:23 pm



Elle Sia
Thursday, April 28/2011 at 4:56 am

What was used in the Fendi SS11 shows for the lips? I love that bright matte pink up there^. It’s hard to find gorgeous bright MATTE colours.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, April 30/2011 at 12:24 pm

Unfortunately, a custom-blended Chanel mix.


Saturday, July 23/2011 at 12:19 am

Hi there,

who is the girl in the first picture with the orange lips?

thank you!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 31/2011 at 11:56 am

I don’t know, I’m sorry!


Saturday, September 3/2011 at 8:52 am

I’m one of the “uber-pale” and my hair is almost black, naturally. So, I’d have to disagree my coloring is “risky”. I think it looks good. I have blue eyes, and, overall, it gives an unusual, intense, and icy look. I agree that this coloring rarely looks good when it is fake though.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Saturday, September 3/2011 at 10:02 am

Obviously it’s not risky if that’s your natural hair shade!


Denise Moran
Tuesday, September 6/2011 at 11:46 am

I think of the color rules as very soft suggestions for those with little knowledge or experience. And for true colors only. Everyone can wear neutrals, like you said who looks bad in brown shadow? Or a natural lip color? And you’re right,what about the whole contrasting color theory? If you have blue eyes the opposite color on the wheel is orange. So to make blue eyes( most blue eyed peeps are labeled cool) pop, wouldn’t a warm color do the trick? And red heads are always told to go with green yet so many have green eyes. I so agree with you, if you like it, wear it. It might take a little experimenting to find the exact depth and shade, and placement of the color but it’s all doable. Sticking to your “ideals’ makes for boring makeup.
Don’t agree so much with the “everyone should do warm tones in their hair” absolute”. Me thinks Charles Baker Strahan doesn’t work with too many Mongoloid hair types( for any interested… Three hair types Mongolid( majority is blue black, worldwide the most common of all, Afroid which varies in shade majority being dark including blue black shade, and Caucasion hair types which also includes blue black. So not to say warm can’t be done and done well on naturally cool hair but it’s certainly not what everyone should aim for, in the least. I’m sure we’ve all seen that girl who does the warm hair for a while, then goes back to their natural black hair and everyone notices how muck better they look. Or have tried every color under the sun but look best in a cool black, Katie Perry( interesting because if I’m not mistaken she’s naturally light ash brown), Christina Ricci I’m looking at you.
I think this applies to what’s going on in fashion as well. You can now wear skinny jeans, boot cut jeans, short skirts mid length skirts long skirts, any color any season. I’m seeing a slight downside to this though. With everything being done all the time, it’s rare anything seems fresh and exciting.
Also I wanted to tell you Michele I apologize if I come across as being contrary. I feel like a lot of the time when I comment I’m disagreeing. I really like your blog a lot, one of the reasons is I agree with you on so much. What actually inspires me to comment though is when I don’t. I really enjoy different viewpoints and I’m sorry if it comes across anything other than friendly debate.


Wednesday, July 30/2014 at 10:43 pm

I have neutral colored skin and I had my hair colored a brownish red today. I have been wearing warm makeup colors which add no color to me face at all. I have found that my face comes alive when I wear cool makeup colors. Seems odd, but it works fine…


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