For Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue who spouted fashion dictates from the top of the magazine’s masthead from 1962–1971, it was the color red. She loved red-lacquered walls and red-lacquered nails, and she spent a decent portion of her time searching for the perfect shade. She said that it was the exact color of a small boy’s cap in any Renaissance painting, and anyone who was familiar with Renaissance painting would know exactly what she was talking about.
For me, the quest is for the ultimate green. Whether it’s celery or moss or that pale blue-green of my beat-up old Hermes day-planner, when I see a shade that’s just right, I want to snatch up any object it’s attached to. My history with green goes back years before I made the painful splurge at Hermes. There was a cowl-neck sweater with a matching hip belt and plaid green and gray polyester bell-bottoms that I wore in the winter of 1974. I was four. And I was photographed in it while I sang “Rudolph” to a roomful of patient holiday party guests. Back in high school, when my mom and I made my party dresses, we stitched up a sea foam taffeta number with a silk chiffon overlay that is so painfully ‘80s that it hurts to look at the photos. The color worked for me then because I was also excruciatingly tan.
These days, now that I’m healthily pale and unhappy about it, that pastel shade would wash me out to the actual sea (where I’d see that its foam is actually a yellowish color). Not a stellar track record, but my love soldiers on.
Thankfully, there are plenty of greens that do work for me, as there are for everyone else. The basic idea is that there are “warm” and “cool” versions of every color (even white—think ivory versus the color of a celebrity gossip show host’s teeth).
Let’s start with how we make green, first-grade art students. We mix pure yellow, which is warm, and pure blue, which is cool. Warm greens have more yellow in them. Olives are green, but when they float in your martini for too long, they fade to yellow, right? That’s a warm green. Moss, celery, and the color of the leaves of a tomato plant are also warm greens. Cool greens include the color of pine needles, the aforementioned clumsily named sea foam, and the bluish-gray-green of fresh sage. And, you guessed it, I heavily favor the blue side of the equation.
How do you find the perfect green for you? Consider your coloring (warm goes with warm, cool with cool). We’re over-simplifying, but here’s a decent guideline: naturally golden blondes, freckled redheads, and those blessed with auburn or shades chocolate (from milk to bittersweet) brown hair, you’re on the warm team. Pale blondes, ashy brunettes and jet-black temptresses are cooler customers. So Halle Berry looks stunning in the warm moss green and Kirsten Dunst stops traffic in emerald.
Undertone-appropriateness aside, the perfect green may also be one you associate with a good memory, like the time you waded out 100 yards from shore in the clear aqua-green ocean, or the exact waxy blue-green of a gardenia leaf on your wedding day, or the silvery grass in the valley you saw from the end of a perfectly exhausting hike. And anyone who is familiar with that kind of feeling would know exactly what I’m talking about.