Color Me … Uncorrelated

By December 28, 2015

This post begins with a rather cryptic instruction for Relief Society leaders, published in the Bulletin No. 13, July 1981, p. 2, which reads:

Homemaking Meeting Materials:
Relief Society leaders should ensure that all materials used in homemaking meeting are reliable and accurate. They should be especially careful about materials focusing upon color analysis for wardrobe planning. Materials presented in homemaking meeting should use basic color principles and promote an understanding of the use of color. Sisters should avoid ?systems? of color analysis, many of which contain misinformation. [1]

IMG_1076Fellow JI blogger J. Stapley stumbled upon this puzzling little gem; I have a pretty solid hunch about it, but I also invite further interpretation / speculation about its meaning in the comments. The specific context might very well be forever lost in the mists of time, but it?s worth seeing if we can unpack this passage a little.

I can say that in 1980 a woman named Carole Jackson published a book that became a best-seller called Color Me Beautiful [2]. I know because we owned a copy and I pored over it hundreds of times growing up, so much so that I probably unconsciously memorized entire passages. I?m not aware of any particular Mormon connection with Jackson herself, but I do know that Jackson?s book launched a popular cottage industry of direct-marketing color analysis home businesses, including lots (I have no idea how many, but I?ll just venture a guess? lots) of Mormon women who became independent beauty consultants.

The system of Color Me Beautiful (CMB) analysis was simple: based on hair, eye and skin coloring, a woman could determine which colors of clothing and makeup suited her best (“Find Your Colors, Find Yourself,” was the book’s theme). These palettes of harmonious colors could be divided into 4 timeless ?seasons:? Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. For example, regardless of the calendar date, Autumns (like me) actually should wear avocado, olive, mustard, pumpkin and other colors with warm undertones, whereas Springs, Summers, and Winters should just be grateful that the 1970s were over and seek out other colors that flattered them better. The book expanded from color selection into makeup application tips, fashion “personalities,” developing “colorisma,” and dressing to minimize unattractive body features.

2015-12-28 4sAn evening with a color consultant would involve draping women in an array of CMB’s solid-color scarves to see which ones best enhanced their natural coloring, thereby determining their underlying season?s best colors, and providing advice about wardrobe and makeup dos and don?ts, with an emphasis on simplicity and paring down to a wardrobe of functional, easy-to-match, classic pieces.

Homemaking meetings over the years, no doubt, have harbored all kinds of fascinating fads among Relief Society sisters, only few of which raised the alarm among local leaders enough to warrant a scolding in the Bulletin and thereby secure them a permanent place in the historical record. Consider this equation:

Inventive, creative Mormon women + home-based marketing (and/or pyramid schemes) + frequent women-only meetings that need content + tight social networks of trust = a highly potent combination.

Many things have come and gone in Homemaking meeting (and its successor Enrichment nights) that blur the line between merchandising, home economics instruction and gospel topics: resin grapes [3], Joy School, Shaklee, Creative Memories, Stampin? Up, NuSkin and on into our own era of doTerra and Choffy, just to name a few.

Color Me Beautiful may seem utterly benign, but the Bulletin?s stated fear of women dispensing ?misinformation? is telling nonetheless. It?s possible this is just a generic concern about uncorrelated materials in church meetings ? a perennial chestnut over the years, I’m sure. But I also think CMB walked the fine line between traditional femininity and female empowerment at the dawn of a decade when post-2nd wave feminist gains in employment, education, and affirmative action were bringing more women out of the home and into the workforce. The late 70s and early 80s was an era of power suits for women, coining the term ?Yuppie,? and sometimes bewildering double-messaging (think of the 1980 Enjoli perfume ad in which a sexy professional woman brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan, all while remaining irresistably attractive and desirable, thus keeping traditional gender roles firmly in place).

At the time, Mormon women were being encouraged to assert their political clout and cultural authority with massive collective action? ironically enough, to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. And so many of them would follow the general cultural and economic trends of the time to seek jobs or even full-time careers outside the home that by the mid-1980s it would become President Benson?s steady mantra to call mothers in Zion back to their hearths and kitchens. Women who embraced CMB principles weren?t just training to be mindless, homogenized pageant Barbies; they were discovering how to leverage their unique (natural? even divine) assets in order to be more effective in the public sphere. Jackson?s book contained a section on ?Dressing for Business,? and emphasized authenticity and self-esteem, the confidence of being ?put-together? every day. Perhaps that?s why the color system seemed even mildly threatening? I?m reminded here of Elaine Tyler May?s argument in Homeward Bound, that Cold War containment ideology recognized the subversive potential of capable women?s ambitions, and therefore channeled those ambitions aggressively back into domesticity; in such an analysis, Mormon male leadership was following suit here, whether for those same or its own internal cultural reasons.

Those are some of my ideas. What do you think might be at play in this counsel? What secret threat lay buried in systems of color analysis in 1981? And what other uncorrelated cultural fads made it into Homemaking meeting over the years?


[1] *Bulletin,* no. 13, July, 1981, p. 2. The *Priesthood Bulletin* was a periodical for stake presidents and bishoprics established by the Correlation Committee that ran from 1965-1974. The *Bulletin* was similar except that it was directed at the equivalent to the ward council. It ran from 1980 to the mid 1990s.

[2] Carole Jackson, Color Me Beautiful: Discover Your Natural Beauty Through Color (Washington, DC: Acropolis Books, 1980).

[3] Ah, resin grapes. A post for another time. See here, here, and here for starters.

Article filed under From the Archives Women's History


  1. Ooookaaayyy …

    This was in July 1981? In September 1981, I received my mission call. It was followed a few days later by a packet of information from the Missionary Department that included lists of the documents I would need for my specific mission (I never did need the notarized statement from my father assuring the police departments of France that I — nearly 22 — had his permission to travel), packing lists, wardrobe requirements, coupons for my first temple garments, and a boatload of other papers. That packet included booklets on identifying “my” colors and putting together pleasing wardrobe and makeup combinations.

    As I remember 1981, the color analysts had moved beyond wardrobe and makeup into the very much frowned upon field of personality analysis, using color almost like the Zodiac to give “readings.” Some of the color systems were also very expensive, selling the scarves, and color cards fastened on keyrings to carry with you to the store, and professional analyses that cost a grundel of money.

    Some of what you speculate may have been present — I wasn’t very sensitive to it at the time. But I suspect it was the expense and the free agency-depressing perceptions of the personality readings, that were most objectionable. I remember nothing but encouragement from church sources for looking and dressing in an attractive, professional way.

    I’ll forgive you for speaking of my young adulthood as looming out of “the mists of time.” 🙂

    Comment by Ardis — December 28, 2015 @ 7:42 am

  2. Tona: What a fascinating buried gem of instruction to RS women! I think your contextualization is spot-on, especially in how you have connected women’s home-based financial empowerment and feminine networking to ongoing interest and participation in these kinds of marketing schemes today. Same parties. Different gadgets.

    As to this specific “Color Me Beautiful” fad, I remember vividly doing one of these group consultations for a YW activity in Iowa. I was about 12, so that would fit with your 1982-83 timeline. The consultant did all of the tests on the other girls and me, but then gave up, saying that my coloring was too complex, and I couldn’t really be categorized. I remember feeling very self-conscious about it at the time, thus adding to my already vulnerable “self-esteem.”

    Which brings me to my question for you.
    The concept of “self esteem” does seem related to finding female strength and ambition in a post-ERA world. But I remember discussions of self esteem related more to how we could be prettier, more alluring, more confident, thus improving our attractiveness as potential Mormon wives. So at what point did church activities for YW and RS sisters begin focusing on “self esteem,” especially to how young women could improve their appearance, make-up application, clothing coordination, etc.? I think that might be an interesting follow-up post for you, to trace the emergence and use of “self esteem” as a concept for Mormon females to find actualization in a postmodern world, but more toward marriageability than to confident ambition.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — December 28, 2015 @ 8:21 am

  3. Good memories, good points, both Ardis and Andrea. And Ardis – my “mists of time” includes LAST WEEK which I can barely remember, so it wasn’t intended as a slight on anyone’s living memory but my own.

    Interesting inquiry to pursue, Andrea and I’ll see what I can do. Though tracing what happened in activities is so much harder to pin down than lesson content (even lessons are hard enough to reconstruct, what with old manuals vanishing from the digital sphere and all) – getting at those ephemeral live events that barely register with a disposable flyer or handout as textual evidence is tricky business.

    Comment by Tona H — December 28, 2015 @ 8:27 am

  4. Fascinating, Tona, thanks. I’d love to see a study of these and other phenomena (indeed, like DoTerra) that take them seriously (i.e. Not dismissing them as vain, female, and unimportant as so often happens).

    Comment by Saskia — December 28, 2015 @ 9:53 am

  5. I remember this. It was some sort of magical mystical power, if only your true color power could be identified harnessed the world would be yours… or so it seemed to an awkward youth with no social capital. My color power was never formally identified or weilded to my benefit. Sigh.

    Comment by Dovie — December 28, 2015 @ 9:54 am

  6. Saskia, agreed: if for no other reason than the most basic one = women themselves took/take them seriously… therefore, scholars should too.

    Comment by Tona H — December 28, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  7. In reading this article, I am reminded of how my mother dresses. I did not experience the relief society “colors” but my working mom did. She came home and told me that she was an autumn and to this day will not branch out and wear colors outside the autumn palate. I on the other had was a YW who experienced the “self-esteem” Mary Kay make over activities. in conjunction, we had classes on how to dress to look our best. I was confused as to how putting make up on and wearing black tights versus white tights would help me feel better about myself.

    Comment by Deanna — December 28, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

  8. My mother did color analysis for most of the 1980s, and here lies the Mormon connection: The company (MLM of course and called “Beauty for All Seasons”) was headquartered in Idaho Falls with the founders and most of the top-level beauty consultants being Mormon. In addition to offering color consultations and offering wallet-sized swatches of compatible fabrics, they sold a full line of cosmetics coordinated to the season. (For the record, Spring as well as Fall are considered warm undertoned, summer and winter are cool complexioned. I had heard the pitch so many times that by the time I was about seven, I off-handed replied to my mother that “Mickey Mouse is a Winter”).

    As noted in the original post, this was a great combination that allowed her to make good money while meeting the stay-at-home mom expectations of Mormondom.

    Comment by The Other Clark — December 28, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

  9. I remember my mom’s cousin and her family coming for a visit to our family (we lived in the PNW) in the late 60s. I was about 7 or so at the time. She lived in Utah and she always brought some new make-up or other kind of stuff she was into which my mom would always buy from her (looking back, you could probably trace every Utah-based MLM fad through her visits to our home).

    She did a “color analysis” at that time of my mom, me, and my younger sister (age 5 at the time) back then. I was a summer as I recall. 🙂

    This is older than the early 80s for sure. Though I do remember my mom suddenly turning up with that Color Me Beautiful book in the early 80s. (I was still a summer, 12 years or so later.) I think it’s still kicking around her house somewhere. I don’t remember a book back when my mom’s cousin did the color analysis. Just piles and plies of swatches of different color cloth that she would lay across my shoulder and then whip away and then lay another one and whip it away.

    And when she was done with the whole pile she would pronounce what our “season” was. LOL

    Comment by Caroline U. — December 28, 2015 @ 2:13 pm

  10. My Merrie Miss teacher was a color consultant and read our colors for us (I was a spring) for an activity when I was 11, which would have been 1980-81. This was in Fairbanks, Alaska, so the trend spread far and wide in Mormondom. (The teacher was an army medical officer’s wife–which meant she could have been exposed to it, and then spread it herself, in a number of places they lived. That that type of person was involved in the phenomenon is also worth thinking about!) I don’t know if the RS had any kind of activity along these lines–my mom never had her colors read. Us girls thought it was super cool and it definitely influenced they way I shopped and thought about myself (great questions about self esteem ARM) through my teens.

    Comment by Rebecca de. — December 28, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

  11. My mom had this book and we lived in the DC area! She was a spring, I, an impressionable young child, was an autumn. Those photos are so familiar, I must have spent a lot of time looking at the book too. Of course, the latest RS fad which my sisters-in-law from Utah to California have embraced is Dressing Your Truth:
    Some things change, but women still search for ways to be more beautiful!

    Comment by anita — December 28, 2015 @ 6:16 pm

  12. Anita, wow, that one’s new to me (must not have made it “back East” yet). Interesting, indeed.

    Comment by Tona H — December 28, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

  13. I think that the main objection to the “color me beautiful” fad is the connection to pyramid schemes. The tight relationships made at church can be manipulated into making money through MLMs. When people are constantly bombarded with hard sales techniques it can sour relationships and harm the community. 97% of people that buy into an MLM never make back more than they pay into the company. MLM = Mormons Losing Money

    Comment by Valerie — December 28, 2015 @ 9:37 pm

  14. I remember this as well. I was in the same stake with Andrea and probably had the same consultant. When I went home and told my mother that they couldn’t decide whether I was a spring or summer she explained that it was ridiculous to categorize people like that and that there was no way she was throwing out any of her favorite outfits and buying new ones to fit into some ridiculous fad. (no offense to anyone who did love it, for real Tona always looks better than I do). However offensive and brash my mother’s opinions tended to be, I did grow up feeling confident in my right to make my own choices. I think that the whole thing had become a point of contention within some relief societies with some people buying into it completely and actually preaching it with religious vigor and others aggressively opposing its attempts to fit them into a pigeon hole of acceptable beauty. I don’t think there were any additional motives for trying to put a damper on it, than to make it clear that “Color Me Beautiful” was not actual doctrine, and compliance should not be preached.

    Comment by Beth F — December 28, 2015 @ 9:58 pm

  15. This a great post, and I’ve enjoyed comments. I’ve written a bit on pseudo-medical MLM’s in relation to Mormonism’s history of dissenting medical practice, but your equation is more powerfully explanatory.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2015 @ 8:28 am

  16. Sorry The Other Clark [#8], your comment got lost in our spam filter yesterday, but I appreciate you identifying some of the Mormon connections… I suspected, but didn’t have any evidence – thanks for pointing that out!

    Comment by Tona H — December 29, 2015 @ 8:34 am

  17. I’m late to this, but I thoroughly enjoyed the post and comments. What a conversation!

    Comment by Ben P — December 29, 2015 @ 9:39 am

  18. “Dressing Your Truth” is the heir to CMB.

    Comment by Brent M — December 31, 2015 @ 7:07 pm

  19. Nothing to say but wow.

    Comment by Ben S — January 1, 2016 @ 9:15 am

  20. Responding to Andrea #2: In the late 1950’s, Bonneville Ward in SLC did make-up demo for YWMIA. It was astounding to me what a difference it made in the girl who was the subject. It didn’t last, though. I think we all went back to our minimal or no make-up ways.

    About the same time, 1958 or so, my Roosevelt Junior High home ec teacher did color swatches for each of the girls. Results were determined by reaction of class members. Purple for me. I don’t wear it real often, but I do bake the Butternut Snowballs she taught us to make!

    Comment by Mary Lou — January 1, 2016 @ 2:25 pm

  21. I remember doing this in Mutual in the 1979-80 era, and I have had it redone as an adult by a non-LDS woman. In my youth experience, it did not stray into “personality” traits, but focused on what looked best and why.

    It is good advice to avoid conflicts of interest bordering on “for-profit” motives. We are discouraged in the area I live in from promoting sales at stores and announcing vendor names if we are discussing in a RS meeting where to obtain material/goods for a project.

    This is one reason I don’t sell anything at Church to church members. Most of them don’t know I have participated in Amway, E-bay or other home business opportunities. I don’t want the appearance of conflict. The only patronage I have given others is for fundraisers for youth camps and for one widowed sister who is a great seamstress since I always need alterations anyway.

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — January 5, 2016 @ 12:14 pm

  22. Fascinating post, Tona. In relation to female empowerment, I very much recommend two documentaries by Laurie Kahn, the film-maker who did the documentary on A Midwife’s Tale. She went on to an amazing film on Tupperware. A must see to understand the broader phenomenon you are writing about! She has just launched “Love Between the Covers,” a feature-length documentary on the romance novel industry. In keeping with the theme, there are ways of “crowd-sourcing” a screening in theaters. Fascinating example of female entrepreneurship. No Mormon content in either of these, but they put the recurring fads in our culture in a broader perspective–and of course lots of Mormons were/are involved in both enterprises.
    Thanks for this delightful essay!

    Comment by Laurel Ulrich — January 9, 2016 @ 3:06 am

  23. Glad you enjoyed it, Laurel! We had Laurie Kahn as a campus guest a few years ago for a screening of her Tupperware film and I got to be a discussant, she is terrific. Agreed: the cultural aspects of women-to-women sales and the organizational structures of women-founded franchise businesses are fascinating, more research needed here for sure. Thanks for your comment & as always, your championing of the extraordinary we can find in ordinary and often-overlooked women’s experiences (no matter which century).

    Comment by Tona H — January 9, 2016 @ 11:19 am

  24. What a gem indeed! I love your analysis as well. Also, for what it’s worth, I vividly recall a Homemaking event circa 1995 when I was a girl tagging along with my mom, and we had some “color consultant” tell us our colors. I also distinctly recall she said my signature color was yellow and I thought that was bogus because yellow doesn’t look good on me.

    Comment by Holly — January 10, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

  25. Bookmarked this forever ago and finally caught up. Really fun post.

    Comment by BHodges — February 6, 2016 @ 12:28 pm


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