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By Sandy Dumont
The Image Architect

The best and worst thing that ever happened to my business was living in Belgium for twenty years. It was the worst thing because it is very sad to hear a client say, "I would rather look ugly than wear the colors you are suggesting." It was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I learned how to remedy this ever-recurring situation.  

The anguished woman who said that to me was very serious. You see, she had discovered that the "grunge" colors that are so popular in Belgium did not make her look better. In fact, they made her look sad, tired and older. And by the end of the workshop, she was able to see it in the mirror and acknowledge that she didn't look good in grunge colors like Loden (olive) green, brown, mustard and beige. She also saw that fuchsia and cherry red were her most flattering colors. However, she couldn't think of ever wearing them, because they would make her stand out too much. And then she would be very vulnerable.

You see, Belgium has been invaded since the days of Julius Caesar. One by one, most of Europe has invaded this tiny country. Belgians quickly discovered that it was wise to blend into the background and not be noticed. Standing out, they observed, could cause you to be hanged, shot or be dragged off by your pony tail to the new conqueror's cave. For women, looking too attractive was a scary thing.  

The climate in Belgium is similar to Seattle's. It is rainy and overcast most of the time, so the colors that allow you to blend into this country of immense forests and woods are the colors of autumn. It is no coincidence that grunge colors were popularized in Seattle, because throughout the world, people have a tendency to dress to "match" their surroundings. It is one of the most profound survival instincts going all the way back to our caveman days.  

My passion in life is color, so it broke my heart to see my Belgian friends looking so drab. I resolved to find a way to get them to look in the mirror and truly see the results. Surely they could see that some colors make you look happy and other colors make you look drab, dreary and sad. It took me a few years and there were many trials and errors with various methods, but eventually I learned to teach others to "look and see." That is, to make a distinction between the colors that make you feel good – or safe – and the colors that make you look good.  

A number of Belgian journalists eventually came around to interview me, because they had heard of some crazy stories about looking good in loud colors. I ended up doing several TV shows and being selected by the Belgian state television to be their image consultant. It was a long and tedious journey to success, but it was worth it. I got results!

It was my good fortune to serve as president of the 900-member Women's International Club of Brussels, so I was able to observe the distinct differences among more than 53 different nationalities and cultures, and I discovered something about the various reasons people are drawn to certain colors.  

Members were very international in attitude and dress, but traditional garments came out once a year when we had a fashion  show and members wore traditional costumes from their country. American women had no other "national costume" other than cowgirl outfits, while women from African nations wore brightly-colored floral prints and exquisite jungle prints. Belgian women wore "farm" costumes like those in a Bruegel painting. It was interesting to see how often ancient costumes find their way into "modern" dress. We Americans still love our jeans and cowboy boots, and lavish floral and jungle prints still permeate the scene in modern-day Africa. Belgians today wear high-fashion clothing, but almost always in the muted drab colors of a Bruegel painting.  

Soon, it became apparent to me that most people throughout the world dress to match the season of the year. For example, they wear dark colors in the winter, and as soon as the first few springs of grass and spring flowers emerge, they wear colors that are reminiscent of a spring floral bouquet. .  

There were two notable exceptions to changing colors as the seasons change, and it was with the Belgians and the British. Most Belgians favor autumn colors throughout the year, except when they were on vacation. Then they felt safe, I assume, and wore vivid colors and bright floral prints with abandon. As for the British, they donned the muted cool colors of English gardens and Laura Ashley prints throughout the seasons. Their cultural persona is one of propriety, so they do not like colors that "shout" too much, nor do they like somber peasant colors.  

In the States, some regions are influenced by British leanings when it comes to colors. In Florida and much of the South, for example, they prefer pastel garments – think Lilly Pulitzer and Laura Ashley. Floridians even paint their houses in pastels such as seafoam green flamingo pink. In the nearby Caribbean, they paint their houses hibiscus red, canary yellow and bright Caribbean blue. Color is a powerful thing!

Sandy Dumont is an image consultant who shows people how to create dream-come-true image changes that empower them to greater success. Contact her at


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