THERE MAY BE a recession going on out there, but that doesn't mean fashion has to be on your list of economic cutbacks. In fact, one doesn't have to spend half a week's pay at an expensive salon to learn how to look good. Sound advice on dressing right can be had free of charge as close as your friendly neighborhood library.
That's what about 35 women learned the other evening when local color and image consultant Irene Rhoda brought her expertise on wardrobe planning to Essex in one of Baltimore County Public Library's continuous offerings of free workshops and lectures.
Rhoda, a graduate of a "Beauty for all Seasons" course and a frequent lecturer to groups ranging from bank employee gatherings to Barbizon models, dispenses advice on everything from dressing for a job interview to shopping for clothes and makeup. But it's when she talks about color that women really seem to sit up and take notice.
Using the concept of seasonal labels popularized by various image consulting businesses in the last decade, she helps people find out what colors look best on them. The theory goes that every individual fits into one of the four seasons -- summer, fall, winter or spring -- depending on her hair and eye color and skin tone.
How do you know what season you are? It's not always easy, says Rhoda, but basically, summers and winters have skin with blue undertones. Springs and autumns, on the other hand, have warmer, golden undertones.
If you can't "see" your undertones, you might just have to dress yourself in a few colors to figure it out.
You'll know it when you wear the right color because "it turns on the lights," says Rhoda. "Good color acts just like good lighting. It erases shadows and minimizes your flaws," she says. Bad color will make you look "washed out" and compete with your face for attention.
Her audience agreed, especially after she worked some magic on a few of its members. Like Ginny Hunter, a Middle River woman who was revealed to be a "spring" when Rhoda draped her in samples of lime green, coral and beige that highlighted her peachy complexion and her golden blond hair. The audience nodded in agreement.
"I've been telling her she was a 'spring' for a year now," said Francene Pfeiferr, a self-declared "winter" who accompanied her friend to the seminar.
Hunter acquiesced, but with a touch of disappointment. "I really wanted to be a summer," she joked with a friend. "I just wanted to be a California summer kinda babe."
Sorry, said Rhoda, as she plucked another subject from her audience. She sat Barbara Gahan down before the group and began holding up oval frames of color to her face and wrapping fabric around her shoulders.
No, winced the audience at the royal blue, shocking pink and black and white of winter. Too dull, they agreed, in response to the beige and peach of spring. Then Rhoda encircled her subject's face with muted browns and burnt orange -- the colors of autumn leaves -- and the audience hummed approval.
Gahan was deemed an "autumn" and instructed to wear olive green, khaki, teal blue and other colors that would complement the auburn highlights in her hair.
"I had a feeling I was an 'autumn' because I know what colors make me feel good when I wear them," she said later. "I wear a lot of green and gold . . . and I don't wear purple."
Indeed "color has a psychological effect on you and those who see you," says Rhoda, a grandmother who has been an image consultant about six years now. The Timonium resident, even at 56, occasionally models for local fashion shows and print advertisements. Once you determine what looks good on you, she says, stick with those colors and avoid "fad" colors.
"Remember, clothing makes a statement, and you have about six seconds to make a first impression," she told the group. That's why what you wear on job interviews is so important, she said.
Lorraine Ekr agreed, noting she signed up for the free seminar after discussing image in a career development class she's taking in preparation for a job search. She said she always wanted to have her "colors done," but shied away from paying $25 or $30 in a more formal setting.
When Rhoda picked her out of the crowd near the end of the lesson and unveiled her as an example of "a vivid summer," Ekr was delighted. Until now she had generally relied on the advice of friends who'd comment "you look good in that" and her own favorite colors to build a wardrobe.
She was pleased to see the rose and blue she had chosen to wear that night won the approval of the color czar as well as the by-now highly confident audience.
Rhoda advises women to follow similar logic with makeup. If you have golden skintones, you probably should stick to coral and peach lipsticks and blushers, she said. But for blue-undertoned summers and winters, pinks, roses and berries might be better choices.
Accessories, too, tend to have a season. Gold jewelry tends to look better with spring and autumn colors, while silver will bring out the best of the shades of summer and winter.
Fashion and image consultant Irene Rhoda encourages peopl to get the most for their money by planning a wardrobe wisely and shopping sensibly. Here are some of her suggestions:
* Build a wardrobe around two aspects of your lifestyle: workplace and social life. Ideally you should have clothes that can go from the office to the theater with a simple change in accessories.
* Find out your best colors and wear them year-round, regardless of what shades stores promote with each new season.
* Invest in a few good-quality items as your basic wardrobe, including a coat, leather boots, leather purse and shoes, and a dress that can go anywhere.
* Buy year-round fabrics. Avoid heavy wool and very light cottons that can be worn during only one season. Linen, heavy cotton, lightweight wool and even lightweight suede can sometimes go through three seasons.
* Know the difference between a fad and a trend. A trend builds slowly and gradually and looks good on most people, says Rhoda. A fad goes in and out of fashion very quickly. Avoid extremes in favor of classic styles that will last a couple years.
* Keep balance and proportion in mind. If you are short, avoid long jackets; wear a monotone of colors, such as bone dress, stockings and heels. If your are tall, wear contrasting colors to minimize your height.
* Look for versatility. Ask yourself: "Can this be accessorized at least three different ways?"