Today's blue-rinsed club ladies still had their natural hair color the last time blue had any kind of fashion cachet. With the exception of former first lady Barbara Bush, who tried to give it a boost, blue has been the color of the fashion-impaired and bus drivers.
This spring, blue is back like a bolt.
Ralph Lauren cuts it clean and clear, in all shades of sea, sky and jewels in an icy shantung trench, sapphire leather jeans or an aqua jersey slink. Miuccia Prada's little-boy-blue leather jacket makes the cover of W, the glossiest of the glossies. A blue lizard bag and sandals are Gucci's spring trademark.
Why blue now? "Everything in fashion is cyclical," says Leatrice Eiseman, color expert and executive director for Pantone Color Institute, which tracks and standardizes textile colors for the fashion and design industry. "It never really went away altogether, because some people are really blue addicts," she says.
In a consumer color-preference test two years ago, Pantone found that people preferred blue over any other color family. That may hold true for the average consumer. Fashion snobs, however, have equated blue color with blue-collar and have ignored blue for more than two decades. They've recanted. Bored with black and beige, they're looking at blue with a new eye.
"Invariably, people equate the color to comfort; they feel nurtured by it. We see it as sky and sea, which we see as constants in our lives, always there," says Ms. Eise-man. "It was frustrating in the last two decades because people were not finding it."
There were those women who stood by the old blue eye shadow even though they were the butt of makeup mavens' jokes.
It may have been a subliminal color choice. "In particular, people who have blue eyes can't help but have it as a favorite," says Ms. Eise-man. "They grow up hearing comments about their big blue eyes, and those warm fuzzies they got from blue tend to stay with them throughout their lives."
The warm fuzzy feel of washed-out blue denim may also have paved the way for renewed interest. The average American owns seven to 10 denim items, she says, so a move to a dressier blue was a natural step.
It is the pale, icy blues and strong medium shades that are now the most popular. The one item that this year has defined the new blue is a satiny sapphire body-shirt tucked into velvet
hip-huggers, as done by Tom Ford for Gucci. It has become the gossip-column celebrity uniform and much-copied.
Other labels, too, are entering a blue period. Hanes has introduced marine blue in its hosiery line. Cutex has a peppermint matte nail polish for the funky-at-heart. Cosmetics companies that pooh-poohed blue eye shadow are bringing it back into their lines with a vengeance. Supermodel eyes have been awash with blue on designer runways and glossy photo spreads.
The folks at Prescriptives have done some homework and report that "Chromopaths in the West consider blue useful to treat wounds, headache, fatigue, hysteria, convulsion, apoplexy and palpitations," among other ailments.
Be careful, however, not to overdose on blue. Too much tends to look too Smurf.
On the cover
Styled by Suzin Boddiford
Hair and makeup by Jill Turnbull and Lisa Bennett for Etches Salon
Modeled by Julie Baumer/3 West
Blue sheath dress, $104, and jacket, $144, at Femme. Scarf, $75, at Ruth Shaw. Belt, $70, at Octavia.