Even though this is my first post here, it is in reponse to a cry for help from a friend in New Zealand. She wrote to encourage me to take the plunge into style blogging, & when I asked what arena she wanted help in, she said:
I guess the first issue would be for ‘recovering goths’ like myself. “How to give up an all-black wardrobe.” … I’ve been wearing all black since 1985. I’m great with colour. I mean, I’m an artist. I have a huge student loan to testify how much I know about colour. But taking the leap to making my wardrobe bright? …
The main reason a lot of people wear black is that it’s very easy. Black goes with black. It hides stains. Coordination of an outfit is a snap & it suits just about everyone. So, maybe it suits you — but it doesn’t necessarily enhance you. Black can make you look very plain in a way that hot pink, royal blue or turquoise never will. People wear black because they are comfortable in it. If you feel at odds with the way you look or lack confidence, black can be the great concealer, a fabulous security blanket. Another reason for wearing black? The rumours about it making you look slimmer are true, & very enticing — but it is easy to fall into a rut. You don’t have to slink around in the shadows because you think you’re too huge to wear anything else. Don’t punish yourself! You will feel much better about yourself if you are excited by what you’re wearing.
Working colour into your all-black wardrobe can be tricky if you’re unsure of where to start. Regardless of what may be going on in your city’s high street, not all colours are made to suit all people. We have all tried on a dress only to find that the colour makes us look sickly or washed-out. That’s because it clashes with our colouring. Good news, though! If you go through the following exercises, you will never have that problem again.
A really easy way to work out what colours will suit you, if you’re unsure, is to determine what “season” you are. This will give you a good palette of colours to work from. The idea of a “season” or of “having your colours done” was something that was joyfully embraced in 80s, then seemed to disappear, but is in the midst of a resurgence. While books on the subject still feature women with huge shoulder-pads, there is still a lot of remaining value in the colour principles. It isn’t compulsory to follow this to the letter — it’s just a safe way of working out colours until you become more adept with them. The suggestions below are just that — suggestions, not a diktat — & sometimes you will find that something looks good on you & isn’t listed below. (Also, you may find that if your hair is an unnatural colour — mine, for example, is bright pink — the colours you can wear easily will shift slightly.)
Here’s how to assess your colouring:
You should now have a good idea which category you fit into. From here, each season is split into three categories, all with distinct differences. You can fine-tune your palette by assessing your hair, eye colour & skin tone — this will give you a more accurate representation of which colours look best on you.
Natural Hair Colour
Ash blonde — Light Summer or Light Spring
Golden blonde, strawberry blonde or red — Warm Spring or Warm Autumn
Light to medium brown — Light Spring or Light Summer
Mousy brown — Soft Summer or Soft Autumn
Medium brown — Clear Spring or Deep Autumn
Medium to deep auburn — Deep Autumn or Deep Winter
Chestnut to dark brown — Clear Spring, Deep Autumn, Deep or Clear Winter
Dark black — Clear or Deep Winter, Deep Autumn
Warm grey — Light or Warm Spring, Soft or Warm Autumn
Soft or ash grey — Light Spring, Light or Cool Summer
Salt & pepper or silver — Clear Spring, Winter or Cool Summer
Clear blue green, turquoise or bright hazel — Clear or Light Spring, Clear Winter
Grey or soft blue — Summers
Hazel, topaz, golden brown or warm turquoise — Warm Spring or Warm Autumn
Soft hazel or turquoise — Soft Summer or Soft Autumn
Dark brown or rich hazel — Deep Autumn or Deep Winter
Porcelain — Clear Winter, Springs, Light Summer
Ivory — Springs, Summers, Soft Autumn
Pink beige — Light or Cool Summer, Light Spring
Neutral beige/Asian — Soft or Deep Autumn, Cool or Deep Winter
Warm beige/Asian — Autumns
Golden brown/Asian/Latin/African — Autumns or Deep Winter
Cool brown/Asian/Latin/African — Deep or Cool Winter
Olive/Asian/Latin/African — Cool or Deep Winter, Muted or Deep Autumn
The whole idea is that it’s not one feature, but the combination of your eyes, hair & skin tone that denotes your season. If you find it a bit difficult to work this out, don’t stress too much. As people get older, their hair & skin-tone changes, meaning sometimes they can be caught between a couple of “types”. Just use this information as a general guideline for now.
If you are a CLEAR SPRING, your best colours are: (L-R) Navy, light grey, charcoal, black, stone, pewter, black brown, mint, bright golden yellow, light clear gold, pastel yellow-green, true green, forest green, olive, clear teal, hot turquoise, true blue, bright periwinkle, periwinkle, violet, purple, warm pastel pink, coral, coral pink, warm pink, clear red, hot pink, deep rose.
If you are a WARM SPRING, your best colours are: (L-R) Camel, bronze, golden brown, dark brown, stone, grey green, cream, peach, light orange, clear salmon, coral, tomato red, terracotta, marigold, pumpkin, rust, buff, bright golden yellow, bright yellow-green, pastel yellow-green, light true green, moss, light aqua, clear aqua, emerald turquoise, jade, teal, deep periwinkle.
If you are a LIGHT SPRING, your best colours are: (L-R) Camel, khaki, pewter, light grey, blue charcoal, taupe, stone, warm pastel pink, powder pink, clear salmon, coral, rose pink, warm pink, watermelon, clear red, buff, pastel yellow-green, bright golden yellow, light moss, bright yellow-green, emerald turquoise, light aqua, clear aqua, powder blue, periwinkle, violet, medium blue, light navy.
If you are a LIGHT SUMMER, your best colours are: (L-R) Light grey, grey blue, cocoa, rose brown, soft white, rose beige, taupe, warm pastel pink, powder pink, rose pink, rose, coral pink, clear salmon, deep rose, clear red, light lemon yellow, light aqua, clear aqua, blue green, emerald turquoise, soft teal, spruce, light navy, sky blue, medium blue, lavender, periwinkle, violet.
If you are a COOL SUMMER, your best colours are: (L-R) Light grey, pewter, grey blue, charcoal, rose beige, stone, taupe, cocoa, rose brown, icy pink, rose pink, soft fuchsia, deep rose, blue red, burgundy, soft teal, spruce, emerald turquoise, mint, clear aqua, Chinese blue, lavender, plum, purple, periwinkle, sky blue, royal blue, navy.
If you are a SOFT SUMMER, your best colours are: (L-R) Medium grey, light grey, pewter, stone, rose brown, soft white, rose beige, cocoa, dusty rose, orchid, rose, raspberry, rose pink, deep rose, burgundy, light lemon yellow, mint, blue green, turquoise, jade, forest green, teal, light navy, charcoal, periwinkle, amethyst, purple, medium blue.
If you are a SOFT AUTUMN, your best colours are: (L-R) Mahogany, coffee brown, grey green, camel, pewter, khaki, medium grey, light peach, deep rose, salmon, salmon pink, rust, stone, buttermilk, mint, emerald turquoise, jade, teal, bronze, light moss, olive, forest green, light navy, deep periwinkle, purple, aubergine.
If you are a WARM AUTUMN, your best colours are: (L-R) Camel, khaki, golden brown, cream, coffee brown, stone, dark brown, pewter, deep peach, salmon, salmon pink, pumpkin, terracotta, rust, aubergine, buff, yellow gold, light moss, olive, bronze, mustard, emerald turquoise, teal, forest green, deep periwinkle, purple, light navy.
If you are a DEEP AUTUMN, your best colours are: (L-R) Pewter, black brown, stone, black, cream, camel, light peach, deep peach, salmon pink, tomato red, mahogany, true red, terracotta, rust, aubergine, yellow gold, mustard, moss, olive, lime, bronze, emerald green, hot turquoise, Chinese blue, pine, navy, teal, purple.
If you are a DEEP WINTER, your best colours are: (L-R) Black, charcoal, black brown, pewter, brown burgundy, pure white, stone, icy grey, medium grey, hot pink, true red, tomato red, burgundy, rust, blue red, mint, lemon yellow, turquoise, emerald green, olive, pine, emerald turquoise, clear teal, bright periwinkle, Chinese blue, purple, true blue, navy.
If you are a COOL WINTER, your best colours are: (L-R) Icy grey, light grey, medium grey, black, charcoal, taupe, pure white, pewter, rose pink, hot pink, fuchsia, magenta, blue red, deep rose, raspberry, burgundy, icy blue, icy pink, lemon yellow, emerald turquoise, pine, Chinese blue, medium blue, royal blue, bright periwinkle, navy, purple, plum.
If you are a CLEAR WINTER, your best colours are: (L-R) Medium grey, charcoal, black, pewter, black brown, pure white, icy grey, taupe, icy blue, icy violet, icy pink, hot pink, clear red, true red, fuchsia, raspberry, aubergine, icy yellow, bright golden yellow, hot turquoise, clear teal, emerald turquoise, pine, violet, purple, true blue, royal blue, navy.
As you can see from the colour charts above, every season can wear a range of pinks, reds, blues, greens & neutrals, but the warmth & strength of the colour are where the real differences lie. I have made the colours as close as possible to the original fabric swatches that are ordinarily used when assessing someone’s season. You may find it helpful to print your chart out & take it with you when you shop — at least until you get the hang of it.
The good news: you don’t need to throw away all your black things in order to embrace colour. Quite the contrary — colour (& bright colour in particular) looks even better when it is complemented by black. However, what I would suggest is that you go through your wardrobe & find everything that is dull, faded or looks past its best. There might be quite a lot of it that is like this — black is notoriously difficult to maintain, & each item tends to age in a different way, meaning eventually you just can’t wear things together anymore. Be merciless. Cast all sentimentality aside. If you’re going to wear black, it might as well be GOOD black! (& if you find yourself panicked by the colour conundrum later on, you can always buy more…)
The best way to start incorporating colour is to start small. Have a look at your seasonal colour chart (above) & see what colours resonate with you. What’s your favourite? What colours make you feel good whenever you look at them? You will probably find that you are drawn to some of them instinctively. Write a couple of them down (or print the chart off) & next time you go shopping, look out for items in that colour. Like I said, you can start small. You might find a scarf, a tie, a brooch, eyeshadow or some jewellery. If you want to branch out a little more, try going for a shirt, cardigan or jacket. Pick something you really like. You may not find what you’re looking for on the first try, but the point is that you’re making the effort. Don’t buy something in periwinkle just because you said you would — if you don’t love it, you won’t wear it. Remember to be flexible & try to approach the situation light-heartedly. You’ll enjoy it much more if you do! Promise!
If, once you have the item home, you are still filled with trepidation at the concept of wearing it, be firm with yourself. Make a rule that you will wear it at least twice in the next week. Then work out what you’re going to wear it with — do this in advance so if you’re rushed in the morning, you have no excuses.
Another simple way to get some colour into your wardrobe is to buy a pair of jeans. (Hint: Go for a classic shape, in blue or a dark wash, & NEVER buy denim — latest style or no — if it doesn’t suit you.) Jeans, like black, go with everything. You can wear jeans with a cute buttoned-up cardigan & a brooch & necklace. You can wear jeans with a white shirt for an ultra simple but very clean look. Team with boots or heels to elongate the leg. How about a denim skirt? Denim is incredibly versatile & if you buy items of good quality, they’ll last a long time & consequently you will wear them a lot.
There’s nothing wrong with wearing black or another dark colour (charcoal grey, dark blue) on your bottom half — as trousers or a skirt. As I mentioned earlier, it is slimming & very easy to work around. So, say for example, you have purchased a royal blue shirt. I am a fan of colour, so if I was wearing this royal blue top, I would probably wear a blue scarf in my hair, a black skirt, royal blue stockings & black boots. Or if you have a hot pink scarf, you could paint your nails to match, or take your scarf shopping with you & find a handbag that is the same colour. Some other ways to tie in colour: match a scarf (around your neck or in your hair) & a belt. How about a red shirt with red shoes? You get the picture.
Accessories are a great way to tie an outfit together. Here are some less traditional ideas:
a colourful bindi on your forehead that matches something else (eyeshadow, bracelets, stockings…)
colourful strands of beads are an inexpensive way to add a bright touch to your outfit, & since they’re so cheap you won’t feel guilty if you only wear them as an experiment
legwarmers over boots, wedges or even flip-flops
bright fishnets — can be worn alone or over black stockings
finding colourful hats is easy regardless of the season — my favourite sort are little knitted skull-caps (especially if it is sewn through with glittery thread)
a fake flower clipped into your hair will look fantastic, even if you wear it with all-black
& if you’re feeling daring, change the colour of your hair! You could get it done at a salon in a reasonably sober colour, or you could do it yourself. L’Oreal’s home-colouring kits are excellent (especially Starry Night) or if you want to go neon, Special Effects has an incredible range of colours with really vibrant, lasting results. (Though I would suggest that if you’re colouring your hair, you check it against your season. For example, pink hair & a ruddy complexion is no good. Obviously mistakes can be made — I will be writing more on this subject later, so if you have any questions, do ask so I can include them in my article!)
For those of us who like visual inspiration, the Wardrobe Remix group on Flickr is a great source. Proof that there are a lot of girls doing brave, wonderful things with colour! (I am particularly fond of contributors Nubby Twiglet, lebonbonmulticolore, lameliar & Johanni.)
Good luck & bonne chance! Send me pictures!