Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Colour Babble

I have a confession to make.  I keep writing blog posts about personal colour theory which I don't publish.  I am aware that I repeat myself, but every time I have a new idea or insight a whole new post emerges, generally a mixture of things I've said before and new thoughts.  I am free to write and post and nobody is forced to read but it's possible I don't want anybody to know just how obsessed I am.  I think about colour theory, colour combinations and I plan colour compositions for art quite frequently though this is a bit more abstract and it is easier to give it context and purpose if I focus on colour as applied to what looks best on a person. 

I get a bit irritated when I roam the internet and encounter various stylists offering colour advice with what I would consider to be varying levels of qualification or understanding of colour.  It's okay to be wrong or misinformed, I know that I have been myself,  but it's another thing to offer your advice for a fee and not really know what you are talking about.  Buyer beware I suppose, and to this day I am still angry about the woman who did my colour analysis back in 1984 and whom I now realise didn't have a clue what she was doing.  I sensed it then.  I questioned her.  My mother shushed me.  These days I say to my mother, 'Why were you so worried about whether or not my questioning her was polite  when she was charging money for a service she wasn't qualified to give?'  Mum just laughs and reminds me that it was she who paid for it and not me.

Personal Colour Theory In My Closet

 We hit the sweet spot of personal colour if we get the hue, value and chroma all matched to our own even though we may not realise that is what we are doing.  Hue refers to the colour as we see it and would name it.  In personal colour systems it tends to refer to whether or not that colour is a warm or cool version or somewhere in between on a scale.  Value is how light or dark a colour is and chroma refers to the saturation of colour and we might describe it as soft or bright or somewhere in between. 

Most people get one or two of these right instinctively.  Most analysis systems give you the palette that is your best one, though one or two others will be close to best.  Sometimes you will find what seems to be overlap between palettes and although it isn't if the colour mixing is analysed, when shopping and putting together outfits close enough is usually good enough. 

I will probably dip into the warmest colours of Soft Autumn and the more muted colours of Warm Spring* at times without even realising it.  My key words are medium, warm, earthy.  The entire palette of Soft Autumn isn't warm enough or saturated enough and the Warm Spring palette is generally too bright and clear.  The Spring neutrals though, browns  and khaki, tend not to look as clear so there is overlap there.  Sometimes a garment seems right on the border between clear and muted and either Warm Spring or True Autumn could make it work.  Sometimes the fabric plays a role in giving a brighter or more muted effect.  I might dabble in a brighter Spring colour if it is in a softer and duller fabric.  It then ends up being somewhat on the border between the two palettes.

* I tend to use the words True and Warm interchangeably for Spring and Autumn because different systems use those two words for the same palettes.  It is the same with True and Cool Summer and Winter.

Colour Preferences

Some people love any version of a particular colour ( I encounter this frequently with pink, blue and purple ) whereas others have never met a green that they liked.  Green, yellow and orange seem to be colours some people have no tolerance for.  Then there are people who don't like anything too neutral or earthy.  If it's not in the rainbow it's not of any interest.

I have seen colours I would not normally like on their own but which look stunning grouped with other colours with similar qualities, or being worn by a person with similar colour qualities.  The most off-putting baby poop yellow/brown/green will become a stunning bronze on the right person.   Context and lighting will always affect colour but whatever the lighting is doing to a garment it is also doing to the wearer.  I've noticed this when taking photos and feeling frustrated about both my skin tone and the garment colour being wrong.

On Yellow

When I thought that yellow and orange were not good colours for me, I was testing bright versions.  I now know it's the brightness that was the problem.  If the colour is too bright and saturated it competes against me and wins.  I also know that when I was cautiously testing warmth I was not going warm enough. It doesn't work to try a colour that is slightly warm and if it's not right conclude that warmth doesn't work.  And sticking with yellow as an example, there are so many different kinds.  Yellow that has a little drop of blue in it to cool it will have a slightly green look.  Yellow for the Winter types is saturated and bright, and words like lemon and acidic might apply, or else so close to white it's a frosty sort of yellow.  For Summer it's a difficult colour and Summer yellows are softer, lighter, more pastel and softer looking, a bit dusty or muted.  Spring yellows are sunshine, tropical fruit, a bit more of an orange yellow but clear and bright.  Autumn yellows get muted in an earthy way. 

On Blue

Blue is a colour we see a lot of.  It tends to be popular and of course there is denim.  Our eyes are accustomed to blue and I've never met a person who didn't like it.  While we think of yellow as warm, we typically thing of blue as cool.  But just as I described how there are cool yellow and warm yellows, there are cool blues and warm blues.  As the cool yellows are less in  number so are the warm blues.  In order to warm up blue you must add yellow and to cool down yellow you must add blue so eventually you will get green.  It doesn't take long before the blue become something we would call teal.  Thus the True Autumn seasonal palette doesn't have a lot of pure blue but is very welcoming of teal blues and turquoises. 

On Neutrals

Black is too intense for many of the palettes but they all have their near-blacks.  The darkest versions of colours that might read as black except up close.  Often this is navy blue or deep brown, some burgundies, plums and dark greens can work for this too.  Grey is tricky to warm up but it can be done with a drop of yellow.  It begins to become something more like taupe and I find I lose the ability to discern between cool beige and warm grey.  Perhaps there is a point where they overlap.  Greige has become popular in home decor but I don't find this colour readily available in clothing.

Even if you like to dress in neutrals it helps to know your best fashion neutrals based on your best colour palette.  I really wish the myth that everyone looks good in black would die, but I realise how convenient black is and when I got frustrated with finding the right colours for myself I toyed with the idea of only wearing black.  It makes me looks very pale and grey.  Once I saw myself in coral, peach and burnt orange there was no going back.  Now I think I might be so hooked on my versions of orange and yellow that they have become my favourite colours to wear. 

Final Thoughts

Some people worry that personal colour palettes will be limiting.  I don't find that at all though I suppose it might depend on how you shop.  I rule out lots of clothing items for a variety of reasons and I have always ruled them out based on colour.  My criteria is different now but looking for certain colours has always been a factor.  It doesn't appear that the colours I'm looking for are in fashion at the moment so it's a little disappointing to go into a store and see nothing other than cream as an option.  But I'm just eager and it's still early.  I don't need to accumulate a large wardrobe at all and I certainly don't need to do it in a hurry.  If I attempted to shop for and find every colour in my colour fan I would have more than I need.  I know that some colours will show up more often and others will be a treat to find.  It won't be difficult to buy creams and browns and fortunately I like them quite a bit. 

The Pantone predictions for Spring 2017 offer up a perfect green for me which they are calling Kale.  The other colours are too bright or cool pastel which is rather to be expected for Spring and Summer, but if they are a general indication of colours to expect then I might find some orange and yellow that work for me.  


  1. As a huge fan of Colour Theory, I like to read your posts, and I like particularly your approach to this matter.
    I'm also dissapointed by the lack of interesting colours in the shops these days. Then I have to wait until any colour I love becomes trendy, or go thrifting!

    1. Your talents with colour are a huge inspiration and although my style is simpler, I greatly admire your artful combinations. You are walking art and are definitely using the colours that look like they belong on you. xoxo

  2. I have a related confession to make, I keep reading blog posts on colour written by a certain Director of Awesome...and I'm not bored! Crazy eh!
    I wonder why you feel the need to apologise for your interest. Do we feel people might tire of our fascination?
    I too find some colours too saturated, although mostly because I feel hot in them! Maybe they'll appeal more in Winter.
    I too skirt the soft/bright, and dark/light borders. I've also noted the effect fabric has on the colour. And finally I am also obsessed with orangy, peachy, coppery colours!
    Teal is a close second but I'm struggling to find much of that.
    Would love to see more photos of your outfits in the new colours. No pressure!
    Xo Jazzy Jack

    1. LOL-I think I have a small core of 3o loyal readers so perhaps we aren't alone in colour obsession. I think it's not so much a need to apologise for my colour obsession as it is that I know I am going to repeat myself. I think you are right about different colours or saturation levels appealing for different seasons. I have always tended to like the more saturated colours in summer because the brighter sun bleaches them out a little. Oh the orangy, peachy coppery colours! So much love! That coral-peach colour is fantastic on you! Teal is great but for me it's almost too familar so a bit less exciting. I've got a couple of photos but I don't do much outfit photos these days. I will make a mini-post. xoxoxo


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