Continuing with my Personal Style series, today’s post is about how you can use colour theory create a signature colour palette for your wardrobe, that is perfect for you.
To read Part One, all about creating your own unique style description, click here.
USING COLOUR THEORY TO PERSONALIZE YOUR WARDROBE
Partway through last summer I really got into researching colour “seasons”. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this method, since it’s been around since the 80’s, but basically it is a theory that each person falls into a “season” or colour palette that compliments their natural skin tone, hair colour and features. The seasons are Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, just like in nature, and each of those four seasons are further broken up into “Light”, “Soft”, “Bright” and “Dark” categories.
I’d never given it much thought before, but decided to look into it further after I had gone through my past blog posts and started thinking about why I didn’t like some of the outfits today, even though I had liked them at the time. That got me thinking about colour theory and whether I should go about creating a signature colour palette for myself.
Now, I have not actually gotten “typed” by a professional, nor have I actually put all of the results of my colour theory self-quiz into action. I have simply used these guidelines as a useful tool to help me create a wardrobe that I am excited to wear. Of course the great thing with fashion is there are no rules! I’ve used the colour seasons advice to help me filter out all of the excess and figure out what I want my own personal colour palette to be.
To begin with, as I was looking through some of the older posts that I didn’t like, I realized that part of the problem was certain colours I had chosen. After looking into it and taking a self quiz, I discovered that I am either a Soft Summer or a Soft Autumn. I can’t decide which, so I chose to put myself right in between both! Either way, you can “borrow” from neighbouring palettes, so it doesn’t really matter, and the most important takeaway for me is that I am a Soft season. This series of posts by Anushka Rees (the author of The Curated Closet), is really good for going over the different Seasons and I also really like the blog posts by Elemental Colour for vivid descriptions and examples of the Season colour palettes. I found their posts to be the most helpful in bringing the ideas of colour theory to life.
So, what does it mean to be a Soft season? Well, I have very low contrast between my hair, skin tone and eyes. If you were to turn a photo of me into black and white, it would be mostly greys instead of clear black and white tones. How this relates to colours means that the Soft seasons look best in a soft, muted and earthy palette rather than in bold, clear colours. I always used to say that I liked colours that had “a bit of mud in them”, and it turns out that those are actually the best colours for my skin tone and hair colour. For example, I wouldn’t wear Kelly green, but I often wear olive. I’m not drawn to fuchsia, but I love desert rose. I hate royal blue, but love smoky blue…ok, you get the point.
I think that I fall a bit more towards the Soft Autumn palette, because as I looked back through my favourite outfits on my blog, I realized that some of my colour choices need to be a little bit warmed up. One of the reasons why I loved or didn’t love certain outfits was because of the colour combinations; while those colours would look great on someone else, it wasn’t great for me. For example, if I’m wearing navy, I need to warm it up with cognac, instead of pairing it with black accessories or other cool toned colours. If the outfit is too dark or too cool toned, it’s going to wash me out. Here are two such outfits, below, that aren’t my best. They aren’t terrible, but I think that these pink and navy shades would look so much better on someone with a Winter or Spring colouring.
However, I don’t think I fall completely into Soft Autumn either, because some shades of yellow and tans with a yellow undertone make me look yellow. So, even though I love mustard, there are certain shades that don’t look great near my face. I can’t bear to get rid of mustard completely, but I have now relegated it to accessories. Also, I need to keep in mind the contrast of an outfit. In this outfit below, for example, the black and yellow are simply too bold for my muted, low contrast colouring. This particular outfit never really seemed right to me, and I think it is because of that high contrast. Instead of pairing two strong colours, I should have paired the mustard sweater with brown or olive and it would’ve looked a lot softer and I think I would have liked it a lot more. Also, the pink of this dress is so strong on me, as well as being cool toned, and it would look so much better if it was a bit desaturated and a slightly warmer shade of pink. This shade brings the pink tones out of my skin and as a result I look a bit pink while wearing it.
Figuring out the “rules” of colour theory has really helped me to weed some of the things out of my closet that I wasn’t wearing regularly. Instead of approaching colour seasons as hard and fast rules, though, I have used them more to help me understand why some things weren’t working for me. Rather than going to my closet and saying “this isn’t in my palette, so I need to get rid of it!”, it’s been more of discovery of why something wasn’t working for me. As in the case of that mustard sweater, I had only worn it twice, and both times my outfit didn’t come out quite right. Finding out that dark yellow isn’t in my colour palette was more of an “aha!” moment for me to realize why it wasn’t working, rather than just deciding to get rid of a beloved piece of clothing. Of course, arbitrarily removing things that aren’t “correct”, just because someone said you should, is the exact opposite of how you should approach your closet! You want to love and wear the pieces in your closet, and if your Season isn’t one that makes you excited, then you should completely disregard those “rules”.
There are few examples of where I have disregarded these rules. One, this brightly coloured summer dress, below, that doesn’t go with anything else that I own. I only have one pair of white shoes to pair with this dress…and that’s it! I keep wondering if I should pass it on, but I actually do really enjoy wearing it. So what if it’s a bit too white and bright for my colouring and I can’t mix and match it with anything else I own? Another example is that I am, apparently, not supposed to wear black with my low contrast colouring, but it’s actually one of my favourite colours, so I just keep wearing it. I’m not going to go and get rid of my favourite sweaters and skirt and coat, just because they aren’t in my Season.
All in all, I mainly used these findings about colour Seasons to help me create my own signature colour palette. In the past, I wasn’t very interested in creating a colour palette for myself, however it can be a really great tool to use as you plan future purchases or sewing projects for your wardrobe. Anushka Rees, has a series of posts about creating a colour palette and Audrey Coyne, who has a really lovely YouTube channel, also talks about the benefits of creating a personal colour palette, and I’d definitely recommend that you check them out for further reading/watching.
Creating a personal colour palette can help when you shop, because you will have a starting point and can easily filter out whatever doesn’t fit in with the rest of your wardrobe. Even though it might not be possible all the time to find those colours (really, why does every season have three colours to choose from, when we obviously don’t all look good in them!?!) this will keep you from getting distracted with clothing that won’t end up fitting in with the rest of your wardrobe. While I like lots of different colours, sometimes the fact that they didn’t coordinate with each other made it really difficult to mix and match my wardrobe and come up with new outfits using the same items. In essence, the more items of clothing that you have that don’t coordinate with anything else, will result in fewer combinations that you can wear.
For example (to pick an arbitrary number) if you have a 30 item wardrobe, and each item coordinates with the colours of the majority of the rest, you will end up with a lot of possible combinations without repeat. (This is the idea behind capsule wardrobes. I’m not very good at math, so I can’t figure it out, but I know that the number of unique combinations or “permutations” is ridiculously high if you actually do figure it out… )
However, if you have a 30 item wardrobe, but you’ve got a group of 10 items that coordinate, another group of 10 items that coordinate and a final group of 10 items that coordinate, but none of those groups of 10 coordinate with the other groups, then you are going to have a significantly smaller amount of combinations. You actually won’t be able to create as many unique outfits with this wardrobe, as you would with the first example, even though the number of items is the same.
Obviously, if you have lots of clothing, and you don’t want to limit yourself, then you totally could create 3 different coordinating wardrobes of 30 items each, but this isn’t something that I personally have the space for, which is why I initially started on this whole closet evaluation.
Of course, even with creating a signature colour palette, you still don’t have to confine yourself. Like everything else when it comes to fashion, you get to choose the rules you want to follow and which ones you want to break. I haven’t set a hard and fast colour palette for myself, but as a starting point I created this palette of nine colours, using the guide that Anushka shares in her blog post, in order to create a more versatile wardrobe for myself from this point on.
For my colour palette, I chose two neutral tones that I can pair with absolutely anything in my closet and ended up with Brown or Cognac and Cream.
For main colours I looked at which colours I already wear a lot of and chose Tan, Navy/Blue and Cinnamon.
And for accent colours, I ended up adding in the rest of my favourite colours that still coordinate and chose Black, Olive, Ochre and Buff/Peach.
I figured out which colours my neutrals were by planning a few outfits, as though I would be packing for a holiday and seeing which accessories I would put with all of the clothes I had picked. I realized that for almost every outfit, I would add either brown, tan or cream. I was a bit surprised to learn that, for me, black is actually not a neutral- it is a colour. Since I wouldn’t pair black with a lot of my clothing pieces, because it would have been too contrasting or too cool, it wasn’t a neutral for me. I ended up moving black into my accent colour section, which does make it a lot harder to shop, but I know that what I want to finish off my outfits with is brown or cognac. For example, when I was looking for my new everyday purse, I knew not to look for a black one because it wouldn’t end up going with the majority of the clothing I have, and I ended up finding a beautiful rich copper brown that coordinates with almost everything I own. (Except for that one bright dress of course!)
Of course, your “neutrals” don’t necessarily have to be neutral colours and could be any colour that you would pair with every item you have in your wardrobe. For example, someone might have a red purse and red shoes, and those would become their neutral; able to pair with all of the other colours in their wardrobe.
To figure out which were the main colours to include in my palette, I went through my favourite outfits again to see which colour combinations I liked from the past, as well as which colours I am naturally drawn to. Personally, I love neutrals, as this palette reveals! Whenever I’m browsing and I see an Autumnal hued or Neutral toned outfit, I fall completely in love with it. So, for me, choosing my three main colours of tan, cinnamon and a touch of blue was easy.
Finally, I added in my accent colours of even more neutrals with a hint of colour, including black, olive, ochre and buff/peach. I decided to move black to my accent colours, because over time I had fallen into the trap of accumulating way to much of it, which was making it impossible to mix and match. (A black skirt + a black shirt + a black coat + black boots is a little much…) Moving brown and tan into my main colours will definitely result in more versatility of the individual pieces in my closet.
Settling on this palette gives me a lot of different colour combinations. For example:
Cream + Brown + Peach Brown + Tan + Navy Cinnamon + Olive + Black
You don’t have to stick to certain number of colours in your palette either. Because I now have an idea of which colours look good on me, I can easily look at colours from outside my specific palette, and decide which others to bring in. As long as you are able to pair it with the neutrals in your current wardrobe, it should be good. For example, I have some lovely soft mint coloured wool in my fabric stash. (it’s not too bright of a colour of mint, so it will work for my Season). Mint isn’t in my personal colour palette, but I know that it will work well with brown and cream, so I am going to keep it, especially since I already own the fabric.
Also, don’t forget that, while it’s great to know which colours you look good in, you also need to choose the colours you like the best. It turns out that the colours and styles I was always drawn to the most often, really were the ones that suit me the best. Go figure! But just because a colour looks good on you, doesn’t mean you have to add it in. For example, grey is a good colour for me, but I’ve realized that I don’t particularly love it, so I’ve removed much of the grey from my closet.
Conversely, if you a love a colour that’s not great for you, keep it in your wardrobe and wear it however you like. I mentioned that black is apparently not the best colour for the “soft” seasons, because it’s too harsh. I, however, have black glasses and I do wear black a lot, and I really like it, so I have no intention of taking it out.
About 7 years ago, I had a really good colour scheme in my wardrobe. It was filled with lots of neutrals, browns and blues, but then I started wondering whether that was too boring, and I started adding in other colours. In the end, though, I just ended up with a bunch of clothing that didn’t particularly suit my colouring or coordinate well with the rest of my wardrobe. I have gotten rid of so many of those items over time because, while I did like them, I realized that they just weren’t “me”.
There are certain colours that I am drawn to over and over again, and I realized that there was no need to try and reinvent the wheel; I had subconsciously chosen a combination that really worked. Instead of trying everything that you come across, knowing which colours work really well for you can help to clear out the distractions and focus on building a wardrobe that is a true reflection of your own unique style. At the end of the day, however, the most important part of colour theory is in knowing what you love and not getting bogged down in what you “should” or “should not” wear. But if you’re looking to create a more versatile wardrobe, creating your own signature colour palette can be a great tool to simplify things and help you focus on building that wardrobe that you will love to wear!
Have you looked into the colour Seasons before? Which Season are you, and do you follow the guidelines in how you dress? Have you ever created a signature colour palette for your closet?