Information about color proliferates online and off: how to choose colors for your wardrobe, how to find “your” colors, and how to marry colors into a cohesive “story.” Usually, I find articles on the subject assume the individual is at the mercy of this year’s Pantone color chart and the stuff available in high street shops. The advice is often good, as far as it goes, but what about those of us who have a greater degree of creative control when putting together our wardrobes?
I mean sewists, of course. We can build our own wardrobes using our choice of cuts, colors, fabrics, fiber contents, embellishments and seam treatments. For us sewists, the field is wide open. We can do whatever we want.
I don’t think that means we should do whatever we like. Sometimes a cut or a color or a style simply doesn’t suit the wearer. When we face unlimited options, sometimes it’s hard to sort the good ideas from the bad.
I’d like to focus more on color. It’s not a subject I’ve written about much in the past, but I do pay close attention to use of color in my own sewing and when helping students/clients plan theirs. In this post, I’ll share one of the basic ways I think about color, and two “color stories.” I’d like to make this a regular feature- discussing an aspect of color selection and sharing a pair of stories.
Cool or Warm?
This is a useful and simple way to divide individual coloring into two basic color families. It’s by no means applicable to everyone, and sometimes a person can wear some colors from both groups. It’s just a simple shorthand.
Also, I have discovered that sometimes people make assumptions about their coloring and cling to them resolutely. “Cool” does not mean “white” and “warm” does not mean “ethnic.” A person’s coloring type can change with age, too. Just so we’re clear.
The very simplest and reliable way I have found for separating the warms from the cools is the white/ivory color test. I can’t remember where I first discovered this test, but repeated use has shown me it works. White looks great on cools and not so great on warms. Ivory, however, looks fantastic on warms and tends to make cools look like tuberculosis patients.
Warms may have chestnut brown, auburn, or blond hair. Cools tend to have black or dark brown hair, or pale/cool blond hair. Also, warms tend to have brown eyes (though not always! many of my warm friends have blue or greeny-gold eyes) and cools tend to have very dark brown, blue, green or gray eyes (again, not always!).
Naturally, human beings exhibit a wide variety of color combinations and it’s impossible to make broad statements about color that cover 100% of all cases. Warm/cool is merely a useful place to begin understanding what colors work for you.
“I’m a warm/cool, I can’t wear purple/pink/red/blue/etc!”
My answer is- you probably can. Often, learning to wear a particular color means finding the right shade of the color for your skin tone and discovering a few good “secondary” or “accent” colors. This week, I want to illustrate a “warm” purple and a “cool” purple color story using images of lavender fields.
You can also play around with this idea using paints. If you mix equal parts red and blue, you’ll get purple. For a purple that will flatter a cool skintone, add more blue. For a “warm” purple, mix in more red. It’s fun, try it.
I grabbed this photo of a lavender field from Wiki commons. The plummy dark and lighter purples (verging into pink) work quite well with warm skin tones, and the soft orange and green harmonize beautifully. When choosing colors for a capsule wardrobe or even an outfit, I like to first choose a neutral and then build in colors. We’ll talk about neutrals another time, these are more like the “fun” and “pretty” colors used to flesh out a nice wardrobe and tastefully rescue the wearer from too much neutrality.
These are the purples I’d use for a cool skin tone. You can see the dark/light purples are considerably bluer than the shades in the warm chart. I paired the purples with a cool green and blue-gray pulled from the photo.
*My color stories (for now) are skewed toward my own coloring and my daughter’s coloring. We both have light skin tones. She is a “warm” and I am a “cool.” I like to write about topics I feel I know well, which is why I’m using myself and my daughter as examples. I’d love to see color stories designed by women with other coloring types (information is hard to find); if you put something together (or find a great photo and want me to make a color story to share here), shoot me an email.
Are you a warm or cool? What colors do you stay away from? (I can’t wear yellow to save my life, and orange is iffy.)
Next Tuesday- Conversant in Color: Observation- You and Your Environment