Conversant In Color: You and Your Environment Pt #1

Last week in Conversant in Color, we laid out a very basic framework for understanding “warm” and “cool” coloring.  I really enjoyed reading and commenting in the discussion section, once again y’all blew me over with your intelligence and insight.

Click for source- a thorough article on mixing colors and color theory for watercolorists.

Warm and cool are good as far as they go, but many people don’t fit neatly into one or the other category.  I think that’s perfectly normal.  Warm and cool may be a great starting point if you have no idea where to start with color in your wardrobe, but it’s hardly sacred.  “Seasons” were also mentioned quite a bit in last week’s discussion.  Again, I think that’s a useful starting point for understanding color in clothing but I wouldn’t take it too much to heart.  I prefer a more intuitive approach to learning the colors that work best.

Observation- Better than Pre-made Palettes

Learning to master color in the wardrobe is much like learning to fit and alter patterns.  It’s a process based on trial and error, reading/learning from a variety of sources, but most importantly on observation.  Learning the colors that suit you (and how to wear them!) is more fun and less difficult than learning to fit clothes well.


Listen to what others say about your appearance- not just direct comments about your outfit etc, but in general.  See if you notice any trends.  Feedback I hear generally falls into three categories:

  • “Oh! Steph!  Have you not been sleeping lately?  Are you feeling unwell?”- Sometimes the answer is “Yes, I feel like crap,” in which case the dark circles under my eyes and lackluster skin are richly deserved.  Sometimes the comments come out of the blue when I am not sick or tired.  When I was learning “my” colors a few years ago, I experimented constantly.  Beige, tan, ivory, yellow, brown, and orange always elicited comments like this from my kind and caring coworkers.  I learned not to rely too heavily on these colors in my sewing.  Eventually.
  • “You look great!  Have you lost weight/gotten a haircut/been resting up/been working out?”  These comments are equally valuable, if somewhat confusing when I have not indeed lost weight, been anywhere near a gym/salon nor slept well.  At some point it clicked that I’d hear these puzzling (but lovely!) comments when wearing white, black, blues of any description, blue violet and bluey-green that matches my eyes.  I didn’t know about cool/warm or color seasons, but when I later found out I’m classified as a cool and a clear winter, it didn’t come as a shock.
  • “That color looks incredible on you.” This is, of course, quite direct.  If someone is willing to go out of their way to say this to you, pay attention.  And thank them without drawing attention to your perceived flaws, it’s only polite.

Happy Colors, or- All Reds are Not Created Equal

The second aspect of learning your colors involves figuring out what makes you happy when you wear it.  If you take all your clothes out of the closet and separate them by color, do you have one or two dominant colors?  Are these colors that flatter your skintone, colors you love, a default neutral, or all of the above?   What colors would work well with your dominant colors?

One of mine is red.

Warm Red- click for source

I love wearing red.  I feel brighter, sharper, more aware of the world around me when I wear red.  In my family the women collect poppies as a “totem” because it’s our family name, so I have fond associations with the color of the flower and family.  It’s almost a “neutral” in my wardrobe, that’s how much I love red.

Cool Red- click for source

I used to put on a new red dress or blouse and hold my breath- “Is this a red I can wear?”  I didn’t understand the difference between “cool” reds and “warm” reds, so I bought red clothes indiscriminately.  Now I do understand the difference and only buy cool red fabric for myself.   This works very well for me.

Clickety-doo for source

For another perspective on “color happiness,” check out Patty’s post on draping and finding her colors.  She prefers colors of another palette than might be prescribed for her by a color analyst, and I think that’s valid.  The comments section is quite interesting, as well.

Poppies, Reds, and what goes with them

Last week, I used pictures of lavender fields to illustrate warm and cool purples.  This week, it’s almost the same with dual poppy fields.  These stories are intended to inspire rather than dictate color choices for wardrobing.  I included two “anchor” colors in the top right corner of each story- contrasting neutrals that work safely with each other and with the other colors in the story.

Photo courtesy of Ozzienews

I use the term “warm” here loosely.  Blues are often associated with cooler coloring types, but very often those who favor a warmer palette may wear “warm” blues like the two here.  The lighter one might look smashing on a redhead with pale skin and freckles, the darker blue may suit a deeper or more muted warm skintone.  Note the gray has a yellow undertone, and looks well with the ivory as well as the other colors.

Photo courtesy of Little White Daisy

I have been known to wear any of these colors together in my more flamboyant moods.  Ok, maybe not red and green.  Too Christmassy.  I wouldn’t necessarily pack every one of these colors into a single wardrobe, but they’re too lovely not to show all together here.  Grays for cools work best with a bit of blue mixed in, and while most cools can wear pretty much any shade of blue, I favor “clear” blues.  If several of these colors ring your bells, you may find you wear blue-reds best.  The tones are somewhat saturated, but softer shades of the same colors might work well for you if you lean toward cool but don’t wear brights.

The color swatches are lifted from the photos.  Unlike many sources of color inspiration, nature doesn’t have an ulterior financial motive for being beautiful.  Nature is beautiful as an end in itself.  I have the idea that if colors harmonize in nature in a pleasing way then I can surely try it in my wardrobe.

I divided this post into two parts because once I wrote the entire post, I saw it was far too long.  I’ll post part two next week- how your environment and how you interact with it influences “your colors.”

Further Reading:

Click for source

Cennetta at Mahogany Stylist recently wrote a very interesting post on finding her colors and working with a color consultant.

Click for source

Izzywizz at Color Makes People! combines color very effectively.  I recently found her blog while looking for colorful outfit inspiration and though we don’t really share a palette, I enjoy rummaging through her outfit posts.  Such inspiration!

Click for source

Catherine at Not Dressed As Lamb explores what the term “age-appropriate” means with humor and insight, and provides solid and ageless advice for building personal style.  These are the questions I use, too!

What are your “happy colors”?  Which colors dominate your wardrobe?  Do you ever wear red?


  1. Wonderful post, Steph. You’ve made this stuff sound like it is meant to be – an opportunity and a tool. Instead of a set of dumb rules to follow. I am the cool who doesn’t suit brights! :) So my key reds (my happy colour!) seem quite warm really, MY favourite is what I’d call cherry burgundy. Love that colour, get HEAPS of compliments when I wear it.

  2. Great post, very thought provoking. I know when I wore navy blue once I was asked “do you feel ok, do you want to sit down?” I have not worn navy since!

  3. Red, red and more red. It’s my favourite colour and I feel so good wearing it. I prefer the same reds as you, but I really find it hard to classify myself. I’m going to a meeting in Melbourne tomorrow and I just packed a red wiggle skirt and a red, purple and black top to go with it. All my power colours! I really am enjoying your posts about this.

    • YAY! Me too. I bet you look just smashing in your power-wear. :) Good luck in Melbourne! (I want to go to Melbourne…!)

      Thanks, Carol. It’s fun to write knowing who will read it…

  4. Red is my favourite colour, and I like to combine it with white, blues and greens! I also love the new trend for this fall: mixing different kinds of red together.
    It also happens that I just bought red shoes with stripes of royal blue, vibrant green and purple on it. I loved them from the minute I saw them, and I knew I could wear them with almost anything in my closet!

    • Ooooh! Oh! I mix reds anyway, good to know I’ll also be fashionable. Heh. I just ordered and received some gooorgeous red leather ballet flats from Born, I’ll undoubtedly wear them with other shades of red.

      Those shoes of yours sound awesome! What are they?

      • You are really fashionable! I really like the things you sew and the hacks you make.. My shoes are peeptoe ballerina’s with a little wedge, supercomfortable and I paid only 5 euro!! Your shoes sound awesome too..

  5. I am always looking for color information since I consider myself to be color challenged. I come from the land of the Calvin Klein business “uniform.” Black, gray, beige, navy minimalist styling. I look like I have some sort of liver disease now in gray, I can only wear navy if I have a color pop next to my face because i look exhausted as in just recovering from a major illness. I was classified a “winter” but the contradiction lies in freckles. Thanks for putting this information together in such an informative and understandable way.

    • The severity of the “corporate” look really appeals to my inner Puritan… I love severity. But I’ve never really had a reason to dress that way, seems to scare people when I do. ;)

      What gray? I hear there’s 50 shades of gray but I’m positive there’s more than that..

      I love freckles. When I was younger I always wished I had some… They looked like golden sparkle dust on my sister’s skin..

      Thanks! You all inspire me.

  6. That clarified my cool/warm quandry! I love red – but it needs to be a clear red, not an orangey one. And the electric blue that was in your cool poppy field suits me too. I must be cool and clear :) Today I’m wearing a mase of black leggings with a dress that is black with white polka dots over printed with red and pink flowers, then I have a bright pink Indian-style scarf as well. Lots of print but a neutral background and similar colours.

    • Sounds like a cute outfit! Do you ever do style posts on your blog? Would love to see your outfit.. I’m quite fond of using shocks of color against black, too…

      • Sometimes I write about things that I’m wearing but maybe not as often as I could. If I wore as much that was self-made as you then I definitely would! It is my aim to wear things that I’ve made more often and to come up with more interesting clothing combinations.

  7. Great post again, Steph! My favourite colours have always been earth tones, although I find as I age and my hair colour is changing that I’m reaching out of the box as it were to try tones and colours I otherwise wouldn’t (like grey). I love what MrsC said: an opportunity vs. a set of rules to follow.

    • Cool! (Warm?) hehe. Yes… Color can be quite tricky, but I really do think it’s like learning to fit… Partly “rules” and partly finding your own way.. :)

  8. good work steph!
    when I was younger I had the same cool type as you – “snowwhite”. with time, a yellowish tone came into the skin and the hair turn gray/white. now I can wear my cool poppyred and the coral tones i like. sometimes together. hihi. Aging also has advantages!

    • Neat. :) I do like the snow white look, the fact I dye my hair a bit darker and wear red lipstick probably helps…

      I like the age I am, but in a way I look forward to aging. Some of my female relatives (the ones with widows peaks) go silver in their mid-thirties and I think it’s beautiful. Starts as a small streak that widens over time.

  9. My very favorite color of all is that steel blue of the sky just before a big storm — the one against which all the other colors glow, when every leaf on every tree, every blade of grass is outlined in its own halo of light, and the daffodils shine from within. It is a cool, dark, not-blue-not-grey color, and works as my best neutral. Hard to find in fabric stores on its own, but not so hard to find in prints. True indigo dye contains this color, somewhere in its dark-light range of inky blues. I think my eyes used to be this color, before they (and all the rest of me) faded with age. I also like a cool red, the one that used to be called Navy Red. My mother adores mustard yellow, and dressed my sister and me in that muddy, babysh*t brown tone when we were children. We looked like death warmed over.

    • That’s the best way I’ve seen my favourite colour described! And so poetic. I’ve always felt a bit weird for liking such a colour as blue-grey, for having such a colour as my “happy colour”. I mean, I’ve liked it for a long time and I’ve never considered not liking it just because it’s seemingly so sad when I knew it was not, but you gave me the perfect description of why it is not – and I wonder why have I not thought of it myself, because I love the nature in times like that, and even think of the colour as “steely skies” sometimes. :-) It’s that golden tinge to it. That’s crucial. I may be a soft cool type, but I always need that little trace of golden; true cools are too cool for me.

      Mustard is bad (and, ha, sure it’s a s* colour on the likes of me), but when you move just a bit further into the yellow territory, I love it. Now; I used to fear yellows.

      The “Not Dressed As Lamb” post made me think of the poem “Warning (When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple)” by Jenny Joseph. When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple. And maybe I should start practicing a little.

      • I love that- practicing wearing purple… I get it, too.. I look forward to middle age. :)

        Mustard is evil. But I’m trying to challenge myself to re visit yellow and see what I can do with it..

        • Though I am sometimes puzzled by the colours people describe as mustard… for me, mustard always has a slight brownish-greenish tinge to it. Or is it just me?

          • I think “mustard” depends on where you live and what kind of mustard you eat. I’m not surprised that you would think of it as having a slight greeny brown tinge, but some might think of it as browner again, and some might think of it as a brighter yellow…

    • Oh well said, Lin. Beautiful description of the color, and I think I know exactly the one you mean. I find a slightly less gray version of stormy-sky is my absolute best color ever. It used to look a bit meh to me when I would see it on a fabric bolt, but I’ve worn enough of it to know if I find that shade of blue I *have* to get it if possible.

      I’ve long wanted to keep an indigo dye vat… They’re like a pet, really. You get it started, keep it more or less a certain temperature and “feed” it… I just don’t have the room for such a thing where we live, but once we’re more settled I want to get into indigo dyeing like a crazy person. It’s so interesting.

      • An indigo dye vat? Now I have a whole ‘nother thing I need to look up and find out about… Intriguing.

  10. Enjoyed the post. I also think of red as a neutral. My “happy” color range is deep plum-purple, but I don’t wear a lot of it. I’m also really picky about the exact shade of purple–it can easily become “grape,” which I don’t like. I tend to become color fatigued sometimes, so this could change tomorrow. I also like greens quite a lot. I have to be careful about that, and tend to buy too much green.

    I’m not a fan of the season method. It would tend to classify me somewhere between fall and winter, which is somewhat accurate, but too restrictive in my mind. Then, if I get a slight tan it changes anyway.


    • I went through a major green phase… Everything green green green. Now I lean on reds and blues more, but I wouldn’t mind a little more green in my life.

      Yeah, the palettes can be quite restrictive… Which is alright, and trying “new” colors on “your” palette may provide some great color surprises but it’s not really the be all and end all. Life’s too short. ;)

  11. I’m trying to get away from wearing (and sewing) all black, or black with prints, or grey, so I’ve been looking at color palettes to try to conquer my fear of color. I also find that matching colors in the same saturation work, unless it’s black mixed with a bright (too much contrast). I think the important thing about colors to look at is the silhouette it gives, how to maintain that one long lean line without looking like a box of crayons gone wild (not in a good way).

    • Yes. When I was weaning myself off of black, I branched out into gray and white which made it simpler to mix actual colors into my wardrobe… I don’t mind most colors with black, and tend to favor icy pastels with black… But not red. For some reason when I wear black and red together I just look terrifying. Not bad, but scary and aggressive…

      I have an idea about cityscapes and black…

      • Well, in a city black is just practical–especially if you have to ride the subway every day! White is pretty, but nearly impossible to keep fresh looking. So, I too wear a lot of black. I’m not a fan of the red-black combo either. It’s too much saturation or something. I do tend to like black with a standard tan/beige trench coat. (One of the few true neutral garments in my wardrobe).

        • Well……

          I’m not arguing with you….. but… I live in a city, ride public transit, walk, have a little kid, and wear plenty of white. White is the black of the tropics.

          Sigh… Then I go and accidentally dye my white clothes pink… I need to replace some of those pieces before summer hits here or I’ll be dying and cranky…

  12. Hia Steph,

    I just wanna thank you heapsly for your shout out, I had no idea and feel really honored! :) I also wanna thank you for visiting and leaving the sweetest comment, I really appreciate it! :) I loved reading your colour posts, really interesting although I have never paid any attention to colour code or matching colours, I havent got a clue what kind of palette I am, I love to wear any colour, just have to find the shade that looks best on me. :) I just love to play around with colour, being creative, put colours together that dont necessarily go together. :) and yeaaaaaaaa do I love RED, bright red is my choice. :P

    • Yeah for sure, keep up the gorgeous work! I’m surprised to know you never paid much attention to coloring, you have a really good intuitive grasp of what colors work well for you. I really like the turquoise outfits you were posting… Really nice on you. :)

  13. I really try to focus when I read about colour pairing (for want of a better way of saying it) but it just doesn’t work for my brain. All I can do is try something on (or look at it sometimes) and see if it makes me look a) great b) fine or c) dead. I love neutrals and bright colours equally. I tend toward navy and grey (for neutrals) and yellow/orange or shades of blue. The colour by season thing is even harder for me to understand than the cool/warm concept. I want to say I’m a “cool” but I def fit into your warm red category above. Hmmm…

    • Well… Really it’s all leading into learning to recognize the colors that work for you so it streamlines the process of choosing fabrics and ultimately putting together outfits in the morning when you dress. I find that since I’ve been sewing/dressing from a relatively restricted set of core colors, it’s soooo much easier to dress.

  14. I mostly wear red (true, saturated red) as an accent. I love it, but I think too much red on me is simply too much. Raspberry-ish shades are better for me.
    Though I still rather wish for a pair of truly red shoes.

    Oh, and I’m totally with you on the notion that when it sits together in the nature, it sure should look good on a person, too. Thus, I live under the impression that green goes with everything. :-) (Various shades of green, as with every other colour.) Strangely enough, I own few green pieces…

    • I can see how head to toe red might feel a bit overpowering… I recently made a BRIGHT red dress, and while I like it most days, some days it feels too high-strung for me. :)

      Raspberry is loooovely. And I really dig your latest post about your green dress. It’s a beautiful shade.

  15. Colors that I always love are mustard, cerulean blue and rich, warm purple. I also have a thing lately for coral and for cool poppy red; I can’t get enough!

  16. I might be lucky in that I’m fairly neutral. I love wearing oranges and corals, but my wardrobe also has fuchsia, warm and cool purples, gold and silver jewellery, and I love some shades of blue. My base is always black or a cool charcoal, and I dislike white and ivory on me almost equally. I’d rather wear white than ivory, but that might be due to the “white shirt = dress shirt” culture from when I was growing up.

    I choose the two blues and the orange from the top poppy photo, and the purple and greys from the bottom. :)

  17. Holy cats! Between this post and Patty’s brave self-assessment, I think I’ve been camping in the cools for too long, and I think I might fall into the warm spring category as well. Recently I’ve discovered how well peaches work for me and how a lot of the blues that I’ve worn forever make me feel a little off when I wear them (though I can wear more than perhaps some because of my blue eyes). I think a gigantic light-bulb just went off for me, and suddenly the world of color is suddenly narrower for me in a good way. I’m going to have some honest time with my fabric stash and some new makeup and see if I can pinpoint some trends.

  18. Pingback: Two Quick Summer Blouses « Little Postcards

  19. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what colours suited me, but over the last number of months I’ve been rethinking some of what I thought I knew. My favourite colour is red and, along with black, it dominates my (rather meagre) wardrobe. For me it’s a neutral – perhaps because I generally have low energy and I use it to energize myself. My best reds are cool. Cool and pinkish actually. Looking forward to sewing with more berry tones.

    I’ve self diagnosed as soft summer. My eyes are green-grey, hair is a cool dark brown. My skin actually looks a little yellowish, but yellow is terrible on me. My wardrobe has been, I think, too high contrast so I’m trying to reduce the saturation.

  20. Pingback: Conversant In Color: Harmonizing with Your Environment « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  21. Pingback: Conversant In Color: Buying Fabric Part 2 « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  22. Pingback: Conversant In Color: Separates « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

Is it kind, useful or interesting? Great!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s