There comes a point each year in my blogging calendar when I notice that all of my Summer brights have given way to a dull palette of grey, camel and black. As I was looking through my Instagram feed and pondering this, it occurred to me that it is easy to wear colour in Summer when you only need to co-ordinate one or two items of clothing at a time. As Winter approaches and you pile on layers of tops, bottoms, tights, coats, scarves and gloves, it becomes much more difficult. In addition to this, how can you really define which colours suit you?
Whenever I try to introduce colour in Winter, I end up feeling like an eager children’s TV presenter. However there are women who manage to do it well and so I decided to get in touch with Kettlewell Colours, a retailer whose whole business is based around colour, to see if they could explain how to do it with style.
Their suggestion was that a useful first step would be to spend a day with a colour expert. They work closely with House of Colour who have teams of colour specialists in both the UK and the US, dedicated to helping you discover which colours suit you.
I was happy to go along, even though I was confident that I was what Kettlewell would term a ‘Spring.’ I incline naturally towards the colours in that palette – bright blues, bubblegum pinks and warm reds. However it was great to meet up with one of their most experienced stylists, Lynda May, who has been studying the impact of colour for 22 years.
After we had settled down with a cup of tea at her house, she took me through the history of colour and the theories developed by the Bauhaus school in the early 20th century so I learned a lot. She also pointed out that when you wear colour, people will usually comment in two different ways.
Sometimes they will say “oh that colour suits you.” If they do, the likelihood is that it is the colour that they are noticing rather than you. The reason they notice it is because it is standing out by jarring slightly with your skintone. The colour is, in fact, wearing you.
The other kind of compliment that you might receive is “oh you look well today” or “have you been on holiday?” This is because the colour that you are wearing is the right one for you and it is underpinning your natural complexion, making you glow. It is you that stands out, not the colour. This made sense and at this point she had my full attention.
We carried on chatting about the colour wheel and Lynda asked me about my particular likes and dislikes. I told her that there were two colours that I knew didn’t suit me: yellow and teal blue. I noticed that she smiled.
After another cup of tea, it was time to move on to the practical session. With all of my make-up removed, my hair scraped back from my face and cloaked in black robes, I was placed in bright daylight in Lynda’s front window (much to the alarm of the innocent gardener outside).
How an expert defines which colours suit you
The first part of the process was for her to confirm whether I needed cool or warm colours (i.e Summer/Winter or Spring/Autumn). She did this by repeatedly placing noticeably different tones of the same colour in front of my face. It quickly became apparent that I needed warm colours. At this point I was a bit disappointed because it confirmed in my mind that I was going to be a Spring so it was hard to concentrate on the second part.
Lynda was very patient because I continually reacted to the colour itself rather than focusing on what it did to my complexion and each time she had to draw me back from my personal inclinations to the task. She was incredibly thorough and it took a long time until she had whittled it down to what seemed like barely discernible shades of the same thing in my eyes. However at each stage, she waited until she had my agreement on the most impactful swatch.
At last she was happy and with a flourish, she brought across the batch of scarves from the colour group that I belonged to. Incredibly rather than this Spring palette that I expected: warm, bright, fresh and light…
I was the very last one that I thought I would be – Autumn: deep, warm, natural and earthy (crammed with yellow and teal blue)!
Lynda had a range of clothes for me to play around with so I could start exploring my new palette. Whilst I was doing that, she put together a written record of which colours in my new group had suited me best. As you can see from this House of Colour shot (this lady is a Spring), even after your season has been identified, there are still colours within it that light you up more than others.
Even my ‘preferred palette’ included teal blue! At first I felt quite excited, after all, it had opened up a whole new sartorial opportunity. However during the drive home I started to worry. The first task that Lynda had given me to do when I got home was to separate out the clothes that I had in the right palette.
Thinking it through, I knew that I had perhaps 4 or 5 red tops and that was about it. Most of my navy clothes were darker than the shade that had been recommended for me, black was a no-no and grey had to be kept a warm ‘lizard’ shade and, even then, only be worn a little. Even white ideally needed to be replaced by an ivory or soft white.
I contacted Kettlewell to report back and they offered to send me some clothes to try out so that I could see if my existing wardrobe could be rescued by adding hints of their range.
House of Colour suggests that two colours are good but ‘the magic happens’ when you stretch to a palette of three. This is quite different to my usual practice of colour blocking so I decided to experiment. I started with my least favourite, the teal blue. You can see by my face that this is not my comfort zone – I wouldn’t make a very good poker player…
Here I am wearing a teal blue cardigan with a soft white polo – actually there is also a hint of the contrast in my bag.
I then added a merino rust coloured scarf to the mix. Before I go on, I must remark on just how unexpectedly good the quality of the Kettlewell clothing was. The cardigan and scarf were made from soft but weighty merino with a wonderful sheen. The polo neck was a silky jersey, my only comment would be that the neck was tight fitting which can be unflattering to soft, midlife chins.
You can see that I started to feel happier as I moved away from teal towards an olive green boyfriend cardigan, again made from lovely merino, contrasted with a moss green slash neck top. Now I liked this. They weren’t colours that I had worn before but I would definitely steer towards them in the future.
I added the rust scarf again for the third dimension to make it zing. Looking at these pictures, I have to agree that the colours do make you look well.
Finally I tried a colour that Lynda said didn’t really belong in my palette – but Kettlewell say it does. For some reason purple is yet another colour that I have never worn before. I like it. A lot.
The poncho was merino and it is cut so that you can wear it asymmetrically as I have, you can twist it so that the point is at the front or even wear it as a V-neck with the points at the side. They had sent me a jersey infinity scarf to contrast with the purple. This is the only item of Kettlewell’s that I didn’t like, it reminded me of a ‘Buff’ that you wear when you’re hiking.
My conclusions on wearing colourful Winter clothes
It feels as though a whole new world has opened up. I think that at the moment, as a colour novice, I will still veer towards the blocking of two colours together rather than three. I was given lots of useful information by House of Colour to take home with me and it tells me that if I keep on experimenting, I will quickly learn which colours suit me best and in which particular combinations.
It is already influencing my purchases. When I was in Uniqlo last week trying the merino that so many of you have recommended, I took the olive, teal and off white into the changing room along with my usual greys and blacks. I have to admit that the Autumn colours looked better and best of all was the teal…but I still left it behind and bought the olive and off white! What I’m really looking forward to is next Winter when chestnut brown returns from fashion exile -there’s an Autumn colour I really love.
In the end that leaves me with a new subject to ponder. Should you wear the colours that suit you regardless of trend or should you be trend led, picking the best colours you can find from the season’s collections?
I loved the day that I spent with Lynda and whilst I was there, I spied a whole new board that talked about style types which of course intrigued me but Lynda said that is a whole new topic. She is trained to assess your body shape architecturally. She can tell you what ‘style personality’ you are and also which shapes will suit you best according to your particular dimensions.
She even showed me how to do a 90 second make-up. As you can imagine, the House of Colour make-up is developed for your colouring. I instantly bought the foundation, blusher and lipstick because they suited me better than any I’d tried on the high street although you wouldn’t want to be seen using it in public, the packaging is awful.
So, if you’re being asked what you would like for Christmas, I can honestly recommend a House of Colour session of one kind or another. It’s really invigorating and at the end, you feel as though you’ve unlocked something about yourself that has always been hidden.
I’m not going to immediately get rid of the 95% of my wardrobe that is in the wrong colour but I will look out for my Autumn colours when I’m shopping and think of ways to work them in. I will also add some pieces from Kettlewell to my collection, particularly the merino, as the quality is every bit as good as the very top end stores.
Kettlewell deliver internationally, here are the details
House of Colour have stylists throughout the UK and the US. There is a flag at the top lefthand corner of the site which will take you to the right country.
So it’s been another typical week in our house with yet another visit to A&E. It was with the youngest this time and a finger that trailed behind him as he slammed the car door in a hurry. It is now fractured. Of course it had to be the index finger on his right hand which is making life a bit complicated as he can’t do any of the things he loves. Karate, rugby and guitar are all out of the window. Amazingly he has discovered a way of handling a Playstation controller though.
The middle son will have his 15 minutes of fame on Saturday night when the BBC documentary is broadcast. It’s called “The School That Got Teens Reading” and it’s on BBC 2 at 8pm. This of course means it is up against Strictly and X Factor. I don’t watch either of them but I appreciate that for a lot of people they are the very definition of a relaxing Saturday evening.
Just in case you do watch it the documentary, I want to make a couple of excuses in advance of my short appearance. I was a bit flustered. The BBC emailed me the day that school started again in September to say that they were back on site wrapping a few things up. They wanted to know if I could meet for a quick chat along with the boy after school the following evening.
They had done this a few times and it usually involved me signing health and safety or permission forms for something or other. I had meetings all day so I said it would be fine for me to pop into school at 3.30pm.
The following morning as I set off for my first appointment, I emailed to check where to meet them. At lunchtime they called to say there had been a mix up, that they actually wanted to meet at our house to get some footage of the boy in situ and maybe talk to me too.
You already know what kind of calculations were going through my mind. Not only whether I could get back home in time but was the house tidy and what on earth would they want to ask me..?
I got back to the house at 4pm and 10 minutes later they knocked on the door, just as the boy walked in too. I’d had no time to get changed but I had madly tidied the room that the boys have downstairs which has a games console in it. The rest of the ground floor looked ok too.
We had a quick chat and the producer turned to the boy saying “so what is it you usually do when you might otherwise be reading.” The boy replied “play games I guess.” “Ok, we’ll get some footage of you doing that then. Where do you usually do it?” (My heart immediately started to pound)… “In my bedroom” he replied. IN.MY.BEDROOM. This was 2 days after the end of the long 6 week Summer break. His bedroom was…well you can imagine!
I stayed downstairs breathing deeply whilst they did their filming and then they moved on to me. They wanted me to talk about how I felt about the boy not reading. Having been trained at the BBC at the beginning of my career, I knew what they were doing. They were adding to the prescribed narrative of the programme. In a nutshell they wanted me to say I was disappointed but as Mums we all know that you don’t ever do that, regardless of the context.
So, there I was, preparing to do some tricky verbal fencing when they added that they would like it to look natural so would I make a cup of tea at the same time. Now you will understand if you see my grimace of intense concentration. At least it is mercifully brief.
If you do watch, I ask only one thing of you. You will discover which city the boy travels to each day and which school. You will also, of course, learn his name. I have an agreement with my sons that I can write about them and the things they do (within reason) as long as I protect their privacy by making sure Google (and therefore their friends) cannot connect my blog with them. I achieve this by not including their names, schools or exact locations. So if you comment (which is always lovely) please could you simply use the words boy/son/school/city etc. Thank you. Here’s a recent picture just to remind you what he looks like (the one on the left).
Have a brilliant weekend and I would be interested to hear about how you handle colour in the Winter too. I’ll be back on Tuesday.