Updated: Jul 17
Colour theory can get very complicated and it is easy to get wrong. So instead of getting too technical let’s see how we can relate this information above to our own colour choices for ourselves or the client. Lets just look at you for now, but this information can obviously be determined for anyone.
Essentially how do you know what you are going to look good in? You may have spent time buying clothes you think are a good fit or are quality made or just downright expensive but still you may never have worn them because you don’t think that they look right somehow although you can’t quite put your finger on why. It could be that it is the colour that is causing the problem (don’t forget here that lots of fabrics can be dyed with natural or artificial dyes so all is not lost for these items. You may even end up pulling a few items back out of bag B!).
When considering colour a general rule of thumb is that the colour of your features will define what colours you look the best in. You can keep it just simple like that or expand on this further.
Like it or not we do look the best in colours that are similar to the features that we have for example eye, hair or skin colours and we should be picking clothes based on these colours. You want to wear your clothes not have the clothes wear you. Your clothes should complement you and your features in the best way and not shout louder than you do, unless that’s your personality and the whole point of it for you.
So the first step is to study your features and determine what colours they consist of. If you look at the chart below compare the colour of your features and what number they area on the chart i.e eye colours, hair colours, skin colours, lips etc. I keep it plural as not many people have block colours for everything, hair has highlights/lowlights, skin has undertones, also some people wear makeup and if a standard colour palette is used every day in the makeup you could even consider this a feature.
By going through this process you can pull out a dozen colours that will suit you already.People don’t usually just dress in one or two colours so we can use more colours extra to these dominant colours. Like neutrals or complementary colours to add a little flare or highlight to enhance a feature. So when designing a capsule wardrobe or even an individual piece we might want to consider a 60-30-10 split of main colour, secondary colour then highlight colour. This ratio can be used to assist with highlighting body areas that you want to show off to set them apart from the body areas you want to make low key.
If it helps you could get hold of some colour charts from your local paint shop or if you are more serious buy a set of pantone colour guide sets or some other colour reference guide to help you with your colour choices. If you have all of your colours to hand it can make shopping for clothes or fabric for your capsule wardrobe easier.
Now you have identified your dominant feature colours you can compare them together to find out what type of Colour Contrast you have.
Look in a mirror or take a selfie and refer back to the colour wheel diagram.
If your features are all similar in colour then you are monochromatic in colour, using similar colours tends towards a conservative design.
If your features have colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel then you are analogous in colour so are low in contrast.
If you have features that are opposite in colour on the colour wheel then you have complementary colours these colours are high in contrast.
So for example say you have;
Brown eyes and brown hair you potentially monochromatic in colour and will look good in monochromatic colours of similar shades/tone/tint/value and chroma. By choosing colours in a monochromatic way we can create a vertical colour block like a tower that elongates the body and optically sliming it down (colours do not have to be perfectly matching to do this either).
Brown eyes and beige/tan hair are analogous colours therefore analogous colours, would look good on this person.
Green eyes and Red hair are complementary colours so this person would look good in complementary colours.
It is also worth noting here that Teal is a colour in various shades that lots of people can wear as it is a complementary colour to many different skin tones.
Colour Value is very different to Colour Contrast.
Using a standard value scale 1 is black 10 is white, we are assessing here the contrast between our lightest and our darkest features and working out a value.
Look at the colour scale and identify colours that are similar in Shade and Tint to the colours of your own features. How far apart are your features?
Pick your darkest feature is it your eyes, lips or hair and your lightest feature it maybe a highlight in your hair or the undertone of your skin, the whites of your eyes or teeth and find a point on the scale for both. This is the scale of contrast of colours in your features. This is the contrast level that you can repeat in your clothing colours and it is advisable not to go beyond them otherwise they are outside what is comfortable for you.
Count up how many marks of contrast you have – the wider the contrast in colours the more colours you will be able to wear.
You will be low value contrast difference if you have only moved 3 points on the scale.
medium value Contrast is 3-6 points.
high value contrast > 6points.
So for example;
So a high contrast person should wear high contrast coloured clothes to help mirror the contrast in the features.
A low contrast person should wear low contrast clothes so that the features or not overwhelmed. So compare light with light or dark with dark choosing analogous colours can also blend in here too.
A medium contrast person can work with contrast more freely wearing both higher and lower contrasts, so will need to experiment on what looks best for their colouring.
Just to add a little more science into the mix all of these colours can be split into two main groups of undertone, Warm colours and Cool colours. Warm colours include some shade of yellow in them cool colours have undertones of blue. You are usually either going to look best in warm colours or cool colours, I say usually because there are some people that will fit into either group.
The easiest way to decide what colour has what undertone on the colour wheel is to split the colour chart into two halves. Although as you can see there are many shades of green that have yellow in them and there are crimsons with blue in, so it’s not a perfect way to define it but it is a starting point.
To help you choose what undertone will suit you the best here are a few pointers;
Have a look at the veins on the inside of your arm what colour are they; blue, green or in between. If they look green then you are seeing the result of viewing your veins through yellower toned skin so you have a warmer skin tone.
Hold up anything gold to your face, either jewellery or a piece of card and take note of how it makes you look then do the same with silver. Warmer toned people look better in gold. If you can’t decide then you may be able to wear both.
Usually your features can help you, blue or green eyed people are usually cool toned, brown or hazel usually warm toned. Look at the undertones of the hair are they blue for example silver or black or are they yellow for example strawberry blond or red or brown.
You will have to experiment a little with this.
The upshot is that you would mix warm colours with warm colours and cool colours with cool colours as main colours in a design palette.
Choosing your colour scheme
To bring everything together we need some way of harmonising all of your own colours together, as you may have a wide range of colours to choose from by now.
If we harmonise all of the colours together in the capsule wardrobe then it should not matter which item of clothing you pick to wear it is going to work and blend with everything else without having to put in too much thought into it on an everyday basis.
Seasonal Mix – One obvious way to do this is to consider a seasonal mix to help break up colours into groupings.
So we have, Winter, Spring/Summer and Autumn and combining those seasons with colour options Light, Dark, Bright, Dull, Warm and Cool can give you a range of choices. For example, any of these combinations could be viable for any season – although some combinations lean more towards a particular season.
Warm Warm Warm Warm Cool Cool Cool Cool
Light Light Dark Dark Light Light Dark Dark
Bright Dull Bright Dull Bright Dull Bright Dull
Descriptive Terms - Another other way to harmonise colour groups is to use a descriptive term to group colours together such as; Citrus, Spice, Exotic, Frost, woodland, desert etc. you would mix colours together with similar properties.
Mood Boards - Another way to harmonise your colours is to match your feature colours with those you identified earlier in your mood board work, how to they compare?
Personality - We need to be mindful about what kind of a person you are and what lifestyle are you leading right now and how do you want people to perceive you. It could be that you are so outgoing or the life and soul of the party you don’t want to look dull even if you are a low contrast person. You could be breaking every single theory we have defined so far if you want lots of attention.
After working for after working in IT in business for many years I truly understand how clothing can make me feel as a woman, it can help me feel a little more self confident to get through a day that is dominated by men. Without a doubt dressing in a certain way can give you more self confidence, or feel expensive or smart – clothing should complement us and hold us up not bring us down or rub us out.
You may be classy, dramatic, relaxed, creative, rebellious, feminine, masculine, elegant, expensive, sophisticated, exotic, refined, opulent, enigmatic etc. or a combination or recipe list of any of these words. But each descriptive word about someone’s personality will trigger a view of colour in your mind and so it would be a simple process to now pick out those colours from the list of colours you currently have identified as available to you and your features.
So remembering the 60-30-10 rule you should now have a good idea of the colours you could use. Now all you have to do is settle for one harmonising idea as this will form the basis of the design along with the Theme Board.
To this you can then add in a couple of neutral tones in either white, black, grey or beiges which can be used as either the main colour ‘60’ or the lesser colour ‘30’ but keep the ’10’ for your contrast or highlight colours. It’s a good idea not to put in too many different neutrals, just choose one or two but they are going to help balance out all of the colour. But be mindful of using Backs and Whites if they are outside your colour contrast levels, they could wash out your features or be to stark for you, especially if you are a warm tone person.
Patterns enable us to see a combination of colours rather than just 1 colour so we should ensure that colour in the patterns we choose meet the requirements we have just worked so hard on, here are a few points to consider;
It is a good idea to pull together of visual representation of all of the colours that you would like to use in the capsule wardrobe. It is a good idea to do this physically i.e. not on a computer screen as it can be difficult to get a full grasp of a colour on a computer. Also it’s useful for shopping if you can take something with you to compare colours in any garment/fabric you see patterned or otherwise. If the pattern fits in and harmonises with the colour scheme chosen then it is a fit. If not then discard it even if you love it. The pattern may be available in your chosen colours anyway, if not have a go at designing your own pattern and have it printed on your fabric – a mini project in its own right.
Picking a colour in the pattern that links in with one of your main features for example your hair is a good idea as the connection is made automatically.
Print scale needs to be dealt with carefully however as a smaller prints can be lost on a larger woman and a large print scale can overwhelm a smaller person.
Also something to be aware of is that many patterns are printed on white backgrounds and unless you have a high value contrast it could tip your scale, although a little white should be OK as most of us have whites of the eyes and possibly white teeth. You could also dampen down the white in the pattern by over dying with natural dyes.
Texture, although not necessarily classed as a pattern can also change how a colour looks so this needs to be used carefully.
Vertical lines can elongate, and Horizontal lines can be used as a focus point using layers and can actually have a slimming effect, but can also widen a body if used across the whole horizontal area.
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