Two years ago a close friend of mine told me about a friend of hers Annie whose profession is to help women define their style so they know the best clothes to wear to suit their personality, shape and lifestyle. If there was one area of my life where I was feeling I could use some help, it was in the fashion department. So I was very excited I could hire a professional for some guidance in order to de-clutter my wardrobe. What I never could have anticipated was how taking this step would dramatically shift my perspective on buying and wearing clothes in the most spectacular way.
I had no problem finding clothes that I adored (and a good eye for high quality and tasteful design I liked to think), but my issue with fashion was that I was spending significant amounts of money on random articles of beautiful clothing from favourite British chains like Jigsaw, TOAST, and Whistles, and then watching them sit in my wardrobe collecting dust and making nice homes for a substantial moth population. In other words, I was amassing a nice clothing art collection that hardly ever got to be exhibited.
I was also getting stressed about getting dressed! For most women I know preparing what to wear and primping are the key activities of a typical morning routine, but I was continuously saving it to the very last minute. I would do the things I felt confident about first (let’s call this my inner beauty routine): a gentle yoga and meditation practice, sipping hot water and lemon, preparing a warm meal to take to work, exfoliating in the shower and moisturizing and then whoops! – 10 minutes to go for make-up and outfit choice – eek! I would rush upstairs only to stand frozen in front of hangers adorned with pretty fabrics and textiles fretting about which direction to take my outfit in only to end up pulling out the same pair of jeans I wore yesterday and a baggy jumper that left my entire silhouette to the imagination.
No matter how much time I had spent making sure I felt good from the inside out, the lack of icing on the cake was putting it all to waste. Luckily, I have pretty low-maintenance wash-and-go hair and a very simple make-up routine, but a poorly thought-out outfit for the day and lack of coordination do not make a confident woman, no matter what else you’ve got going on.
As a yoga teacher and health coach, I am pretty creative when it comes to finding solutions for all sorts of psychological, physiological, and nutritional health dilemmas, but for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t wearing most of my clothes. At first, I put it down to being a body image issue (not as trim as I was when I bought the item or something to that effect), but I hadn’t outgrown these clothes nor, after years of studying health and the human body (and finally entering into my don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think thirties), was I hung up on having the perfect figure and a flat stomach anymore. HOWEVER, deep down I knew that I still wanted to look good. If not for others, for myself. And I knew that the right clothing (in terms of fit and style) can make a huge difference to how you feel.
To me, a woman who puts effort into her appearance is showing the world a clear sign of self-respect and saying: I am friendly, approachable and part of this world. As someone who loves her job teaching yoga and health coaching, loves life and loves getting to know people, I wanted to make sure I was coming across that way – lively and loving – even when on a boring, lifeless commute to work on public transport. But choosing an outfit was taking up a lot of time and energy and making me feel unhappy and regretful about my purchases. Did getting dressed have to be so stressful? Wasn’t it supposed to be fun?
Stress, Unhappiness, and Regret are three things I have worked very hard to get out of my life, which meant cleaning out my closet once and for all! So I picked up the phone to call Annie and the conversation went like this :
Me: Oh hi, is that Annie?
Annie: Yes it is.
Me: Hi! My friend referred me to you as someone who can help me sort out my wardrobe (and then I started babbling…)...every morning I wake up dreading the moment I have to choose what to wear and am pretty sure that more than 50% of my wardrobe never gets touched. I want to love my clothes and love getting dressed, but at the moment it’s my least favourite time of the day (and a rushed one at that). Could I sign up for a consultation with you to sort that out? I just want someone to come to my place and tell me what to keep and what to get rid of and help me feel more confident about my choices. This is one area of my life where I am really helpless! Can you help?
Annie replied with a friendly tone of complete confidence and competence: Yes I can help you. BUT, she insisted, first we need to ‘do your colours.’
Me: My what?
Annie: Your colours. Everyone has certain colours they should and shouldn’t wear that pertain to a colour wheel broken down by season. You’d be surprised that the majority of what you own is probably the wrong colour for you.
I politely declined the offer: Oh no that’s okay – I know which colours look good on me and which ones are my favourites and I really just need help with style more than anything – things that will suit my figure, sorting out how to get the most out of clothes for my different jobs, activities and making it all work…(babble babble)…
But Annie wouldn’t go any further: Kate, we need to know what colours suit you first before we can do anything else. It’s the most important thing.
This is not what I had bargained for. Growing up, I remember that a friend of mine’s mother had her make-up done and was defined as ‘a Spring.’ She told me I was ‘a Spring’ too and would suit her lipstick shade. I liked the idea of being a Spring (I was born in April after all) and started buying lots of pastels and floral prints but soon forgot about the colour concept and simply went along with any colour or style trend to blend in with everyone else, keeping it simple and preppy (and often baggy and comfortable). As far as colours were concerned, I chose muted tones or hues that appealed to my mood, but most of my wardobe was navy, blue or black. And ‘being’ a season was just an eighties trend that no longer had relevance.
Were navy, blue and black accurate reflections of how I was feeling? What happened to the little girl in me proud of her pastel birthday colours? I hadn’t really thought about it until Annie mentioned colours and then recalled that wearing certain shades of green always got me the most attention and that everyone always stopped to complement me when I was wearing my red coat. So I was beginning to think that Annie had a point…had I become colour-blind?
Despite my initial resistance, it didn’t take long for Annie to convince me of the necessity of a colour session. I may not have become colour blind but my colour consciousness had certainly faded. She had me intrigued when she mentioned that wearing the wrong colours can actually make you look older, tired and generally clash with your complexion and your spirit. So, embracing ‘beginner’s mind,’ I set out to learn my colours from scratch and could never have imagined how life-altering (not just wardrobe-altering) the experience would be.
First of all, upon meeting Annie, you discover she is a canvas of colour herself. She has a rainbow-like aura and now I know it’s because she’s got her colours right. You see, as city dwellers whose main objective is to blend in with our drab scenery, Londoners tend to wear a whole lot of grey and black. The next time you stand on a train platform in London, take a look around and you will find yourself in a sea of depressing colours – none that lift your spirit, none that stand out, hardly any that suit those wearing them. I recall it being the same in New York City.
But Annie is not shy about wearing an array of uplifting colours and because of this, she looks damn good. The confidence and radiance she exuded when I first met her already had me convinced I would be getting my money’s worth. Now, you’ve probably got a picture in your head that resembles Rainbow Brite or a shiny, baubly Christmas tree. But this is exactly where our concept of wearing colours goes wrong. We forget colours that lie between the bold primary colours, the many shades of blue, green, orange, the predominantly yellow versus blue-based colours and the endless choices we have when looking beyond grey and black. We don’t realise that when you put the right colours together, there is nothing gaudy or flashy or intimidating about them. When you find the colours that suit you and each other best, everything blends beautifully and people will notice your inner radiance and spirit more, not necessarily what you are wearing.
A colour session with Annie lasts up to three hours and involves being draped in different coloured scarves with enough daylight for Annie to be able to discern the colours that make your eyes pop, make your complexion glow and most surprising of all, make you FEEL better!
I won’t lie – it wasn’t instantly obvious to me. I found myself squinting to see shadows that Annie immediately proclaimed blue-based colours brought out on my face. I initially shunned colours like caramel that I would never choose for myself. But as the session progressed, so did my understanding of how colours can work for or against us. As Annie explained, all colours are mixed with blue and yellow – the amount of blue or yellow will make them warmer (more yellow) and thus softer or colder (more blue). The same is true of our skin so we must find colours with the right tones for our skin otherwise there is disharmony. It’s an intellectual process at first but over times it becomes instinctive and delightfully artistic.
Certain scarves immediately felt like home around my neck, made something deep inside me glow outwards. And this was all without make-up. The amazing thing is that when you wear colours that are suited to your complexion, you need less colour on your face! Not only did I feel enlightened but I felt lighter and happier because the process, while long, is tremendously fun and uplifting. The delight of playing with a box of crayons as a child suddenly brought to the present moment with my wardrobe as my construction paper! I felt like a kid again!
My consultation with Annie proved that Peacock Blue (my new favourite colour), Golden Orange, Pistachio Green and Chocolate Brown are my wonder colours. They all belong to the Autumn palette, and thus I am ‘an Autumn.’
What does that mean? Well, it means I must avoid wearing black or white (but I can wear cream white and certain very dark greens) and that Autumn is my best time of year to shop (because that’s when most Autumn colours appear in stores). At first, I found this potentially very limiting and a little upsetting. Most of my wardrobe was not the right colour and I was worried shopping would become even more challenging. NOT TRUE – I was pleasantly surprised to discover just the opposite. The more I wore the clothes in my wardrobe that belonged to the Autumn palette, the better I started to feel. And the Autumn palette has colours that don’t scream AUTUMN so there are shades to wear year-round.
Annie gave me a little leather booklet with colour fabric swatches to carry with me when I shop. She explained that as long as the colours are of the Autumn variety, they can be mixed together – so rusty orange with brown is great (but not rusty orange with black!) and peacock blue with pistachio green is wondrous but join those up with sterile white pants and you’ve taken warm and mixed it with cold – no good. My shopping became more targeted and intelligent. It became more personal. I had newfound confidence to select items I knew would make me shine and shun items that might look amazing on ‘a Spring’ but better off as a piece of art in my wardrobe.
Like Annie said, it took me years to get my wardrobe wrong, so it will take a few more to get it right. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nevertheless, I did a massive and dramatic clean-out of my wardrobe – ruthlessly getting rid of anything that wasn’t an Autumn colour or didn’t fit my style archetype (determined in a later session). I saved one small box of clothes that didn’t apply to the new rules as a security blanket (I didn’t have the funds to start completely from scratch) but have since found more suitable replacements in sales over time. Now I open my wardrobe doors and just look at the beauty of a collection of clothes whose colours are so harmonious they nearly leap off the hangers ready to be mixed and matched and worn together!
Since my consultation, I have introduced others to the process, including my mother. Not everyone has embraced Annie’s advice as quickly as I did because sometimes old habits die hard. My mom still insists on needing black items, but she’s just bought an orange winter coat that is perfect for her (she’s an Autumn too!) and is loving how she feels in it. Likewise, a friend of mine who works in finance did a colours session to discover she’s a Spring and suits a lovely shade of pink. She still struggles to stand out in an office of grey suits but has certainly brought more colours into her wardrobe following the session and has become more aware of her tendency to want to blend in. Sometimes it takes baby steps, but I went for it 100% and all I can say is I don’t miss my old clothes (or the way I felt) a bit!
Habits and societal pressures put aside, it’s my feeling that the earlier we are educated about our colours (like the earlier we are educated about nutrition), the less we’ll have to suffer in life from doing things that don’t suit our unique body types or natural constitutions. Because like with yoga and food, when it comes to fashion, there is NO ONE WAY.
The best thing of ALL? Discovering my colours shifted the focus off of changing something about my body or my look and on to keeping things as they are but complementing them better. Annie says that’s how it should work with make-up too. It’s not about covering up or transforming, but rather emphasizing the beauty that is already there. And honouring your unique features and personality. Beyond colours, you can learn about your style archetypes with Annie (mine is Princess/Adventurer), which empowers you even more to wear outfits that are uniquely you and blend with your lifestyle so you feel completely at home in your clothes. Selecting shapes and styles that are harmonious with your look is the next step after colours, empowering you even more to be a discerning shopper. I never knew how much I loved a ‘princess shaped’ skirt and ballet flats until I put them on and started skipping! But likewise, throw a pair of rugged boots on me with skinny jeans and I feel my sexiest.
Here is a list of some of the BEST things about finding your colours:
- You will SAVE money on your clothes (although you might end up spending more during ‘your’ season when those colours abound)
- You won’t be seduced by sale items (you’ll be more targeted about your spending when you find jewels that fit your palette)
- You will GLOW when you wear your right colours (and people will comment)
- You will discover colours you never knew existed (and bond with colours in a new way)
- Your wardrobe becomes a work of art rather than a collection of art (if you have all the colours of one season together, it looks amazing!)
- You will know more than the shop assistants! (I can’t tell you how many have now seen my colour booklet and had to know what it was!)
- You will feel more beautiful and confident (even without make-up on – Annie says you only need a good lipstick and the right colours)
- You will de-clutter your wardrobe and own less clothing to organize (by far the best outcome for me – especially when I moved house)
- You won’t miss black if you have to get rid of it (it actually makes me feel depressed to wear black and grey now)
- You can swap clothes with a friend more easily once you realise things don’t suit you (especially if you are different seasons – jackpot!)
The one down-side for me? I struggle to find yoga clothing that isn’t black and neon colours but there are some brands out there rocking the natural tones.
Learning one’s colours is really a science and it takes practice and guidance from someone skilled and motivational like Annie. I highly recommend a colour and style consultation with her to bring not only more colour but more happiness and joy into your life. Red Leopard is located in Battersea.
As it’s November, I’m off now to go roll in a pile of Autumn leaves so I can bathe in my colours – ha – colour therapy! I once passed a shop window with Annie that had a peacock blue couch. You should drape yourself over that thing! she laughed. But she was right – I would feel right at home! Just like I do in all my clothes now. Phew! Problem solved.