Thinking Aloud About Colour

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I’ve been thinking a lot about colour lately. It started the other day when I tried on a lovely bronzey sweater from Vince at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Oh, I loved it. It was just the right weight to slip under a blazer, long enough, and loose enough to skim the body, but not too bulky or heavy to wear in the early fall. Maybe even on our trip to Croatia in late September, I thought. But there was a problem. My face. My face and that sweater did not love each other. The colour was all wrong for me. It made my make-up disappear. And I thought it made me look older, and kind of ill.

That’s because the sweater is a warm colour. And as a person with blue undertones to my skin, warm colours look terrible on me. I learned that years ago. And I can’t for the life of me explain why I keep forgetting it. But apparently I do.

That same evening I had dinner with my friend Krista, and we talked about fashion. About shopping, how we shopped, what we like or don’t like to wear, what we think suits us and what doesn’t. I’ll tell you all about our conversation in a post later this week. Anyway, Krista mentioned a style website called “Dressing Your Truth.” I had heard of “Dressing Your Truth” a while ago from a reader of this blog who mentioned it in a comment on a post about knowing your own style. It’s a program developed by Carol Tuttle which advises women on style, hair, and make-up based on their personality or their “energy profile,” as she calls it on the website.

I have to say right up front that I’m not usually a fan of programs that purport to tell us how to dress. So I was skeptical when I checked out the website later that night. But it was interesting. You can have a look for yourself here. I found that personality-wise I fit into what they call the “type one” category in many ways: idea person, easily excitable, talks with hands etc. But I really hated the clothing suggestions for that type. The style of dress I prefer was much more aligned with a “type three” personality, until they suggested I avoid cool colours, and switch everything black in my wardrobe for brown. Uh, that wouldn’t work for me.

I know, I know. I’d started off skeptical. And after watching a couple of the videos, unable to buy into the energy thing, I became totally resistant. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, just that I don’t think I will be “dressing my truth” any time soon. But my appetite for style advice had been whetted. So I moved on.

I couldn’t get that bronze Vince sweater out of my mind. And I remembered the long ago advice from Mona, my hairdresser back in the nineties, that although I had been a redhead as a child, and still had a redhead’s colouring, I was “a cool red, not a warm red.” Our conversation had begun when I moaned about shopping for a new lipstick. How there were so many wonderful peaches and corals that year, and how I loved them. How since I had a redhead’s complexion, every cosmetician in the city kept trying to sell me peach lipstick. (Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration; I only went to three cosmetic counters.) And how crap all those peach lipsticks looked on me. Like I had fake lips. “That’s because as a cool redhead, you need cool colours,” said Mona. And proceeded to show me.

So, the other night, still on my quest for advice and information about colour and style, and with Mona’s words in my head, I checked out this You Tube channel. Justine Leconte’s lovely, quirky videos were recommended by my friend Wendy from York, who reads this blog. Oh my, I love this girl. Justine is a trained fashion designer. And her advice is quintessentially French, eschews trends, and advises viewers on everything from how to tell their skin tone, to the ten things every French woman has in her wardrobe. I am hooked.

I started with her video on how to tell if you have cool or warm undertones in your skin. Have a look.

I tried all of the methods Justine suggests. The veins in my wrist are clearly blue, silver jewellry really does make my skin look creamy compared with gold, and the pink in my neck was clear when I held up a white piece of paper. I most definitely have a cool undertone to my skin. And if you have a cool undertone in your skin, cool colours will flatter you.

That’s why I love wearing the raspberry fleece, below. And why I’ve kind of fallen out of love with the yellow gingham scarf that I bought in the spring. These two photos are not necessarily a fair comparison, but they were as close as I could get. They were taken months apart, but in the same space, at around the same time of day. Of course, on any given day, the light in my sun room will be different, particularly the spring versus the winter light. But, if you look closely, the yellow scarf makes my make-up look like it’s just sitting on my skin. While the other shot looks so much more natural, even though I have on pretty much the same make-up. I did darken my lipstick in the yellow shot, because I felt as if my face needed to be brighter.

But now I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t my face. Maybe it was the scarf.

Here are another couple of interesting shots, taken out on our street one winter morning, a few minutes apart. I shouldn’t be able to wear that red sweater. Red isn’t usually a good colour on me. But when I put on the scarf with all the cool blues, and purples in it, the sweater looks great, I think. I used the scarf to tie together the sweater and my fuchsia Max Mara tweed coat. But isn’t it odd that the same lipstick looks more red in the shot on the left, when the only difference is that in the right shot I’d pulled on the fuchsia coat?

This morning before I headed off for coffee with my friend Marina, I tried to do what Justine had recommended. I pulled several scarves out of my closet and tried them all, one after the other, up next to my face, taking photos of each one, in natural light. I had my make-up on, but no blush or lipstick. The difference was not nearly as dramatic as I expected. I can’t see that my skin looks particularly good in the cool shots, or less good in the warm one. But I will say that in real life, the difference between how these three scarves look next to my skin is obvious. Even Hubby said so. And even though I love the coral pashmina that I bought at Liberty of London way back in 2000, it doesn’t go with my face. Sigh.

Cool colours flatter me. And as much as I think I should be able to wear warm colours considering my skin tone, I can’t. “Your undertone,” Justine said, “is the hidden colour in your skin.” So even though I have a redhead’s complexion, I have cool undertones in my skin. Justine told an interesting anecdote in her video on undertones. She said that a professor gave them, as homework, the task of mixing with paint the exact shade of their own skin tone. And she could not believe how much blue she had to use to recreate her own skin colour. She must have a cool undertone as well. If I had a palette and some paints, I’d try that exercise just for fun.

In another video, Justine talks about finding the primary colours or RGB values in your dominant skin tone using an ap. I downloaded the free ap “Colour Inspiration” onto my i-phone. The idea is to take a photo of the skin on your inner forearm in natural light, and let the ap analyze how much red, green, and blue is in your skin tone.

This is harder than it seems, folks. Especially when one has ruddy skin with freckles. I identified everything from “pale silver” and “dark vanilla” to “American orange” and “liver” all on the one arm. Hopefully I zeroed in on a freckle with those last two colours. The commonality in all of these is that my red values are always high. Well, no surprise there. I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do with that information yet. The fun thing about the ap is that it can help you tell if a colour is cool or warm. Maybe I can avoid buying any more yellow scarves that way. Maybe. And since it’s under $10.00 (Cad) I may order the colour wheel that Justine uses. So I can play around some more with colour. You can find it here, if you’re interested.

I’ve had a ton of fun these past couple of days, thinking about colour. Reading and watching videos about colour. Trying to pinpoint my own colours, and attempting to wrap my brain around the concepts of colour theory. Of course none of this is new. I remember back in the eighties when everyone, it seemed, was “getting their colours done.” But understanding why a particular colour works or doesn’t work is preferable, to me anyway, to using a prescriptive swatch of colours deemed suitable by someone else.

I used to teach about colour when I taught grade nine Science way back when. All about the colour spectrum: Roy G Biv for those who remember that old acronym for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. And lots of other fascinating stuff that I can’t recall. I wish I’d known about skin tone and undertone and choosing colours that suit us when I was teaching Science. So when a student asked, and they always did, “when are we EVER going to use this in real life?” I could tell them.

I’m mostly kidding. I know colour theory is relevant to lots of other important things in life, more important than choosing outfits. It’s just I’m imagining the fifteen-year-old girls in this one class I had back in the nineties. Due to a timetable anomaly my class was scheduled opposite a boys’ Phys. Ed. class, and as a result it was all girls. Imagine twenty fifteen-year-old girls in one room. So chatty, so breathlessly exuberant, so caught up in the drama of being a teenager. Gosh, I loved that class.

One girl could put on her makeup and check her homework all at the same time. Seriously. One day I chastised her for not paying attention as we took up the questions I’d assigned the previous day. “Janice,” I said, “Are you with us here? What’s the answer to number five?” She had her lips half done, her little mirror in one hand, and her lipstick in the other. Without moving the hand that held her lipstick pressed against her upper lip, she swiveled her eyes to her notebook. And with pursed lips mumbled, like a ventriloquist, “3.254 centimetres” or something similar. Then went back to her lipstick. Now you had to love a kid who could do that without blinking an eye.

So I just think if a few of the kids like Janice thought that Science could help them choose better outfits, or lipsticks, well, I might have had an in there. I’d definitely have caught their attention better than I did.

In fact I wish I could go back and give those girls a colour theory assignment that involved choosing outfits. How much fun would that have been to mark? No, no… I’m just kidding. That would be totally shallow. Teachers can’t design assignments simply because they’d be fun to mark. As much as I loved to have fun in the classroom, I did take my job seriously.

Now how about you, my friends? How much do you think about colour? Have you figured out yet if you have cool or warm undertones in your skin? Maybe this is old news for you. It probably is. But a little refresher never hurt anyone.

P.S. That link to the colour wheel at Amazon and to the Vince sweater are affiliate links. If you buy something by clicking on it, I will earn a commission.

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlike#ShareAllLinkup, Thursday Favourite Things, Fabulous Friday.

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44 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud About Colour”

  1. I would say…I really don’t know. I tend towards the cooler colours of blue, white, silver, especially now my hair is grey. Much as I love green, I can’t wear it. I wouldn’t wear yellow either. Both make me look as though I have aged ten years. Same with bright lipsticks. My m-i-l is the best example ever of a warm colour person and gold on her looks so much golder. When I was young – teens, 20s – I could wear any colour, especially bold but that was probably down to having very dark brown hair and better skin tones than now. On the whole, knowing what makes me look very ill – browns, beiges, taupes – and knowing what I like, I would say: cool. Yes, I am very, very cool.

    1. That is one of the things that Francine mentions in a video about the seasonal colour system. The limitations for women who don’t fit into their four categories, which includes every woman once she goes grey. My mum had very dark brown hair and eyes, and when she went grey she started wearing cool pinks and crisp whites.

  2. Wendy in York

    Thought you’d like Justine . I started with that same video . How funny . I don’t really agree that the French are the be all & end all in fashion mind & it’s a big generalization to me but I can’t fault her -she’s so warm & natural too .
    Do you think we have always veered towards the colours that flatter us though ? Most of my life I’ve avoided corals & oranges & yellowy beiges whilst favoring blues , greens & whites . I’ve never had my colours done ( There were mistakes on the way which were left in the drawers ) Perhaps just a glance in the mirror was enough & we unconsciously stuck to that ?
    Not too rigid though . If I feel like a ‘ black day ‘ I’ll have one , whether it flatters me or not . I still love your lemon scarf .

    1. Yes, I agree that the French thing has been way overdone. But I still love Francine’s acccent, and when she says at the beginning of each video, “Hello, it’s Francine.” My reddish hair (or my memory of my reddish hair) has always been my undoing. That and being swayed by cut and fit and texture of a garment when I try it on and forgetting to look at how they flatter my colouring or not. I still love that scarf too.

  3. There are so many elements that go into choosing clothes–color, yes, but also the cut, the style, the fit, the fabric, the quality, the price….it can be frustrating when all the boxes are ticked except one.
    The most important reason to pay attention to which colors flatter us is that otherwise we will be unhappy with a piece. Our clothes should make us feel good about ourselves, help us express who we are. If the choice is wearing something that makes us look a little woozy or not wearing it and leaving it in the closet (which is a waste), the best option would have been to not buy it in the first place.
    I think it’s good to shop with a friend, for a reality check/second opinion. The app also sounds interesting, because the lighting in different stores can make a difference, too–fluorescent vs. natural.
    Will watch Justine’s videos this afternoon while waiting out the latest heat wave.

    1. I prefer to shop on my own, rather than with a friend, unless we’re shopping for them. I find that I get too distracted by chatting and will am more liable to make a mistake. My friends always say they love whatever I’m trying on. Too soft-hearted. Ha.

  4. I have only recently realised that I have cool colouring. I was not into having colours done when it was big in the 80s. I think the biggest influence regarding the colours I wear is emotional. For instance I feel dowdy and old wearing navy blue but feel great in black. The science of colour in very interesting. I wish had been taught that at school.

    1. I remember a dress I wore in the early eighties. Royal blue with big yellow and orange pineapples and lemons on it. Sound terrible, but it always made me feel wonderful. I worked in retail at the time and I remember one day an elderly man walked up to my counter and told me that in that dress I had “cheered him right up.” I never forgot that.

  5. This all reminds me of “getting my colours done”, back in the eighties – I believe the whole thing was called ‘Colour Me a Season’ where somebody would hold swatches up to your face and look at the flecks in your eyes and then tell you what season you were and give you a fan of colours, much like paint samples from stores. I was a Spring. Spring and Fall were warm undertones and Summer and Winter were cool. It was all very interesting and I think, quite accurate. -Jenn

    1. I remember my sister had her colours done. She never went anywhere without her swatches. There are still websites out there advertising the seasonal colour system. One thing that Justine says in a video is that it can be problematic for women who have grey hair, but are not naturally a “winter.” I think that all of these systems are going to have exceptions. People who don’t fit into their categories. I find them all really interesting, but I do get turned off by the evangelical tone sometimes.

  6. Cool colors definitely work better on me. I remembe years ago, I really wanted a red blazer. I tried on several, and they looked AWFUL. Then a salesgirl brought me one, I tried it on, and it was perfection! I commented on how much that surprised me, and she girl said, “Well, with your skin, you need to look for blue/reds more than orange/reds. ” It was such a revelation …

  7. Hi Sue,
    Love your blog! Wondering if you are aware that your photos are superimposed over the text? Or is it just on my end? Don’t want to miss out on a word that you write! Joan

    1. Thanks, Joan. We looked into that and found out it was occurring with older i-pads (mine had the 9.3.5 operating system). And only when I use something called “gallery” which resizes photos and places them side by side. Apparently it’s a bug in WordPress that they need to fix. So I decided to just stop using the gallery option until the bug is fixed. Until this post when I forgot! Sorry. And thanks for reminding me.

  8. I enjoyed your post, especially Justine’s videos. You’re right, she is very personable and not dogmatic. Ended up going through all the methods for undertone and came up as neutral. The one thing that I find most difficult these days is how my hair colour (silver/gray) works (or doesn’t) with my skin tone. Have no problem whatsoever with my hair colour, but now I am not quite sure about blush and lipstick colours (the only makeup I wear). Not very trusting of cosmetic counter salespeople–like you, maybe 3 times ever and I came away looking like a tart–not an edible one either. When my hair changed, I moved away from light peach to light pink for blush and similarly changed lipsticks to pinker tones. I will check out Justine’s video on make up to see what she has to say. As for clothing, 95% of the time it is black, but I have an endless supply of scarves which puts any necessary colour(s) by my face. I’m fine with that. I’m short, so wearing two contrasting colours simply cuts me in half and I would feel stupid wearing a bright monotone colour. Not me at all.

    1. I think Justine does have a video on make-up colours. I haven’t made my way through them all yet. They are keeping me company while I’m on the exercise bike. She does mention in one video on the seasonal approach to colors that the system doesn’t work well for women who have grey hair. That seems to be a big gap… since, as she says, every women will be grey eventually.

  9. Great video and I think I have defined myself as a warm after watching Justine and doing her tests. I do know which colors look best on me and gravitate to them and they’re mostly warm. But there are few colors I would ID as cool that I think look ok, too. I will have watch more of her videos and study the different shades on that wheel. I do have both gold and silver jewelry. I love this discussion, though. Have always known there are some colors (kelly green, for example) that look AWFUL on me. The last time that color came around, I bought a work jacket and earrings and wore them twice at most. Hated them and couldn’t figure out why I got sucked in. I am older and wiser now. 🙂

  10. Great post Sue! Read it quickly but want to come back to study the links and details. Back in the 80’s, I was labeled a Winter because of my blue eyes and blue un dertone to my skin. More recently with some gray hair, I find that some shades of peach agree with my skin tone that I would have ruled out years ago. Yellow is a color I love but I have n ever worn it, not good for me.

    1. There is so much information out there. I tend to read a lot of things and them go my own way. My skin tone has changed too, not my undertone, but my dominant tone.

  11. Justine is delightful. I’ll have to go back and watch that video. I have a lot of pink in my skin and find it difficult to find just the right color foundation. I can usually see when a color just doesn’t work next to my face. Right now with my grey hair, white looks really good on me. Seems to light up my face.

  12. I had my colours “done” way back in the 80s and was identified as a Spring meaning that I should wear clear, warm colours. It helped me tremendously in choosing clothing that best suited my natural colouring, but in recent years I’ve drifted away from what I knew worked and experimented with other colours that are probably less flattering. There seems to be a recent resurgence in interest in knowing your colours (at least amongst the fashion bloggers that I follow) which is prompting me to want to dig out my old colour swatches (I know they’re around here somewhere) and start using them again. It will be interesting to see how much in my closet fits my colour profile and how much doesn’t.

    1. That would be an interesting exercise, Elaine. I’m going to do a survey of the things in my closet with the phone ap, to see how many of them are cool.

  13. I haven’t watch the video yet, but I found out long ago that, even though I am very pale, I have yellow undertones in my skin. I already gravitated toward coral and other “spring“ colors, ivory instead of white, and gold jewelry, so I must have realized that instinctively. Still, sometimes it feels limiting to stick to only “my” colors. Now I’m worried that I shouldn’t read your blog since we have conflicting coloring! I’d be happy to take the yellow and coral scarves off your hands if you want to get rid of them. 🙂

  14. Sue – thank you for this post. I love reading all your posts from my corner of Ontario. I’ve been thinking a lot about colour as well and will definitely check out Justine’s videos. Interested to hear how this makes a difference for your future purchases.

    1. Thanks, Sue. I’m interested to put my new information to the shopping test as well. I’d like to try things on and take shots of the same garment in different colours.

  15. New commenter here. Interesting that I think you look even more attractive with the pale yellow scarf than in the cranberry/purple jacket: rosy and healthy. I had noticed how nice you looked in that pale yellow when you first brought it out. I wouldn’t consign it to the giveaway pile just yet.

  16. Pasunejeunefille

    Justine is great but you should also check out Merriam Style and Jen Thoden on YouTube. They both have lots of useful information about choosing one’s best colors.

  17. Interesting topic….I’ll read comments later
    My answer is…I don’t know! Some colours suit me better than the others and if I like the latter colours , I use the scarf to make them work.
    I like colours and,depending on my mood,wear them,or after some time, change to minimalistic,basic outfits. I remember to have read about Summer/winter etc schemes in english books but it was never something we did here
    I like the video,thank you,and will check the theory later 😉
    Dottoressa

    1. A scarf is a great idea, isn’t it t make a piece you love work better if the colour is not flattering. That’s what a friend suggested I should do with the bronzey Vince sweater.

  18. I am a new reader, lovely to e-meet you, Sue! Over the past few years, I have looked into several of the color/style programs. Some experts provide individualized color palettes based on paint chips or fabric swatches (David Zyla, John Kitchener). Others have predetermined color palettes (DYT). The 1980s Color Me Beautiful model had 4 palettes, more modern versions have 12 or 18 or more. The problem with these palettes is that they can’t possibly cover the range of possibilities presented by the unique mix of colors in any person’s skin, hair, eyes, teeth, etc. When you add non-color aspects of style (like DYT does), the problem gets worse. It would be better if DYT had both cool and warm options for each type, but that still could not come close to the more individualized (and, of course, more expensive!) programs. Still a fun hobby to study these things!

    1. It is fun to read about all the ways to analyze our colour. But I agree none of them covers all the variables for everyone. I found the fact that DYT ignores skin tone to be odd. I think cool and warm options for each type is a fantastic idea.
      P.S. Welcome to my blog, Victoria. Hope you come back for more. 🙂

    1. When my friend mentioned it, I recalled your suggestion on an earlier post. I had meant to check it out then and forgot. It was interesting. But not for me. Although I can see that it would be good for others.

  19. I’m obsessed with color. To me it’s the most important variable in whether something looks great. I feel more energetic and in harmony when I wear the colors & contrast levels that suit me – clear, lt – medium, and warm, high color contrast, medium value contrast. Of all the people online giving style advice, I think Imogen Lamport has the most comprehensive, smart and accurate information with tons of pics to illustrate her points, and a sweet, fun video collaboration w/ Jill Chivers. Her blog is “Inside Out Style”.

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