KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: The Je Ne Sais Quoi of Style

Having just about got my eye in with the colours, it was time for the next stage of my quest to discover some sort of style and fashion know-how. I’d been so impressed with the colour consultation from House of Colour, that I’d booked in for their style class which promised to help me understand the language of clothes. Like with all foreign languages, I didn’t appear to be a natural with it. In fact, I’d say my understanding of the language of clothes was about on a par with my French: extremely basic but able to get by while being expressed with faint embarrassment. My clothing comprehension was the equivalent of being able to awkwardly order a ham and cheese baguette at a service station somewhere in France. I don’t particularly like ham and cheese baguettes but when hungry it would suffice. That’s basically how I felt about all the clothes in my wardrobe.

I had been keen to go shopping straight after getting my colours done but I had held off, knowing I needed to wait for the style class. Without this key part of my education, there was every chance I might end up buying things in the right colours but in an unflattering style.

Decluttering my wardrobes with the KonMari method had shown me I was a bit lost with knowing what suited me. Historically, I’d favoured a tomboy approach to fashion but I had also attempted to experiment with more feminine looks. However, whether tomboyish or not, everything I owned seemed a bit too youthful. I needed something to reflect my age, I needed to know what would be stylish and flattering as I approached my 40s.

Before the class, I tried to muster some thoughts about style and what suited me. I considered that showing off my slim waist was a good idea. However, slowly but surely I’d slipped past the age for crop tops (plus, it’s not the 90s anymore). I also couldn’t do things that required much cleavage as I am not asset-rich in that department. Possibly due to my lack of womanly curves, I have to be careful not to end up looking like an awkward teenager when wearing dresses. Although I sometimes try to wear skirts, in general, I’m just not a massive fan of them and much prefer trousers. This is mainly because I like to sit like a man. It’s comfortable and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that crossing your legs gives you varicose veins. I’d always thought that trousers that were fitted around the bottom and with a bootcut were flattering on me (again, though, it’s not the 90s, love.) Recently I’d gone for mum-style jeans, which are much roomier around the bottom and hips, as they’re in fashion. But as a work colleague said to me, “You’re almost 40, you’re much too old to be trying to follow fashion. Go for style instead, good style never goes out of fashion”. She speaks the truth.

Should I be going for girlier shoes, I have often pondered. My more feminine friends tend to disapprove of my sensible footwear. But I have a lot of dedication to flats and have never managed to cultivate that cliched love of shoes that so many women seem to be afflicted with. I love to both walk and dance so comfort is my number one priority.

And I actually have really no idea about what tops look good. For work, I tend to favour a vest top with a looser chiffon type blouse over the top. But for casual or going out tops I have no clue. I don’t really have anything I’m happy with or that I would consider stylish. Help was needed!

Before the session I was a tad worried about my fellow consultees. I knew there would be about three other people there and I was concerned they’d be a group of friends who would whisper behind their hands, scornful that I was there. Two decades of being dismissively told “You’re so lucky, you can wear anything because you’re a skinny bitch!” does make one a little wary of conversations surrounding clothes. It’s also really hard to know how to respond to that statement. I normally just favour a weak, nervous laugh.

On the day of the consultation, I arrived back at Fiona’s abode and was introduced to the other women. I needn’t have worried, rather than a close-knit group of friends they had also all come as individuals and were a range of shapes and sizes. They were all remarkably similar to me in that we were all professionals in our mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. And each said they felt quite lost and clueless about clothes, stuck in a rut and unsure how to dress for their shape and age. Phew, not just me then!

We all sat down and were handed our work booklets. The first pages required us to discuss our objectives for the day and describe how we want to be perceived. I explained how my journey through minimalism had brought me here and how my realisation that I needed some education about style dovetails with the minimalist ideas about owning fewer, better quality clothes that you love. As for how I want to be perceived, I decided upon cute, stylish and nothing that requires too much effort! I also need to adhere to the dress code at school and take heed of the fact that I teach a lot of teenage boys. Interestingly, everyone else also mentioned their need to dress in relation to men. They worried about trying to make sure tops weren’t too tight or revealing and that skirts were appropriate for work. And they spoke of trying to get the tone of professionalism right when they might be the only woman at meetings, of trying to walk that fine line between not being too casual and not being perceived as too stuffy and buttoned up. How interesting, I commented, from a feminist perspective that we should all reference our need to dress in relation to men’s perceptions, whether that’s the teenage boys in my classroom or all the men in the boardroom. Everyone looked faintly like they agreed but clearly no one else wanted to discuss feminism and the sisterhood and would all rather be talking about clothes. Which was fair enough really considering that’s what we were there for.

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We perused the lifestyle pie chart which was next in our workbooks. The idea here is that you shade in sections of the pie chart according to where you spend your time – be that work, home, social activities, hobbies or holidays. The areas where you spend most of your time should have the most money channelled towards them. After all, there’s no point buying loads of party dresses if you actually very rarely go to parties. Luckily there is some clothing crossover for my pie chart – most of my time is spent at work (boo) but those clothes can be shared with my hobby of swing dancing. The fact that there was a segment of the pie chart dedicated to home reminded me that I needed to get something comfortable but not too slobby to wear around the house. My default home-wear is to languish in tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. However, Marie Kondo says this is to be avoided if you are trying to create your ideal lifestyle. She says that what you wear in the house impacts on your self-image and the fact there is no one there to see you makes it all the more important to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love. The importance of not going to seed when home alone is echoed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book on creativity “Big Magic”. In order to entice creativity and inspiration to come to you, you should seduce it by presenting your best self, she says. Take a shower, put on some nice clean clothes, do your hair, makeup and accessories and you will draw creativity to your side. Sprucing up my loungewear could help me feel good about myself and my appearance on a daily basis rather than just when I dress up for going out (I’m always quite surprised at how well I manage to scrub up once I actually put some effort in!) Plus, it would remove the embarrassment I feel when I’ve popped out to the shops looking scraggly and then bump into someone I know.

Skim reading over the page in the booklet about capsule wardrobes made me realise that I had a lot of shopping to do. A capsule wardrobe was one of the minimalist ideas I had wanted to embrace but looking at House of Colour’s list of recommended items I saw that I didn’t really have any of these basic staples. Nothing about my mishmash wardrobe, that at best could be described as eclectic and at worst schizophrenic, said chic mix and match style. There was even a handy grid in the booklet so you can create a visual checklist of what items match each other. It was all so formalised and logical – something I find very appealing!

Fiona then led a discussion about the importance of budgeting and buying investment pieces and gave us tips on the various ways we could tell if a garment is actually good quality. She encouraged us to move away from the habit of buying lots of cheap clothes and move towards a more intentional mindset of buying good quality clothes that will last and will work cohesively with the rest of our wardrobe. She also gave us tips on how to get the most out of the shopping experience, such as to go round the shops about once every six weeks, to wear appropriate clothes and makeup so you can properly assess if things match, and to buy items when you see them rather than panic buying in the run up to a job interview or party – something I’m definitely guilty of!

We also discussed wardrobe management which included the advice to file your clothes into categories, just as Kondo recommends. There was also the good suggestion of creating a pending section to hold clothes that need something doing to them. This would alleviate the severe vexation of hurriedly pulling out a blouse only to discover that you never did get round to sewing that button back on.

Apparently, 55% of the first impression you make comes from your appearance, with what you say actually counting for very little, so it’s easy to see why clothing matters and, especially in a professional context, why it’s important to strike the right note with your attire. Fiona explained how items like shoes help connote status, authority and attention to detail. Some of the advice had quite a psychological basis. For example, the idea of neck adornments such as necklaces and scarves conveying a sense of jugular protection and authority. Continuing the idea of symbolic protection, apparently, your bag represents your shield so you should make sure it’s up to the job. Using a variety of different bags, Fiona demonstrated how different ones can create different perceptions about you. And apparently what comes out of your handbag is your entrails! Previously my entrails had been a scrumpled mass of receipts, semi-used tissues and rewrapped used chewing gum. However, since reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I’d tried to implement Kondo’s rule on emptying your handbag every night which means I have a chance to process the day’s detritus.

Then we looked at a checklist for creating an interesting appearance. You basically get points for how many interesting features you combine in your look. I scored a paltry three for wearing make-up, rings and a watch. It would appear that I counted as “underdressed”. Foul! I called when one of my fellow consultees got a point for her curly hair. I have curly hair too!, I objected. I have big curly hair, it’s a thing! I took it down and shook it out. I was then granted an extra point. This gave me pause for thought – considering I count my hair as a feature it would seem that I need to be making more of it. I conceded that having it pulled up in a scrunchy isn’t exactly showing it off. Unsurprisingly, I received no points for my battered Keds sneakers or denim rucksack. I watched as one of the other women harvested points for her nice bag and cute little ballet pumps. It made me see how the little things can make a difference to your overall look. The fewer points you have accumulated for your appearance, the less ready or authoritative you seem. Fiona demonstrated this by removing points from herself. She removed her lipstick and jewellery, swapped her stylish jacket for a drab cardigan, and changed from smart, cool shoes to older, dowdier ones. It made such a difference to her appearance. She went from put-together, professional and stylish to looking like someone’s ordinary mum. If she’d looked like that to conduct the class, there’s no way I would have put faith in what she said which goes to show the difference your appearance can make to your authority.

After much discussion and expounding of theories and principles, we were ready to start identifying our own personal styles. I was raring to get going – enough chit-chat, tell me more about me! We had been instructed to wear something that showed our body shapes so, one by one, wearing leggings and vest tops, we all took our places in front of the full-length mirror. In our booklets, there were diagrams of five different body shapes. These weren’t the usual pear, apple etc but had names such as “sharp straight” and “soft curved”. Fiona talked us through her assessment of each of us. Pointing out my angular shoulders, Fiona deemed me to be sharp straight. Within sharp straight, there were the subcategories of rectangle or triangle, with my small waist putting me within triangle. Then it got even more technical and specific. Fiona pulled out a tape measure and began measuring different segments of our bodies – from head to bust, bust to leg break, leg break to knee, and knee to toe. With all the information collated, Fiona described, with an impressive and reassuringly thorough level of detail, what we should embrace and what we should avoid in order to create balance for our proportions. The analysis covered everything from where detailing on clothes should go, where belts should be worn, what sort of necklines worked best (I should go for high & tight or angular necklines and avoid curves or drapes), flattering coat, skirt and dress lengths, right down to what length of boots should be worn. Just like with the colour consultation, it was this sort of precise in-depth analysis that I was after. We all had different body shapes which were useful for seeing and understanding why some things worked for some people and not for others.

Fiona also scrutinised our faces to determine their shape. Despite poring over countless articles in magazines over the years to ascertain my face shape and its corresponding flattering hairstyles, I’d never been entirely sure what I counted as. The choice of ten different face shapes in our booklets was much more nuanced than those I’d seen before and I was declared to have a diamond face with an angular jaw and average to long neck.

Included in our booklets was a quiz to determine if we were yin or yang personalities. Who doesn’t love a good personality quiz?! There were 20 sets of binary opposites and we had to say which side of the opposition we fell under. We discussed each one which was useful as some of the questions weren’t what I’d thought they’d be. One opposition asked if we were formal or informal. I had been all ready to put a tick in “informal” assuming my preference for informal casual clothes would yield this result but, in fact, it was nothing to do with that. Fiona posed the question “Would you like it if someone dropped round your house unexpectedly?” Nope, not at all – which thus put me in the “formal” category. One of the oppositions was “mature and sophisticated” vs “natural and youthful”. Fiona proposed that I would fall under the “natural and youthful” category and hesitated to see whether I would agree with this assessment. No one has ever accused me of being mature, I assured her. One I was thoroughly stuck on was “risk taker/rule maker” vs “plays safe/follows instructions”. Now I’m a big believer in following instructions. Instructions are there for a reason, people. They’re so informative, so helpful! Yet on the other hand, I have been known to take some astounding risks. Like the time I taught myself to ride a motorbike, a ridiculously huge Royal Enfield Bullet which I couldn’t even lift off the ground, and then drove it over the third highest motorable road in the world (the scar on my ankle is a testament to how that adventure ended). I recounted the motorbike story and everyone decided that my smug adherence to instructions was definitely trumped by the undertaking of such activities and I was placed squarely in the risk-taking category.

The “chucks out” vs “hoards” opposition was interesting. I used to be a hoarder (not in a getting suffocated to death by piles of newspapers way, more in a “I should probably keep this because one day it might be useful” way) but now, as a minimalist, I’m definitely more in the chucking out category. Should I choose what I was for three and a half decades or what I’ve been in just the last 12 months? Fiona suggested I should go for “chucks out” as, after all, something must have drawn me to the minimalist lifestyle. Then there was the opposition of “decisive” vs “indecisive”. Well, sometimes I can be decisive – if I weigh up all the options and there is a logical conclusion then I am very decisive, for logic and reason has spoken. But if there’s no obvious answer, well then yes, I can be terribly indecisive….as I continued to mull upon this out loud, one of the other women turned to me and pointed out that if one can’t decide whether they’re decisive or indecisive then that’s pretty damning evidence for being indecisive. Ok, yes, strong point, I’ll give you that. I glanced over her shoulder at her booklet – she’d already given herself a firm and resolute tick in “decisive”. We finished the quiz and added up all the points. I was a definite yang personality, the most so out of all those there.

With our personality scores added into the mix with our body shapes, it was time for the big reveal: what style category we would be. The different categories were: Dramatic, Classic, Natural, Gamine, Ingenue, and Romantic. There were mood boards for each of these styles depicting clothes that exemplify and flatter each one and also pictures of famous people who match them. My fellow consultees and I had already scrutinised these mood boards while Fiona had been upstairs making tea. Just like with the colour consultation, I had no idea which I would be. As we listened with bated breath, Fiona told us the category she’d placed us in and the reasons why.

I was “dramatic gamine”. This meant I was predominantly gamine but with some dramatic in me. We were handed information sheets about our styles. I was pleased with mine – the words to describe gamine included quirky, neat, impish, boyish, youthful, witty & fun – I could definitely work with this! Like everything in the consultation, it was unexpectedly and impressively thorough giving specific advice for ensuring a gamine look in everything from fabrics, patterns, shoes, accessories and more. But here was an anomaly! Hairstyle: “Short, neat and snappy”. My hair, long and curly, was definitely not this. Fiona reassured me that my hair could count as a dramatic element of my look. Other elements of dramatic that I could consider adding included sharp angles, contrasting colours and “zany” fabrics and details. Once again, I realised I was going to have to be braver. Never quite knowing what suited me meant I had tended to shy away from anything too outré for fear that I would draw attention to myself for the wrong reasons. A useful section on the sheet was what to avoid – for gamines that’s anything too loose or baggy, anything that would swamp our neat, fitted look. I was relieved to see that trousers are a particularly good look for gamines and that we’re advised to stay away from shoes with very high heels. Finally, a bona fide get out clause for my aversion to high heels! Although, it also stated gamines should avoid shoes that are too clumpy and I thought guiltily of my Dr Martens.

As part of the consultation we had been told to bring three items of clothing for review – one item that we thought looked good, one item we were unsure about and, if possible, something we didn’t think worked well for us. I had settled upon three different pairs of work trousers and had thrown a shirt in too. We changed into our different items and all discussed what worked, what didn’t and why. I started with the pair of trousers I didn’t particularly like. However, my reservations about them turned out to be unfounded – everyone agreed that the slim-fitting, tapering legs matched my gamine style, was flattering for my figure and the turn-up detail on the bottom counted as cute styling. I had clearly judged these trousers much too harshly! Then I swapped to the pair I thought looked ok – a pair of bootcut trousers. But oh no! Everyone said these were much less flattering. I had thought the bootcut looked good and provided more balance than the slim-legged ones but apparently I was mistaken! There was too much fabric at the bottom and it was too loose, they looked all flappy and had too much movement, they said. Oh dear! Clearly I had no idea what suited me! But hence the reason for doing this consultation. Then I put on the trousers that I was pretty certain looked good and added the shirt too. This combination of shirt and trousers had drawn many compliments at school. The trousers were khaki green and the pattern on the shirt also contained this colour. This was the colour I had been baffled about after the colour consultation for this green was not a winter season green yet people had said it looked good on me. The collective complimented the look – the styling was perfect for dramatic gamine. The neat tailoring of the trousers and the shirt buttoned right up provided the boyish gamine while the geometric pattern on the shirt added a touch of dramatic. This was a winning combo. But what about the colour, I enquired, don’t you think it matches my eyes? Fiona pulled out the fabric bibs used in the colour consultation and draped me in the allegedly wrong and allegedly right greens. The difference was clear. The right green, the winter season green, was met with oohs of appreciation whereas the the wrong green, the khaki green, elicited hmmms of disappointment. The right green complimented my pale skin, they said, made it look striking whereas the wrong one washed me out. So it might match my eyes but apparently, it did nothing for my skin! I slipped out of the clothes and back into the trousers I’d arrived in. These were also given a critique for good measure – too shapeless round the bottom was the conclusion, not tailored enough, and should be made of stiffer material. Jeez, I’d thought these ones were ok!

The last thing we looked at was jewellery. Fiona adorned us in a variety of different necklaces so we could see how the same necklace could look completely different on different people. What looked interesting and fun on one person looked cheap and trashy on someone else and something that looked delicate and pretty on one looked lost and insipid on another. I discovered I needed necklaces that would sit quite flat against me and would hang around the clavicle. Also, jewellery that was too sparkly and feminine didn’t work that well with my gamine aesthetic.

With the session drawing to a close, we were given extra handouts on jacket, trouser, skirt and dress styles and final instruction on detailing and accessories – the shape of lapels, types of patterns to go for or avoid, and what style of handbags and belts would compliment our looks. Fiona also noted down which specific shops we should aim for to provide clothes for our style categories. This was useful as I find the sheer amount of shops to choose from quite overwhelming.

Then it was time to go. I emerged back onto the street at the tail end of the day. There was a beautiful light and the crisp, clean air seemed to heighten my senses as my head reeled, filled to bursting with all the new information I’d acquired. I’d learned so much I almost couldn’t process it all. I would need time to revisit my notes and let it all sink in.

When I got home I threw open my wardrobe and surveyed my clothes. I could see the problem – hardly anything was in my gamine style. Most things were too baggy and not fitted, tailored or neat enough. Of the few clothes that were in my style, most were not in my colours. I could count the items that matched both my style and colours on one hand. But this was great! I could now actually see and understand the problem!

The whole consultation exceeded my expectations, even more so than the colour consultation. The level of detail and analysis was such that I now have guidance and certainty in my styling from head to toe. Now when I go shopping I know what to look for. I can skim around a shop thinking, nope, nope, nope, oh yes – that would work! The time I can save now I don’t have to dither! The confidence I’ve gained! It’s a revelation! Now when I look at my clothes I look at them with newly literate eyes. Instead of a vague dissatisfaction, a nameless, formless malaise and ennui, it’s a specific, targeted, semantic understanding. I can look at an individual item and see the exact reasons why it works or doesn’t work. Clothing no longer speaks to me in tongues. I can now read and articulate the language of clothes and, with this new lexis, I feel as liberated as someone who has finally mastered the local lingo and gets a thrill from communicating and being understood.

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KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: Brought to you in glorious technicolour

Early on in my journey into minimalism I became aware of one particular facet of the movement – that of clothing and its surrounding ideologies.

And is it any wonder minimalists are concerned with the question of clothes? It’s an area where consumption has spiralled out of control. The fashion industry manufactures new trends at a dizzying rate, advertisers seduce us with images of the lifestyle that could be ours if only we bought the right things (and when we do buy the right things and we grasp at that lifestyle it becomes smoke between our fingers only to reform again just out of our reach, beckoning to us beguilingly from behind a different purchase), and the fast-fashion outlets of Primark, H&M, Forever 21 et al feed our orgy of consumption that goes forever unsatiated. And all this intersects with our lives lived permanently performed before the looking glass of social media. We see our image refracted, multiplied and shared in the camera flashes of numerous smart phones. When once a single dress could be recycled for a number of occasions, we now baulk at wearing it again. After all, everyone saw us wearing it at that wedding – not only the wedding guests, but all our friends on social media, and all the friends of those friends too. But why wear the same thing again when you can pick up something new so cheaply? Youtubers speak to the youth of their clothing hauls – surely the bulimic binges of a society struggling with disordered consumption. And what are we left with? Wardrobes full to bursting with cheap, badly made clothes we don’t really care for and a nagging sense of guilt when we accidentally let ourselves think too long about how those clothes were actually made.

It’s no surprise that Marie Kondo recommends beginning the process of decluttering one’s life by tackling clothing first. And upon confronting my wardrobes and drawers, I had realised I had a problem. I had so many clothes. But more to the point, I had so many clothes I didn’t even like. With clothes so readily and cheaply available, I’d slipped into the gravitational pull of the fast-fashion black hole.

To start with it had been quite fun to dabble in fast-fashion – there were so many things to choose from, so many things to try! It was all so cheap that I didn’t have to worry about buying something that wasn’t going to be a perennial staple. I could experiment with trends at no great financial loss. I knew it was unethical. I’d read the articles about what the pay and conditions were like for the people who actually make the clothes. But I’d told myself two things, firstly it doesn’t mean that conditions are any better in places where clothes cost more, it probably just means mark ups are higher. And secondly, there was so much coverage of poor working conditions that companies had to be more careful these days so conditions were probably better now.

However, the fun waned and fast-fashion fatigue set in. I could tell myself glib things but underneath, I knew I could be making better choices. I started reading things about the other end of the clothing lifecycle too and the burden being placed on the planet from the excess waste caused by all the discarded clothes. Also the fashion treadmill became tiring – fashions changed constantly meaning my fun new outfit was decidedly less on-trend in the blink of an eye. And the shopping experience itself was an ordeal. There’s nothing enjoyable about shopping in Primark – its daunting size, the rummaging through racks of clothes having to look at each individual label to find your size because invariably everything is on the wrong hanger, the changing rooms, the queues, the hordes of people everywhere all single-mindedly scurrying, delving, foraging for a bargain, leaving disarrangement and disarray in their wake. If the brightly-lit dystopia of a normal Saturday at Primark was filmed and put in a sci-fi movie we’d all be shaking our heads at the folly of the mindless masses.

But shopping experience and ethical considerations aside, as I followed the KonMari method and filtered and processed my clothes, I knew there was a fundamental problem underlying my haphazard procurement of cheap garments.  When it came down to it, I just wasn’t sure what clothes suited me. I didn’t know which styles to go for and which to avoid. And I didn’t know what colours flattered me and which made me look peaky. No wonder I found shopping an overwhelming experience – when you’re not sure what suits you it leaves everything on offer as an option and that’s a lot to choose from. It’s not uncommon for me to spend an inordinately long time in a changing room swapping repeatedly between outfits thinking to myself “I just don’t know which one suits me more”. Thus, the fast-fashion ethos had been a less daunting way to shop. Don’t know which looks best? Buy both! It was all so cheap I didn’t have to worry about spending money on something that wasn’t quite right. Get a few wears out of it and it’s justified the meagre amount I spent on it. Fundamentally, I was fearful of spending a lot of money on something when I wasn’t sure what would be a wise buy and what would be a fashion faux pas. As I had stood surrounded by piles of clothes in my bedroom I had vowed to educate myself about fashion so I could make more informed choices.

As I continued my journey exploring the minimalist landscape, I signed up to various email feeds and soon discovered that the question of what a minimalist wears gets a lot of online air time. Only a few weeks after I stood despairing at the dismal state of my clothing this article arrived in my inbox and opened the door to a new approach to clothes. Clicking through the various links in the article was revelatory. I particularly liked the idea of a capsule wardrobe – how appealing to have a select few items of good-quality clothing that you really, genuinely liked and could mix and match with ease and confidence. It all seemed to be suggesting a more put together, stylish approach rather than the eclectic mishmash I had that left me feeling vaguely disgruntled. I resolved to look into these ideas when the time was right. And until then I put myself on a clothes buying embargo until I had things more figured out (an embargo that ended up lasting eight months!) And, I have to say, it felt really good to step off the treadmill of consumption. Previously, if it had been a while since I’d bought anything I’d start to get the nagging feeling that I should buy something new, just because…just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re a woman – isn’t it about time you bought yourself some new clothes? Keep consuming and everything will be alright. It felt freeing to take a break, to have given myself a reason to not even bother trying to find something to buy. Obviously I’d need to buy new things at some point but I was going to wait until I’d looked into different approaches and ideas.

Initial direction and guidance came from a friend’s recommendation. She had had a colour analysis from House of Colour and was eagerly explaining the process and results to us over some drinks in the pub. She talked us through her colours, explaining which looked good on her and why, and showed us the little leather wallet of fabric swatches that matched her “season”. This was exactly what I needed! Someone to tell me what colours suited me! And the little wallet of swatches was just the sort of thing I love – cute, compact and containing wisdom. Knowing that this was definitely the first step I needed to take on the path to fashion enlightenment, I signed up for a class.

This was a divisive move. When I told friends I was planning on having a colour consultation the responses fell into three camps. Some thought it sounded a great idea and would consider doing it themselves, others thought it sounded good but recoiled from the consultation price of £130, and others thought it sounded a thoroughly ridiculous endeavour and told me I was a fool with more money than sense. Fool I may be but I was a fool with no idea what colours suited me. Somehow along the path to adulthood I seemed to have missed the life lesson where you discover what suits you. Maybe I was off sick that day. The amount of times I’ve stood in front of a mirror, with two tops in different colours, stuck in an endless feedback loop of repeatedly holding one then the other in front of me, just not knowing which looks best. I had a friend who would always ask me if what she was wearing matched or which colour shoes suited her outfit better. I don’t know why she insisted on always asking me because my response was always the same – I’d freeze, look slightly scared and confused at the same time, and admit, with a hint of embarrassment, that I had no idea which ones matched. She would then look aggrieved at my lack of helpful advice and also concerned about this peculiar form of colour blindness I seemed to suffer from. If only I’d spent less time skateboarding during my formative years and more time pouring over Just 17 then maybe I could have overcome this affliction.

Several friends who thought I was fully bonkers to spend £130 to have someone tell me what colours to wear offered to take me shopping themselves. They would happily point out what suited me free of charge, they said. These were kind offers but ones I was never going to take up. The fact is I very much enjoy proper instruction in an official learning environment. It’s geeky but I like it. That’s why I paid for ukulele lessons and pay an insane amount of money to go to a posh yoga studio despite the fact I could learn both of these from youtube videos. I like the ritual of going somewhere to learn something, the anticipation of receiving new knowledge, I like the space where the learning is done, I like the presence of the teacher and the way they impart their ideas, and I like the close proximity of other humans who also want to learn. (In case you’re wondering, the foray into ukulele playing was short-lived. But for those couple of months I really enjoyed being the sort of person who carries a musical instrument on the tube.) So rather than wafting round H&M with a friend pointing out stuff that might suit me, I wanted the full experience, I wanted the full weight of expertise and knowledge from someone whose job this was. If I was going to tackle my clothing quandary, I was going to do it properly. Then, with a full arsenal of information, it would be up to me whether I took the advice on board or not (I was always going to take it on board; I have a lot of respect for authority. Probably because I’m a first born child).

Before I had the consultation, I mused upon my current thoughts on colour so I could compare these ideas with what I would later learn. Here were my thoughts:

  • Pale colours make me look washed out
  • I’ve always stayed away from white
  • Yellow is not my friend
  • I’ve always liked green for it matches my eyes.
  • Grey and pink have featured heavily. I don’t know if pink actually suits me but I like it.
  • Purple eyeshadow is supposed to bring out green eyes.
  • I like the Clinique True Khaki eyeliner
  • I have no idea if red suits me.
  • And that’s about it!

The day of my colour consultation dawned. I was excited to be going. I was looking forward to having a new experience and learning new things. Fresh-faced with no makeup on as instructed, I set out through the streets of north London and arrived at a house on an elegant street in Primrose Hill. Fiona, the House of Colour representative, ushered me to a room on the lower ground floor which had been turned into a consultation room. One other person was also there and she too was a teacher taking the opportunity to have the consultation during the half term break. Fiona began by talking through a bit of colour theory and showing us the colour wheel where the spectrum of colours were divided up into four parts, each labeled with a different season. This was it! This was the life lesson I’d missed somewhere along the way! Actual proper instruction underpinned by actual theory! The main premise came down to the fact there are warm colours and cool colours; the seasons autumn and spring were ascribed to the two categories of warm colours and winter and summer denoted the two sets of cool colours. The idea of the consultation was to ascertain whether you suited warm or cool colours, then narrow it down to which season worked best, and within that season work out the quantities of each colour that would specifically suit your skin tone. I had heard talk of the idea of warm and cool colours before but I had no idea what colours counted as which. Indeed it was interesting to see that most colours occupied space in all the four seasons, but whether a colour would suit you or not depended on the shade and tone. Fiona demonstrated the warm and cool colours on herself, saying it’s often easier to see the difference the colours could make on someone else rather than ourselves. She said one’s own judgment can be clouded by personal preferences for certain colours or influenced by previously held assumptions. She held an array of bib-like drapes of fabric around her neck for us to see the contrast. And yes, held against her I could see how the warmer tones were much more flattering. She pointed out how the wrong colours made the fabric seem cheap and garish whereas the right colours seemed more balanced and sophisticated.

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The colour wheel

Then it was our turn. Katerina, my fellow consultee, went first. Apparently, she would be more straight forward as her hair wasn’t coloured – my dyed hair would skew the results and thus need covering. Katerina already thought that her season was autumn but she was hoping for confirmation and to better understand the full range of colours that she could wear. And as Fiona began draping the different coloured fabrics around her neck it became obvious that she was indeed autumn. I could see how those colours had a better effect on her skin. Draped in the wrong colours, the cool colours, she looked more washed out and the shadows under her eyes were more pronounced. Once she had been confirmed as autumn, Fiona took each individual autumn colour and, with an expert’s eye, declared which colours she could wear in which quantities. I was charged with being the scribe at this point; in the little booklet pertaining to autumn colours there was a table detailing each colour and columns denoting 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. Regarding Katerina’s reflection while she was draped in a certain colour, Fiona would make proclamations such as “50% – would be lovely as a camisole under a jacket” and I, using a key of ticks and stars, would record this on the table. The colours recorded in the 100% column are one’s “star colours”. These colours can be worn top to toe, such as a high-necked dress, and are said to have ability to create radiance and garner compliments. The 75% column is for the colours that look good but maybe not for an entire block colour outfit, 50% colours would be good for a top or bottom half, and 25% colours are best for accessories and accents. There was further categorisation such as colours that would be best for casual wear or colours that should only really be worn below the waist. This level of detail and analysis was what Katerina had been after. Despite knowing she was autumn she hadn’t realised quite how many colours were included in this category or how she could combine different colours in different quantities. Makeup analysis was also included – Fiona selected a shade of foundation and blusher and applied a couple of different lipstick shades too. All of them suited Katerina and gave her features a little more life and sparkle. She regarded herself in the mirror, unaccustomed to wearing any makeup at all, she was quite mesmerised by the bold-looking reflection staring back at her.

After a quick loo and biscuit break, it was my turn. All throughout Katerina’s consultation I’d been glancing at the colour wheel trying to decide what my season would be. I still didn’t know. Would the more yellow tones of autumn and spring make me appear a little jaundiced or would the bluer tones of winter and summer make me look pale and washed out? Katerina said she thought I would be winter. Why did I have no idea? I must be seriously colour blind to my own style. But this was, after all, the reason I was doing this – to understand some principles of colour theory, learn some basic guidelines and foundations which I could take away and build upon, and have some much-needed practice getting my eye in. I sat in the chair in front of the large full length mirror and a white headscarf was tied over my hair making me look a little like a maid from times of yore. Fiona began tying the fabric bibs around my neck, one on top of the other, alternating between warm and cool shades. I squinted hard at my reflection trying to ascertain which suited me more. Fiona and Katerina murmured their approval at the cooler tones. By the time I had been draped in a multitude of fabrics I was beginning to see that the warmer colours made me look more sallow. Fiona then removed each scarf from around my neck in quick succession to give a rapid flickering good/bad effect. Declaring I was definitely in the cool camp, Fiona then alternated between the colours for winter and summer. It was decided that the brighter, stronger colours of winter suited me more.

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My colours!

Fiona then went through each of the 36 colours of winter, draping me in the fabric bibs and deciding which quantities I could wear them in. Katerina, who continued to steal looks at her made up face in the mirror, duly noted down the results. The bold, strong colours of royal purple, royal blue, dark emerald, lobelia (which I’d never even heard of before), fuchsia, raspberry and carmine were my star colours. These were not the sorts of colours I would naturally gravitate towards. I realised I was going to have to be braver to override my natural inclination towards less bright, less attention-grabbing colours. Greys were confirmed to be a good choice which was a relief considering my life-long commitment to grey clothes. It was also a relief to hear that I could wear black (apparently winters are the only season that can) which is convenient as it’s a good staple. Although I did find this surprising as I’d always assumed black would wash me out. It was the same with white, another colour I’d assumed my pale skin would need to avoid, the soft whites of linen and lambs wool are apparently fine for me in smaller quantities. It was also interesting to see that I could wear very pale, ice colours. There’s no way I would have thought those suited me but, again, in smaller quantities, maybe as a top to wear under a jacket or as an accessory, these would provide a good contrast to the strong colours that I could wear in larger quantities. It was somewhat unfortunate to discover that I’ve been dying my hair the wrong colour for approximately the last 15 years. Warm red tones are out, cool brown shades are in. Ah well, you live and learn!

Then it was time for my makeup. We’d been told to come to the session bare-faced so an accurate assessment of our skin tone could be made. First primer and foundation were applied. The name of the foundation Fiona selected for me, China White, gives you some idea as to my lack of swarthiness. Fiona added some flattering blusher and suggested I was the sort of person who needed to wear blusher in order to lift my complexion out of the realms of the undead (she didn’t word it quite like that but that’s what I inferred). Then it was lipstick time. I’ve never been very good with lipsticks. Eye makeup has always been my forte; I have an extensive collection and am confident with its application. So I’d always sort of avoided lipsticks assuming that in combination with strong eye makeup it would be a bit much. But also when standing in front of row upon row of lipsticks in a department store display I’ve just never known what colour to go for. Safest to stick to some faintly tinted lip balm, I’ve always thought. But with Fiona matching the lipsticks to my complexion suddenly I had the gift of certainty and confidence. I bought two lipsticks, a lipliner and a blusher. House of Colour have their own makeup range and although it’s not the cheapest in town, I decided it was just easiest to buy these precisely matched shades that I knew flattered me rather than later dithering in Boots wondering if the cheap makeup I was clutching really did match the colours in my little booklet.

With the makeup purchased and my little wallet of winter season colour swatches and the booklet containing the colour ratings, I finally had the knowledge I needed to start making more informed choices about clothes. I now knew what colours suited me and what to avoid. I knew which colours I should wear in which quantities and how to combine different colours. I knew the full spectrum of colours that were available to me and it was so much more varied than I’d expected. And, most importantly, I understood the principles and theory behind it all. So impressed was I with the service and all that I had learnt, that I signed up for the style consultation class there and then. After all, I was as clueless about what styles of clothes suited me as I had been about what colours suited me. I didn’t want half measures, if there was more information and knowledge to be gleaned then I wanted it.

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When I got home I compared various items of clothing to the swatches in my wallet. I was interested to see that actually more clothes than I might have expected did in fact match my season. Maybe I’d had more of an idea than I’d thought I did. Although there were a few notable exceptions – I’d always thought browns were pretty good on me but they’re a no no for winters and the green I’d always favoured, khaki green, was also not in my season. This was causing a serious malfunction in my logic circuits – on the one hand, for my sense of order and equilibrium, I needed to be able to trust Fiona’s authority on this matter but on the other hand lots of people had always told me that that particular green looks good on me. I resolved to ask her about it when I went back for the style consultation.

My homework from the colour consultation was to wear the lipsticks every day for three weeks. They looked disconcertingly bright in the familiar environment of my bedroom but, being a goody two shoes, I would dutifully fulfil this homework assignment. I guess after wearing them for three weeks you get used to looking more vibrant and become more comfortable with the more colourful you.

Overall, the colour consultation was great fun and so informative. I felt like I came away from it with a new found sense of clarity and understanding. I now had some guiding principles to go forward with. There’d be no more standing in a changing room confusedly flitting between different coloured tops with simply no idea which to buy. Instead I’d just compare them to the colours in my little wallet and viola! Decision made! Rather than the haphazard array of mismatched clothes I currently owned I could slowly, as finances allowed, work towards building a wardrobe with a sense of cohesion and harmony where clothes complimented each other rather than bristled acrimoniously and refused to get along. Finally the clothing cold war, the unspoken hostilities between me and my garments, was coming to an end; we were entering a new and hopeful period of rapprochement.