Chaos Clinic I: What I learned from wearing the “wrong” colors

My appearance has changed. My figure is changeable. I have a closet full of lovely clothes which I am not coordinating to any great advantage, because I am not at all sure how I want to look at this moment in life. I am in the midst of an enormous experiment, exploring colours and archetypes, sorting out the requirements from the surplus.

Ask not what colors, ask only how to wear them. Seeing my natural hair colour after all this time is a revelation. Composition and proportion are vital, but contrast remains the most important thing.

Which Season Are You? Seasonal Color Analysis

Nominally Deep Winter, with some extra warmth. Not bright enough for Bright Winter, but not too dull either. I am neutral, neither warm nor cool. I can compare silver and gold side by side and honestly I cannot tell the difference. If there were such a thing as a Dark Spring, that would probably be me.

Here’s the kicker: there is a sweet spot. Colors do not need to be warm or cool. They only need to be sufficiently saturated, This means warmer colours can work as long as they’re bright enough.

#1-3: Proving the rule: Black with gold, plum, teal and a load of other colours I should not in theory be wearing. Shades of yellow can be made to play nicely, as long as they are well integrated. This felt bright and sunny for early Autumn. I could bookend with cognac creepers, but the black oxfords create an elongated silhouette.

#4: True red: not a problem. Vermilion, plum, cognac, coral, even bright orange can work in the right context. The problem was never that they were too warm. They were clashing with my hair.

#5-7 The converse of this is that desaturated “fashion” neutrals such as grey, beige or khaki need a lot of help. But they are not off limits. Here they are somewhat rescued by a dramatic silhouette, aided and abetted by a stripy shirt and a shiny necktie.

My last photo is a bit sloppy, but I put a hat on and felt very trendy about town.

The shrug is about ten years old, a rescue from one of my storage containers. I love how the shoulder detail looks under the quilted vest. Need a better photo of that. Still I crave a little more brightness. It could be a key player this winter if I can figure out some more colour hacks.

#8-10: Finally… a failure of colours. Navy blue is theoretically my best neutral. This waxed cotton jacket goes well enough with black and white, but with denim, not so much. I feel there is not quite enough contrast here, or perhaps the look is a little too classic. Proportions just about save it, along with the plaid cotton bomber layered underneath. Bonus hat pin.

Key learnings

  • Colour analysis is not an exact science (duh). 
  • I can safely reintegrate shades of red.
  • I can be confident wearing warmer brights.
  • I should proceed with caution around grey and other fashion neutrals.

This last is the most important, not least because I think it may account for quite a few orphans. I would like to rectify this, so grey with brights could be an objective this season. A nice way to liven up winter.


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Some magic works. Let nobody tell you otherwise. By way of evidence, this piece of vintage Retro Futurism, courtesy of Jil Sander, which appeared by magic in my local thrift shop. Strong in the shoulders, slim through the middle, seriously flattering on the middle aged spread. I walked in and made a beeline for it before I had even noticed it was there.

Best guess, late 80s, early 90s. I feel like Rachel from Blade Runner meeting Morticia Addams while throwing some Diana Vreeland shapes. I cannot bring myself to take out the shoulder pads. Look at those perfectly rendered pockets.

Is this the Law of Attraction in action? Could I have earned a dividend for investing so heavily in +J? Perhaps the Universe noticed me accumulating loyalty points, and invited me to cash in on a piece of the real thing.

I am steering my way out of the Doldrums. I miss the passion but the reflex is still strong. I had more or less given up shopping with any intention, other than to size up on a few basics to account for weight gain. Still, the best things in my wardrobe are often the ones that turn up quite randomly, and in spite of everything, this has been a very good year for it.

Exhibits B and C. A pair of wide legged pants in black linen by Margaret Howell (not shown) from a clothing exchange in York, and an oversized navy peacoat in Harris Tweed from a sale rail on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. This latter was a HEWI for a custom tailoring project, which I had been wanting to try for a while. A work in progress, of which more later. The fabric is a delight.

I have no idea how this works. I very much doubt it would work at all had I not developed a very focused shopping strategy to begin with. It helps with finding the treasure amid mountains of dross, and once found, knowing when to pull the trigger and when to walk away.

Possibly the best examples ever are the two pairs of George Cox creepers, which turned up unworn in another of our vintage emporia. I bought both pairs, even though they were a size larger than I was wearing at the time. But these are solid shoes, and once broken in, with boot socks they wear very well. I have long since worn through a smaller pair, while the larger ones are still going strong.


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