Style Lab I: Definitions

All this talk of churn and wardrobe planning puts me to shame. I need to take a long, hard look at myself and what I’m trying to achieve in my style. In the first part, I am taking apart my style descriptors, examining what they mean to me, and why they are important.

Descriptors: Timeless, urban, eclectic, androgynous, individual.

Timeless - Heritage Classics The heart and soul, believe it or not, is a deeply classic sensibility. Tailoring and craftsmanship are essential. Denim is premium selvedge. Oxfords and a good blazer go anywhere, anytime. Creepers are George Cox originals, made in England since 1949.

Urban - Acid Sport ’80s New Wave and ’90s rave culture followed me to Amsterdam at the end of the 20th century. Now hitting middle age as a wannabe Japanese teenager. Loved fun fur, metallic fabrics and colourful sportswear for as long as I can remember. Platform shoes are a necessity. Concert shirts add instant cool to any look.

Eclectic - Euro Folk This is the outcome of a lifetime of thrifting and absorbing art, culture and history. Part art-school hipster, part urban boho, part retro vintage, not quite any of them. Draws influence from traditional workwear, primitive art, antique costume and international folk textiles.

Androgynous - Gender bending Playing with masculine and feminine identities, never tilting too much either way. Femme looks are tough and full of attitude, mannish looks are detailed and embellished. Not personally comfortable with too much feminine performance, but love looking ladylike when the occasion calls for it.

Individual - Conceptual Modern High concept, avant-garde and deconstructed pieces are key, usually in one of the core neutrals.

The last, which I called Conceptual Modern because I can’t think of another way to describe it, only emerged as a major theme a few years ago, but it’s been there as an aspiration for much longer. It’s taken me a very long time to work it into the look, mainly because it’s so hard to find the right pieces and sometimes I have to make them myself. This is the glue that holds everything else together, informing all excursions into other territories. I’ve noticed lately that I can’t get dressed without it, so it’s a major consideration in future acquisitions.

A good rule of thumb seems to be that essentials and indispensable statement pieces fall under timeless/androgynous/individual, and accent statements fall under urban/eclectic.

My challenge for 2017 is to work my existing wardrobe further into a coherent style around my view of the above descriptors, merging old favourites, found items, fantasy dressmaking projects and opportunistic purchases. Anything that doesn’t fit into this new philosophy will have to go.


Sacrilege III: Bitter and Twisted

Don’t try this at home. Seriously, don’t. That is, unless you have an unhealthy interest in pants, or your idea of a good time is stabbing yourself repeatedly with pins. I’m at the end of my rope.

I’ve come to the conclusion that tailoring is like sausages. Everyone loves it, but nobody really wants to know how it’s made. If you’ve ever made your own sausages, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Nonetheless, you were all perfectly happy to push me into this so now you get to see what’s inside my own personal circle of Hell.  

I kid. This has been a fascinating project where I’ve pushed my knowledge of pattern cutting to the limits and advanced my tailoring skills. I’m considering adding trouser sculpture and pants origami to the interests section of my dilettante CV. And most importantly, I’m well on the way to some seriously excellent trews.

Here’s the thing though. Pants are notoriously difficult to get right. They have to fit, drape and move gracefully, so the only way to work them is on the wearer. And since the wearer is me and these pants are all about the rear view, that means I have to fit them using two large mirrors and a lot of selfies. You get the idea.

It’s all about rapid prototyping and iteration. Modify, test, modify again. The nice thing about working like this is that very occasionally it leads through some blinding complexity to a solution so elegant it feels like it was there all the time waiting to be teased out, leaving you wondering why you didn’t see it before. Not that it would be obvious, far from it, because that kind of simplicity is almost never easy.

There’s still work to do here but I feel like I’m in the home straight at last. The end result needs no cuts to the fabric and sticks very closely to the original seams, so in theory they could be restored to their former grandpa pants glory if I ever felt the urge. I know this isn’t a sewing community per se, but for anyone who’s interested, I’ve included a draft of the pattern blocks and approximate alterations, which I’ve been working on so I can see what I’m doing from the inside out, so to speak.

Here’s a rundown of the process.

1. My first move was to fit the waistline. I set a concealed tuck behind the fly to achieve the fit while preserving the drape. This creates a staggered waistband which I actually find more flattering than the original high waist.

2. I then set the back tuck, which had to be balanced with a dart into the front section. This should have been a clue as to how difficult the rest was going to be.

3. I ran into serious trouble trying to tailor the legs themselves. My original plan was to reduce the length with horizontal seams and adjust the profile at the side seams. This draped like cardboard and created yet more bulk which had to be balanced.

4. I then hit on the scheme of twisting the leg around a diagonal seam, which made some kind of sense when I thought about it. It followed the natural drape at the knee and pushed the shape towards a contemporary boot cut. The problem was that it didn’t fit together at all.

5. I fixed this with a tuck from the back of the hip to the inseam above the knee to reverse the twist, and narrowed the leg to the straight grain, eliminating the taper, reducing the dogleg in the side seam and straightening the leg. I quite liked this, the drape was behaving and everything fitted, so I marked it out with tailor tacks thinking I’d do the same on the other leg.

6. In the pictures, the right leg is closer to a straight boot cut. I don’t think these pants were ever meant to be straight though. These are the old fashioned tapered bags your (great)grandfather used to wear and I think I want to keep them that way. Moving on to the left side, I went back to the original side seams and used the tucks alone to correct the twist, which was far harder to achieve on a tapered leg than a straight leg. This produced a larger dogleg in the side seam, a motif I repeated by lapping the side seam in the tuck at the hip.

7. A question on the length: at the moment, one leg is a little longer than the other. The longer delivers PPL, but it breaks ever so slightly. The shorter looks a little awkward but it drapes without breaking and shows off the shaped cuff. It was originally tailored for someone with far larger feet than mine and it looks a little odd even with my chunky shoes, but I’m inclined to shoot for the shorter length to preserve the drape. I need to see how this plays out on the next pass, but what do you think?


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Sacrilege Pt II: Surgery

Last week I bought a lovely pair of vintage trousers and challenged myself to make them fit me. You all very kindly encouraged me to overcome my doubts about butchering a piece of museum-quality tailoring and press on.

To be fair, nobody could tell at the time exactly what I was up against, least of all me. The pants were huge, at least three sizes too big and a full six inches too long. I’m no stranger to a slouchy trouser, but these were clownish even by my standards and I was by no means sure I could pull it off. I spent far too much time over the weekend looking at avant garde menswear on Farfetch and wondering What Would Yamamoto Do?

Still, the fabric is a pleasure to work with, very supple and with lots of body so it holds its shape beautifully. The down side is that every fold and tuck has to drape perfectly. I’ve been trying to channel Yohji-san in the hope that the master would look over my shoulder, give me the nod and perhaps guide my hand once in a while. After much trial and error I think I’m finally on track to a wearable garment. Who knows, maybe he’d even approve this alteration.

In the interests of full disclosure, here are a few before and after pics, along with some nerdy tailoring details. It still needs tweaking but I’m pretty sure I can get this to work.

  • I want to preserve the original tailoring so the only cuts I’ve made are to the leg seams, where I’ve put deep tucks front and back. This instead of hemming so as to keep the original cuff, which I will line with contrasting fabric so I can turn them up.
  • I shaped the legs by making the inseam a little shorter than the outside seam, giving a more contemporary silhouette and making said turn-ups behave themselves better.
  • Too much alteration to the crotch looks like a bad fit, so I’ve taken out little more than an inch there and done the rest with a couple of darts across the back, making the deep rise look intentional. The tucks on the back leg help control this somewhat and there’s a trick or two I have yet to try on the inside to make the seat drape nicely.

All needs yet more tailoring but I’m quite satisfied with the result so far. I think these are going to be workhorses in the winter season.


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This is Progress

For the first time in my life I seem to have gotten my head around dressing to a consistent formula. I’m not sure how this has happened but some of the YLF wisdom must have sunken in. Getting dressed is very easy at the moment and it’s all coming from a relatively small selection but I’m wondering how long it’ll be before I get bored.

Spring Essentials 2016:

  • Pants: loose fitting, tapered, dropped crotch.
  • Tops: long sleeved Breton stripe tees, boxy sweatshirts, solid colour turtlenecks;
  • Statement shoes: creepers, flatforms, platform booties.
  • Jackets: oversized blazers, bomber/utility style jackets, quilted mid-layers
  • Accessories: peaked hat, specs, silver rings, oversized gent’s watch.


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The Cape Controversy

I couldn't help but notice that Angie's Power Suit ensemble included a cape. While many supers agree that a cape is indispensable for ceremonial purposes, (such as the AGM, as Angie suggested) there has been some controversy as to whether they should be withdrawn because of safety issues. 

As creator of the most innovative super suits of the era and a global authority on skin-tight safety wear, renowned designer Edna Mode puts forward a convincing argument as to why the cape should be removed from the Standardised Superhero Uniform (as agreed at the 2125 Marvel Universe convention).

Remember, all you moonlighting superheroes and crime-fighting vigilantes, luck favours the prepared!


Praise and blame for the oversized (for Gaylene)

This is very long, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for a while. I stepped out of the forum for a few weeks, partly because I’ve been wearing a lot of baggy clothing lately. To put it mildly, this is not the most popular choice around here and I completely understand why. I’m not judging anyone else for their choices and I hope you'll do me the same courtesy. Life’s too short to have the whole of YLF look at me sideways.

If you have the patience, please read on.

I have a definite preference for the oversized. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. It hangs well on my big boned, zaftig frame. It gives me the freedom to eschew figure flattery and focus on colour, texture and proportion. It sidesteps all the problems I have with fit on my broad shoulders, short waist and large bosom. It makes me feel good and it’s comfortable.

I’m quite sure I look more impressive in mannish tailoring and more conventionally attractive in a fitted dress. But right now, a looser fit feels very authentic in relation to my lifestyle. Why should I dress up and perform when all I’m doing is working alone, running errands and meeting friends? Why not enjoy the freedom and mobility of an unconstricted silhouette? These shapes are having a moment and I’m taking advantage of that.

There’s been a lot of talk lately on the forum, confusion even, about how we should respond to this, in particular a very thought-provoking thread started by Gaylene a little while back. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on this, but to my eternal shame I only made the most pitiful contribution myself. To be honest, I’ve been disinclined until now to wade in when it’s clear that a lot of people here seem to have the poison eye for a style that’s so close to my heart and anyway, I’m the first to admit there’s a problem. It may feel to me like a gift from the gods to see this filter down at last, but in reality the building blocks are very hard to assemble. In my opinion, high volume stands or falls on design, materials and fabrication, but I’ll come to that.


"Conceptual Fashion uses the body as a site for communication. Postmodern philosophers like Foucault maintain that the body is inscribed with cultural and gender meanings and becomes a text that tells the story of the social context that the body is constructed in. This process not only shapes the body but in many cases disciplines it as well, for example, what bodies are considered to be objects of beauty. Some conceptual designers have understood this and use fashion and clothes to disrupt dominant discourses and narratives about the female body."

Gaylene posted this quote from the Accidental Icon and all I said was Yes. Gaylene, my humble apologies. I wished afterwards I’d given you a more nuanced answer, so here’s one now.

I’m a professional creative living in the centre of an international city. (sounds glamorous, but in fact it’s a life as full of misery, challenges, ennui and joy as any other.) No doubt if things had turned out another way I’d be dressing differently, but this is who I am now and I like looking the part. Fashion is important to me and I strive to engage with it on the level of ideas and contexts as well as using it to look appealing, or correct, or whatever. On some levels (not all) it’s definitely an art form, and like any art it doesn’t always have to be beautiful, it can be used conceptually as well. And quite frankly, there are times when I can do without the demands of performative femininity and I’m more than happy to stand in opposition to it rather than simply ignore it.

So yes, I see this partly as a subversive statement about womanhood, ageing and social expectations. But ultimately, I agreed with a lot of what was said in that thread. Aesthetically this is very challenging, at odds with just about everything we’ve come to expect from womenswear. It’s been a huge disappointment to see this executed so poorly by retailers. Something’s been lost in the translation from high fashion to high street.

We all seem to agree, however, that they do layers very well in Japan and I think that’s a clue as to why this isn’t working. Japanese fashion to my eye is more concerned with forms and fabrics and far less about the body underneath. The lagenlook has relevance here in Europe for more or less the same reasons. But in both locations the designers and brands who have been working with it for a long time prioritise quality in material and fabrication.

COS don’t seem to be able to pull this off. I look in there from time to time, I can see what they’re aiming for and I want them to succeed at it but there’s something about their cuts and materials which just doesn’t work out. Uniqlo have done better at it (just look at this lady) perhaps because they’re Japanese and it’s part of their DNA. They just sold me a very nice boxy sweatshirt and I’m liking their wide legged gaucho pants at the moment. But even so, a quick straw poll of my wardrobe indicates that for me, it’s either high end pieces with exemplary cuts or my own creations where I’ve used top notch fabrics. It doesn’t work well in inexpensive materials.

I find since my trip to Japan last year I’m moving more and more in this direction. I’ve been looking back at pictures from the last couple of years and I can see that even though many of them hit the conventional flattery spot, they look to me as if I’m trying too hard. By contrast, the looks I’ve been wearing lately, the loose fitting tops, the baggy pants, the chunky shoes, all seem to express something that’s fundamentally me. It puts me in mind of Gaylene’s observation on seeing the model’s faces more clearly in these clothes. Maybe I don’t look as conventionally beautiful in these outfits, but I can see very clearly who I am.


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Incorporating style into my passion

We've been talking lately about how our passions come through in our style, and it got me thinking.

I'm pretty passionate about bicycles. If you ask me, the bike is up there with libraries, antibiotics and sanitation as just about the best thing the human race has come up with. It keeps you fit, it's non-polluting and it's fun. Of all the things I love about living in the Netherlands, and there are many, bike culture is right there at the top of my list. My Dutch friends sometimes take for granted the freedom we have to ride around on two wheels, but I will never loose my sense of wonder and gratitude for the traffic infrastructure that privileges this modest form of transport. There's no better way to get around in my opinion.

Like everyone else around here, my trusty steed is a heavy weight single speed omafiets or granny bike and I use it every day to get around town. I don't need to dress specifically for this (although I draw the line at pencil skirts and wide legged pants) so bike style isn't much of a thing in my every day life. I am, however, the proud owner of a very stylish bike friendly waterproof (props again to my good friend Mel for designing the thing).

This spring, I'm kitting myself out to start sports cycling again. I took the plunge on the bike this month and I've been putting together a little capsule to match. And being me, I have to do it in style. 

Back in my mountain biking days, bike gear was all about garish lycra, so I was relieved to discover that things have changed since then. There's still a lot of shiny spandex about, but there's also a growing trend for a more low key old school classic style. Think plain striped merino jerseys, peaked caps and crochet gloves.

Leading the field are British brand Rapha, who are making some truly fabulous gear. The design is superb and the quality exquisite. They carry a price tag to match, but I was so impressed with their bib shorts (bike ladies will know what I'm talking about when I say it's all about the chamois) that I splurged on a discounted bundle to get the matching jersey. Luckily, I made some savings on the rest of the kit, completing the look with a plain black windproof from Primal and pair of very cute crochet mitts. 

There's some seriously good cycling fashion out there these days and I'm sorely tempted to slip a few pieces into my day to day wardrobe. Particularly the classic cycling jerseys at Jura, which look far too good to break a sweat in.

Control yourself girl. Resist, resist.

UPDATE! and what a glorious morning that was! 

Just christened the whole kit and caboodle on a 60k turn around the polders. Too warm for leggings, so on a whim I reached for a pair of striped thigh highs, which to my astonishment worked really well (warm, wicking, breathable) and added a whole load of roller derby attitude. I am going to have to buy more of these before American Apparel go out of business.

And of course, the most vital equipment of all. Protect your brains, kids. Wear a helmet!


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Japan: the packing list (as long as your arm)

My fashion neurosis is now in overdrive. I'm leaving for Japan on Friday and after weeks (yes weeks!) of deliberation, I think I've finally figured out what's coming with me.

Usually on a trip like this, I would be very practical and pack what I needed for sightseeing and hiking, and maybe dress it up a bit around the edges. But when I’m heading for world's finest fashion nation (sorry skylurker, even better than France!) I have to bring my A-game.

It starts and ends with the shoes. They need to be comfortable. They need to come off easily indoors. They need to be as smart and formal as possible. I’m packing three pairs.

1. Hiking boots - for outdoors and acting basic.
We're planning a few days hiking between city visits, so they need to come with me. The big challenge is always to work gear into my holiday wardrobe and make them worth their weight without sacrificing style.

I've had these boots for over twenty years and they’re still going strong after walking the Inca Trail and the West Highland Way. The classic leather style (hard to find these days) makes them slightly easier to style. Not easy to take off indoors but I like to think they look pretty smart with bright skater laces, and for this trip I've chosen acid yellow/green (inspired by Angie's genius combination of cognac and citron.)

To go along with these, I am packing:

  • Arcteryx hiking pants - Not bad for gear. Nice material, nice cut.
  • Two button down shirts one Uniqlo +J, one Paul Smith (not pictured.) A good way to smarten up the hiking pants and boots.
  • Mamut Gore-Tex anorak (not pictured) Honestly, I’d rather not take this at all. Velcro! The horror! I can’t be without it on the side of a hill in a rainstorm though, so in it goes.
  • Uniqlo compact down jacket - Their best product ever. Incredibly useful and actually rather cute.
  • Three stripy long sleeved tees. They can make anything look stylish.
2. George Cox creepers - for urban cool.
These are a cult item in Japan apparently. They tick all the boxes, being smart, comfortable and easily slipped on and off.

These look brilliant with:

  • MMM x H&M oversized pants. Wide pants are trending in Tokyo at the moment, according to my sources. Not as impractical as they look. Fab with a stripy tee and...
  • Convertible bomber jacket, made by me. A great team player and a good counterpoint to the hiking boots.
  • Crash pants ByBrown - My favourite trousers, can wear them cropped or full length. Good with all tops and play nicely with the hiking boots when paired with…
  • Leather and wool jumper, made by me. Completes the olive/cognac/citron combo.
3. Trippen Dream booties - for dressing up.
I need something dressier than the creepers and these really up the ante. Not so easy to slip on and off, but not so difficult either. Improbably comfortable, these wear like sneakers even with the platform.

These open up more dressy possibilities such as:

  • White shirt dress, made by me after an avant-garde classic by Issey Miyake. Has to come along. Boho-lite with hiking pants and boots, minimal urban cool with all black.
  • White plisse midi skirt, vintage. Another item trending in Tokyo. Chic and ladylike with the Trippens and Breton shirt, downtown cool with creepers and leather jumper and surprisingly workable Harajuku style with the Issey shirt, convertible bomber and hiking boots, if I can work up the nerve.
  • Multicolour short sleeve knit from Cos. Great with the skirt, in case I want to make like a gangsta and flash some ink.
  • Taffeta bomber by Back. Not a duplicate, more of a complement. White needs black and this is dressier than the compact down jacket. Lightweight, packs tiny. I may swap this out for my pagoda shoulder blazer, space permitting.
  • Black silk blouse ByBrown, not pictured. Perfect with black pants in case I need to get really fancy.
And that’s it. I think I’ve covered all bases, things mix and match fairly well and it should all fit in a small suitcase, along with underwear, socks, swimwear, one or two tees and a couple of scarves and hats. Weather forecast says highs of around 20C/68F, so I'm thinking I'll be warm enough with layering.

Breaks down like this:

  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • 3 pairs pants
  • 3 jackets
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 mid-layers
  • 3 long sleeved tees
  • 2 button down shirts
  • 1 silk blouse
  • 1 shirt dress
  • 1 fancy knit

If you’ve even read this far, (thank you for your patience with my overthinking!) I’d really value your opinion. This is a pair of shoes and several garments more than I’d normally pack, but I don’t usually go from very casual to very dressy in a single capsule.

What do you think? Am I being over-ambitious with the dressy choices? Can you spot any gaps? Should I try to make room for the blazer instead of the second bomber?

Thanks for taking the time!


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Dressing for effect + body type = flattery?

Angie’s insightful comment on my post about a coat I made got me thinking.

…the current silhouette is hard to wear on most body types: very bulky fur bodice, no collar, short sleeves, absent structure, black = unflattering. I know you're not after a flattering silhouette…

Taking off my aspiring designers hat for a moment and considering my own personal style, my first thought about this was: true enough. For me, style is far more about creating a visual impression than it is about showing off physical attributes to best advantage. Most of the time the idea is to look dramatic, interesting and a little bit different, and to be honest, looking attractive as a woman is not always very high on my list of priorities.

On reflection though, I realised that this is not the case at all. Whatever the style, be it bold or understated, nobody wants to get it wrong and I need to know what works and doesn’t work for me as much as the next woman. This brings me to what I discovered a little while ago about Kibbe types.

Now, I have a real love-hate relationship with this system. Most of what I've read about it is nonsense, and don’t even get me started on the styling efforts I see around the Internet. But when I first encountered it (via this very forum) a penny dropped for me, I could see exactly where it came from aesthetically and I realised that a lot of what I like to wear is very much in line with that way thinking.

Put simply, the raw material of my physical appearance (dramatic/natural) gives me access to bold, rectangular shapes and oversized, unstructured silhouettes. They happen to look good on me, often a lot better than, say, skinny jeans with classic tailoring, or those fit and flare dresses that are very popular right now, which don’t look good on me at all. In that respect, I could speculate that my aesthetic preferences have been shaped by something I like to wear simply because it suits me.

So my question is, do we think of these shapes as unflattering because they really are unflattering (i.e. not many people can pull them off) or because they don't define the human (female) body in the same way as, say, a tailored jacket or a form-fitting dress? To what extent are our ideas about flattery shaped by contemporary standards of beauty and conventions around getting dressed?

All of this is not to argue with Angie that the coat doesn’t need tweaking (it does) but more to consider what we think of as flattering.  Are there things that look great on you that no-one else can wear? Or is there something universally considered flattering that doesn’t suit you at all? Do you ever put an effect you want to create above flattering, or are you always going for JFE?

Ladies, what does flattering mean to you?


Settling into Bright Winter (long)

Thanks to another thread I got wrapped up trying to understand seasonal colour analysis. I’ve looked into this before, but been disheartened by the reports of analysts getting it so wrong. But there’s merit in trying to understand what colours work when dissecting your style, so I gave it another go.

I started out with contrast, something that doesn’t get talked about much in SCA. I found some very useful posts on the menswear blogs:

From this I determined that my colouring is medium to high contrast.

Then I found out about how the 12 sub-seasons relate to one another on a continuum of warm and cool, dark and light, soft and clear, shown here as a wheel:

I learned from 12 blueprints that your season is decided by The Most Important Thing, which will be one of the parameters of SCA that correspond to the three basic colour components:

  • Hue - warm or cool
  • Value - light or deep
  • Saturation - soft or clear

All of this makes some kind of sense from a colour theory perspective. I decided it was easier to do this by figuring out what I’m not as well as what I am.

  • I’m neither light nor dark. My natural hair colour is dark ash, my eyes dark blue green with flecks of gold. I have very fair, almost translucent skin with a pink undertone. 
  • I skew cool. My veins are blue. I look better in hot pink than I do in orange. That means I’m somewhere in Winter or Summer.
  • But there’s warmth. I have freckles. I usually wear silver jewellery but gold looks OK too. After years of experimenting, I’ve decided my best hair colour is red. This rules out True Winter or True Summer. 
  • I've come to think I look quite striking in black, which would make me a Winter. I’m unlikely to be Dark Winter, although I can’t rule it out. That leaves Bright Winter, which would mean my Most Important Thing is contrast and saturation.

If this is correct, it explains a lot about my preferences. Black works best accented with optic white or brights, which is why the Bad Boyfriend is such a roaring success. Softer colours can work but they need a lot of help to keep them from falling flat. Warm brights can also work in moderation. Most of my current wardrobe falls within in the Winter palette, with a few brights from Bright Spring, some darks from Deep Autumn and some cools from Summer.

I feel like I’ve just discovered a superpower, which I can use for good or evil. Bright Winter seems like my natural home but it scares me too, because while colour and contrast make me feel like my best self, they can also make me look quite intense. Intimidating even. Perhaps that’s how I’m supposed to look.

All in all, this is an incredibly useful piece of information. Moving forward, I’m going to test the hypothesis and challenge myself to dress more like Bright Winter. I’m also going to update my glasses. But I’m not going to ditch colours outside the palette. Instead, I’m going to use it to learn how to colour outside the lines more effectively. Soft colours in support of cool brights, warm brights by cool deep neutrals. It might just work.

What about you? Have you self-diagnosed your colour season? Are you happy with it? How do you extend outside it?