Style Lab Redux: Colour & Texture

A while ago, I typed myself as a Winter. Amazingly useful as this knowledge has been, it’s obvious to me that there’s more to optimising colour effects than simply knowing whether they suit you in theory. While working through my seasonal refresher, it finally became clear where this was heading. Please join me while I quack-science the hell out of a seemingly straightforward problem. Warning: it’s long.

Colouring: Winter - cool, medium to high contrast.

My colour story so far:

I’ve been wearing a Winter palette for a while and by now I can tell the difference. I definitely look better in these colours, and the down jacket in #1 finally cliched it for the Deep end of the spectrum. Bright but far from luminous, I can’t quite manage a zinging neon but this particular shade of citron is a surprising success. I had no idea.

My ultimate objective in identifying this colour family has been to work out how to hack it. Is it possible to wear colours that don’t suit me, and if so, how?

Outside the Winter palettes, there are indeed a few colours I probably shouldn’t be wearing, and yes, they make me look pretty grim in the wrong light, but it’s not as simple as that. It seems to me that interaction of different colours is every bit as important as the colours themselves. A lot depends on fabric texture, luminosity, and how they combine. For instance, the almost-neon orange of my favourite beanie works very well as an accent on high-contrast black and white looks, in spite of being warmer than perhaps is good for me.

Core Neutrals: Black, white, navy blue.

Secondary neutrals: charcoal, pale grey, purple, cognac

Brights: True red, shocking pink, icy pastels, metallic silver, cobalt, citron. Preferably cool, but anything at just the right level of intensity or saturation can do the trick. There seems to be a sweet spot.

Problem colours: Moss green, dark lime, olive, army green, beige, dark reds, salmon pink, taupe. Shades of grey are a problem - good at the ends of the spectrum, troublesome in the middle.

Styling Priorities: colour contrast and depth.

I’ve found that applying a few Kibbe principles alongside the colour theory can make a world of difference. I know exactly what this means aesthetically but I still can’t quite explain it without using words like yin and yang.

Kibbe type: Soft dramatic/flamboyant natural. Strong vertical lines and bold proportions are key.

Fabric  Surface texture can have a huge impact. Outlines should be bold and well-defined.

  • Reflective: metallics, pleather, sateen
  • Matte: scuba knit, technical fabric, poplin, polyester
  • Plush: velvet, melton, faux fur, cashmere, mohair, shearling

Grooming: Hairstyle, eyewear and lip colour establish the overall aesthetic. The rest of the package had better match up.


With the exceptions in the first row, these outfits are all about wearing colours that I don’t believe particularly suit me but I’m committed to wearing anyway. Hence, you might think these are not some of my best looks. Please feel free to tell me so - that’s what this exercise is for.

1-5 High shine, bright accents

This approach feels the most authentic and the easiest to wear. Works very well as a day to day style. I like the combination of timeless classic and urban glam - Acid Sport, all grown up.

Difficulty level: easy

#2-3 The dark red and olive featured here are closer to the Autumn palette but they mix well with black when combined with different textures. Plush fleece and glossy leather add depth and shine.

#4-5 Black and white can easily become boring, so I’ve become more adventurous lately in mixing it up with different colours and textures. I’m particularly pleased with the sequin decals on this old +J jacket. 3D skinny knit from Uniqlo U, vintage white plissé skirt.

6-10 Depth, contrast, graphic details

A good reference point for my boho shadow style, this draws heavily from the Deep Autumn palette. I’m beginning to think I have two divergent wardrobes.

Difficulty level: medium

#6-7 Mr Edge chose this autumn-coloured wrap so I have to wear it. Luckily, there’s enough depth in the red and grey for it to work. Spot the difference: lip colour and high-contrast graphic details elevate the look.

#8 This self-made wax print dress was one of my favourite looks from the summer, but these really aren’t my colours. It works because of the strong vertical silhouette, bold proportions and the graphic precision the print.

#9 Same thing applies to the vintage Kenzo, which I adore. Timeless tailoring and an excellent fit go a long way to compensate for too-warm colours. Corrected with a layer of citron and a shiny black support act.

#10 This Vibskov grandpa cardigan is more complicated. The bold black trim give the warmer colours and marled texture a boost. The B/W print on the tee emphasises the vertical lines.

11-15 Taming soft colours with brightness and depth

A few particularly good pieces from the Summer palette found their way in and hung around. They seem well balanced by Spring brightness and Winter depth, but this theory needs work.

Difficulty level: advanced

#11 I’ve struggled with this vintage skirt from Dries van Noten in the past and now I understand why. I like it with this cerise blouse from Zara but will probably save this look for next spring, along with 12.

#12 This Pleats Please scarf is another of Mr Edge’s choices. I doubt I’d have picked these colours out for myself, but they’re just bright enough and they play nicely with both black and white. I’m still learning how to tie it.

#13 This striped jersey dress is another problem child. Across YLF eyebrows are being raised and heads shaken but let me tell you there’s some advanced colour theory going on here. I may come back to this look for research purposes.

#14-15 I love this jumper and I will wear it regardless, even crumpled from storage as seen here. Doubt if the necklace helps much but the soft colours fail reasonably gracefully thanks to the long silhouette and the metallic sheen in the skirt.

That’s I’m telling myself anyway, because when all else fails I will suck it up. I’ll probably wear this over Christmas, to overeat and be cozy.


SCA is consistent with my knowledge of other theories of colour and it seems to hold up in practice. However, it’s not an exact science and there’s plenty of room for manoeuvre. I love the brightness, depth and contrast of the Winter palettes and they seem to like me too. I’m not getting any younger and I think optimising the colours will be a great way to keep the look going. If I want to make the most of a range of colours I’ll need to master some of the above principles. Hair, eyewear and lip colour are key to this, the rest can follow along.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • LaPed replied 4 years ago

    I think the colours on the batik dress are better on you than you think. Either that, or the silhouette is so perfect it makes the colours read as better than they really are. 

    I'm another probably-Winter with a soft spot for the dusty greys and lavenders featured in 13-14-15. When these soft colours are anchored in some way -- the black sleeves and boots in #13 -- they work better. 

    And I actually do like the giant red necklace in #15 as it helps break up the solid colour and offsets your hair so nicely. 

    I think peachy-beige is just about the worst colour if you're cool-toned and pale, because there's no way for it to not make you look like a cadaver or a wax model of yourself. I speak from experience... Anyway, I suspect the tops in 11-12 would look great over just about any other bottom. The white plisse skirt in #4 is just so much more visually pleasing than the peachy-beige. 

    Bravo for challenging yourself!

  • replied 4 years ago

    Fascinating exercise.  I love what you are doing here.  This is an exercise that is way beyond my skill set.  I'll be reading here to see what other commenters say.  

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    This is so interesting. I need to come back and study the photos with the text some more. And it's difficult to distinguish colour flattery from other elements of these dramatic outfits, which only shows your skill, I suppose -- you make it work by making it dramatic, full stop. But off the top of my head on first look, my favourites (not that you asked!) are: 3, 7 (yes!! The lip colour definitely helps and amazingly so!), 8, 9, and yes, 13. So you must have succeeded in that one. :)

  • Style Fan replied 4 years ago

    This is an incredibly interesting exercise.  I am in awe of your dramatic style and your amazing abilities to put outfits together.  I will have to study the photos carefully to see what colours work best for you.  When I first looked I liked the black in 3 and 4, the dress in 8 and the jacket in 9 in terms of colour flattery.  I also really like how you have styled those outfits. 
    It is interesting to see how warm and cool colours interact with someone`s skin.  Some people seem to be able to pull off colours that are not their best better than others.

  • cindysmith replied 4 years ago

    I love your style so much. It's edgy, it's fun, and it always makes me drool

  • Dianna replied 4 years ago

    This is so interesting, I am coming back to it later to absorb as much as I can.  I love what you have done.  My favorites are 3, 8, 9, and 15. 

  • rachylou replied 4 years ago

    You know, I find it interesting how different we look, but I think I have the same ‘good’ and ‘bad’ colours. I think you’re right about brightness, contrast, details, texture, shine, and juxtaposition changing the way a colour operates.

    The wrap scarf works for me with the red wrapped around your neck and next to your face... providing a little separation from the grey.

    I find the salmon and lavender scarf best with the salmon sandwiched between the lavender.

    And the last - I think maybe a brighter necklace, although I really like the shape of the necklace.

    Also, it has to be said that your cool-girl style makes me think you could get away with full unmoderated ugly colour... lol! I’m not entirely sure it matters... ;)

  • JAileen replied 4 years ago

    I really like your problem child, the striped dress. I also like the colors in 1 and 2. I wouldn't have thought a Winter would wear olive, but it works. Your hair is fab, too.

  • shevia replied 4 years ago

    I am a very bad judge of color on a computer screen. I can pretty definitely say when I like something but color in particular I have to see in person and then in comparison to other colors to form a specific opinion.
    So with that admission of uselessness, I will say I love whatever you have done with 11, 13 and 15. I actually think the more autumnal colors are a bit dullifying on you (or on my screen). Regardless I especially do like 7 and 8. I think the peak of graphic in 7 makes it even better than 6 and kind of pulls in your glasses and makes your eyes focal. I am also fascinated with #4. Despite our coloring being very different, I think I am some sort of winter and olive, despite my skin and eyes, can be deadly. I like what you did with the jacket, in other words. Will be rereading this post and studying when I am a bit more awake.

  • Jenni NZ replied 4 years ago

    Ah. Our styles are so different I don't know if I can comment. But here goes.
    I like 1, 8 and 9 the best. I love the yellow in 1 and the contrast and reds in 8 and 9 which I like with your hair and lipstick. I'm afraid 11-15 do nothing for me and particularly 13, your "problem child". Now I see it is well liked up thread, but to me ( sorry, feel so mean here but you know I don't understand art!) it has a "bag lady hanging around the railway station" vibe to it. Yikes, I said it.

  • Jane replied 4 years ago

    The analysis is very interesting, and insightful. My favourite look is 4. The necklace is a great piece!

  • lyn67 replied 4 years ago

    Ah, great post! My poor eyes are not that advance trained or skilled, so I only can really appreciate the  first 2 lines of picties!:-) As you said for  these you don't really need advance level of anything to understand and be delighted of the the depth, contrast, graphic details, quirky layering, shine and bright accents  which are all pertfectly done for the season we are in. So, my absolutely fave of yours here is nr 1(2&9, following close!). Guess am attracted to that deep sour shade of chartreuse, which I would like for myself, too! It just pops out from all.

    Loved to have a sneak peek in the process and  learn about the style at an "advanced level" in line nr 3, too. Now, this is already science to me, and it certainly depends on the audience, too---but you have to be You for pulling them off with ease and confidence in an ordinary venue, for sure& I am amazed!

  • Sisi replied 4 years ago

    I have not read your post, I have just looked at the pics and wanted  to say that I am in awe in front of your artistic talent. These outfits are fabulous. I like very much # 1 (I like the pop of yellow - despite I generally do not like yellow!),  # 4 (I am always attracted by a black&white combination), # 11, 12, 14 (Intersting color combinations) and #13 is too much fun!

  • approprio replied 4 years ago

    Thank you all for the feedback, ladies! You always give me so much to think about.

    Sterling, cindy, Dianna, thanks! Sounds crazy, but I always need to know when I'm on the right track. 

    very interesting what you say about "anchoring" these softer colours. I wore them for years with impunity, so it's taken me a while to get used to the idea, but you're absolutely right. I'll keep that in mind. 

    Suz: yeah, the lip colour and graphic detail do make a difference there don't they? And I agree with rachylou, the scarf is better with the red next to my face.

    SF: yes! Not an exact science, by any means. I've found it helps to identify which aspects of the "home" palette work the best in order to borrow from the "away" palettes: for me, that means Autumn when it's deep enough, Spring when it's bright enough and Summer when it's cool enough. 

    rachylou: haha I wish you were right! It's true, I used to be able to get away with it, but it gets harder every year. Without moderation, this could so easily descend into Mad Woman of Amsterdam Central, and how's that for a false positive! :P

    JAileen: thanks! I'm very fond of it myself, but it's always hard to find the best ways to style it. I think I'm getting there with it though.

    shevia, absolutely right! These greens - if they're not too warm, they're too dusty. It bears repeating though - so much depends on fabric and texture. The pieces I have that still work for me make up for it in other ways. Here it's in contrast with the leather, elsewhere it's with structure and texture. 

    Jenni, hehe I knew someone would say it. I must say, I'm surprised it's getting so much love because I don't think I've quite nailed it either. But I will, you'll see ;)

    Jane, thanks! The necklace is rather heavy and as rachylou says, it could be brighter, but it's fun to trot it out occasionally

    lyn67, it's chartreuse, of course! Couldn't think of the name, so thanks! Sisi, I wouldn't say I dislike yellow, rather that I've always been very nervous about wearing it. I've long been drawn to this shade - maybe part of me knew it would work! - but it's taken me a while to get comfortable with it. And of course, you have to find it first!

  • jill58 replied 4 years ago

    1, 3, 7, 8 and 9 are my favorites. The chartreuse in #1 with your hair is wonderful--also the sunglasses--just a great look. Chartreuse is a color I can't wear so I'm envious. Your style is so dramatic. I really enjoy your posts. Your footwear is fab! 13 is my least favorite but other than that I find each outfit interesting--some of the ones I didn't like as much at first, I like more as I look at them again, so it may just take some adjustment of my eye.

  • Sisi replied 4 years ago

    Now I read the post. Very very intersting. It is evident that my brain is not good at theorizing (I go on instinct) but reading your post I had a couple of enlightening intuitions. Thank you, Approprio! 

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    Liz, I very much enjoyed your post. It was as emotional as it was thought through. I LOVE how in touch you are with your feelings, how that translates back to your outfits, and how well you manage the process/assessment. That's authentic and sustainable style that makes you feel fab. WELL DONE. 

    The first word that comes to mind when I see your style is COMPLEX. The second word is PUZZLE. You enjoy a complex puzzle. This wouldn't be fun for you if it were too easy! That's fabulous in itself.

    All these outfits work really well to my eye. KILLER all round. Your broad shoulders and long legs help you carry these unstructured looks well. The new bob is GORGEOUS. I like the way is adds "Lady" to your outfits. 

    My faves here are #3, 11, 12 and 13 - the prettier looks and some structure (I am predictable and smiling). Tell Mr. Edge good job on the lovely scarf!

  • lisa p replied 4 years ago

    Very interesting read, from an academic perspective. It's fun to put some advanced study to one's look - which many of us aren't capable of doing at your level.  I'm "reading" Alyson Walsh's new little book right now which made me think of you actually, and it is really heightening my interest in craftsmanship, textiles, colours, and collecting "real" clothes. Euro styles.  ;)  Anyways - it's important to have people with your level of skill and understanding of fashion to post here  = it raises the bar for conversation and learning.

  • approprio replied 4 years ago

    Angie, that was very touching and very kind. Thank you. 

    You're right, the complexity of the puzzle is endlessly fascinating to me. I've long been convinced that a sustainable wardrobe doesn't have to be a minimal one, but it's hard to find a frame of reference through all this stuff sometimes. I've come a long way and learned a lot at YLF. 

    Lisa, I like Alyson Walsh, but her focus is on fashion rather than style. Fashion promises more than it delivers, style rewards the effort we put in. I'll say no more than that ;)

    Jill, thanks for the feedback. Sisi, when I put out a post like this I always hope someone will find it useful. Glad you did!

  • skylurker replied 4 years ago

    Very interesting post, Liz, thank you for sharing your advanced experiments.

    I know I’m supposed to focus on colour, but I found the reference to bold proportions and vertical lines very intriguing, because my favourite outfits do play on vertical lines : #3, 4, 15.

    My least favourites are #2, 7, 13 because there’s so many layers, I have a choked, stifled feeling looking at it. And #10, because I’m scared by Munch’s cry and pairing it with a deceptively cosy but really grunge cardi just make it more scary, somehow. I’m telling you this so you see that advanced style can provoke weird and quirky emotions in people :)

    Ok, trying to focus on colour, what don’t work for me : red #6,8 (too redundant with your hair), bright pink #11 (seems to wear you) and the peach in the Issey scarf (I would love #12 without the scarf).

  • lisa p replied 4 years ago

    Liz - have you seen her new book? It talks about style, not fashion at all. The women she interviews are very much their own people and have distinct style- most of them don't even "do fashion" ....which is what I find so utterly appealing and aspirational.  

  • Sal replied 4 years ago

    Liz, thanks for this exercise.  I totally agree that colour theory provides us with some guidance but the rules are there to be broken - but how we break them is the interesting/fun/hard part....

    These are my top picks  

    1 3 4 8 9 13  - why - it is a mix of the structure, the lines, the colours, the styling, the makeup.  It possibly shows my own leanings to some structure and bold patterns......  

    I am a self diagnosed Kibbe Flamboyant natural and have found this helps me a lot when choosing looks - I think bold,  I think relaxed and I think long lines - and then I mostly get it right....

    I think with colours that are not our "best" - it does take more work.  Skin, shine, lipstick and accessories all help with this - and glasses too.

  • 3style replied 4 years ago

    I like nearly all of them. I think that you have a very unique style. This being said, four of the looks don't work for me.

    Images one and two with the shine on your top half I think are competing with your interesting hair color. If your hair was black gray or white I think that they would work for your complexion.

    I think that the number 10 with the Munch shirt and striped sweater has very strange proportions for your body because of how wide the stripes are on the bottom around your hips. I think that you could wear the t-shirt with a striped pencil skirt in those colors and the outfit would not overwhelm your frame.

    I think that number three with the black vest over the black shirt is just too tame and lacks three dementionality for your style. I think that a small scarf or piece of small shiny jewelry up top would balance the energetic look of the lower half of your outfit better.

    Basically, I think that if you keep the top and bottom half of your outfits consistently balanced in terms of visual interest, and not super busy on one half and plain on the other, then I think that you can get away with all of the colors that speak to you.

    You are brave to let us critique your outfits. Hopefully we help you can get closer to your vision for how you would like to appear.

  • The Cat replied 4 years ago

    Interesting text and pics. Thanks for sharing.

    Your "problem child," the striped dress, is actually one of the items I like best. I would have styled it differently, though--perhaps with the gorgeous shawl from #6.

    By the way, you look really great in #6. Are you totally sure that you are a Winter? I ask because to me, your hair looks more autumnly, and the autumn colours in some of the pics (including the yellow items in #1 and #9) look so harmonious with your personal colours, whereas (at least to my eye) the winter colours (like black, snow white, charcoal and hot pink) tend to look a bit harsh on you, especially when worn near your face.

    Some other combinations I guess would look great on you:
    - the scarf from #6 worn with with the outfit in #14
    - the jacket from #10 worn with the skirt and boots in #10/11

    You seem to prefer a dramatic look. But are you sure you need dramatic (winter) colours? Or would it be sufficient to choose dramatic lines/shapes and interesting variety of fabrics/textures? When I look at some of these pictures, of course I immediately notice your striking colours and styles. However, when I look at #6, I see YOU first. In that picture, you look confident, balanced and calm while at the same time exuding a fascinating personal drama--you look like a person it would be interesting to get to know. :-)

  • Jenava replied 4 years ago

    OK, I love all the looks, but if we are strictly focusing on color - well, 11 through the end are clear not flattering, color-wise.  I think these are your most interesting looks, though.  So maybe you are compensating for the color thing.  I don't hang too tightly to color unless I need some limiting factor, but I am deep summer and have found that I'm most attracted to colors that also happen to be flattering, so that works out well for me.  (-:

  • approprio replied 4 years ago

    haha skylurker, always my sternest critic! I appreciate your honesty though, particularly on the layering. The late night horror movie vibe of the grunge Scream look is exactly why I like it, so I have to assume it’s working. ;)

    Lisa: I only know her from the blog, and for the most part I like her but she doesn’t speak for me. I won’t go into my in-depth critique of the British fashion press and how it addresses our age group just now though ;)

    Sal: right! These are just guidelines, but as such they’re incredibly useful. Since I started using them, they’ve led me in all kinds of directions and I’m finding new ways with things I’d never have thought of.

    3style: thanks for the feedback. I should make clear I’m pretty happy with my style as it stands and I’m mostly interested in honing the aesthetic so I can make informed choices about shopping and editing in future.

    The Cat: That yellow that works so well on me is a Winter sour and not the Autumn gold. You could be right about the hot pink.

    I completely understand your line of reasoning though, because I’ve followed it myself and it’s more or less how I got to here. I agree with you that the Deep end of the Autumn palette can work very well, but I’ve tried most of the outfits you’re suggesting and decided they do nothing for me. In fact, if I stray too far on that direction I can look quite dreadful.

    Jenava: you know that’s really interesting because I’m noticing the same myself. When I put these outfits together, for the most part I’ve been trying to achieve a particular effect through colour and proportion rather than reach for things because I think they’ll match, and it does seem to make a difference.

  • skylurker replied 4 years ago

    « Late night horror movie vibe of the grunge Scream look », exactly! Very apt description. And what I call advanced style, to be able to create a mood like that with clothes.

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    My pleasure, and good to hear Liz.

    I must have a VERY high affinity for colour matching because I don't see  clashes or unflattering combinations. I see harmony with all these colour combos - but your red hair and black specs temper the palette very successfully. They ARE colour variables in the mix. 

  • Joy replied 4 years ago

    I will have to come back to do more study, but I love this post and your style. My favorites in each group: easy difficulty 1-5. I like 1 best.
    Medium difficulty: 7 or 8. Advanced: 12. You hair is amazing and an important part of any look.

  • Bijou replied 4 years ago

    I love how intentional your style is. Your hair, shoes and glasses and way that you combine and juxtapose soft and hard edge make it all work to my eye. I feel like I am getting a style masterclass - thank you for your posts.

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