There’s no shade of the rainbow you can’t embrace, says YOU’s contributing editor Trinny Woodall. Here’s her ultimate guide to colour confidence.
I love colour. Colour lifts you when you’re feeling flat. Colour boosts your confidence. I truly believe that the most important thing when getting dressed is to choose clothes that make us feel better about ourselves – and wearing colour makes me happy.
Two years ago I found a bright yellow suit in Zara that has become one of my wardrobe favourites – it’s an outfit that gives me great energy. I love what yellow represents emotionally, and I feel like a ray of sunshine whenever I wear my suit. I once wore it to the funeral of a friend who had died before her time. I hadn’t realised it was a requiem mass and was the only person there not in black – I was in top-to-toe shocking yellow. Although I did sit there thinking that everyone else thought I was being disrespectful, on the other hand the woman who had died was just so joyful. During the funeral, I noticed this little dot of light dancing around. I thought, there she is, looking down laughing, finding it so hilarious that I was so inappropriately dressed and yet celebrating her and not drowning her memory in black. It completely summed up my relationship with her.
My philosophy is that everyone can wear every colour – you just have to choose the right shade for you. You might think, ‘Oh, I can’t wear yellow’, but there is a whole spectrum – from neon to mustard – to pick from. You just need to find your yellow. Over the next few pages I will explain how to discover your best shades, and share my tips for making colour work for you. But first, try to get in the right mindset: there is no colour you can’t wear.
If you are somebody who always wears black – maybe because you feel uncomfortable about your body shape, or perhaps you just don’t want to be noticed – you are one of the women I most want to challenge. You can introduce colour slowly; choose one you like and build up a little section in your wardrobe. There is something joyful about wearing a colourful outfit, even if you’re just at home and talking to people through a screen. Try it, and you will notice the difference.
1. Discover your best colours
Colours broadly fall into one of three categories: cool, mid-toned or warm. For example, white is cool, ecru is mid-tone and cream is warm. Neon yellow is cool, lemon is mid-tone and mustard is warm. Schiaparelli pink is cold, bubblegum is mid-tone and raspberry is warm. Your skin tone is the colour you see in the mirror: light, medium, dark or something in between. But finding your colours is all about identifying your skin undertone, which is the underlying colour beneath the surface. There’s a whole spectrum here: pink, blue, peach, gold and so on. So how do you know which colour category you suit?
- You are a ‘cool’ if your skin has cool undertones: think pink or blue. Your eyes are usually blue, grey or green.
- You are a ‘warm’ if your complexion has warm undertones of peach, caramel or yellow. Your hair is tawny blonde, red or brown with coppery tones. Your eyes are hazel, green or brown.
- You are a ‘mid-tone’ or ‘neutral’ if your colouring fits in the middle. Your skin undertone will have a mix of warm and cool tones. You might have cool skin and eyes, but warm hair. Or vice versa. I am a neutral.
A quick test: can you wear black? If you can wear black with no make-up you’re a cool who suits cold, bright shades. If you look tired in black and need to wear make-up, you’re a neutral who suits mid-tones. If black drains you no matter what make-up you wear, you’re a warm and suit autumnal colours.
Lastly, is there a colour that makes your eye shade pop? For example, if you have brown eyes, does the colour bring back their richness? The colours that do are your best ones.
2. Try going tonal
When you put together different shades of the same colour, they may be lighter or darker, but what you’re looking for is the same depth of tone. I think of it in terms of trying to find the same level of dirtiness or brightness. Otherwise the colours look ‘off’ together. For example, a daffodil yellow will jar with a neon yellow; a marine blue will fight with an air force blue. When you put two shades of the same colour next to each other, there should be a harmony – one shouldn’t flatten the other. To find out how it’s done, see the three examples below.
Experiment with shades
Team different tones of the same colour, but make sure they harmonise
3. Find your black neutral
I think ‘wear colour with colour’ might be on my gravestone! A lot of women delve into colour on one part of their body but keep the rest of their outfit black, often because they want to cover up another area. However, you will have a better figure by choosing clothes in complementing tones – it gives a better flow to your body than if you cut yourself off at the waist with black.
Black also tends to devalue any other colour it’s worn next to. Some designers have worked black with colour – Yves Saint Laurent, for example, mixed it with neons or cobalt blue – but there are very few exceptions. Everyone has a ‘non-black black’, an alternative neutral that works better with colour. For warm-toned women it’s khaki – a great, versatile colour that looks particularly good with orange, tomato red and cream. Cool-toned women can use a cool burgundy, which goes brilliantly with hot pink, baby blue and dove grey. Mid-toned women such as me have navy as their neutral. I love navy and red but it also pairs well with silver, white, charcoal and some pinks. Be careful with navy and yellow: for me it’s too reminiscent of the Ikea logo.
4. Meet your new style guru; the colour wheel
This circular spectrum, which is made up of the natural order of colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – can help you understand how different shades work together and to what effect.
For example, colours that sit next to one another can create a subtle look, as these blend into one another, while colours that sit opposite each other are ‘complementary’ and make a striking contrast when worn together. I like to combine colour with either its best friend or worst enemy. Say I have something in a raspberry shade: I could find another pink that works with it, but I prefer to go across the colour wheel and wear it with a lemon yellow. Orange and turquoise is another combination I love. Remember, even if you’re doing contrasting colours, make sure the tone is right: a dirty pink needs a dirty yellow, a bright blue needs a bright orange. See below for ideas.
HOW TO USE IT TO CLASH COLOURS
Prints can be great inspiration for surprising colour combinations. Look for abstract, geometric or ikat patterns. Find some Missoni or Prabal Gurung prints online and you’ll discover some beautiful, unexpected colour combinations.
A quick styling tip: when you’re clashing separates, if you tuck your shirt into your trousers, it can be too much of a contrast. Try a half-tuck, where you tuck one half of the top in and leave the other loose. It allows the contrasting colours to meet horizontally and vertically, so there’s not such a harsh division at your middle.
Try a clash course
Here’s how to pair shades from different sides of the colour wheel
5. Consider DIY dyeing
We all have things in our wardrobe that maybe aren’t our best shade but we love anyway, or we bought because they’re the perfect shape for us but not the perfect colour. Try to wear your best shades nearest your face. If you have a fab skirt or pair of trousers that aren’t totally your colour, you can wear your best shade on top.
If a piece you don’t want to part with is in a paler shade, you might be able to dye it. Try a fabric dye that you can use in the washing machine, such as Dylon, which works on cotton, linen and viscose. The brand does a version for wool and silk, too, which you do by hand in a sink. Always patch test first, because some fabrics absorb dye in a higher concentration than others.
6. Tear up the rule book
Blue and green should never be seen? No, they look great – if you pick the right shades. Pink and red? I love together. The one exception to that is red and green; I find they just fight each other and are too Christmassy.
You should also be aware of being biased against certain colours. For example, you might say, ‘I’m never wearing olive green, it reminds me of school,’ even when you’re in your 50s! But if you’re a warm-toned woman it could be one of your best colours. Try to ignore those associations from your childhood and embrace shades that suit you.
7. Embrace one shade top-to-toe
It takes confidence to kit out your whole body in one colour, but it’s a look I just love. Any time I see someone else embracing it, I gravitate towards them. I like playing with different textures of the same colour, and it’s easier to colour match between different shops than you might think.
When you buy something and it’s a really wonderful, distinctive colour, it’s probably part of a trend, and you’ll find that high-street stores and high-end designers are all dipping into the same palette that season. For example, I have a pair of orange Victoria Beckham trousers and a Zara jacket that are the same shade. There’s an opportunity each season to buy high-end and high-street pieces in the same colour then mix and match them. If you buy something in a colour you really love, have it beside you when you’re next shopping online so that you can match it.
8. Choose the right make-up
A lot of people ask me whether they should match their lipstick to their outfit. If you are very confident that can look incredible, but as a rule, when I wear red and pink tones, I prefer to keep my eyes and lips more neutral and tone my blusher to suit the colours in my clothes. Generally, you don’t want your make-up to clash with your outfit; you want there to be a relationship between the two.
You can use make-up strategically when you almost suit a colour. For example, yellow is not always my best colour but it brings me joy, so when I wear it I adjust my make-up by opting for a slightly stronger lip – that way I wear the yellow and it doesn’t wear me. It’s about finding make-up that provides balance, and usually a strong lip – rather than a strong eye – will do that. See below for my favourite reds.
Work a strong lip shade
When it comes to strong lips, nothing turns heads more than red. Here’s how to pick the right shade for your skin tone
COOL A cherry red or one with blue undertones will suit you best
WARM Opt for a red with orangey tones, such as this tomato shade
NEUTRAL The richest, reddest of reds is right for you
9. Be smart with your accessories
One thing that often prevents people from wearing colour is that they don’t know what shoes to wear. I love white trainers, especially in spring and summer – you can throw them under anything. A metallic shoe is also very versatile. Most of my shoes are silver or gold and go with every colour combination.
If you are wearing the same colour top and bottom, you could try a contrasting shoe. It works best if your body is in proportion, or you have long legs. If you have shorter legs, a shoe in the same colour as your trousers can be more elongating.
Necklaces are another way to play with colour. If I’m wearing a block of one shade, I might get a big contrasting necklace to break it up (for example, a yellow necklace over a fuchsia dress). If you’re scared of colour clashing, this is a good way to dip your toe in the water – see below for more ideas.
Neons are phenomenal as an accent. If your contrast colour is going to be a bright pink, green or yellow, you could do that little hint in neon. Just a sliver – a neon belt, a neon necklace, a neon shoe – is an easy way to bring something extra to your outfit.
Play with pops of colour
Contrasting accessories are an easy way to pep up same-shade separates
10. Challenge yourself
If you’re ready to start experimenting with colour, a really good thing to do is invest in a clothes rail (you can buy them from Amazon). Choose a colour you know you quite like and already have in your wardrobe, and whether it’s sweat pants, a T-shirt, a jacket or dress, hang everything in that colour together on your rail. You might discover some new relationships. Those sweat pants with that matching silk shirt could be cool with white trainers. Then start adding similar colours. Now try contrasting shades. You’ll begin to see some outfits.
Play around and create three-coloured outfits. Hang each outfit back in your wardrobe with everything you need to complete the look, including accessories. For the next three days, that’s what you’re going to wear. You might pull out one of your outfits later and have a wobble. Challenge yourself to stick to your guns and wear it. Make your Zoom calls and see what your friends and colleagues think. See how it changes your mood while you wear it, or when you catch sight of your reflection. I guarantee it will bring some joy to your day.
Styling: Annie Swain. Make-up: Trinny London. Hair: Greg Hill and Adam Embleton at Josh Wood. Styling assistants: Heyam Alghatta and Sophie Bassett.