There are several entirely rational reasons for not wanting to buy and/or wear colourful clothes: they date faster than neutrals; you tend to get tired of them quicker; they are more difficult to combine with other items of clothing. Often, bright colours are more demanding to wear than navy or beige. Sometimes they even cost more than „normal“ stuff.
On the other hand, colour is one of the great joys of life. Colours are gorgeous. They can be cheerful, but also luxurious, romantic or intimidating. I can imagine very few things more intimidating than head-to-toe sharp tailoring in red. There are so many colours that there’s something for everyone. Even if you are a committed colour-phobe, you might be obsessed with the right kind of black or find different shades of grey disturbingly attractive.
Where I come from, wearing colour is not the norm. People often tell me that they love a particular forest green or a certain pale lilac, but could never wear it. It’s usually not explained why that is, but I sense unspoken references to the wrong skin tone, to the fear of seeming inappropriately fond of attention, to Northern temperament, to taste that is too superior to be distracted by frivolous colour.
You know what? I’m not a natural colour-wearer either. My formative fashion years were in the beginning of the 90s – not a good time for colour. For ages, my idea of being daring was dusty pink (still love it). Over the years, this has changed. It’s partly certainly because I cannot remain untouched by trends – my eye is very susceptible to outside influences – and fashion has certainly become full of colour in recent years. I suspect the other factor is that I’m more confident these days and if people think my dresses are too attention-grabbing, I just shrug and go back to my reading (in a mustard blouse and teal skirt).
If you like colour, but struggle with wearing it, I have no 7-step programme to offer. But I do have a couple of thoughts.
1. Wear colour. This sounds like me being a smart-ass, but what I mean is that you need to try things on. You will never wear colour, if you don’t try anything colourful on. You may have all those firm beliefs about how certain colours look on you, but darling, they may be completely wrong. Even if you DID try something pink on seven years ago, you have changed. The pink has changed. Try it again. Then try something different.
2. Wear it like a neutral. There is a lot of practical advice out there about „introducing colour“ via accessories and wearing it away from your face and picking things that complement your eyes and skin tone, etc. All this is true, but it’s irrelevant in case you have the attitude right. I no longer remember who said that leopard print should be worn like a neutral – the idea being that you can mix neutrals with everything and it’ll be OK. I apply the same principle to colour. It’s not that I necessarily throw thing together entirely randomly, but the point is that you can. In the end, it’s just colour. There is no reason why orange should be scarier than camel.
3. Do not underestimate colours. People sometimes avoid colour, because they think a neutral palette is more refined. And sure, it’s easy to get that impression, because neutrals are EASY. I mean, I challenge you to go wrong with a combination of beige and tan or a full black outfit or white, grey and denim. Anyone can do it. Doing colour blocking right demands much more skill* and it’s something I find men** often do better than women. Maybe because they are so limited by form, they have honed their use of colour (and print and texture, but this is not the place for that discussion) to perfection. On the more flamboyant end, you have the Hamish Bowles school of Dandyism and on the other, the suits of Pitti Uomo – tight and rather classic, but in all possible combinations of colour.
All those musings were inspired by the pink silk Lilli Jahilo dress I’m wearing on the pictures. It’s the loudest daywear piece in my wardrobe (with the possible exception of this dress), but I find it extremely easy to wear. True, I sometimes add a t-shirt underneath and wear it with trainers and then it’ll be even more effortless. Still, I can style it with colourful heels and feel completely comfortable. For me, it’s a neutral.
In addition to colour, it also made me think of style advice. There is no piece of style wisdom (including mine, of course) that would work in all circumstances. None. Just take a favourite saying, scratch the surface and you’ll see. „Before leaving the house, take one item off?“ Great for a minimalist, but if you are going for that Gucci vibe, these words are worse than useless. „Never wear a thing that doesn’t fit?“ Seems like a no-brainer, right? But most of the new shapes in the last two decades have evolved from things that are either too small or too big in conventional terms. I constantly wear things that are too tight, because they give me the effect I want. So sue me.
But the one that irritates me the most is this: „You should always notice the woman before the clothes.“ First, a disclaimer: it’s great when people notice a woman before her clothes. I have no problem with that. But why is it bad to notice someone’s yellow coat or purple turban or, for that matter, pink dress? When I wear my Art dress, EVERYBODY notices the dress, not me. And it’s OK. It usually cheers people up, it’s a great conversation starter and it makes me easy to find in a crowd, like Queen Elizabeth. It feels almost ungenerous and mean to want people to look at me, when the dress absolutely deserves the attention.
Apart from the most obvious functions, humans dress for different reasons and wanting to show off a piece of art and craftsmanship is a totally legitimate one. I’m sure people will notice me in there at some point, but until that happens, I’ll be completely fine.
Dress by Lilli Jahilo, shoes by Nicholas Kirkwood for Roksanda Ilincic, hair by Keete Viira (Salon+), make-up by Grete Madisson, photos by Liina Jasmin and Agnes Mägi.
*If this is only scaring you and making you less likely to wear colour, disregard point three and focus on points one and two. As the first step, start hunting for one colour that works for you and that you feel comfortable in. But people’s issues with colour are different and I valiantly address them all. Well, I address at least two.
*Obviously not all men.