How to un-banish a color from your wardrobe and find the right version of it for you.
I used to think that I could NOT wear the color yellow. "Ugh," I thought when I saw yellow. Or I would see the cutest shirt but not even try it on because I assumed yellow just wasn't for me. But the truth was that I just didn’t know how to find the right yellow for my coloring.
So how do you turn your list of banned colors into the right colors that actually look great on you?
The key is to look at lots and lots of variations of the color you think you cannot wear. It’s best to be methodical here in order to find the best version of the color for you. Luckily for us, artists have a great way to organize color, and I am going to take you through an artist thought process in this article to help you find the perfect version of your most challenging clothing color.
In this example, I will talk about my former nemesis, yellow, but you can substitute this method for any color that is giving you trouble.
Try Changing the Lightness and Darkness of the Color
The first step when using an artist’s thought process to think about color is to consider how light or dark the color is. So when I was searching for my perfect yellow, I tried on garments with very dark versions of it (deep mustard) very light versions of it (pale yellow rose) and every level of light and dark in between. Keep notes about your discoveries. Which ones looked good with your coloring? Which ones were obvious “no’s”?
Pro Tip: Even if you are SURE that a certain color will look terrible on you, try it on anyways. The colors that teach you about what doesn’t work are just as informative for guiding your search as the color you are ultimately looking for.
I discovered that my best version of yellow was pretty light in value, and that dark yellows were definite “no’s” for me.
Try ChangingWhich Direction the Color Leans
After finding light and dark yellows, the next thing I did was start playing with yellows that leaned towards orange (sunflower) and yellows that leaned towards green (lemon) on the color wheel. Artists call this changing the “hue” or describe it as “warm” (for leaning towards orange) or “cool” (for leaning towards green).
Here is a quick reference for every color:
Warm red – Stop Sign Red (leans towards orange)
Cool Red – Maroon (Lean towards purple)
Warm orange – Sweet potato – leans towards red
Cool Orange – Sun – leans towards yellow
Warm Green – Spring Grass – leans towards yellow
Cool Green - Kentucky Blue Grass -leans towards blue
Warm Blue – Cerulean – leans towards yellow
Cool Blue – Indigo – leans towards purple
Warm Purple – Grapes – leans towards red
Cold Purple – Violet – leans towards blue
I discovered that I needed a yellow that was not too warm and not too cool to match my coloring. My best yellow was almost exactly in the middle of all the warm and cool yellows I tried on.
Try Changing the Intensity of the Color
The last variable is sometimes the trickiest for artists to describe. The intensity of a color is how pure it is versus how neutral it is.
For example, when I was looking for different intensities of yellow I tried on yellows that almost burned my retinas with how intense they were (neon yellow) and yellows that were so dull that they barely count as yellows (dirty honey). There are, of course, all the version of yellow in between dull and intense as well. Think of it as a scale with neon yellow on one end and dirty honey on the other. In-between intensities might include dandelion – less intense than neon yellow but more intense than dirty honey.
My New BFF, Sunny Butter
At the end of my experiment I discovered that a light-colored, somewhat intense yellow that was neither too warm nor too cold was just right for me. I like to think of it as “Sunny Butter” when I am looking for that cute swimsuit or winter scarf to bring a little of that wrongfully exiled color into my wardrobe.
By following this artist method for thinking about color, you will discover that all colors have these three variables to them – lightness/darkness, warm/cool, and intense/dull. You can run this experiment for every color to greatly expand your wardrobe choices.
Yes, you CAN wear that color, you just have to find the right variation of it for you.
Dept. of Aesthetics Blog
Mandy Theis is a licensed art teacher and atelier-trained artist. She is the former Co-President of the Washington Art Education Association and Director of School of Atelier Arts.