Why Is Wearing More Color So Challenging? - une femme d'un certain âge

(Learning To Speak) The Language Of Color

Colorful umbrella installation over Le Village Royal passage in Paris. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Color speaks to us. It draws us in, and engages us. It often evokes an emotional and physiological response, even if we are not aware of it.

My relationship with color has always been a bit fraught, at least with regard to clothing. Over the years, I’ve made many attempts to wear more color. Despite compliments (and le Monsieur’s approval) when I did, I always found myself retreating back into my neutral zones. I mean, I love color both in the environment and on other people; it just always intimidated me.

When Color Speaks: What Do We Hear?

Since my Red Leopard color analysis, I understand a little better why: the wrong colors for my skin tone wear me, rather than the other way around. And without color coherence in my wardrobe, it’s harder to style them.

But that’s not the whole of it. My mind has been churning the past few weeks, examining my associations with wearing color, and how my upbringing and circumstances have shaped those attitudes and underlying beliefs. I’ve had some really interesting conversations with friends lately about our reactions to wearing color or certain styles, and I’ll share some of mine here.

Color And Emotions

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that for most of us, colors and emotions are closely linked. How we respond to color may be influenced by culture and upbringing.

My friend Karen loves wearing color and is the queen of the pattern mix!

This is my friend Karen…she has a wonderful style that perfectly reflects her bright and vivacious personality. She does NOT shy away from wearing color and patterns (or using both in her home decor). She’s always inspired me to want to wear more color. She says:

I have always gravitated toward colorful, patterned clothing because that’s what was put on me as a child. As a kid I wore a hot pink boucle coat, a tiger fur jumper with white crinkle patent leather go-go boots, florals and plaids galore. My mother sewed for me and I loved her taste….

Color makes sense to me as a tool of lifestyle expression, and a mood enhancer. I decorate how I dress, for the art of happy, upbeat living.

(Here’s the floral cardigan she’s wearing.)

My parents, on the other hand, valued and taught restraint. Restraint in appearance, restraint in behavior. Fitting in, not standing out, was the goal. Too much color, too much emotional expression, too much…presence was to be avoided. I was warned off bright colors and patterns as being “loud” and “gaudy.” Drawing attention to oneself was frowned upon. Only subdued colors and classic styles were approved as “tasteful.” (In spite of this, I remember always being drawn to anything bright and glittery, much to my mother’s dismay.)

Though I may have felt constrained by those beliefs, they did create a lens of sorts, through which impressions are filtered. I’m working to replace that filter with a more open and supportive one.

Color And The Workplace

I started my career in the late 70’s, when the concept of “Power Dressing” was becoming its own kind of gospel. Though I never worked in a rigidly corporate environment, I learned early on that to be “taken seriously” I need to dress seriously: in simple structured styles and dark (mostly) neutral colors. Although dress codes relaxed over the decades, that was a difficult one to let go.

I’ve realized that I still reflexively “lean in” to styles that would be office-appropriate, though they’re no longer life-appropriate for me. It’s a hard habit to break. 😉 But I’m working on it.

Color And Being Seen

Some of my discomfort with wearing color has been a reluctance to call attention to my body. My early style conditioning taught me to choose what was “slimming” above all else, and that usually meant dark, subdued colors. I learned to view clothing as camouflage.

And then there’s the whole “French chic” influence. Yes, they do tend to wear more neutrals. (Though I’ve seen more color being worn on recent visits too.) But as Annie from Red Leopard recently said to me, “yes, French and Italian women often look great in black. That’s because many of them are Winters!” I think there are ways to wear more color without abandoning the concept of chic. And as I’m learning, what’s “chic” on one person is “drab” on another…more on this in a later post.

It’s been helpful to look at the origins of some of my underlying attitudes toward wearing more color. I can see that many of my past style choices have been fear-based. Today, I’m not looking to stand out or fit in, but rather to have more fun with style (including wearing more color) without losing what feels authentic.

Did your upbringing influence your relationship to style and color?

A Colorful Outlook

Stay in touch.

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  1. Ramit
    September 17, 2019 / 1:08 am

    Susan, I applaud you! I’ve been following your blog for almost two years and love your style. You are always true to yourself. It is great to see you come out of your comfort zone with thought, courage and playfulness! I hope you inspire many women in our age group to do the same.
    I myself love the cool, vibrant summer colors and use them a lot. Since an analysis I did 31 years ago to a recent consultation with a stylist about my paler skin, everyone confirms they suit me best. The figure is another story – it took me a while to stop trying to hide it or slim it, and start showing I love my body as it is. So what if we have hips and tummies? We’ve got them because we have brought new people into the world and raised them – even those with special needs – to be decent, loving adults. We should be proud. Love, Ramit

  2. Lorraine Matthews
    September 17, 2019 / 2:02 am

    I’ve just bought a mid-pink raincoat. We get a lot of rain in Devon and I thought it would cheer up gloomy, wet days for me and passersby. It feels like a bold move because I’ll ‘stand out’ but in a good way, I hope.
    I love your new colours – they seem to make you glow and you look so comfortable and happy in them.

    • MaureenC
      September 22, 2019 / 12:59 am

      I’ll look out for you! If you see someone in a critic yellow trench raincoat around Exeter it’s probably me!

  3. Phyllis
    September 17, 2019 / 2:57 am

    I agree with all of your observations. I also honestly think that many people are color-phobic. Some people are naturals with color but most of us must learn how to use it. Artists and designers are trained in it so it *can* be learned. I think it’s great that you’ve jumped into this and are forging ahead! As for me – well I’m one of those people not afraid of it (probably because I sew). I’ll wear a brilliantly colorful Lea Stein acetate brooch with an Hermes scarf. Embracing color brings a lot of joy into daily life.

  4. Judy
    September 17, 2019 / 3:21 am

    This comes at a good time, as I just had my colors analyzed and have been thinking a lot about why I tended to dress like I do. As you, I was steered towards blending in and not calling attention to myself. So now that I find I am a Cool palette, there are so many lovely colors, but in order to wear them comfortably, I am just adding one article of clothing, then anchoring with my neutrals on the bottom half. Baby steps! I have really enjoyed and learned so much from this color journey you have been on, and if not for your foray into the color analysis, would probably not have undertaken it on my own. Thank you!

  5. LINDA
    September 17, 2019 / 3:33 am

    I think I’m the opposite. I remember dressing in the 80s. I had a purple leather skirt, sweaters with colorful polka dots and bold stripes. Stirrup pants and 4 inch heels in just about every color imagineable. My house was also very busy with prints, artwork, and knick knacks. As I get older I find solid neutral colors and neutral minimal decor is more calming. I still wear color here and there but nothing bright or pastel. I just don’t like them. I wear mostly jeans with creams, browns, greens (olive & pine)

  6. Carillon
    September 17, 2019 / 4:20 am

    Whenever I wore a dark lipstick, my father and uncle would tease me about “bleeding at the mouth”. So for years, it was pale lipstick only. Haven’t made it to red yet, but I’m working towards it. Color in clothing wasn’t a problem, but mixing patterns was a definite NO. I’m starting to try that, but mostly with floral scarves over a striped shirt. No whites after labor day, which was silly since we lived in the south. We are all a product of our upbringing, which is why I let my daughter wear what she wanted and did she come up with some weird outfits in middle school !! As an adult, she has excellent taste.

  7. Harriet
    September 17, 2019 / 4:36 am

    I am a winter and have always been drawn to color and prints but I have trouble with florals. So instead of wearing pattern close to my face, I use it as an accent or in a skirt or pants. I too look for pieces that give a slimming effect and I think that’s what suits me best. The more styles you try on the better you understand what your style preference is and I have become comfortable with that. I will occasionally splurge on a trendy piece. I am enjoying reading about your journey!

  8. Vikki
    September 17, 2019 / 4:39 am

    My parents also were ruled by the belief that one should not ‘call attention to themselves’ and they tried hard to instill that belief in me. I’m just too in love with the joy of color–especially the deep warm autumn hues of orange, gold, yellow, green and all those shades in-between! In the last 2 years, though, I’ve gained some weight and suddenly am buying and wearing black. I love seeing your evolution into color! And I appreciate that you share your journey so openly. <3 Thank you. I really understand the struggle between dressing to express yourself and dressing to fit in!

  9. September 17, 2019 / 4:44 am

    I understand completely about how our childhood and our parents can shape what colors we wear. I honestly do not remember much from my mother about color. I do remember how she would say, “don’t bring anything home from the store that is tight or I will make you return it!” For many years I wore clothes that were too big and loose. To this day, I cannot tight pants at all. They are so uncomfortable! I am sure it is because I was never allowed to wear them. My jeans are loose—I cannot wear tight jeans! As to color, I am a Winter, so I wear a lot of black and white, pinks, and navys.

    • Kelly
      September 17, 2019 / 5:16 am

      My Mom wore mostly only black and a little white when I was growing up. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that her family was part of the Brethren Church and her mother wore solid, plain dresses and a bonnet (think Amish). I have gotten her to wear colorful scarves and all of her friends tell her how nice they look but I do think it made her uncomfortable at first. I always wore a fair amount of color but find myself now gravitating to neutrals. If I’m wearing beige or olive, I just keep white near my face but light gray is definitely my comfort color. Someone once said that it’s not our fear of not being good enough, it’s our fear of being too good that keeps us from doing something and that definitely could be the case with bright colors.

  10. Helen Baker
    September 17, 2019 / 4:51 am

    Really interested to read this. Our generation absorbed so many notions about what “nice” girls could and couldn’t wear!
    I also think that there’s a tendency for designers to pair pared-back and elegant shapes with neutral colours, and put the brights with more complicated styles – so if one likes simple, cleaner shapes the colour palette tends to be a little limited, which is a pity if one is drawn to colour.
    The best piece of styling advice I’ve found is to sum up your own aesthetic in three words: mine are ‘soft, striking and versatile’. It makes it so much easier to choose things by checking whether they meet those criteria.

  11. September 17, 2019 / 5:08 am

    I wore black for decades. Not because I wanted to blend in or anything, I just love black outfits! Now I am begin to love color more and more. I think you should wear and surround yourself with the colors you feel comfortable in. My interior is completely white! We feel relaxed in that!

  12. September 17, 2019 / 5:16 am

    It’s interesting to look back and think about what our influences were. I don’t remember getting style or color messages much from my family, other than being “decent.” You and I are close in age and I did the power suit thing, too. I guess my outgoing personality and love of fashion has allowed me to mostly pull my own style together. I prefer blocks of color of prints–the key word being color. I have very little of what most people would consider neutrals in my wardrobe. I adore your friend’s style, I would be chic-er just hanging out with her. Her cardigan is fab.u.lous!

  13. Vildy
    September 17, 2019 / 5:28 am

    This is something unexpectedly useful for me to deep dive into. My parents were minimalists without the grey walls and green plants. They had me when they were older and it was my father’s second family because his wife and three children were killed in the war. He came here after the war and my mother was an immigrant at 19. She was so interested in clothing that she carried books with her every morning and lied to her father that she was going to college when she was going to a factory to earn money for clothes. I never thought about the color of those clothes because all the old photos were in black and white.

    When I was growing up she wore only beige, grey and sometimes navy or black. She could sew and did make herself housedress shifts and I recall one being a dappled orange. After I graduated and was clearly not coming back home to live, she bought herself a three piece knit suit that was cinnamon, pale apricot and light blue, color-blocked. It was startling to see.

    My mother and I also had totally different appearance other than both being very short. She had a huge bosom and a belly that looked nine months pregnant. I was more boyish looking. She had olive skin and dark hair and I had pale skin and strawberry blond hair.

    I was in school in the 60s and did not like those colors and pattern mixes at all. I do, in these later years, mix patterns all the time but they either have a black background or are low contrast mixes. I remember always liking the wrong side of printed fabrics.

    Both my parents urged me to wear more colorful clothes. Sometimes my mother would evaluate a dress I was considering as “it looks like… faded.” In his later years, my father’s friend opened a small thrift store. My father would pass the time there with him. He brought home a skirt for me. Perhaps nylon and meant to be a short skirt thrown on over a swimsuit? Abstract print that looks like a cityscape distorted by being put through a series of filters. I like all those colors: mossy green, cinnamon, brick red, cream, goldenrod. At the time, I was wearing a capsule wardrobe – before I knew anything about capsule wardrobes – of pale grey, cream, cinnamon, cinnamon tweed and green tweed. He thrust the skirt at me and said this was what I should be wearing. Something with life to it. I was young and should not look half dead. 😀 This was over 40 years ago and I still have the skirt and usually do wear it a time or two every summer.

    When I was around 30, I tagged along to an academic conference with my scholar boyfriend. On the last day, at breakfast, one of the older professors smiled up at me as I walked in wearing a red coat. “Now, THAT is what you should be wearing.”

    Unlike my parents, who chose to have few possessions and had a small house filled with empty drawers and cabinets, and my mother had ONE bag and two pair of shoes, I have a large wardrobe, continually in flux. I think of clothing as ideas or costuming. When I go off in a new direction, I purge a lot of the clothing that is in conflict with this. I consciously try to add more color and currently am realizing I like things that are slightly heathered or tweedy.

    You’ve definitely given me a whole new slant to think over. And are all those people who keep urging me to wear livelier clothing right?

  14. Elizabeth M
    September 17, 2019 / 5:35 am

    I attended high school and college during the”age of Aquarius,” i.e., the late 60’s early 70’s, when bright colors were quite fashionable. As a strawberry blonde autumn, those yellows, oranges, greens, and browns were a big part of my wardrobe. One of my all time favorite outfits was an orange wool coat and dress my mother bought me in college. I did wear a lot of neutrals during a long corporate career but find myself veering away from those now in retirement. Bright colors are mood lifting and cheery. Being a petite, though, I have to consider the scale of garments so my clothes don’t pull me down. Even a bright color can make me look dowdy. Long over lean has never been a good look on me. Your column’s discussion of color has been interesting and timely.

  15. Brenda
    September 17, 2019 / 5:35 am

    Susan, I have been following your posts for about a year now and love your style choices but have to say watching you deal with the colour dilemma has been fascinating. I too , encouraged by your choices, am now trying to incorporate more colour in my wardrobe. Like you , black was always my go to but I now find it too harsh near my face. Today’s post resonated with me as well since growing up I wore a school uniform that was navy and white. Those years have influenced my choices as an adult but I love your friend Karen’s colour choices and although I may not have her colour sense or daring , you are inspiring me to bring more colour into my life .

  16. Kandy
    September 17, 2019 / 6:05 am

    We are of the same age and I think this poem says it all:

    When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

    • Gloria
      September 17, 2019 / 5:38 pm

      I enjoyed this so much. Who is the author?

      • Kandy
        September 17, 2019 / 5:57 pm

        Thanks Gloria. Jenny Joseph when she was 29 in 1961. The poem is called “Warning”.

      • Kandy
        September 17, 2019 / 6:00 pm

        Thanks Gloria. I posted below who author is. When I just tried to post it again, “it” wouldn’t let me. Odd.

  17. Cheryl
    September 17, 2019 / 6:26 am

    Ah yes, corporate dressing was definitely a thing for me as well. I just realized recently that my entire work life has been in uniform. First corporate dressing as a scientist and then later in scrubs as a physician. I am semi retired now and for the last year I have become more focused about my clothing. Like you I am adding more color and changing the types of clothes. Now my lifestyle is more relaxed and I can express myself more. It is freeing and daunting all at the same time! My first instinct is to go with what I know and what is “safe”. I do hesitate when making a color purchase. However I am pleased to say I have added some bold color in the last year so progress is being made! I find that I am most comfortable with neutrals with added color like pine, burgundy, pumpkin for fall and watermelon and dark teal/azure for summer. Thank you for sharing your color journey with us!

  18. Linda L.
    September 17, 2019 / 6:35 am

    What an interesting conversation! I was one of five children; as the eldest girl I was ‘pink’. My sister two years younger was ‘blue’ & the sister four years younger was always ‘purple’. Crazy as it sounds but we all still gravitate to those colors. As a NY transplant in beautiful Southern California your blog is an inspiration! Thank you!

    • Rondi
      September 17, 2019 / 7:16 am

      Yes! My mother always chose pink for me as I was the oldest girl and my younger sister was always blue. But I had an opposite reaction as I rarely buy pink now!

    • September 17, 2019 / 2:41 pm

      My sister and I just had this conversation the other day! Though I was the oldest, I was the “blue” sister and she was “pink”. Now in our 60s, she gravitates toward rich jewel tones while I’m working hard to add colour to my mostly neutral wardrobe.

  19. Jo
    September 17, 2019 / 6:42 am

    Loved your thoughtful column and the replies of people exploring their history and journey.

  20. Linda
    September 17, 2019 / 6:47 am

    You hit the nail on the head for me today. I love fashion, color, animal print, all of it. However, I was certainly raised not to draw attention to myself, and I still have a hard time doing so. And when you are 5’10” with red hair and want to wear color and style, that’s hard! Thank you for writing this today. I hope I can get comfortable in my own skin before I’m too much older.

  21. Ann M
    September 17, 2019 / 7:12 am

    Excellent post, Susan. Great unpacking of your past influences – I recognize so many of them….
    And a fantastic set of photos connecting style and color.
    Thank you.

  22. September 17, 2019 / 7:20 am

    Essentially a large-scale yes:).

  23. Rondi
    September 17, 2019 / 7:41 am

    Well written post, Susan! And the comments from readers have been fascinating. We are all influenced by our upbringing. My mother did not wear black or like her daughters to so I am spared that. I know too many lovely ladies that are convinced wearing black makes them look slimmer and sophisticated when in reality it just washes them out. Black does look very good on those with a winter palette though. Interesting for me is that my natural hair color is a mousy brown so I was always seeking out color so I wouldn’t be invisible. Many years ago we were taught that blondes wear blue, brunettes wear red, and redheads wear green. There may have been some merit to that before a huge percentage of people now color their hair! I love that you are encouraging color analysis which has more to do with your skin tone . Even though I add highlights to my hair to liven it up I am a soft autumn based on my skin tone, eye color, and natural hair color. Those colors are warm but soft and muted. I look so much better in those colors. They are “less is more” colors. And I feel grounded having a palette to guide me. I knew I needed color but was gravitating to colors that were too intense. No one wants to be invisible and as we age that’s an even bigger problem. Your posts give me knowledge and inspiration to stand out in a good way.

  24. Susan M
    September 17, 2019 / 7:41 am

    A random question and possibly new post topic came up in conversation today: Do women wear pantyhose anymore, aside from textured or colored tights? In 2011, you said you were uncomfortable wearing skirts without hose. Do you still feel that way? Is it a generational thing or has everyone pretty much adopted the ditching of pantyhose. Has wearing socks/or going without socks especially with pants replaced hose?

    • Susan Blakey
      September 17, 2019 / 7:58 am

      Hi Susan, I don’t know anyone who still wears pantyhose, except for very dressy occasions. They feel too formal for my style, however someone with a more classic or polished style may find them appropriate.

      • Marcia
        September 17, 2019 / 8:59 am

        Climate is a big factor. Pantyhose make a lot of sense when the weather is freezing and there is a foot of snow on the ground.

        • lagatta à Montréal
          September 17, 2019 / 10:08 am

          Leggings make a lot more sense. Opaque tights too, but leggings are easier to remove if you work in a field where one must wear clasic hose in the office, courtroom etc. Pantyhose aren’t nearly warm enough for Montréal winters.

      • Lorraine
        September 17, 2019 / 9:00 am

        my sister and I were having the exact conversation the other day! Pantyhose in the US are definitely a generational thing. our daughters and granddaughters are not familiar- my daughter spent years in ballet tights so she is not about to set a toe in them. I sometimes miss my pantyhose and heels days, and I think I may adopt some fun patterened tights for fall, following the example of one of my favorite fashion bloggers, Samantha Blair of @fakefabulous for inspo

      • MaureenC
        September 22, 2019 / 1:08 am

        Most of us in the UK wear “tights” as we call them and opaque black or navy are a staple throughout the winter (which is not very cold compared to Canada or the Mid west). The stylish brands are like Wonford, who also have a flagship store in Paris in the Marais, expensive but incredibly comfortable and long lasting tights/pantyhose.

  25. Susan M
    September 17, 2019 / 7:51 am

    I forgot to add that I thought it was very interesting that Annie observed that many French and Italian women were winters and the choice of black suited their natural coloring (and I would add almost by instinct resulted in their choosing their most complementary colors.) It started me thinking how/if the naturally flattering colors of other regions or ethnicities affect their clothing color choices.

    • Rondi
      September 17, 2019 / 8:21 am

      Good point! I do think we are naturally drawn to flattering colors but our early experiences and childhoods are a counter influence. Also, some people are from regions where everyone’s coloring is similar so they can hardly go wrong. It’s more complicated when you live in a country where there are so many differences.

  26. Florence
    September 17, 2019 / 8:32 am

    I LOVE color! When I look back on memorable garments in my life, there’s a purple jumper that I wore with a chartreuse turtle neck. A pink & orange houndstooth suit from the 60s. A red swing jacket & a yellow raincoat & more. BUT — as I’ve gotten older & my coloring has changed & I’m not as petite as I once was, I’ve grown more conservative, boring & practical in my selections even though I’m always drawn to the bright & bold. More neutrals, more simple shapes, clothing with more staying power & durability. There’s still a recent red-orange dress from COS, but this discussion is a reminder to recapture the freedom & to live more like Kandy’s poem — thanks for the reminder!

    • Florence
      September 17, 2019 / 8:35 am

      PS When I was a child, my mother wouldn’t let me wear black — she said that it was too mature. She wore color but wasn’t especially bold in her choices.

  27. Kandy
    September 17, 2019 / 8:55 am

    I should have stated the poem I copied was written by Jenny Joseph when she was 29 in 1961. The poem is called “Warning”. Lol.

  28. Mary Beth Duke
    September 17, 2019 / 8:58 am

    I was recently painfully reminded that as a pre-teen and early teen, I did not have much clothing. We were poor and I was neglected. A neighbor brought bags of cast off clothes from older women. Once my dad saw me in town with a friend and denied I was his daughter to his friend who inquired. He actually told me that he was ashamed of me because I looked so terrible. Even my shoes were from the rag bag and were too large.

    I earned money babysitting when I turned 13. I bought my own shoes at Sears 2nd floor discount store. In the 9th grade I took home economics and learned to sew. I used my babysitting money to buy fabric and patterns. I am thankful.
    I value your column and who you are. I recently read that it doesn’t matter what you wear, it just matters who you are on the inside. Of course it matters. Thank you for helping us.
    I do wear black and navy but recently added hot pink – and even bought a red dress not long ago.
    My clothes were so sad in the 5th grade that a “friend”- who really wasn’t-came to my house for the night. She saw my closet and called her mom to come and get her. She couldn’t believe that I didn’t “have many clothes and none of them are nice.”
    I think that your column is healing.

    • Colette
      September 17, 2019 / 11:06 pm

      Mary Beth, your story is very touching. I admire your strength, perseverance and courage.

      • Mary Beth Duke
        September 18, 2019 / 2:22 pm

        Thank you, Colette.

  29. Carol Montanti
    September 17, 2019 / 9:02 am

    Such a great post Susan with such interesting comments from readers! I am a “winter” and as a child wanted to be dressed in navy. But my parents thought it was “old” on me, whatever that meant! And for some reason I always wanted to be in snug fitting clothes, loved the feel of fabric on my skin. My mom was totally against it and we had that “conversation” for years!
    I think it all contributed to me being a somewhat rebellious child!! Your post made me wonder if I would have been an easier child and teen if my parents had just let me wear what I was drawn to!
    Nowadays, I am at my happiest pulling on my dark skinny jeans! I’ve shifted a bit from black to navy but when I open my closet I have such a sense of well being to see the hits of red, purple, fuschia, black and white stripes, navy and white stripes, etc! Don’t even need to wear it, just seeing it makes me feel good.

  30. Gail
    September 17, 2019 / 9:07 am

    Many thanks for this excellent article. I have been reading your blog for over a year and am learning a great deal from it.
    I had my colours redone last spring. I am still the same Light Spring I was when I first had it done in the 1980’s, but I am more confident to follow the approach that I ever was during my career “power suit” days of neutrals.
    Now retired and over 70, I want to build a casual wardrobe that is fun, casual and comfortable and as trendy as I dare given my Apple shape! I have been studying Kettlewell Colours, an amazing English company, but haven’t had the nerve to order yet due to the international shipping cost and possible return difficulties. I wish North American companies would take up this seasonal approach – it is fabulous. Here’s to Having Courage in Colour!

    • Susan Blakey
      September 17, 2019 / 9:27 am

      Hi Gail, just to put your mind at rest about Kettlewell colors, returns are easy!

  31. Lorraine
    September 17, 2019 / 9:10 am

    I am loving that you are allowing us a peek inside your mental and emotional fashion journey, I think the number of comments here reflects that there are a lot of your followers who feel likewise. Color is so emotional and does much to lift and affect our own moods or bring reactions from others. When I was depressed, I really let my love for art and color only occupy a very small space in my world, and that was on my fingernails. I began collecting nail colors and wearing many different ones for different moods and occasions, nothing was off limits! now that I am allowing myself back into expressive dressing for fun, I am finding a similar path in my closet. I hate color rules and am all about breaking them when I can. I was raised by an artist aunt, who taught me to see and notice colors and beauty everywhere. Art was a big part of my upbringing and I remember a riot of color in my hometown, especially on one week of the year, Fiesta. As a woman raised in the American Southwest, I am influenced by both a desert palate and Mexican artist aesthetic, think Frida Kahlo. Cheers to your color journey- it looks gorgeous on you!!!

  32. Roberta
    September 17, 2019 / 9:16 am

    I wore reds, pinks, purples, blues and yellows when I was young. Then started my office career and wore black, navy, khaki and grey. And crisp white shirts, which I still adore. Never jeans. Traveled frequently so black became more prominent in my attire. Knowledge was important not appearance. Retired 9 years ago. Have gradually transitioned to more casual attire and jeans, jeans and more jeans. I remember sending you a note when you retired telling you I was looking forward to seeing your own transition. Loved reading your thoughts.

  33. JEanne
    September 17, 2019 / 9:50 am

    This is such an interesting post. I am the same generation and my mother greatly influenced my style. In her working life, before marrying at 35, she was very fashionable and with my grandmother had some wonderful clothes made by their personal tailor, Mrs Harvey, who could copy anything. Mom was pretty in tune with what my sister and I looked good wearing and I look back at how often I was dressed in shades of navy and camel/beige/brown, which is totally my palette. I had the choice of a red or navy Christmas jumper when I was about 7 and I was torn, but chose the navy.

    Someone made a comment that rings true for me —that my mother’s fashion sense was sort of tied to understated and elegant clothes that were usually more muted or neutral colors and made of very good fabric with attention to fine detail. Loud and gaudy clothes were usually also cheap clothes. I think I absorbed a lot of those clothing “lessons” and was probably influenced by them. Today I wear mostly neutrals I varying shades and feel like myself. Pops of color are enough.

  34. Brenda
    September 17, 2019 / 9:55 am

    Thanks for (yet another) thought-provoking post. I like neutrals with colour. One complaint, though – so much casual clothing for mature women is in what I think of as very matronly colours – ones that I don’t think really look good on anyone. When I look at the women’s coats in Eddie Bauer, REI, Athleta or similar stores, I always choose black or grey because I really dislike the magenta, jade, purple combos that they seem to think are good for women. I have a dear friend who wears those types of colours; in one way, what does it matter? In another, I think they make her look a lot older and frumpier than she is. (Of course, she hates Eileen Fisher so it may jus be two really opposing views of what is stylish – I’m ok with that. I like more subtle clothing as I find it more sophisticated and elegant – and I dress it up with my beautiful handknit scarves, etc.) I’m glad there is so much diversity and different opinions in the world, and that we don’t all have to love/wear the same things!

    • lagatta à Montréal
      September 17, 2019 / 10:19 am

      “Geriatric” or “bus tour ” garish colours really are a problem. Even LLBean and Lands End are often guilty of that. I avoid pastels for that reason and because I really don’t like them. I love colour, but deep, rich colours such as forest green and a deep red that isn’t muddy. Often very hard to find so I default to black. I do love black, and look good in it, but do want more colour choices!

  35. Nancy Karpen
    September 17, 2019 / 10:42 am

    My mother’s taste was the exact opposite of mine. We used to count the eagles she had around the house. Art school was more influential. I wore a lot of color during and after art school. Over the years my palette has compressed, especially since I let my hair go white. I wear black, gray and red, at least for now. I am working on figuring out what other colors I like well enough to wear. I bought red wool cashmere for a coat, and I’ve been wearing animal prints lately. I’ve got an animal print wool coat planned for this winter as well. I am definitely trying to expand my color palette.

    • lagatta à Montréal
      September 17, 2019 / 11:01 am

      Eagles would not be a factor up here, but I know the taste you mean! I do wear more grey with silver (salt and pepper) hair, just because it looks so good, but it is hard to find the right grey. Do you mean that you bought the fine fabric to make a coat (being an artist and all) or that you found such a coat? BEWARE OF CLOTHES MOTHS. I lost several treasures to them, including a lovely grey loden coat.

  36. Elisabeth Mestlin
    September 17, 2019 / 11:02 am

    I grew up totally different.in Germany after WW 2. Nothing but hand me downs in all colors from my many cousins.very nice and for the time very chic .Black was only for Grandmas and when somebody died everybody (grownups) had black clothing on .sometime for Years .i had my first new clothes when I was 15 .i remember Red and Purple.i came to Southern California when I was 20 .from then on it was mostly White clothes,I still believe it cools you down more then any other color. But now with almost 70 years I also have black clothes,but only in the Wintertime .but everything I own has Swarovski crystals on it .thats probably my idea of being rich .but I also believe in wearing what i want even if it’s considered daring. If not now when ? Love your clothes and boots .

  37. Carol
    September 17, 2019 / 11:58 am

    Such an interesting discussion! As a former natural redhead (think copper) whose hair darkened in my 50’s (hated it) and now I’m transitioning to white, I have had a hard time “finding” my best colors. I think my skin is neutral because now that I’m wearing neutral foundation, it matches perfectly…I always believed I was a warm. Early in my career as an art teacher, I bought a bunch of camel pants & white shirts figuring that if I got paint or clay on my clothes, it was no big deal. A month in I was bored to tears and started buying shirts in bright colors even if they weren’t my colors. My favorite style/color palette was (as another commenter said) the late 60s early 70s, but not the hippie grunge. I liked the menswear-corduroy, wool crew neck sweaters, earth tones. I had a cousin who had great taste and received her hand me downs. I didn’t wear black much until my mother passed away. She hated me in black, now I realize rightly so.It is wrong, wrong, wrong for me. I gave away all my black clothes recently, except those I really love and can add a scarf between my face and the garment. I dressed my daughter in pinks (I never expected a daughter and was thrilled!) but eventually selected clothes that could be mixed and matched within pinks, purples, blues (remember Osh Kosh? I bought them on sale from an outlet store). She didn’t wear pink after middle school but she is now gravitating back to it in her late 20s. It suits her coloring. Thanks for taking us all along in your color journey. You have, if not inspired us all, enabled us to think about our relationship to color, clothing, aging, and perception.

  38. Nancy Klein
    September 17, 2019 / 12:30 pm

    Susan, and all who comment, thank you for engendering thought. Perhaps my real problem is that I am drawn to what was fashionable in 1914…….As another noted, it’s hard not to stand out with red hair. I spent 8 years wearing the white and blue of a school uniform. At college I tried to wear what a beatnik would, black, unbecoming in those days. As a working woman I wore brown, camel and taupe rather than the recommended black and navy. When middle-aged, in Paris I once saw an old woman in a simple black dress with her white hair in a chignon, similar to how Princess Paul of Yugoslavia was described. I tucked these memories away for use in old age. My hair is now a mixture of red, light brown and white. For some reason black looks good on me. I am still working on the chignon but at last found the black dress, long buttoned sleeves and square neck.

    My daily wear is jeans and a sweater or t-shirt. Very dark or olive green, blue-green, coral and my favorite, oatmeal, make me happy. I do enjoy seeing bright colors on other people. The Kettlewell site is lots of fun. In my 30s I was said to be a spring but according to Kettlewell am autumn. Anushka Rees ‘s site is fun too, she divides each season in threes so there I am a soft autumn.

    • Vildy
      September 17, 2019 / 1:24 pm

      You reminded me. As a college freshman I took the train to visit a boyfriend in another state. I wore a black wool pleated skirt and a black turtleneck. When I got off the train in the South, he asked me, “What are you?
      An art major?”

  39. KarenLA
    September 17, 2019 / 12:38 pm

    Lol! Yes!Yes! Power dressing for women to be taken seriously. Remember the book Dress For Success? I still believe many of these concepts are true. It was such easy dressing, though, like a uniform. Look at men, wear the same suit, change the tie and you’re good to go. I’m a Winter, but not one for bright colors as some. The color consultant I used put me in subdued bright colors that harmonized with the other colors in my pallet. The result, I love the colors and everything in my wardrobe matches.

  40. Nancy Klein
    September 17, 2019 / 12:47 pm

    P.S. My mother did not have much of a color sense. Towards the end of her life she usually wore hospital gowns. A friend made her some in spring colors, apricot, lavendar, pale shades of blue and green. Despite her age and illness, these put some roses in her cheeks and brought out her still lovely coloring, blue eyes, hair white and light brown with a bit of red. So color is powerful.

  41. September 17, 2019 / 2:24 pm

    Color influences all of us. It’s interesting that I choose brighter colors for women’s clothing than I ever did for men’s. As you say, color can “draw attention” to our bodies; sometimes we want that and sometimes we don’t.

  42. September 17, 2019 / 2:48 pm

    Very interesting post and discussion! My mother absolutely loved brown, but she was an artist and also prone to dressing in flamboyant colours. I inherited her love of brown to such an extent that I wore it until I completely tired of it. I haven’t worn anything brown for several years, but now I’m happy to see it on trend again this season. I never did acquire Mom’s taste for brighter colours and patterns, but I am working on adding more colour to my mostly neutral wardrobe.

  43. Eileen
    September 17, 2019 / 3:16 pm

    Great discussion. I learned to sew, as we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, and I was a hard to fit girl, small tomboyish, flat chested, and allergic to rubber/ elastic. So I had to sew or remake my clothes, bras, undies, swimsuit, etc… I learned to sew on very inexpensive fabrics in terrible colors due to lack of money, so I made every mistake in the book, wrong style, wrong pattern, wrong color! And yes, my pale skin and dishwater brown hair made a lot of colors look terrible on me. I later found out I was a summer, which explained why so many colors looked bad. As I looked for the right colors I realized, they aren’t as popular! I’ve spent years admiring the ease of dressing in black, but never felt it was right for me. And as for French chic, I believe the French would encourage us to be unique, and ourselves. Red Leopard is right ,the French and Italian women have darker hair and skin tones, I googled “most common hair color”……. black! And that explains why so many clothes are winter based. So, like you, I am looking for my “ chic” , my “ un-black”. RuPaul said “ if you have the power to control how people see you, why not use it?”

  44. Jill Ann
    September 17, 2019 / 4:38 pm

    First, a question: is your friend Karen actually the blogger Faux Fuchsia? And if so, why did she quit blogging and will she ever start up again? I did enjoy reading her posts, very “colorful”, in multiple ways!

    And a comment about me: thinking about my upbringing, my mom never really directed me to a particular way of dressing. We both liked color, and were perfectly happy to stand out (in a tasteful way!). I’m now recalling all sorts of colorful outfits I wore as a kid…I had a pink corduroy dress which I wore with a pale blue spring coat. Don’t think spring coats are a thing any more, of course where I live we rarely wear coats at all. I do agree with the commenter about garish colors in the lower priced clothing lines. At 62, I still love to wear color (but I also love black), but try to be careful that the colors are good quality. Btw, I’ve always enjoyed your blog, and while you’ve always looked great, I admit I found your exclusively neutral palette a bit…dull. Love the new colors!

    • Susan Blakey
      September 17, 2019 / 4:39 pm

      Hi Jill Ann, no Faux Fuchsia is still blogging from Australia. Karen’s blog (now shuttered) was “Of A Certain Age.” I keep hoping she’ll start blogging again!

      • Jill Ann
        September 18, 2019 / 12:13 pm

        Are you sure about FF? I had her blog bookmarked, but she hasn’t posted in about a year.

        Btw your friend does resemble her greatly!

        • Susan Blakey
          September 18, 2019 / 12:30 pm

          Ah, it does look like she’s let the blog lapse. She does post regularly on Instagram.

  45. September 17, 2019 / 4:57 pm

    Such an interesting post, and you’ve evoked so many wonderful responses. Thank you!

  46. Cinzia
    September 17, 2019 / 6:18 pm

    The women in my family (mother, grandmother) were always fashionable and loved to wear color and pattern. Some of my earliest memories are of playing in my grandmother’s closet: I adored her knit wool (3 piece) suits from Luisa Spagnoli in Rome, I still remember one in a lovely teal and another in dusty raspberry. Also her Italian cashmere sweaters in every color under the sun from olive green to robin’s egg blue and with silk scarves to match. I repurposed the cardigans in high school, wearing them with the buttons down the back with my pegged jeans and faux leather pants.

    My grandmother was also a talented seamstress and made most of my mother’s clothes as a child and even for special occasions as an adult. In the 60s I remember my mother and father going off to some party (a luau of course!), she was wearing some incredible black and white, huge floral patterned, wide-legged jumpsuit that my grandmother made for her. Wonderful, and not costumey on her.

    Growing up, I always had fun experimenting with color and style. I was a Punk in high school (all black!), a Preppy in college (oh those bright plaid shirtdresses), and even when I started my work career I chose bolder colors and not just blacks, grays and browns. And print; I’ve always liked print. One of my fashion icons was Princess Diana — the early years, when she wore less streamlined things….

    Fast forward — after a difficult divorce I started to wear simpler shapes and darker colors. At first I think it was because I literally did not want to be “seen” — I did not want to attract any attention, especially male attention at work or even outside it. Also, I felt that I should wear less color as I was not a kid any more. Eventually it became not just a habit or a choice, but a second skin.

    These days I still think black is my best neutral, but I am branching out with more color. Last winter I purchased a bright golden yellow EF sweater and one in a royal blue; both of these make me smile. And I’m trying to incorporate pattern in more than just my scarves…. As most of us would say, it’s a work in progress.

  47. JJ in the desert, CA
    September 17, 2019 / 7:25 pm

    Three or four years ago, a friend directed me to your post, saying that you had a style that was casual yet tasteful. We’ve regularly followed and shared ideas with each other.
    This post especially drew so many comments about women’s past influences. They made me feel “human.” Thank you all. (Actually, i feel like I haven’t had a “style” since Twiggy!)
    However, rather than figuring out my style influence, I struggled more with my hair. I really, really recommend the book “Me, My Hair, and I”, edited by Elizabeth Benedict.

  48. Angela in NZ
    September 17, 2019 / 7:58 pm

    My mother, British born in 1914, only wore black for funerals. When she was a child she was dressed in pink and her sister in blue. I remember her having a wardrobe heavily biased to pink but being blonde it worked for her but never for me with my paternal Scottish look of dark, cool colouring. At 15 I wanted a purple bedroom so managed to get bedspread and curtains approved by Mum, though she said it was like walking into a chapel of rest! Favourite colour for me is definitely red. Also have currently in my wardrobe three coats of colour. One fuchsia pink, one citrus yellow and one purple. Having lived in New Zealand now for 45 years, the habit of wearing black has rubbed off on me a little, but colour really is my first love.

  49. September 18, 2019 / 6:56 am

    Yes, absolutely. I read this yesterday and had to think about it for awhile. My grandmother and mother had very strong ideas about fashion and color – blending in, being the most “underdressed” or casual at a party, no to color – even navy blue was frowned upon. Essentially blending in. I wonder if being Jewish, and my grandparents fleeing from Europe, had anything to do with this? The idea of blending in…not standing out?
    A lot to consider, but I’m on a color journey of my own now.

  50. September 18, 2019 / 7:13 am

    My late ex-MIL had pink skin, blue eyes, and gray hair. She lived her life in gray and various shades of oatmeal, because she considered that ladylike. My ex and I bought her a blue coat, because my mom told me that her oatmeal winter coat was looking pretty beat-up, and you would’ve thought that we’d asked her to ride naked in the streets. She never wore that coat. She was so resistant to the idea that a lady wore color. (Her son also wanted only white walls and neutral furniture and accessories – the first thing I did when we separated was go buy plate settings with color and flatware with bright blue handles!)

    My mom also preferred earth tones. When I got married the first time, my colors were periwinkle blue and silver. She wore brown. She liked brown on me, and I HATED brown. I’ve worn some since then, but only as outerwear. The same is true of gray. It can be a jacket, or pants, but next to my face, this girl’s gotta have COLOR. Preferably jewel tones. People think I’m an autumn because my hair is red, but my skin is pale, my eyes are blue, and the red isn’t even the color I was born with. Jewel tones make me happy.

  51. Sherrie in Temecula
    September 18, 2019 / 11:08 am

    I’m late to the party on this one, but can relate to all the comments. Apparently, color is fraught with emotion. At Christmas and for birthdays, my mother always gave me something beige – not camel, not cream, but… beige. I’m a blonde, blue-eyed summer, and even at a young age I knew this clearly didn’t work. Finally had my colors done in my early thirties, and it’s been navy, white, grey, burgundy, light blue and pink since then.

  52. Florence
    September 18, 2019 / 11:55 am

    In Japanese & Navajo cultures there’s the concept of imperfection. The Navajos leave a hole for Spider Woman & the Japanese sometimes mend broken objects with gold (or silver). That’s also a concept that can be applied to fashion & lifestyle. Things that are too perfect are static & boring. So I guess that I’m suggesting that we include something that’s slightly off. ‘Just a thought.

  53. Daniella
    September 18, 2019 / 12:52 pm

    Well, formulas on how one should wear color don’t work. They are inhibiting, boring, static, formulaic. But, there are exceptions…Personally, I use color for myself. I instinctively know what works for my body shape, my hair and skin tone, something that came naturally to me. In Europe where I often find myself, I wear color according to the season and where I happen to be, whether in a large urban area with more temperate, neutral colors or in the country side/resorts where more color is prevalent. In California, where I primarily live now, again more color restrain in SF, but much more colorful in the suburbs, and even more so during the warm seasons. The California climate and spectacular environmental color dictates how one should dress. When I first arrived in this country, I described SF as a “taupe city” while NY was a “ black/gray city”. On one occasion, while in NY, I decided to wear a vivid green turtle neck sweater during a cold spell and was astounded to have some New Yorkers expressing their appreciation for the color. They found it “refreshing”! So, here you have it! Wear what you want, wherever you find yourself, as long as it pleases you and makes you feel good in it!!

    • Susan Blakey
      September 18, 2019 / 12:59 pm

      Daniella, I edited your comment to remove a short passage I found disparaging and offensive. I’m taking a hard line on not allowing bashing of anyone, regardless of their taste or size.

  54. Jennifer
    September 18, 2019 / 9:49 pm

    This is a fascinating topic! Susan, I am enjoying your color journey too.

    I have very long legs and a short torso, making clothes hard to fit. My mom sewed some of my clothes when I was young, and we also added braid to the hem of jeans to lengthen them. Now I don’t sew well enough to make my own clothes, so I find I wear only what fits. Pants from Eddie Bauer are my go-to, so I have to wear the colors they have. I think the one thing I inherited from my mom was an inability to pay a lot for clothes. I just can’t spend a lot, even though I know that will likely wear something I love for many years. Also, my work clothes are scrubs, so I don’t have to buy office clothes. The idea of a capsule wardrobe appeals. I just need to begin the research.

    • Lisa
      September 20, 2019 / 1:07 pm

      What an interesting conversation. My clothing choices have also always been shaped by fit issues. Finding something modest and office appropriate for a “va-va-voom” hourglass figure was sufficiently difficult that if it fit and was fairly conservative I bought it, no matter what color it was. (No black. Mom always said black was not for young people.). Fast forward to my fifties, I discovered black in a big way, and in my 70s I still wear a lot of it. I am supposed to be a summer, but the fact is that I have a better shot at finding something that fits in black — other colors are hit and miss, mostly miss. I have a world class collection of scarves to brighten things up.
      BTW, when I visited Sweden, where everybody has the same fair coloring I do (I fit in so well that people kept addressing me in Swedish) summer clothes were heavy on white, beige and taupe, with some blues thrown in. These – along with silver gray – are my go to warm weather colors when I can find them.

  55. Ann
    September 19, 2019 / 12:37 pm

    On the same day I read this I happened to run into an employee in the elevator at our local medical clinic. She had gray hair dyed bright blue that matched the little swingy blue and white skirt she was wearing. She was probably in her mid-fifties or later. I commented on how I loved how her hair matched her skirt. She said she didn’t plan that exactly, but thanked me. An extreme example of wearing color for sure. I am one of those who wears neutrals and for me that is comfortable. Years ago when I had my colors done I was told I was a winter. Black, white and jewel tones are my colors. That is when I started wearing black. Black and white, or a cool beige are what I go to now with a little color thrown in here and there with accessories. Occasionally a deep blue shirt or sweater. I am happy with that now that I have decided to go gray (not blue!) on my head.

  56. September 20, 2019 / 7:29 am

    You get a lot of reaction to this post. I think you were very wise to do this soul searching. And you have found the causes. For me it was easy. My parents never promoted or disapproved of style or colour. So I was a blank canvas when I started to buy my own clothes. I have always been drawn to the unusual, to the things that stand out. Not very wise as you end up with a wardrobe full of lovely things which cannot be combined as they compete with each other for attention. I am trying to do better these days.
    You showed a beautiful selection of clothes in all colours.

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