Wellingtonians are known for many great attributes; our political prowess, our creativity and our love of the outdoors.
But we’re not typically known for our colourful dressing and style. We tend to favour blacks, greys and browns, particularly for work-wear. If you walk down Lambton Quay on a work morning, you’ll see a sea of black and neutrals. It can make for a bit of a depressing sight.
Why do we dress in such minimalist colours? Perhaps it’s the grey weather in Winter? Maybe it’s the monotony of the week that makes us reach for black (the most flattering and supposedly versatile shade)? Either way, we sure know how to embrace the dark side.
At the start of this year, I made a decision that I would wear more colour. Brights, tangerines, pinks and yellows. There were no limits. I wanted to curate my clothes more deliberately and say goodbye to the little black dresses I’d clung to for so many years because they supposedly looked ‘professional’ during my early corporate career as a lawyer.
Why? Well, black has never really felt like ‘me’. At school, I always had to wear a uniform. Later, when working at a law firm, we were told that black looked ‘professional’ and that it was trustworthy. Wearing anything too colourful raised an eyebrow - and you DON’T want to raise an eyebrow in your first job.
But something about wearing head-to-toe black never felt right to me. Sure, it was ordained ‘chic’ but there was a uniformity to the look which felt like I wasn’t really bothering when I wore black. It felt like a costume to me, to inform the world I was plain, sensible and boring. Yet on the inside, I have never felt like that.
More recently, I was inspired by the bright colours of Summer in Europe on our holiday last year. I found that in Paris and Barcelona, people were more inclined to wear hot pink or ice blue and style it in a way that felt accessible and not costume-like. I loved their bold choices. I wanted to dress like that.
This year I pledged to wear brighter colours with real enthusiasm and to keep it up through 2019. I curated my wardrobe to introduce some new pieces which are colourful and removed those which were dark and sombre, bought for interviews and funerals.
I have still kept some neutral, dark essentials: I love my navy blue blazer, which always looks smart, and matching culottes. I personally find that a pair of blue trousers is still essential. I also like a crisp white shirt and a few tees in white, striped black and white and navy (navy is the new black in Lucy Jane’s Wardrobe).
However, if you looked at my wardrobe now compared to a few years ago, it is primarily made up of rainbow shades, from yellow to purple to red to green and blue. I dress to fit my personality, not other people’s corporate expectations. I want to be a person who dresses as though life is a fun party, not like she’s heading to a Victorian memorial (although if that’s your thing, go for it girl!)
So far, I’m loving it. Wearing colour really fits my personality and is an expressive extension of who I am. It’s fun to mix patterns and block colours together and to try and find ways to make my dresses work in multiple ways.
If you have a wardrobe you’d like to jazz up with some colour, here are my top suggestions to go bold with colour:
1. Review your wardrobe. You probably have more colour than you think.
I am a big advocate for using what you already have. Do not run out and think you need to buy a whole new wardrobe. My favourite way to organise your clothes and see what you need is somewhat like the Marie Kondo method. I suggest pulling out all of your clothes on the bed and dividing them into pieces which are colourful and those which are dark and sombre. Then, go through your colourful pieces and get rid of anything stained and make a seperate bag of clothes to take to get repaired at the tailor. There’s no point wearing colour if it looks shabby!
Then review your dark clothes and ask yourself whether you really, truly LOVE that piece, or whether you just reach for it because its easy. I know some of you will hate it, but I genuinely find asking whether it ‘sparks joy’ is a great touchstone (thanks MK).
Again, ditch anything stained or soiled and if you really, truly can’t bear to part with your black clothes, then pop away in a suitcase until next season.
2. Do your colours and remember, opposites attract
Next, hold each item up against your face and see whether you think the colour suits you and compare it against your ‘colours’. What are your colours you may ask? If you search online you can find a wide range of websites like this one which basically categorise your hair colour, skin colour and eye colour based on Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and then advise you which colours are likely to suit you more.
For example, someone with green eyes and auburn hair might be an Autumn and therefore suit rich olives, tangerines and burnt umber shades. Someone who is a Summer (grey eyes, dark blonde hair) like me will suit clean, brisk brights like navy, red and cool greens. While it might seem like woo-woo, it’s actually pretty helpful and can help you understand how to pick colours which suit you all year around.
Also, understand the importance of the colour wheel from art classes as a kid. You can’t go too wrong pairing colour opposites from the colour wheel as they ‘pop’ against one another. For example, I love orange and navy, purple and yellow and even red and green because they work on the colour wheel as direct opposites. A yellow dress can look fresh with a purple cardigan.
Primary shades also often look good paired together (i.e. blue and red).
Be wary of mixing more than two shades. Stick with two complementary colours, and then if you want to jazz things up further, introduce different tones (i.e. Navy blue with a royal blue necklace) and patterns. I love a pair of white sneakers to keep things feeling fresh with footwear. And don’t forget about lipstick! A great way to introduce a small amount of contrasting colour into a look.
If you need new pieces, head to your local op-shop or vintage store. You’ll be surprised how much colour is on offer!
3. Use your neutrals wisely as a canvas on which to paint.
Dark colours and neutrals still a part of my wardrobe but now they aren’t my whole wardrobe. I use navy, white and a small amount of black very occasionally to punctuate my colourful clothes and break things up so that they don’t risk feeling over-the-top. Leopard print is also neutral.
It’s okay to keep 1-2 black dresses, a black tee, black tights and a black or grey coat and/or sweater (although, you should find the right balance based on your own instincts - there are no iron clad rules in fashion).
Neutrals like roll-neck jumpers can be a great base for layering under a jewel green slip dress. A striped sailor tee can go well under an orange summer linen dress. Just think outside the box and make sure you remember to pair your familiar friends with your new colourful wardrobe.
4. Embrace quirky combinations and patterns and layer, layer, layer
Don’t be afraid to layer colour with colour, pattern and texture, however. Once you understand the colour wheel (see above), you can go crazy and experiment. I love wearing white tees under bright dresses in the cooler months or putting a red cardigan with a hot pink dress. Blazers are great to make things more corporate, and never under-estimate the power of well-placed accessories.
Think about colours that catch your eye when you see then together, and then try and play with those. If you’re really stuck, do a capsule wardrobe challenge for a week and pick out 10 items and wear them 10 ways together over the week in different combinations. I found that when I was travelling the fact that my wardrobe was restricted forced me to get more creative and combine colours and patterns together that I wouldn’t normally have done. Necessity is the mother of invention.
And don’t forget to make sure you have fun. Personally, I love wearing colourful clothes from Gorman because of the amusing art and fascinating patterns that so many of their pieces have. A skirt with jumping cats? Yes, please! A rainbow-striped bias-cut dress. Hell yeah!
A colourful wardrobe will improve your outlook on life. It makes you feel like you’ve ‘treated yourself’ in the morning when you wake up and get dressed because when you look bold, you feel bold. You go get em, tiger.