My Messy Color Journey

Adventures in Living Color?

Happy day, reader dear!

The coming season, planning my Summer Capsule Wardrobe and memorial day has had me thinking a LOT about color. And our complicated relationship with color. Mine included. On my Instagram profile I’m listed as a Personal Style & Color Evangelist, but I haven’t always been a fan of color. And I certainly was NEVER a fan of color systems until about six or seven years ago, when finding the right colors, my colors, created this strange snowball effect that changed my wardrobe, my career and my life.

I say OUR complicated relationship with color, because how we feel about color and how we wear it seem to diverge dramatically! My social media posts in color always garner the most likes, and when I drab down in neutrals, people ask Where’s the color? But those color lovers? Most of them don’t wear any themselves. What’s up with that?

If you’ve read the Beat Midlife Invisibility post, you know some of my style story. To sum up: Girl meets Style. Girl loves Style. Girl loses style. Girl rediscovers Style! Bonus: Color is the fountain of youth! But my understanding of color and trip to Color Evangelist from almost exclusive-black-wearer was fraught. To quote Inigo Montoya, Lemme ‘splain. No, lemme sum up.

The 80’s

Who remembers the 1980’s? Big shoulders. Dallas. MTV. Madonna. Michael Jackson. Big bangs. Acid wash jeans. Members Only jackets. The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. If that wasn’t enough, Carole Jackson’s book Color Me Beautiful was published in 1980, and seasonal color analysis was off and running. Color typing (or analysis) took the U.S. by storm.

I was at university, and the mother of one of my hallmates was a color consultant (CC). One football weekend while she was visiting, Mrs. CC said she would color type any of us who were interested at no charge. Nothing complicated. No signature colors or full swatches. Just a quick typing and a card with our season and some sample colors. Many of us lined up (Or were we roped in? My memory is a bit fuzzy on that piece lo, these 40 years later!)

First Color Type

To put this in context, the Color Me Beautiful system was based on the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall. (This system has since been refined to include variations within each season, but at the time you had four choices.) I had medium to dark brown hair and hazel green eyes. Without taking much more of a look at me, she pronounced me an Autumn and handed me a color card. And I rebelled. Not that I was really rebellious at that point (Seriously rebellious came later and stuck.), but I knew that NONE of those colors worked for me. They all made me look sick. I couldn’t understand. I knew those Autumn colors made my mother glow, she looked amazing in them! I was her spitting image, so why didn’t they work for me?

I was typed at least three more times in the next ten years by well-intentioned consultants who confirmed that I was an Autumn (or maybe a Spring). I was fed up. I wanted nothing to do with seasonal coloring; it was all a load of hooey as far as I was concerned. I went on wearing the colors that I looked best in. Black, bright pink, charcoal grey, electric blue, bright plum, cherry red. I avoided brown like the plague, and camel? Don’t even get me started. Greens were trickier, kelly and emerald worked. Apple green? No. Orange or rust? Just no. I could wear some greens that tended toward olive, but those were rare as hen’s teeth. I did wear a gorgeous vintage lime green silk shantung wiggle dress to a dance once. With black shoes and jewelry. AND a lot of makeup. It was too cool to pass up!

Fast Forward to (around) 2012

I was busy and life was complicated. (Isn’t it always?) I wore mostly black. But black was no longer loving me back the way it had when I was young. Fickle black! Then during my mid-life style/wardrobe crisis (Read more in the Beat Midlife Invisibility post linked above.), I was interacting online with Imogen Lamport of Inside Out Style. I had been following her for a while and signed up for one of her signature programs. Other women in the group were talking about their colors and I tuned out the conversation until someone asked if I knew my colors. My answer: Nope. I think it’s all hooey. I’ve been told over and over that I’m warm but none of those colors look good on me.

Someone tagged Imogen, who took one look at me and promptly said You’re cool. Very cool. I don’t know why anyone said you were warm. What? Because it’s not about hair color. Or eye color. It’s about your skin. The undertone of your skin. The skin that I didn’t get from my easy tanning olive-complexioned mother. I was blessed with my fair Irish father’s burn-every-outing skin. Aha! Light dimly glows…

I started paying attention to what they were saying about color. When I finally took the plunge and asked Imogen to do my colors virtually, I was Sublime. (Doesn’t that sound lovely? All the palette names do!) Rather than four or sixteen, there are eighteen palettes. Short form? The original color typing systems were designed for those of white European descent. Imogen wanted something that worked for everyone. So she created it.

Sublime Stress

I’ll be perfectly transparent. I was excited to receive my swatch, until it came. (I may have cried. There are no witnesses.) I hated my colors. They reminded me of the pastels I had avoided my entire life. Oops, I guess I forgot to mention… I hate pastels. Or I did. Maybe I still do on principle. (That might be due to a scarred-for-life incident involving trying to buying a petite business suit in the 1980’s. Therapy may still be in order.)

I was willing to spend some time playing with the few Sublime colors already hanging in my closet. And you know what? The compliments started pouring in. Not compliments about the color, but about how healthy I looked. Or had we had a weekend away? Did I have “work” done? Or was I (For the love of Mike!) expecting? I was apparently glowing. Maybe there was something to this whole color thing after all.

Gradual Transition

I didn’t throw out all my black clothes and less than suitable colors and buy new. The transition was gradual. Here are some tips if you are transitioning your colors. The first to go were clothes that didn’t work for our new climate, I kept a few in a box in the roof for emergency trips to visit friends and family up North. As I bought new items, I looked for pieces that worked with my palette. (Have I mentioned how much easier shopping is with a palette? OMGOODNESS!) I replaced worn out items with new ones that were more in harmony with my coloring. And you know what? Now I have a closet full of clothes that (for the most part) all go with each other because they share the same undertone, intensity and work in the right value.

Color Convert & Evangelist

And now? I don’t feel like myself unless I am wearing color. This newer shinier version of me is one I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the mirror and I like her! If you are looking to feel brighter and shinier and are in need of a little push and some help to get you started, read this! Or we could talk about doing YOUR colors… Just let me know! Yes, I went from convert to full blown evangelist. I trained and am certified in the same color system that rocked my world, The Absolute Color System!

Is color the fountain of youth? I think so! There are 10 years difference between these two pictures. Which do you think looks more youthful and vibrant?

How About You?

Do you embrace color or shun color? Is your color M.O. an intentional decision or merely a habit? Have you always felt like this about wearing color? Do you decorate with color? What is YOUR favorite color? I call it your happy color! Do you wear your happy color? Why or why not? Am I being nosy? That’s not my intent… I’m all about living in an examined wardrobe! That’s the only way you can determine what’s really working for you, do more of that, and less of what’s not!

Stylishly and colorfully yours,



    Liz, I realize some navies are arm and some cool. I’m careful hen buying navy that it is arm. I do tend to ear my colors in the Spring/Summer seasons but just not year round. I do ant to ork on this!! My problem is since gaining eight I’m afraid to ear those beautiful light colors for fear that I’ll look even bigger than I do in my darker colors.


    Liz, I love my Spring colors but I rarely ear them. I did branch out last year. I bought a red and a teal mock- tutlenecks. I also bought a teal seater jacket. I ear my colors in the summer. I am alays buying navy basics. They aren’t easy to find in Arizona. It’s all black, black and more black out here!! I ear gold jeelry. If I do ear color in the Autumn/ inter seasons it tends to be in athliesure clothing. I as taught that solid neutrals are more elegant and so you should ear them as day to day clothing.

    • Liz K

      From what you’ve told me about your wardrobe, Natalie that you are wearing spring colors! Gold jewelry certainly is! And the corals, turquoises and teals you mention are, too! Butter yellow, soft peach, camel, ivory, those are all spring! Navy? That depends on the undertone! Some navies are warm. Others are cool.

  • Gail McKelvey

    Great post! I was a “spring maybe autum” when this all started, but find the autum colors are what I gravitate to. I don’t follow to the letter, but do know what I think looks best on my yellow undertone skin tone. Except…I do wear black and find I do get compliments when I wear it. My biggest change, since the 80s, is with jewelry. I rarely wear silver anymore. Gold definetly looks best on me but I do fudge some with bronze(ish) colored jewelry. Like you I try to gradually weed out. I do wear colors that are not best for me in pants or at the very least make sure when I am wearing that pink or whatever, stick with the gold jewelry and often wear a scarf that works best for my colors. I have long ago stopped carrying that swatch thing with me. Thanks, Liz!

    • Liz K

      Those metallics can change the day! Because I’m so cool, gold always looks cheap on me, especially shiny. I’ve learned that if I want to wear something warm, the more burnished tones of brass and bronze work better than any gold shine. Bronze, like rose gold, can play both ways depending on the sheen, texture and depth of color. It’s interesting that black works for you, Gail. Is your value contrast very high?

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