Color Theory Simplified: Two weeks in Color Boot Camp reaps initial confusion, ultimate clarity.

For the last two weeks I have been in Color Boot Camp; a challenge to myself and readers to really figure out what colors look best on us, and to shake us out of our neutral color zones. The plan was to wear a different color everyday and keep track of how we felt and how others reacted to us.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

For me, the first week went OK. As expected, blue was a hit, as were deep red and white. My favorite bright red plaid shirt scored zero comments. Not even from my husband. Whatever, I’m going to wear it anyway.

I still love you.

Olive was a mixed bag. I love this color, and wear it all the time. One jacket garnered a lot of positive reaction, while a dress seemed to make me look sallow.

By day 6, I was running out of colors. The challenge had resulted in a mini closet purge, as I pulled out a number of colorful items I hadn’t been wearing, and after 10 minutes walking around the house realized I was never going to wear. I began to long for my gray t-shirts. I got sick. I tried to keep up the challenge, but… I was sick and looked sick in anything I put on. I began to wonder why I’d come up with this dumb idea in the first place.

I’m just going to wear gray and stare at the horizon.

Then I had a hair appointment. The world is always better when I get a text reminding me there’s a trim coming up. I absolutely love how my hair goes from raggedy-frizzy to shiny-smooth in a magical two hours with Margaret Fairchild, the wizard of keratin and perfectly subtle layers.

“How’s your color challenge going?” she asked, draping me in a chocolate brown smock. I babbled everything to her I’ve just babbled to you about this hackneyed experiment. She listened thoughtfully, then said. “I bet blues worked really well,” she said. “And white?” Absolutely. How did she know this? “And maybe lavender, and gray, you look so beautiful in gray.*”

It turns out that Margaret used to be a professional color draper, back in the day. She has all the color swatches and everything.** Apparently, I’m a summer.

Possible Summer palette

As Margaret worked her magic on my hair and explained this color theory to me, I went into hyper focus. I have never understood the Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter Color Me Beautiful concept, and while it has been expanded on greatly, it really is the only time-tested theory out there. I’ve read dozens of internet articles on the topic but never could figure out what season I was. Here was my chance to get it!

According to Margaret, summer and winter are people with cool undertones to their skin. Spring and fall are people with warm undertones. To figure out which one you are, just ask if you would look better in a silver silk blouse or a gold one. You may already gravitate towards the metal that works best on your skin.***

Let’s be honest, no Mud and Grace reader would ever wear any of these. OK, maybe Bobbie could pull off the gold dress on the far right, but I just don’t see any of us in a silver jumpsuit.

Autumn and winter then are people who have more contrast between their hair, eyes and skin. So my friend Julie and I both have cool undertones. She has dark hair and eyes, and delicate pale skin, making her a winter. I have lighter hair and eyes, and less contrast with my skin color. Julie can pull of bolder colors that play up that contrast, while I do better in lighter colors.****

Winter Palette

So the reds and olives that look good on me have cool undertones, while the bright red of my favorite plaid shirt has just enough warmth in it to wash me out. This is why peach never, ever works on me. It explains why that gold-toned bridesmaid dress was such an abomination. It explains why painting my bathroom lavender made me look fantastic in the mirror.

Fall palette, which I may just decide to wear anyway.

Here are a few more basics I learned from Margaret.

Your season may change

While you will have a squarely cool or warm skin tone, the contrast between our skin and hair may change as you color your hair, tan or even age. I look better in white at the end of the summer, and deep red in February. That old rule about not wearing white after Labor Day may have been made up by a summer.

Me, happy in white in the middle of summer.

Most of us are probably doing a lot right already

Intuitively, you probably already discovered your best colors years ago. Julie has always worn a lot of black, red and gray. While she can expand on that, at the end of the day she looks really good in black, red and gray. All of the chambray shirts and dresses in my closet got there because they looked great on me in the dressing room. Your go-to colors will probably tell you a lot about your ideal color pallet.

It’s OK not to like your color pallet

Margaret (a spring) and I talked about a number of the “Easter egg” colors in our pallets that we don’t love. I’m drawn towards earth tones (they don’t show dirt) and can wear them as much as I like. I just need to consider the colors I wear next to the face. This is a great excuse to go buy a couple of cute pocket scarves.

Spring palette

As Margaret finished styling my hair we applied these ideas of cool/warm, high contrast/low contrast to people we knew. I enjoyed the old familiar pleasure of learning something that changes the way I view the world. Like when I finally grasped the effects of Bolivian silver mining on the economy of China during the Ming Dynasty, or the fact that butter was probably better for me than margarine. My color experiment pushed me out of my comfort zone, and put me in a place where I was open to Margaret’s understanding of color theory.

So I guess it was a good idea after all. Did you participate in Color Boot Camp? I’d love to hear how it went for you. Comment below or send a picture to mudandgrace@gmail.com

Maia, rocking some saturated color in Morocco.

* I love my hairdresser

** Anyone else feel like we should have a 1980s-themed party with wine coolers and color draping?

*** I don’t, I’ve always preferred gold, but a pretty gold ring on my finger isn’t going to wash out my entire completion.

**** This in no way is going to deter me from borrowing Julie’s clothes. We’re still the same size.

Color Boot Camp: The Two-Week Color Challenge

Full truth: I’m not completely comfortable with color. I understand it well enough to put together a decent ensemble and coordinate a micro-capsule, but what I haven’t taken the time to learn is how to coordinate my colors with myself.

I just don’t get it.

All that spring, summer, fall business of Carole Jackson’s Color Me Beautiful never really worked on me, and there aren’t a lot of alternate color theories out there. So for the past 40 years my color selection has been somewhat hit or miss. The occasional red or pink top mixed in with lots and lots of gray, blue and olive.

Hard to deny there’s a pretty clear pattern here.

Confirmation bias* at the ready, I made excuses for myself when confronted with an article that chided me to “bring more color into your wardrobe!” Some of my best were: ‘Gray is minimalist and elegant,’ or ‘Color makes me look like I’m trying too hard,’ and my personal favorite self-deception, ‘I look good in gray.’

Color is powerful, and beautiful. It can cheer us up, brighten our eyes and skin, draw attention exactly where we want it, send a clear message, and done right it looks fantastic. So after what feels like the longest, grayest winter in Oregon history,** I’m ready to tackle this color issue head on.

This is going to be fun.

Thus I invite you to Color Boot Camp, a two-week color-wearing challenge. The purpose is to find out what colors look best on you, and finally get comfortable wearing them. Here are the rules:

Rule # 1: Actively select a different color to wear next to your face every day. This is the time to break out all those well-intentioned purchases of colorful blouses and dresses you haven’t gotten around to wearing. Borrow tops from a friend if you need to.*** We have 14 days, so if you really want to explore the effects black, white or gray, it’s OK to wear them each once. The other 11 days need to be colors. And since I’m assuming you don’t have 14 solid colored tops lined up Roy G Biv in your closet, patterns are a go, as are different shades of the same color, within reason.****

Rule #2: Keep a record of responses. While I don’t expect strangers to say “Wow, that sea foam blue really brightens your complexion,” I do expect friends, co-workers and family members will react to you as people generally do. Listen for things like, “I love that top!” “You look pretty / rested / great, etc.” or, “Your eyes look really beautiful today.” Any positive comment counts, as the people in your life are not necessarily color experts and may have no idea why you look great.

Rule #3: Keep a record of how you feel. What do these colors do for your mood? Do you feel bright, elegant, hopeful, energized… or conspicuous, sallow, like you want to curl up in a pile of gray jersey and just forget the whole thing? The most important factor in a choosing color for your wardrobe is how it makes you feel. There are certain pastels in which I feel exactly like a troll doll, and I won’t be wearing them no matter how much they bring out my eyes.

This top and sweater are obviously feeling pretty good about themselves.

Special considerations: If you wear a uniform to work, you may want to stretch out your challenge to include a few more weekends and nights off. If you have no interest in bringing color into your wardrobe, just skip the whole thing.

And that’s it. Two weeks, 14 colors, we can do it! If you come across a particularly great color on yourself, send me a picture and I’ll include it in the wrap up post in two weeks!

Let me know if you want to borrow this, because I only get to wear it once in the next two weeks.

*Confirmation bias is the human tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already believe. Like when you click on that article about how drinking red wine leads to weight loss and completely ignore all the others about exercise, diet and sleep. Not that I ever clicked on that article or anything…

** 144 days of rain

***Seriously, message me. I’ve got lots.

****I’m talking to you, Miss 15 shades of light blue

The One and Done Challenge

I have a long, long history of jumping into things without looking. Give me five minutes and I’ll agree to travel across the world, adopt your goats, or, as happened on that fateful August day in 1994, agree to teach high school history with no experience or training.

Sometimes it works out. Most of the time I learn a lesson. Pretty much every time I wonder, “What was I thinking?!?”

Inspired by my friends Yana and Sarah, I challenged myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. Me, bike commuting, goat wrangling, chicken herding me, was going to wear a dress every day.

To be honest, it did not start off well.

Monday morning it was snowing. Not the sticking-on-the-ground-no-school sort of snow, but wet, slushy cold snowing. I put on a dress, and just kept going. Leggings, boots, jacket: By the time I was finished you could barely see the dress. My day went just fine, but I skipped the bike commute (did I mention it was snowing?) When I arrived at the rock climbing gym, as is my habit on Mondays, I found I’d forgotten by climbing kit. Ordinarily I could have borrowed a pair of shoes, but there is no way I could climb in a dress.

I found there is very little I couldn’t put on over this black, shirt-waist dress.

 

By Tuesday things were looking up. I wore an olive linen dress with my beloved denim jacket and old Spanish boots. I felt like I had stepped up my work ensemble, but was fantastically comfortable due to the jacket and boots which always give me confidence.

You make everything better, denim jacket.

 

Wednesday I paired a sleeveless, summer denim shift dress (My grandma would have loved this! Grandma’s lessons for effortless style) with a chartreuse sweater, and my Frye boots. This didn’t even feel like wearing a dress. Some hard-core rain gear got me to school warm and dry, and this time I did not forget my climbing kit and had a great time at the gym falling off all sorts of routes.

Photographs taken at 6:25 a.m. are not my favorite things.

Thursday was the fancy day. This dress does not photograph particularly well, but it is fantastically flattering. One student stopped me in the hall and said, “Ms Grace! I’ve never seen you wear a dress before!!!” Never mind the fact that’s I’d been wearing dresses all week…

I found this on Stylewe, a site I can waste hours and hour on…
This detail gives you a better sense of the dress.

Friday was sunny, the first time our valley had seen the sun in nearly 2 months. I fell back on an old favorite, a denim dress I wore regularly in the fall. By this point in the week I was feeling much more confident. Then I changed into jeans to go out with friends after work.

Again with the old Spanish boots! We had a fun week.

On Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t wear a dress, because I went rock climbing with my husband at Smith Rock, and even I know when to cut off my cock-eyed experiments before they go too far.

Not a dress.

What I learned in five days of dresses:

All my dresses look alike

Seriously. I own 7 casual, work-appropriate dresses. Five of them are blue, one is black and one is olive. Five are button down, shirt-waist dresses. All but two are denim or denim-like.

One is plenty.

This speaks to bad shopping habits. One casual, blue, button down denim dress, great. But I should not be buying every other casual, blue denim dress I come across. Wearing them all in one week drove home the point pretty clearly.

It really does help to have options.

Wearing a dress every day for five days meant I had to wear almost every dress I own. Both Yana and Sarah advocated dress wardrobes of abundance. By Friday I didn’t have much choice and I didn’t feel like some Zen minimalist freed from the weight of consumption. I felt like I needed a trip to Buffalo Exchange, stat.

Shall I wear the blue dress or the blue dress?

I am not a master

Sarah and Yana made adding sweaters and jackets and boots sound easy, and to them it is. But I have a lot to learn about how to style dresses. I’m excited to try again, but I’m going to wait until the heat of late July to try for a full seven days. I hope you will join me for a summer One and Done challenge.

OK, so I have gone rock climbing in a dress. But only once.

Did you try a week of daily dresses? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

One and Done: The Daily Dress Code

Could you wear a dress everyday? I often look at pictures of women from earlier times and envy them their simple wardrobe of dresses. * Dresses are flattering, and can be fantastically comfortable, but… an all-dress dress code? As it happens, I have two friends who manage to do just that.

And no, these women don’t spend their days in idle relaxation. Sarah Prater is a respected teacher of writing. She’s that English teacher who asked hard things of you and actually got you to do them. Yana Gorskaya is a film editor and writer in LA who has made scores of films including What We Do In the Shadows and Spellbound.** Both women have families, hobbies and sixty billion things to get done in a week. So they’re just like us.

It’s so simple

“I didn’t always just wear dresses, though I have always had a fondness for them.” Yana says, “But a few years ago I put one on and didn’t look back.”

Yana, with adorable dress, boots, daughter.

Discussing dresses with each woman I was struck by just how easy their mornings are. There is no matching, no balancing of proportion, no trying to get yourself to wear something other than the jeans you’ve been wearing all week. Ultimately, there is, “No thinking!” according to Yana. “Just pull one out of the closet and go.”

Sarah notes that dresses have also simplified packing for vacations. “Since a dress is a complete outfit, it takes up less room in a suitcase. As long as I’m traveling to warm places, which I always try to do, I can take dresses almost exclusively.”

Sarah, not worrying on vacation.

Could you do the same? Here is some wisdom that will set you on the right track.

Start with the right set of dresses

“I’m curvy and lots of things look pretty terrible on me, but I’ve worn dresses long enough now that I can recognize a silhouette or brand that will generally work for me,” Yana says. “Wrap dresses are a good bet. As is anything that ties in the middle. Or has an A-line, loose hanging cut. I’m also a sucker for bright patterns.”

How could you not be a sucker for this pattern?

Sarah says, “I am all about comfort…. I like thin straps in the summer and I can throw a cardigan over some of these for school. Most of my dresses are knee-length.”

Both women advocate a closet of abundance, “I wear dresses every day,” Yana says, “so it helps to have a lot of them.”

Below are a few styles that flatter most body types. These are worth a try.

Fit and flair, wrap, sheath, swing; looking good.

Accessories?

Styling dresses can be as easy or complicated as you want it to be, according to my friends.

Sarah says, “I can accessorize if I want to dress it up, jewelry or a scarf or nicer shoes, wild leggings, a sweater. Or I can go very simple: Just a dress and sandals.”

“I like a good pair of high heeled boots with my dresses,” Yana says, “brown goes with everything, but I also have a black pair. I also own a wide variety of comfy flats.”

Altering the accessories to face the weather is pretty straightforward. “I can throw on leggings if it is cold,” Sarah says, “Birkenstocks in the spring and summer, or boots in the fall.”

Sarah, on a simple style day.

Shopping secrets of the masters

The common theme of shopping between these two? The internet. Both women shop online, and Zulily is a favorite site. Apparently the site has interesting dresses and amazing sales.

Yana simply bypasses the annoyance of returning dresses that don’t work for her. “Because I can’t try them on beforehand, I limit myself to spending $35, often much less. Zulily, Modcloth, Nordstrom Rack all frequently have excellent sales. 4 out of 5 things I buy look good on me, the fifth I pass on to a friend. Everyone wins.”

Friends, did you hear that? This is an excellent plan.

According to Sarah “Since the dresses are not form fitting, online shopping works. I am also a sale shopper. I buy on discount sites like Hautelook, Zulily, two of my faves.”

Sarah, with her equally stylish family.

But all these sharp deals are fleshed out with an intermittent investment for Yana. “I will occasionally splurge and go to a local dressmakers in Silver Lake, called Matroshka. They make dresses custom fitted that are super adorable. But that’s a rare treat.”

That’s a new life goal. Thanks Yana!

It’s more than just a dress

As I am constantly uncovering on this blogging journey, clothing is never as simple as covering our bodies in a creative manner.

Sarah’s dresses have become legend among the girls at the high school where we teach. I’ve heard heated debates about favorite dresses, and philosophical speculation about just how many dresses Sarah owns. Given that Sarah’s job is to push kids past their comfortable limits in writing, she has to be down with being the hardline teacher most of the time. The dresses show a whimsical, relatable side of Sarah beyond deadlines and draft revisions.

A rare glimpse into the fabled closet of Ms. Prater.

Yana’s love of dresses, too, is about more than simplicity and flattery. “My mother never wore pants a day in her life. She grew up in a cosmopolitan Russian city and she always found pants on women kind of provincial. I think I saw her in a jumpsuit once. She wore it with high-heeled sneakers. She passed away when I was in my early twenties, and I think wearing dresses has made me feel connected to her, in some small, deeply comforting way.”

So for ease and comfort and human connection, I am challenging myself, and my readers, to a week of dresses. No need to buy anything new, (unless you find a sweet deal on Zulily…) just pull out the dresses you own, boots or sandals depending on the weather and give it a try. I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. Yana and Sarah have had years to perfect this. You and I are gonna have to give up pants for seven days, cold turkey. But I suspect this will be fun. Next week I’ll post about my journey, and look forward to hearing about yours.

Can I do this for a full week?

* Meanwhile, those women are gazing back at me, envying my ability to earn a steady income, vote, enjoy central heating and access to quality dental care.

** Spellbound is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a documentary about kids in the national spelling bee competition, and it is riveting. It also won nearly every award known to humans, and was nominated for the rest.

Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style: Part 2

7 items, 7 days to prove themselves, and a commitment to looking and feeling fantastic all week long.

I called it my week of dressing dangerously.

The rules were simple; I had to choose seven items in my closet that I liked, but was not currently wearing. Then I had to work each piece into an ensemble that looked and felt great, and wear it all day.

To be fair, I had to set each item up for success. Too often when I try to work unworn items into my regular rotation I’ll try some sort of crazy conglomeration of unworn items. And I’m surprised when the outfit feels weird?

For this experiment, I called out my heavy hitters – the denim jacket, my Frye boots, a favorite pair of jeans, the perfect cowl neck sweater. I did my research ahead of time and thought out possible ensembles.

If you missed last week’s post, here it is: Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style:Part 1

Monday – The odd colored pants

I bought them because: The fit was fantastic, and I thought I’d mix it up with the interesting color.

I never wore them because: The color was too interesting.

The final verdict: Success

Off to a great start!

You can tell from the way I am standing, this was my very favorite ensemble of the week. I love these pants! Paired with my favorite winter sweater and boots they look great. In the spring, a simple grey or white t-shirt will work nicely. Welcome to the regular rotation pants!

Tuesday – The swingy white sweater

I bought it because: I wanted a warm, light colored sweater to wear on cold days that didn’t look like I stolen the fur off a Yeti.

I never wore it because: The dropped sleeves made me look strangely broad

The final verdict: Fail

I’m unhappy and attempting to hide the fact that this is a weird sweater by carrying around a big bag all day.

I wore it, but I didn’t like it. The dropped sleeves and jewel-neck collar created a really wide line across my shoulders. I tried pairing it with a vest, with a jacket, with long necklaces, nothing seemed to work. I felt like I was wearing a tablecloth. I want to keep this sweater, because I’m under the impression that it’s practical. But this is Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style, and the swingy white sweater was given a chance along with everything else. It’s out.

Wednesday – The simple rust colored sweater

I bought it because: Loft was having one of those weird sales where the more you buy the less you wind up spending. I need to avoid those.

I never wore it because: I’m not really sure why, I just didn’t.

The final verdict: Success

I may have been making this harder than necessary…

This top is very simple. I paired it with corduroy pants and my denim jacket. It looks great with a necklace, and it was warm. The next time I’m reaching for a layering t-shirt, I will remind myself to grab this instead.

Thursday – Long olive jacket

I bought it because: It looked great in the store

I never wore it because: It seems a little sloppy

The final verdict: Success

This outfit was straight off Pinterest, and in fact was the inspiration for Shop Your Closet, Survivor Style.

As I was scrolling along I passed this outfit with a dismissive “I couldn’t do that.” Then I scrolled back up. I had every piece in my closet: wine colored top, long olive jacket, boots, scarf. I ran upstairs and put it all on. Dang.

The sharpness of the pants and boots make the drape of the top more manageable. The elegant top and scarf make the ensemble seem planned, rather than sloppy. The whole thing was fabulously comfortable. A few days later I found a picture of The Duchess of Cambridge in a similar ensemble, and that clinched it for me. The jacket stays.

Friday – Cheating with double denim

I was supposed to be wearing a piece of fan wear today. Our lovely assistant principal gave each staff member a great t-shirt and I haven’t worn mine yet because it is too stiff. I tried a DYI project of soaking it in salt water to soften it up but it didn’t work. The t-shirt looked terrible, to the point I didn’t pass the Allen, or any other, test. I plan to try other t-shirt softening schemes and will let you know how it worked.

It’s like I’m back the early 1990s, without the inconvenience of being in my early 20s.

So in the spirit of the week, I tried a look I’ve wanted to work on, double denim. It’s back, and I couldn’t be happier. Here I toned it down with a puffer vest. I will definitely be posting about the Double D in the near future.

Saturday – The bat wing sweatshirt

I bought it because: I needed something to go with Lulu Lemon joggers

I never wore it because: I have other sweatshirts I reach for first, and I don’t wear the Lulu Lemon joggers that often

The final verdict: Fail

Saturday morning was the low point on the journey. I don’t hate this sweatshirt. I feel like it has potential but I just don’t wear it. The fabric bunches up around my belly, which is not a great look on me, and the rounded jewel neckline doesn’t do anything for me.

I felt like we should have been able to work together.

I put the sweatshirt on with the joggers and realized that the pants were a fail from the start. A heavier weight than the joggers I wear in warmer weather, they have a cropped ankle, meaning I would have to wear them with sneakers and no socks in the winter!

As if.

On top of that the joggers had too much fabric at the waistline, which might look dramatic if I were shaped like a two by four. When the pants didn’t work I bought the sweatshirt to go with them… brilliant. Both are out.

Sunday – The Thneed

I bought it because: It’s awesome! I’ve been wanting to try some sort of drapey, scarf/poncho/wrap thing. This was one is grey cashmere and only $18 at Buffalo Exchange? Yes please.

I never wore it because: It’s a drapey, scarf/poncho/wrap thing and I don’t even know what to call it, much less how to wear it.

The final verdict: Success

As it turns out, all I needed to do was put it on. I kept the underpinnings simple and let the cashmere do the talking.

I love it. It feels stylish and easy, and is fantastically cozy. I originally thought I’d save it for dress up, but wearing it with jeans a boots felt natural. I wore it to church, running errands and at a family lunch.

Wear a drapey, cashmere thing and you, too will be on the verge of making an insightful point in conversation.

And that was my week of dressing dangerously. A few items bit the dust, but in exchange I have four new items in regular rotation without spending a dime.

Lessons learned:

Don’t buy jewel neck tops

Don’t buy dropped sleeved sweaters

Keep pushing myself towards drapey tops, just balance them with a sharp background.

It’s OK to buy pants based on fit and fabric alone.* I have enough black, grey and white in my closet to accommodate a few funny colors.

Photographs are an excellent way to judge an outfit. Having hard evidence of how well an outfit works can keep you rolling back to it in the future, or avoiding the look all together.

Best lesson of the week: This was really fun. I didn’t expect to get giddy over forcing myself to try new things, but by the second half of the week I was in a fantastic mood, just ask my husband. This small, self-imposed puzzle gave me a challenge each morning, and the extra spring in my step that comes with wearing something new.

Coincidentally, I was teaching my psychology class about the study of happiness during my week of dressing dangerously. According to researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, shaking your brain up by making small changes can add significantly to your happiness. She notes that something as seemingly insignificant as altering the route of your jog can boost your mood. As I asked my students to try one of a number of similar positive psychology exercises, I was unwittingly trying one myself.

So while you are out there engaging in meaningful activity, creating strong connections with family and friends, being smart about your diet and exercise, go ahead and add a wardrobe puzzle to your week. You will wind up with new additions to your regular wardrobe rotation, spend no money and walk around grinning all week.

Did you try a week of dressing dangerously? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below.

*Within reason