How to embrace colour (even if you only ever wear black)

Woman in pink top
Olivia Lidbury,-Fashion Editor

The shade of the season? There isn't one – the entire spectrum is now vying for a spot in your wardrobe. Here’s how to wear every colour with confidence…

Colour is officially king – and it’s all down to ‘screen appeal’. The rise of online shopping, coupled with the phenomenon of posting outfits on social media, means that black – celebrated for its chicness and simplicity – has been superseded in favour of bold brights. Vividly coloured pieces have never been so readily available, but how, in everyday life, do you make the switch from neutrals to canary yellow or postbox red?

This obstacle is brilliantly tackled by The Times’ fashion director Anna Murphy in her new book, How Not To Wear Black: Dress To Put Your Best Self Forward. And so there’s no one better to suggest a few easy ways to step out of your comfort zone and feel confident in colour.

Woman in a yellow dress

View colour as a tool

‘The book is about self-expression through clothes,’ explains Anna, ‘and how to present yourself to the world in a way that’s true to who you are. But it’s also about self-empowerment, and one of the primary ways to achieve that is to dress in a way that’s a bit more visible. The key to making yourself more visible is to use colour – I think people have perhaps got into the habit of hiding a little bit.’

Women in colourful tops

Find out which colours suit you

Anna’s simple exercise should underpin which colours to go for. Determine whether you are cool, warm or neutral by holding a piece of white paper next to your face. You are most likely cool if your skin looks pink, rosy or blue next to it and complementary colours include blues, blue-greens, purples, magentas and reds with a blue base. If your skin tone appears brown, yellow or green, you’re more likely warm, and will suit yellows, oranges, yellow-greens and orange-based reds.

Neutral skintones tend to suit most colours but should pay attention to the intensity, with some being able to wear rainbow brights while others look better in pastel shades. (If you’re still struggling to work out which tone you are, the veins on your arms can also help – if they look blue or purple, you’re probably cool; green means warm).

Woman in pink blouse and neutral trousers

Dress clever

But embracing more colour doesn’t mean dressing like a walking shade chart every day. As Anna points out, if you work in an office, place your focus on the area that will be seen. ‘For most people, that means their top half, so that’s where you want to employ some colour. Maybe that’s with a jacket, or a knit, or if you really don’t want to abandon your neutrals, a piece of jewellery.’

Woman wearing pink shirt and red trousers

Reflect your personality

‘If someone had to sum you up in one word, what would you want them to say?’ asks Anna. ‘For some people, that might be “interesting”; for someone else, it could be “glamorous”. Wearing colour changes other people’s perception of you and you can use it as a tool to communicate an aspect of your personality.’

It’s easy to build on this thought and carve out a simple signature – whether that’s being known for dressing in clashing colours or favouring oversized earrings. Making a statement doesn’t have to be a shouty endeavour, either – perhaps you want to be known for sporting a particular silhouette or a staple piece, like a crisp shirt.

Woman in a green suit

Use colour as a superpower

‘In the workplace, colour can be used to your advantage,’ says Anna. That could translate into standing out from a sea of candidates at a job interview in a sorbet-coloured blazer, or attending a work pitch in an arresting suit. If there’s a photographer set to be in your vicinity, think about the aforementioned ‘screen appeal’ and use clothes to help propel you.

Woman in a black suit and blue blouse

But don’t shun black entirely

Before looking at all that is black, grey and navy with disdain, Anna does encourage the need for some sober staples: ‘I absolutely think that we all need a good pair of black trousers… but maybe with a great detail or a beautiful texture.’ 

Her parting pearl of wisdom is ‘fashion should be about joy’ – and there’s no better way of spreading that joy than with a flash of colour.

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