Long ago in a far away land, also known as 2004 and Wigan, I was in high school and thought I looked great in baby pink. The was the early noughties, the era of low rise jeans and bellybutton piercings, of chunky highlights and velour tracksuits. It was a time in my life where fashion was the sole remit of the popular girls, and I concerned myself primarily with whatever I was reading at that time. That was in part due to the fact that I didn’t really like much of what was in fashion at the time, but also largely down to my own insecurities about my body and unfortunate social standing as the school posho/nerd, which I masked as indifference. A typical weekend outfit for me was a pair of mauve cargo pants, a pink long-sleeved t-shirt, chunky trainers and probably some kind of head scarf worn as an alice band. It wasn’t a good look.
For my fifteenth birthday, my Mum paid for me to “have my colours done”. She knew how insecure I was about clothing and my appearance, and wanted to help me figure out what sort of shapes and colours paid for me. I think getting your colours done was a big thing in the 80s and 90s, but isn’t as much a thing these days. It’s basically where a middle aged woman sits you down with a white background and spends the best part of an hour holding different coloured pieces of silk against your face – it sounds bizarre because it is. The aim is to figure out what colours suit you and which to avoid; colours are grouped by season and what season you fall into is primarily determined by your skin tone and undertones, as well as taking into account your hair and eye colour. You can do this yourself but it’s easier to have the objective eyes of someone else to help; I’d recommend Justine LeConte’s Youtube videos on the subject if you fancy trying it.
After much waving of silk scarves and frowning, the lady concluded that I was an “awkward Autumn”, meaning that I looked good in warm colours as long as they’re not too dark, and some cool colours work for me too. She gave me a little wallet of colour swatches to keep and use while out shopping to compare colours to, which safe to say I literally never took out with me but I did refer back to. Although she didn’t explain it to me, what I’ve learned over the years is that I don’t really have a cool or warm undertone, hence the “awkward”. Instead I’m neutral, but also extremely pale skinned, meaning that some colours just leave me washed out.
With my new book of colours in hand, I set about purging my wardrobe of all things not strictly Autumnal. My colours were earthy and rich shades of green and yellow, lots of ochres and oranges and a few very specific warm blue shades. I was told to stay away from the traditional Autumnal deep plum shades and the palest warm creams, as they were considered either too dark or too light for my skin tone. Gone were the pastel pinks and purples that I felt I ought to be wearing, just like the popular girls, and in came oranges and greens galore. The actual clothes didn’t change that much, although I did shift gradually away from cargo trousers to denim skirts and skinny jeans by the time I reached sixth form. I stuck fairly closely to this colour palette for a long time, mixing it up with blue denim to make it a bit more wearable, and these were the colours I wore pretty exclusively for a long time,
It’s only in the last two years or so that I’ve had the courage to stray. I looked so dreadful back in my pastel pink high school days that I was afraid to try anything I hadn’t been explicitly told would suit me. For years I longed to look chic in black, but I’d been told I looked like death when I wore it. I began to experiment with black on my bottom half, away from my face, and loved it. Gradually, I worked my way up to trying a black polo neck top. Fully expecting to look dreadful, I turned and looked at myself in the mirror – and loved it. Turns out makeup and a hair colour that suits you makes all the difference. When I first had my colours done, my hair was a lightly highlighted brown-blonde, with as much of my natural auburn eradicated as possible (high school is not kind to gingers). Then, as I stared at myself in head-to-toe black I had bright copper hair and was wearing equally bright lipstick. I looked pretty damn good.
That was the moment that finally released me from the shackles of being exclusively Autumnal. I still love many of those colours and they definitely make up a large part of my wardrobe – tan, mustard yellow, forest green and burgundy are my idea of basics – but there’s also a lot of black, a bit of white, some emerald greens that are technically more of “Winter” colour, and even the odd bit of pink! The only colours I really haven’t embraced and probably never will are pastel shades: I look truly awful in pale blue, lilac makes me look faintly ill and let’s not even talk about baby pink.
Being branded an Autumn may have restricted my colour choices and style decisions for a long time, but it gave me a very solid palette to fall back on when I need to. I know that I’ll always look incredible in forest green, and that when wearing black it helps to wear a little makeup to bring out my features against the darker colour or just embrace the low-key gothic elements of my style (I attribute that to the fact that I missed out on an emo phase). I’ve learnt now (in my old age) to wear the colours that make me happy, not just the ones that a middle aged woman told me looked nice a decade ago. If I want to wear black, god damn it lady, I will.