In Honestly

sew to flatter: warm vs cool

As I work towards my Me Made May goals, I find myself analyzing past sewing projects in order to work out the reasons why I don’t wear them routinely, even when I’m happy with my craftsmanship. There are countless projects that I love on a hanger, but then something isn’t quite right when I put them on. I used to blame it on fit alone, but then another possible factor dawned on me. I always tell myself I don’t care if certain colors flatter my type, I’m just going to wear what I like! But it’s becoming more apparent that I obviously care on some subconscious level, or else I would be wearing what I make all the time, instead of falling out of love with projects a week after making them. Yesterday I was browsing some of my older photos and I realized I’ve got a lot to learn about how I wear color.

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If you ask me what my favorite color is I’ll say aqua blue/teal, or some similar shade of blue. I’m really attracted to those colors and use them a lot in my sewing and around my home. I wear blue simply because I like it (and I’m a firm believer in doing things simply because you like it) but now I’m questioning that choice. Let me explain why…

The photo above is from a review I did back in July for Organic Cotton Plus. This particular shirt doesn’t get worn only because I wasn’t happy with the fit or how I finished any of the inside seams. The photo isn’t edited or enhanced in any way, yet my skin tone looks healthy and even, not ruddy or rashy (well, as healthy and non-rashy as a girl with a skin disorder can look lol). I don’t usually reach for green colors that often but I have to say they look rather nice on me!

The photo below was taken at a similar hour, and also has no edits or enhancements, but look at the difference!

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When surrounded by cool tones my skin looks blotchy, washed out, and not so healthy. The combination of the blue fabric mixed with the grey background is certainly not doing me any favors, now that I see these two photos next to each other. I’ve always known my skin was on the warm side of fair, but I never cared to pay attention to how drastically certain colors could help or hurt my complexion. Mmmm… now I kinda care.

Since I’ve come to terms with this whole Warm vs Cool thing, I’ve been thinking about how much blue/cool tones I actually sew with. It’s a lot! Could that be part of the reason why I never wear the majority of my me-made clothes? Is my brain subconsciously trying to tell me “Dude, you don’t look so hot in this”? I think it is.

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Many colors can be both warm and cool depending on the shade. So rather than sift my brain for remnants of art school color theory, I found a few great “warm vs cool” references online and then started a Pinterest board to help me remember. Now when I fabric shop in the future I’ll have a better idea of what specific shades look best on me. Luckily I have a good variety of color in my stash, but I would always reach for the blue/cool fabrics first, thinking I’d save the other tones for future quilting projects. Well, it’s going to have to be the other way around now!

Sadly I just bought a beautiful blue-on-blue chambray stripe, and rather than go through the hassle of returning it, I might try to overdye it with an olive color and make it more warm. That will be a fun little science project for sure!

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I’m guilty of having a one track mind, so it was easy for me to think “I like blue so I will have all the blue things” and then use it in every single room of my house, in my wardrobe, on my website etc. Now that I’ve seen the light (and it does me no favors when I wear blue) I’ve decided to divide my stash into warm and cool fabrics. From now on I’ll save the cool fabrics for home dec projects or things I might sell, and the warm fabrics will get reserved for garments.

Luckily, many of my favorite prints come in both warm and cool tones, so I have plans to go back and buy the same prints in the warm colorways and see if I like the way they look on me better.

warmVScool_luckylucille6(swatch sources clockwise from left: 123456)

I’m eager to carry on with this color experiment and see if it helps make my handmade clothing more “wearable” than in the past. I don’t know why I just started noticing how color looks on me, but it happened. I guess I honestly never cared before! In a way, even though I’ve limited my color palette, it makes me MORE enthusiastic to sew! Each time I have a stupid epiphany like this, I’m just one step closer to creating a me-made wardrobe that I truly love 😉

My yarn stash on the other hand? Fiber Gods help me… it’s a sea of blue lol. Time to swap or donate to some cool-toned knitters!

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So. Now I know to stick with warm toned fabrics, and photo backgrounds featuring brick or lots of greenery, from here on out. That’s an excuse to do more fabric shopping, right?! …Right?

How about you? What role does color play in your me-made wardrobe?

xo
Rochelle

  • Jen

    I think it’s possible to wear cool tones if you do a pairing where warmer tones are nearer to the areas that you find more warm. Or even if you use accessories with more of a warm hue to trick the eye. Often if there is something just nearby with enough red/pink/orange it will tone down by comparison. So maybe blue skirts or blouses with contrasting trim? You can also use other colors that have a warm bent to it, like greens or yellows or warm purples near those areas.

    As a person who is very pale but has heavy pink undertones near the face and neck, coral or other oranges or reds used near those areas, such as in make-up or in accessories or trim, seems to help even out if I’m wearing pure blues or cool greens and purples. Anything close enough that can trick the eye by being more saturated will do.

  • Sunny Berg

    I just found your blog. It’s great btw.
    I was just having this conversation the other day. Red is my favorite color. It’s the color I go to first and it looks pretty good on me, in the right shade. However, if the same item/fabric is available in pink I usually decide on the pink. I’ve realized that pink is far more flattering on my skin, in any shade.

  • Samantha Nagtegaal

    I always hold fabric or yarn against my hand before I decide whether or not to buy. It’s a very quick test but also an instant way to see if a colour suits your skin tone. I also have a fantastic book on colour psychology which splits colours into seasons rather than warm and cool, as all colours can be warm or cool depending on whether they have predominantly blue or red undertones (hope I don’t sound like a teacher there! )

  • I’ve definitely noticed there are some colors that I like, but don’t feel comfortable wearing. I don’t know how much of it is a skin tone thing, but it would be interesting to examine.

  • Well. I am glad that I bought you green fabric in LA 😉 haha. But, I agree with some of the comments below, don’t get rid of your stash just yet! If blue makes you happy you should keep using it. Maybe in a quilt?!?!

  • jannapyj

    I totally get this! I have the hardest time letting go of clothes that are pretty, in almost new condition, but I just don’t wear. I put them on every once in a while, but end up changing into one of my happy colors. I finally figured out it was a tone thing too! Luckily the colors I’m naturally drawn to are the ones that I do look best in…warm tones. So now I’m flipping out over that octopus print you showed in the warm version!!! :o)

    JJ
    http://www.dressupnotdown.blogspot.com

  • Jane

    Great post. Agree with many others, it is not just cool or warm, a colour can be either depending on its tone. I had that “ahah” moment when I had my colours “done” and was a spring/autumn. the colour swatches were really helpful at first. I now know my colours need to be clear and bright, not muddy or cold and what my best neutral are – camel and navy. It introduced me to all sorts of colours I would have never thought of wearing. You are on the right track with trying things next to your face and looking in a mirror, this is a really good technique. Don’t get rid of your stash, you can wear any colour you like away from your face, so team the colours you love but suit you less with something that does for the top half. the surprising additional benefit for me was that suddenly things in my wardrobe went together better and I had more combinations from less items, rather than having stand alone outfits that did not work with other things. Good luck with it all.

  • Alice

    I think that pink, red, orange, brown and purple, suit you really! Maybe you can use in preference the fabric in these warm tones on the upper part of your body and keep the blue ones for skirt, shorts or pants? Or for Will? Nothing is lost by the way!
    I have recently found that pink is suiting me well, like if a had spend a day on the beach! haha! I need to stop depressing and admiring others doing a lot of great stuff sewing or knitting…I need to sew cute stuff for me!
    Good findings on your “perfect wardrobe” quest! 😉

  • I’ve noticed that the clothing I wear the most are black, white, cream, grey, and blue with a few jewel toned purples and burgundies, so I’m guessing I’m more on the cool tone side of things. Anything bright doesn’t get worn. I noticed this about a year ago and have since been making sure that I pick up fabrics in those colours, so luckily, most of my stash is cool. But it makes a huge difference! Instead of having something that will just sit in my closet, I have something that will get worn. Good luck with stash busting all that yarn, and have fun buying more fabric 😉

  • Lauriana

    This is very interesting and, in many ways, quite true. HOWEVER green doesn’t really count as a ‘warm’ colour either… Please try on those actual warm tones, the yellows and the pinks, the reds and the oranges before you decide to get rid of large parts of any stash and/or buy lots of new fabric.
    And also: If you love a colour but it doesn’t work with your complexion you can often still wear it as a skirt. I have a secret love for yellow (both mustard and sunflower) but close to my face, it makes me look ill. In a skirt, combined with a top in a colour that doesn’t give me trouble like blue, grey or olive, it’s fine.

  • This is very interesting! I had my colours done as a teen in the 80’s and was told I’m an autumn; I rebelled against it for years before finally accepting that maybe they had a point! But you know, I reckon you can wear whatever colours make you happy. I actually think that blue would look absolutely wonderful with your red hair. 🙂

  • Ali M

    Well sheesh, thanks for this post, I’ll be pondering this as I rummage through my stash and really take a look at how colors work with my skin.

  • This is a really interesting realization to come to! I’m excited to see where it takes you!

  • Debra Ward

    I think that’s why I prefer to sew bottoms that way I can use all the fun colours that don’t work well with my colouring. Then I’ll pair that bottom with a neutral that does look good with my skin tones. I can still wear the colours I’m drawn too and not look washed out in the process.

  • Lisette

    I have the opposite problem! Warm tones often make my face look like a fire-engine. Part of the reason why I can never have lovely red hair like yours. I can never tell if I really like acquiring new knowledge like this because it makes one become that much more picky about clothes. And I’m picky enough as it is!

  • sallieforrer

    Hmm! Very interesting post Rochelle! I pretty much love all the colors, and tend to wear things that I’m pretty sure aren’t technically ‘flattering’ to my skin tone all the time – but makeup does wonders for me on that front! I WILL say that one of my go to moves for incorporating a color I love, but doesn’t necessarily love me back, is to use it for bottoms, or in some other way keep it away from framing your face. So you don’t have to relegate ALL those beautiful blue fabrics to home dec projects! I bet that chambray stripe could make a cute skirt or pair of shorts!

  • PamSpeak

    You could knit a blanket with some of the wool. That would be nice.

  • Excellent topic – I’m a massive believer in wearing colours that suit and compliment one’s colouring. I know that for me the roots of this date back to my mom’s 80s copies of the books in the original Color Me Beautiful series (which I read and reread, no joke, until the pages were falling out), even if I don’t religiously adhere to the “seasons” concept (as most of us can wear at least a few shades from each season’s palette). When it comes to colours and my wardrobe, I’m ruthless at this point. Sure, I might think fuschia and lime green, for example, are both punchy, pretty shades, but the horrors they inflict on my colouring (making it look sickeningly sallow usually) means that I approach them with the utmost of caution and usually just in teeny doses (such as accessories) worn away from my face. Finding what colours do, and do not, work for you is, IMO, one the most game changing wardrobe related things that can happen to a person.

    ♥ Jessica

  • Elena Knits

    I’m also working on which colors suit my skin. I’m discovering that bright and vibrant colors flatter me, and yellow tones make me look awful, since my skin (especially in winter) is a bit olive green like. I never went for oranges and greens, but I made a couple of garments in those colors lately and I like them on me. What a discover! I also go for blue a lot, but if it’s not too pale, I do ok with it.

  • Nikki

    It is something I thought about last year. I have an olive skin tone so anything yellow based is a no-no for me, I have also realised that pastels do nothing for me either. I feel much better in deeper or vibrant shades, I especially love blues and purples. Red is my favourite colour but only blue based red and I have yet to find fabric that comes in that tone of red, it seems orangey red is king. I have the same problem with yellow. Now I am determined to stick to the colours I look best in and not to get side tracked by the nice prints in the colours that don’t suit!

  • I totally get this! When I fabric shop I am also drawn to a lot of blues, purples, and turquoise. However, my most worn items are yellows, pinks and reds! My solution is to hold up the fabric, or wrap it around me and look at myself in a mirror 🙂 It’s really silly, but I’ve found it to work well for me.

  • This is totally dorky and 80s-tastic, but maybe have a look into finding your “colour season”. Basically, it’s a way to take your eye colour, hair colour, and skin colour, and work out from that which colours look best on you. It’s a little trickier if you have unnatural coloured hair – I’m a “cool winter” which is primarily blue-black or white hair, but my hair is currently teal so, you know … ~___^ Anyway, I find it a good way to narrow down what fabrics I should buy; I know to ensure there are no oranges or yellows or golds for my clothing, even if I love the fabric! Greens do look lovely on you, btw, that bright green headscarf looks fabulous with your hair colour too!

  • Yeah I started feeling a LOT better about my fabric purchases about a year ago when I realised how important colour was. Now before I buy fabric I spend a few minutes in front of the mirror with it held up to my face, and only buy if I think “I look lovely” (NOT “this looks lovely”. I look lovely”). When buying online I go with shades I know will work – bright/muted colours, particularly navy, plum and burgundy. Pastels and pale colours look terrible on me!

  • Christine Griffin

    Maybe we can swap yarn! I have a ton of red, but I look bad in actual red. Even red lipstick makes me look pasty 🙁

  • Bonita Vear

    I have discovered one thing; my favorite pastel baby pink doesn’t look too good on me ~ at least near my face. It’s too close to my own skin tone and usually makes me look washed out and blotchy. *sadface* Have to stick with jewel tones or cooler pastels if I don’t want to look blotchy! ❤

    xox,

    bonita of Lavender &
    Twill

  • I am totally guilty of being a cool tones person, and then every once and a while I find a nice yellow and I get tons of compliments wearing it. This is definitely an interesting idea and I plan to pay more attention to it in the future. Thanks for bringing it up!
    PS: I’m sure you could post any of the fabric you don’t want in your etsy shop and it would get snapped up in a heartbeat!

  • Something worth looking into would also be your stronger ( brighter and darker) shades versus your softer pastel shades and how they look against your skin.

  • nancy h.

    Some of that yarn is warm…don’t get rid of all of it yet!!

  • nancy h.

    Rochelle….there are warm blues!! There are warm shades of every color (except black and white…definitely cool)….you just have to learn to see them. Go buy a “Color Me Beautiful” on eBay or used on Amazon for $2. That will get you going in the right direction. I have tried to stick with my season for the last 35 years, and I have to say that I look better in those colors. I love other colors to look at, but I really should not wear them, they make my skin go grey

    • Rachel B. Custer

      There are also differences in greys as well! It’s all in how the colors are blended. For instance, in those fabric swatches you posted? that yellow is definitely a “cool” yellow and you would probably have the same problem with your skin that you find in your blue shirt. And while green is not usually a warm color, that version of muted lime green you’re wearing in the t-shirt most definitely is! I totally recommend a color me beautiful book, but there’s nothing quite like holding up a fabric and photographing it against your skin to see how it looks. Just don’t write off all “cool” colors just yet!

  • I never really thought about which colours suit me, I mostly assume all of it works. I don’t enjoy wearing red at all because its so attention grabbing – but ill wear bright yellow with no problem! I also really love wearing forest green and other autumn colours, but its hard to wear them during a hot Aussie summer. I think the only ones I can confidently say don’t work for me are colours that are too close to my own skin tone – light gold, nude, pale yellow etc. all of these make me feel very unhappy unless the colour is broken up in some way. Good post!! Could navy blue or a warm grey work if you wanted to still go for bluish tones?

  • Colour is hugely important in my sewing. The wrong colour really affects my mood; one of the reasons I don’t wear a lot of black.

    I love pinks, reds, teals, and navy. Deep jewel tones look best on me; specifically anything with blue undertones. I cannot wear any oranges or olive greens – they wash me out!

  • Color totally affects what I sew! In fact last year I came up with my unofficial color palette and am trying to sew more in it so I will have more things that mix and match easily. I pay more attention to whether a color is warm or cool than what it actually is because I like several colors. That’s why I stick to my solid bottoms crazy top rule. Everything matches with blue jeans! There are warm blue hues and maybe some of them would work or the color blocking suggestion would allow you to still use the blues you have. White is a no no for me but I love prints on white backgrounds. I’ve got some color blocked tops planned to help me wear them without it being next to my face.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Jaii-Lana van Leeuwen

    I need to look at thee trees in late september early october and that is my pallet. I do stray, sometimes. But I am pale and unhealty looking in any other colour. No black near my face, no aqua or bright blue and no pastels.

  • Look at me already knowing this shit about you before you did, with that fabric on the top that I gave you, mmm hm… 😉

    I took a makeup class once and we all lined up according to skin tones and I very definitely was yellow, and when you put my arm next to someone with a red undertone I’m obviously more sallow. I gave up on trying to figure it out because when I answer all the questions, some answers are cool, some warm, some neutral (like my hair/eye color fits cool, but my hair undertone fits warm, and gold or silver looks okay on me). When I get complimented the most on colors I’m wearing, they are decisively in either the cool or warm camp (“you look great in bright green / yellow / blue / red”). Sooo… I wear what I want, I guess. lol

  • You know how I love colour palettes! I don’t think you should swear off blue just yet though – there are a lot of other factors, like how light or dark a colour is, how much black or white is in the colour, and what other colours are in the print! I definitely think your colours skew warm – mustard, the auburn of your hair, the warm tealy turquoise you like… but looking back through your recent pics you also looked great in the cobalt blue rayon dress, and the forest green of your wartime clothes. Interestingly, even the samples you picked of cool colours are warmer than what I would choose for myself, so even though the blues, purples and greens are technically cool, you’ve self-selected quite warm versions. (For what it’s worth, I wonder how that blue top would look if the white trim was tea-dyed cream, and you wore a warmer coloured sweater?Looking back through a couple pages worth of posts, my favourite things on you are more saturated – not beige-y or grey-y, but strong pastels and midtones with some darker contrast. I love your hair when it’s bright and dark, too, like it is now – the contrast with your skin suits you, I think. Maybe that’s something to consider with your clothes too?
    That’s a lot of thoughts. Just try and imagine me teaching my class about warm and cool colours today… lots of markers, lots of confused kids, and lots of me trying to explain why pink was warm, but a pinky purple is cool! 😛

  • Stephanie

    You could always try a contrasting collar or color blocking around the neckline so that you can still use your blue fabrics but also have a more flattering color by your face.

  • jenny hellfalk

    Hi.
    I know I don’t look good in some colours and hues. But If I really like them I will use them for skirts and trousers and put something more flattering next to my face. So I think your blues will Come to use.
    Jenny

  • Lesley

    Hi Rochelle, I had the same thoughts a couple of years ago. So I had my colours ‘done’ by a consultant. I was tired of not wearing the things I made. I disagreed with the consultant about my best colours and went on making stuff out of the deepest inkjet navy – almost exclusively. What would she know! Kate over at Fabrikated has a fab eye for colour and commented something to the effect that a dress I had made might look better in a slightly lighter navy. Check out her blog, she evaluates british politician’s dress, when she points something out about the way they dress, you go ‘ahah’! I went back to my consultants swatches and sure enough, she was absolutely right. Now to be clear this isn’t a blue vs green thing, it’s the density and hue of the colour that matters. A blue can be cool or warm depending on how that particular blue is made. You could also wear your fave flattering scarf or neckwear to reflect the perfect colour on your face? I’d die if I had to say goodbye to all those beautiful fabrics in your stash!

  • I was just thinking as I read, “She’ll have to buy Folly in the Butterscotch colorway!” but you are ahead of me. To be fair, if you haven’t seen Mystery Food in person, the colorway you like, with the pink/plum is a lot warmer in person – it was one of the reasons I got the bluer/neon red colorway instead.

  • I’ve never really thought about it until reading your post….but you are totally right! I think you might be knitting cool toned socks for a while :-0