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Fashion Challenge: Wearing Wrong Right

Imagine a world without colour, with everyone dressing in black and grey all the time – how dreary it would be. It would look quite a lot like an endless Melbourne winter, and that would surely get your spirits down.

That’s the main reason I love wearing colour – it is a real mood enhancer. It makes dressing more exciting. But just a little colour is not enough for me. No mere dash of red here or there (which some people consider such a classic that it’s almost a neutral), or a bit of khaki or navy. I find that dull. I love to dabble in unsafe colour. Colour that is bold – daring, even. I particularly enjoy matching colours that are slightly wrong, ones that aren’t commonly paired together.

I love to dabble in unsafe colour. Colour that is bold – daring, even. 

I was elaborating on this topic a few weeks ago at the theatre where I work, and I was challenged by one of my colleagues to wear all the ‘wrong colours’ all the following week. I accepted with pleasure. I didn’t think this would be a difficult challenge, and it wasn’t, except that it did make me think about styling my outfits a little bit more than usual. In the mornings I normally decide what to wear very quickly, while I am showering. This time such a fun challenge had me thinking about what to wear days ahead of time.

To cover all bases of this fashion challenge, I decided to have a different theme each day: clashing colour, too many colours, and a multitude of pattern.

Clashing Colour

The terms ‘clashing’ and ‘complementary’ are often used interchangeably, referring to colours that are opposite to one another in the colour wheel. They can also be described as high contrast – which for some may be a more useful way of thinking about it when choosing colours to wear together, especially if there is no colour wheel handy (and who has one of these hanging on their closet door?). Complementary or high contrast colours can look fantastic together and make each other pop. Two of my favourite combinations are turquoise and red, or mint with red.

Mauve, tangerine and beige harmonise nicely, from FossilWhat can be more confusing is throwing the concept of harmonising colours into your palette. Research the term and you will read that colours such as red, orange, yellow (the colours that blend into one another on the colour wheel) harmonise. Yet other sources will say red and pink, for example, clash, yet they are sitting next to one another on the colour wheel – just on the other side.

I call this the Big Colour Lie. I am not sure who first made it up – probably someone who was afraid of standing out too much – but it is BOGUS. Almost any shade of red and pink look great together! The same can be said about blue and green.

A lovely and unusual combination of clashing colours from FossilClashing colours as those hues that are too close for visual comfort – when you first see them together they can give you a shock, make you wince and look away. They don’t blend in a harmonising way, but try to dominate one another. The key here is that one will be slightly on the cool side, and the other slightly on the warm side. They are almost the same but not quite, so they look a little strange or wrong next to one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s striking, unusual and challenging, and therefore exciting. (And taking a few daring risks with colour is not really going to hurt anyone.)

They are almost the same but not quite, so they look a little strange or wrong next to one another.

Some examples are vivid orange with a very vibrant cool pink; or plum (red-purple) with violet (blue-purple); or in a triple-header I wore recently of teal (dark blue-green) with ultra-violet and cobalt blue. And yesterday I saw the leaves of the Moreton Bay Fig tree were two coloured: olive green underneath, and an almost blue-green on top. Who can say nature got it wrong?

This concept can also work with a slightly ‘dirty’ colour worn with a bright, clear colour, such as mustard yellow with hot pink, or maroon with sky blue. ‘Dirty’ colours are those tertiary shades, mixed from three primaries (with or without black), while ‘clear’ or secondary shades are mixed only from two (with or without white). Another favourite combination of mine is acid yellow with silver-grey and maroon or cobalt – the shock of cobalt and yellow is lessened by the neutral grey. The possibilities are endless!

Colour-blocking: striking and shocking!Experimental colour was a huge trend a couple of years ago, and the fashion industry referred to this as ‘colour blocking’. Colours were usually quite bright, and shapes of garments were often very simple and graphic. Reiterating the look exactly may look a little passé now, but doing an image search on the term will undoubtedly give you a fresh perspective on fun colour combinations. Today you may prefer to take those colours and interpret them differently, such as wearing two dominating colours, with a third or possibly a fourth added in the form of a belt or pair of shoes.

Too Many Colours

As I quoted in the Ninth Commandment recently, the famous Genevieve Antoine Dariaux believed that really only two colours should be worn at once. I usually prefer to throw in a third (unless I am wearing a printed dress, for example) so that the balance is slightly off – I find that far more visually interesting than perfectly matched garments.

Wearing lots of colours (four or more) is easier to achieve if you stick to a colour family: perhaps three or even four colours in various shades plus a matching print (or two!) in the same shades. This sounds a little crazy, but it can be a lot of fun if you can pull it off. I wouldn’t want to dress like this every day, but once in a while it adds a little spice to your week.

Just remember the easiest way to pull this off is to wear two main colours, and incorporate the third or fourth colours in your accessories.

A Patchwork of Pattern

Mixing patterns is easy! And fun. The simplest combination is stripes with polka dots. One favourite outfit of mine that I often wear is a vintage 80s French blue skirt with white polka dots, with a black and white horizontally striped tee.

It is more difficult to match complex patterns, but it can be done. One way is to choose prints that are in similar colours and tones. Tone refers to the level of brightness or intensity in a colour, or to temperature – whether it is warm or cool.

Another method of mixing and matching prints is to use similar types – for example, florals that are relatively alike in style, and in harmonising tones, such as in the picture above. The hat and the shorts both have a painterly floral pattern, while the cherry print is done at the same scale as the pink flowers on the shorts, but in colours similar to the hat. Note the hat is a warmer, orange toned red, while the pair of shorts is cool-toned, while the white space in cherry print helps unite all three patterns. 

Contrasting prints can work too, whether they contrast in scale (a large floral print worn with a tiny floral, both in similar tones, or narrow horizontal stripes worn with wide vertical stripes), or in type – the aforementioned stripes with polka dots being a simple example – but polka dots could work with a floral in similar tones too.

Above, the houndstooth and spot pattern work together because they are both navy and white, and almost a reverse of one another – the amount of white space in the spot pattern relaxes the eye. Below, different textures and patterns work – a striped knit, needlework lace and an appliquéd skirt – because they are all in yellow and cream. 

A super easy method for the nervous is to wear a garment incorporating multi-prints – the designer has already done the work for you!

However much colour or pattern you incorporate into your outfit, the most important thing is that you shouldn’t feel or look overwhelmed – people should still be able to see you. How we dress is an aspect of our personality, so the colours you choose to wear should not only suit your complexion, but who you are. But even timid types who shy away from bold colour shouldn’t be afraid to experiment occasionally, rather than sticking to safe, dull shades. The right colours next to your face just might make you blossom!

What I Actually Wore

Date: Wed 12/03/14
Weather: 21°C / 69.8°F, a grey, threatening rain

For the clashing theme, I decided to wear pink and orange before I had even cast an eye over the contents of my closet, so it took me very little time to dress. I decided my burnt orange skirt (note, orange is always warm – a cool orange is really brown) would clash deliciously with the cool raspberry pink top. They are both quite strong, rich colours, and I would use a belt to unify them. I did try three different ones on, but the rich tan Chinese knot belt was the last, and as soon as I clipped it on I knew it was the right one. It matched the burnt orange so well.

The woven cane earrings are a light brown, and the silk raincoat hot pink – both these shades slightly off-kilter with the tan belt and pink top. That is exactly what I find fun about wearing ‘slightly wrong’ colours.

For my third colour I picked out a new pair of violet snakeskin heels, that I had bought secondhand for exactly $6. They were unworn, and still had the original pricetag on them, stating that the first owner had bought them for $40, marked down from $200. (And my sister Star has the nerve to call herself the Queen of Bargains.) The shoes proved hugely popular with colleagues at the theatre. (A year ago when I hurt my foot and I couldn’t wear proper shoes for over a month, people were lamenting that they wouldn’t get to admire my footwear for so long.)

Top: Veronika Maine
Skirt: Hannii
Coat: vintage 70s
Belt: French Connection
Shoes: Sachi
Earrings: vintage 70s
Bangles: vintage
Ring: souvenir, Vietnam

Date: Thu 13/03/14
Weather: 24°C / 75.2°F, bright morning

This time I go for what I dubbed in the end a mad mélange of an 80s gelati style. The outfit began with the pale pink balloon trousers, followed by the acid yellow twist gathered tank, and then the cerise ribbed cardigan. A pink and yellow theme began to develop and I began to pile on the accessories wildly: the fabric belt made from a patchwork of vintage silks, the ruffled silk polka-dot scarf, and all the different coloured costume jewellery. It was a wicked delight to throw in the baby blue shoes. Again the belt tied everything together (literally): it featured all the same colours, and polka dots.

As I commented to several people that day, the clownish pants were wrong almost in themselves – so bad they were good. One guy approved the outfit but remarked that I don’t look any different than I normally do! ‘Oh come on!’ I exclaimed, ‘Look at the pants!’ I had to rise and demonstrate the supreme width.

Tank: unknown label, secondhand
Pantaloons: Lauren Vidal
Cardigan: Ping Pong
Scarf: unknown label, souvenir, Noosa
Belt: from Crazy Haus giftshop, souvenir, Vietnam
Earrings: Bijou Brigitte, souvenir, Portugal
Bangle: unknown label, Melbourne boutique
Ring: souvenir, Spain
Shoes: Together!, vintage 80s

Date: Fri 14/03/14
Weather: 28°C / 82.4°F, a clear morning promising a warm day

At the last minute I decided to change the outfit I’d planned to wear (a mix of animal prints I believe), because I had finally got round to repairing the shattered areas in a skirt made from vintage Indian saris. There are two or three long tears which, when worn, are fortunately not visible, though mended tears are preferable to gaping holes. The tiered skirt is a souvenir from Portugal, not India at all, and is made from three differently patterned silks. It is also reversible, only the longest tier showing. I found it in a little, colourful store in the backstreets of Sintra, a fairytale city in the south of Portugal, climbing many cobbled stairs to get there.

I team that with a black and white striped t-shirt from Zara, which, incidentally, was also bought on the same trip to Portugal, though in Porto. Black and white stripes are almost like a neutral pattern, and can be worn many ways.

The red suede shoes are laser cut with a lovely little floral pattern, which I thought was a nice and lateral match with the florals in the skirt.

Also featuring a floral pattern, the spectacular blue enamelled earrings are yet another souvenir from Portugal, from the jewellery boutique Brigit Bijou on the Rua Augusta, Lisbon. That boutique was an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure! The parrot earrings I wore the day before were also bought there. The black onyx ring is a souvenir from the Ben Thành Market in Saigon, Vietnam (an awesome market to shop in). 

Top: Zara
Skirt: souvenir, Portugal
Shoes: Marchez Vous
Earrings: Bijou Brigitte, souvenir, Portugal
Ring: souvenir, Vietnam

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