Having established that to be tastefully dressed it is best to wear a modest, well cut dress or skirt with a defined waist, the next element for our consideration are the colours of an outfit. Many nice outfits are rendered less successful by ugly colours and clashing prints. If the only thing wrong with an outfit is an unpleasant colour it might still produce a pleasant effect overall. However, if it is at all possible to choose a nice colour it is always best to do so.
The first group of colours to avoid are the fluorescents. These are not natural colours and do not flatter human colouring. The only reason to wear such colours is to make oneself highly visible. To use fluorescent colours when not required by workplace legislation suggests a desire for attention which is not consonant with the humble and pure femininity which should be our ideal.
Kooky and extraordinarily bright colours are generally too bold for good taste, even if they do not veer into fluorescent. The larger the expanse of a single bright colour, the worse this problem becomes. In the pictures below, the vast swathes of vibrant mono-colour ensure that attention is held by the outfit, not the wearer. More demure variations of the same colour allow the viewer to take in the woman and the outfit as a single work of art.
Having dispensed with unnaturally bright colours, the more natural tones require our appraisal. While not all of the natural colours are equally beautiful, most are perfectly serviceable when made up into a well cut dress. Most people can tell when a colour is ugly by looking at it. Therefore do not ignore this consideration when selecting clothing. Even if the item is otherwise pleasant, if the colour is overwhelmingly hideous feel free to choose something else. Do not let a current fad trick you into purchasing an item which will not be considered beautiful with hindsight. The most unifying principle in ugly colours seems to be yellow. Light pure yellows are perfectly pretty, but when mixed with other colours yellow can cause difficulties. Part of this problem is that yellow is a fundamentally light, bright colour. If you mix black into yellow it does not produced dark yellow, but a dirty yellow which begins to look almost green. Therefore any dark yellow colour should be avoided.
Bright yellowy greens are generally not nice colours for clothing. Perhaps this is because the brightness of the yellow is overpowering unless more blue or white is added to tone down the garish intensity. Dark greens or very blueish light greens are perfectly satisfactory colours. Very yellowy light greens usually have a toxic brightness to them, while very yellowy dark greens begin to look too much like dark yellow for comfort. The less yellow in the green the safer it becomes.
Orange also presents problems because of the brightness of the yellow component. Very bright oranges should always be shunned, unless one wishes to give the impression she was recently released from prison. Surely it is not a coincidence that the American penal system chooses such an unflattering colour to inflict upon its inmates. Very light oranges, which have a lot of white in the colour, such as apricot and peach are welcome. The less bright the shade the more pleasant the outfit will appear.
When black is added to orange, brown is quickly produced. Again, yellowy browns are good colours to avoid. It is generally best to steer away from warm browns, and prefer cooler browns, particularly light neutral tones. Generally dark browns are an uninspiring choice for clothing, although brown leather accessories are perfectly inoffensive. If you are wearing brown, it is generally better to combine it with cooler tones. Cool blues and greens will tend to mute the offensive yellow element in brown. Combining yellowish or orangey brown with warm colours will only enhance that unfortunate tone in the clothing.
To summarise, no fluorescents, no excessively bright colours, no dark yellows, no yellowy greens, no bright oranges and no warm browns should habitually appear in your wardrobe. The rest of the colours; all blues, reds, pinks, purples and the non-yellowy greens are safe, as are black, white and all the greys between.
Prints upon fabric should if possible avoid the same yellowy colours as discussed above. If the print does not dominate the fabric, a few unfortunate colours will not ruin the outfit. It is helpful to consider the fabric by itself to determine whether the print is something you wish to have on your clothing. If it is not an attractive print on its own, it is unlikely to be doing your outfit any favours. All messy prints in drab colours should be spurned.
Prints are safer if they take the form of a pattern rather than a single picture. Large images stamped upon a garment look cheap and childish, as though the maker hopes that by adding a picture of something the shopper likes they will be induced to overlook a poor design. Words should also be avoided. There is no need for your clothing to loudly proclaim any opinions to the world at large.
Feminine and delicate things such as flowers, dragonflies and most birds are permissible subject matter for prints on ladies clothing, as they tend to look more like designs than pictures. Prints featuring animals, mythical beasts, skulls, weapons, sailor Jerry tattoos, naked women and most fruit are not recommended as they generally communicate an unrefined taste. All subject matter which looks novel, kooky, childish or communicates an aggressive message is best left alone.
Animal prints, such as leopard and zebra, have very sensual connotations which it is better not to associate oneself with. Perhaps this need not be the case, but the sad fact of the matter is that animal print tends to be accompany some very tacky styles. Therefore it is safer to make a habit of avoiding clothing in such prints.
Very heavy stripes or geometric prints, such as check or tartan, generally look too rigid and masculine to show a woman to her best advantage. A plain colour is preferred to random blocky shapes, which seem to add nothing to an outfit.
Mixing prints is never advisable. The confusion created by two different prints distracts the eye. Matching one of the colours in the print can be visually pleasing, but if this is not possible, opt for a neutral colour. Whites, greys, blacks or blues are usually benign colours to pair with prints.
Too many colours within a print or outfit is also a common fashion mistake. Limiting your outfit to two or three colours is far more tasteful. Many shades of those two or three colours can provide a satisfying complexity to the image you present without overwhelming the viewer.
The first image above utilises many shades of blue green, and many shades of coppery brown, highlighted by the model’s red hair. The second outfit uses gold and many shades of purplish blue from very dark through to almost white. All three images are more appealing for the complex but harmonious use of just a few colours.
Used well, colour can be sublime, elevating an outfit from the ordinary to the magnificent. Used poorly, and an otherwise well planned outfit can fall flat. Hopefully these instructions have made some sense of how colour can be used well. The next article in this series will deal with fabric choice and the finishes to a garment.
Read on to the sixth principle.