Closet Talk: How To Shop Smarter And Choose Colors That Look Good On You

A little seasonal assessment on making lists, choosing colors, thoughtful shopping, patience, and the importance of what we wear.

This quote neatly packages a shift in my perspective on wardrobe-building since I began to formally document an editing process last year. There have also been a few other unexpected lessons, and refreshed by this warm weather, I am ready to dive into a seasonal assessment.

Editing identified gaps and surpluses in my closet. Once I saw this, a seasonal list of wants, needs, and do-not-buys became essential. The list kept me away from silk scarfs and summer tanks while thrifting, and I instead headed straight to the jumpers, business skirts, and basic pieces I lacked. It also kept me on track during late night online shopping forays – if it wasn’t on the list, I questioned my true interest. I also began to better track items on sale and on eBay – which is really half the fun for an INTJ.
Finally I understood why I constantly wear neutrals, blues, and currant reds with cool undertones – and why, without fail, browns, oranges, and yellows were at the back of the closet. My skin, hair, and eye color are all best-suited for cool colors.
How to determine your skin’s season and what colors best suit you:

  • The color of your skin, hair, clothes, and makeup falls within one of three palettes: warm, with colors that contain a yellow tint; cool, with hues that are based in blue; and neutrals, which are somewhere in the middle.
  • A color’s season depends on how it feels, not strictly if it’s “orange” or “blue” – a berry red can actually feel quite cool, while a typically neutral grey could take on a very warm or cool feel with enough of a yellow or blue undertone. Just like seasons typically go, summer tones are the warmest, spring and fall are closer to neutral, and winter is quite cold.
  • You typically want to match your natural coloring (your skin, hair, and eyes) to clothes that feel similar in warmth or coolness. You can adjust this a bit by changing your hair color if you personally prefer colors that don’t quite look right against your natural color – ashy blondes tend to look more natural in cool tones, while warm brunettes shine in hotter hues. This is why I brighten my hair with icy cool blonde balayage highlights – I love to wear bluer hues.
  • A quick test: Look at your face in natural light with no makeup. Swipe your favorite blush or lipstick across your cheeks and lips – does your face look warm, or cool? Do you prefer makeup with orange, peachy reds? Or cool, wine-hued blue undertones?
  • You can also put anything that looks red-orange or blue-green near your face and snap a photo by a window. Which is your favorite? Which washes you out? Which makes you look healthy and happy?
  • Another quick test is to think of a celebrity with a similar hair, skin, eye color as you and search out what colors they wear most often. For my combination, I would pick Rosie Huntington Whiteley or Olivia Wilde during her blonde years. In contrast, one summer in high school I loved wearing warm, bright colors and dyed my hair a caramel dark brown – at that point I turned to women like Eva Green and Megan Fox circa 2007 for warm outfit ideas.
  • If you’re still stuck, you can always ask friends and family who know you well to be honest with you about what looks good (and what doesn’t). When my mom, who is naturally a brunette and looks fantastic in warm colors, saw my “new look” in high school, she said nothing about the deep brown locks but passed me a post-it note: “so upset, can’t speak, 🙁 miss my blonde baby girl.” I went back to my lighter roots a few months later!

Note how different the same pair of pants and boots feel with a fairly warm and cool palette.

My natural coloring is a bit cool, and I prefer wintry blues and cool greens and reds. My favorite lipsticks are cool, berry reds that bring out blue-grey eyes and ashy blonde hair. I tend to wear neutral clothes, but also like cool greys, deep burgundy, and forest greens. A bonus to my lipstick: blueish reds make your teeth look ultra white!
One exception to my “cool rule” is jewelry – nearly every piece I have is in gold finish. I enjoy the tiny bit of contrast that delicate gold necklaces, rings, and bracelets seem to create against my cool, green-blue skin tone.
I did keep a couple coral and citrus pieces in my closet, but removed a sea of warm tones and will be careful next time I fall-in-like with similar pieces. Which leads to…

Life is so much kinder at seven-thirty in the morning when everything coordinates. I culled down my theme to black, white, grey, tan, olive, shades of blue, and occasional prints and rich textures: cabbage rose, breton stripes, metallic sequins, marled knits, matte silks, and tortoise shell.
After realizing how much I donated this year, I especially approached the wants category with a more careful eye and asked a few questions before clicking “submit” on any order:

  • Why do I want this? Is it a good value, on sale, on trend, or an honest wardrobe gap? Is marketing influence at hand? Am I looking to fill some other gap in my life? This led to a fair bit of self-discovery. I read about angora and swore it off. I ruminated the ethics of vintage furs. A PETA video made me cry. More on this later.
  • Where are the most ethical sources for this? I aimed for second-hand if possible. Else I researched company values, worker conditions, and environmental policies – and I started to find some really amazing companies on the way – I am excited to share some of them soon!
  • What physical features would “the one” perfect piece include? This meant that instead of looking for “a new purse”, I entered a hunt for the purse. After identifying the right size and color (what else, black) I got a taste for classic shapes, hardware, materials, and textures I liked, as well as the brands that aligned well with those aesthetics. I then started reading the stories behind each of these companies. Phillip Lim’s biography resonated with me, and so did his no-labels-evident Pashli. However, I wanted to avoid buying new, if at all possible – so I turned to eBay. Within a couple of weeks a listing popped up for “the one”, and I snapped it up.

I learned to wait. I now look at shopping as a process instead of a sort of manic consumption. The search for “the one” purse took about 30 hours, over a month’s time. Yes, that is obsessive, and yes, it’s bizarre to spend that kind of time on an object in 2014. And at heart, it’s also is what luxury means, now. Luxury is having and taking the time to carefully select something you want or need, thinking about a product as more than a purely functional or decorative object, thinking of it as a careful collection connected to many parts of the world. And ironically, this can also mean luxury has little relation to cost – good thrift stores have so many quality items for so little money. Steve Jobs waited ten years to choose a couch for his living room. I can wait a few months for a pair of flats.
Look down at what you’re wearing. Today you woke up and decided: This is what I’ll wear today. At some earlier point, you decided: This is something I will keep. And maybe you thought: This is something I’ll buy, because this is how I would like the world to see me. Really, you’re saying: This is a part of me.
Music and art can be universal, and human emotion can be, if you pay attention. But strangers often don’t. What you wear is a silent and immediate indication of what is important (and not important) to you, and by extension it is a glimpse of who you seem to be. Beyond an initial expression of yourself to the world at large, what you choose to buy and wear can say a lot about who you really are.
Last summer, I was drawn to this Zara tribal necklace that was sold-out, and I searched everywhere for a version of it. I stopped looking when I realized that a necklace won’t make me stop missing a trip I took to Africa. New yoga pants won’t make me any healthier – but good running shoes might encourage me to hit the pavement more often. A closet bursting with brand new, inexpensive, cute clothes each season may garner a lot of compliments, but how do I feel about myself when I think about the hands that made my sweater?
That’s where fashion stops being about leaving an impression on other people, and starts being about you. Logos and identifiable trends aside, you are the only person who sees the label tucked in at the nape of your neck, into the seat of your jeans, onto the soles of your feet. And that’s an important thing to think about, if you care about the world around you. Putting these labels on public display of this blog has made me acutely aware of my choices. With each story I learn about what I buy, and it becomes more important to me to put my money where my mouth is. Shopping is voting.


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