Whether you like it or not, the color of your clothing speaks for you.
Claire is an image coach. So color is part of her toolbox. Thanks to her collection of colored fabrics, she can find the colors that suit you, but also which tell you, by observing you in the mirror. She explains her method in this article.
Like Rimbaud and Messiaen, Claire is a synesthete, she “sees” colors when she hears words or other sounds, be it verbal language, numbers, or music, or when she thinks about the unfolding of time. Colors are then superimposed on a sound reality or a mental calendar. But as for most synesthetes, these associations are unique to her.
Color has indeed a privileged place in her life! Claire also has a great acuity towards colors. Moreover, she has always felt an immense pleasure in tasting colors – she describes herself as a “color devourer”.
A mutual friend, perceiving the same greed for color, put us in touch and Claire answered the call for “teaching color”.
I leave her the keyboard so that she can reveal her method.
I am an image and personal development coach. I accompany people who want to know themselves fully, to express themselves freely and to feel consistent with themselves. I use clothing as a privileged tool, one of the essential parameters of which is color.
Color in clothing
One can say that I teach color insofar as the coaching I offer allows one to free oneself from preconceived clichés, which are above all confining.
I have noticed that in my culture (Western but French in particular), people rarely dare resort to colors — all those that enhance them — when it comes to clothing.
However, clothing, far from being superficial, is our second skin and must be an extension of our person. If you want to show yourself to others in a genuine, sincere and fluent way, if you need to be coherent with yourself, it is essential to choose, for your clothing, pieces that not only enhance your complexion, but above all tell the same story as you do.
From this point of view, color is very telling, very expressive of a person: beyond even the taste that this one has for this or that hue, the color test I practiced during an image coaching makes it possible to bring to light the various facets of the person, and, moreover, to even come out aspects she may not have been aware of, nor accepted.
Develop your acuity
To begin with, the practice of color in image coaching through clothing allows you to develop your acuity. In this field, even more than in others, saying “green doesn’t suit me” doesn’t really make sense. Indeed, what are we actually talking about? To what reality does “green” correspond?
We work immediately to distinguish the different variations of the same color — the very various shades of it — so as to make out what best suits the person, in all her or his complexity.
Detach a color from its connotation
Among the other goals, a really major one, considering the coaching approach: it is to evolve in one’s attitude towards colors applied to clothing.
I had a deeply moving experience of this when I had my clothing profile done according to a non-academic approach (which I have integrated into my practice when becoming an image coach), during a personal development course: I had grown up with the idea — very fortunate — that using colors in a sophisticated way for one’s clothing was essential.
But I had been limited to a rather small number of hues (because I was blonde, because I was a girl, because I belonged to a certain milieu…). For example, vermilion was out of the question: “too flashy” – whereas burgundy was much more “elegant”. In other words, one was talking about colors in themselves (and with very oriented interpretations), put on me, and not about colors for me.
Thanks to the experience of this workshop, I understood that vermilion (and many other colors) part of me and that my best interest was to use it for my clothing. So much so, that I even got over my lack of taste for this color: I understood that this type of consideration is minor when one adopts another point of view than the only aesthetic one — the existential dimension.
Incorporate one’s colors
Making this experience is what I aim at when I coach someone.
Even if I also take into account what this or that color echoes in them. Because we all have very personal references (even more than those we share with the other members of our cultural community) attached to the colors: one reminds us of the clothing that such a harsh teacher used to wear, one evokes the time of vacations by the sea, one is the one reserved for the military husband…
It is not easy to overcome these reactions but it is really interesting to take advantage of them to indulge in an introspection which can lead to a (re)appropriation of what belongs to us. And when you have discovered, if not all but at least a considerable part of your colors, you can train yourself to master their application in your clothing, then in a totally personal way, experiencing a lot of pleasure, having fun, as a virtuoso of the color.
More than a color, a palette
Finally, we may need to show ourselves beyond our clothing, in particular through a graphic charter. I believe that, even if we have to take into account the different components of a professional activity (what we do, in what context and with whom we do it, taking into account certain trends, etc.), composing with our personal palette is the most efficient way to stand out.
I take here the example I know best: the business card that is part of the graphic charter of Perle Claire, my image coaching agency. The mosaic that we see is made of a (small) part of the colors of my personal clothing profile. I selected them because they belong to me, while taking into account the connotation I wanted to give to my activity.
How to find “your colors”?
The learning of colors that I propose as an image coach is mainly done through what is called the color test, which takes place at the very beginning of the coaching process, and which I will describe next.
This learning process also includes a practical application afterwards, through examples of extensive dresses, during the wardrobe sorting that I do with the person at home, and during the fitting of clothes and accessories in stores.
All in all, it is very concrete. I don’t use theory, or only rarely, and in this case with people who are already familiar with the technical aspects of color or who really want to acquire knowledge in this area. I have also chosen this approach because I am not very academic myself and I propose an intuitive approach based on feeling.
The color test
To come back to the color test, here is how I realise it :
The person I am accompanying is sitting in front of a mirror, and I am behind her, so that we can both appreciate what is happening, namely, the effect of the colors that I am passing successively under her face, colors materialized by pieces of colored cotton fabric.
The effects produced are all the more obvious thanks to comparing various shades, from two to six. The session lasts about an hour and a half, which is the time needed to pass about 70 different colors and shades. In many cases, it is also aimed at giving the person concerned the opportunity to re-familiarize herself with her image, or even to (re)tame herself. Some of them have not looked in the mirror for decades!
The colors matching the person
Finally, the time of this session allows not only me (with my trained professional eye) but especially the person I am accompanying to correctly discern the effects produced and to select the colors really matching her.
And it is not, once again, a question of seeing only what happens on a literal, “aesthetic” level, in the first degree (does the color of the fabric find its way into the person’s physique and does it make him or her “look good”) but, more profoundly, does such a color belong to the person, “is” this person — what I call “telling the same story”.
Creation of a personal color chart
Following this session, from the colors that we have selected, I create a personal color chart for the person. This one is unique: contrary to what is usually practiced in image consulting, I do not “fit” the person I accompany into a predetermined color category.
Indeed, we hear a lot about classification into “seasons” or other categories, which are all based on the three-dimensional analysis of color. I do not dispute at all that the three parameters of color are taken into account. The problem with the usual approaches is, in my opinion, that they force nature into a straitjacket.
This simply doesn’t work: the human mind does need reference points — and therefore classifications (I worked as a librarian before becoming an image coach, so I’m quite familiar with classifications, of objects anyway!) – but living beings are far too complex to be satisfied with that. I believe that the people invest and commit themselves enough in being coached by me so that they do not receive a stereotyped solution but rather an approach and a result that are as refined as possible. Hence, a tailor-made, necessarily unique approach.
Moreover, as one of the major concerns of the people I accompany is how to associate colors between them, I realize and transmit photographs of the fabrics of the various selected colors in combination with each other. For the same person, I find about a hundred combinations, which is not extensive but gives a palette substantial enough already to have examples on which to model.
Here, we can see that each piece of colored fabric used for the color test has a label with its name. Let us specify that this denomination is that of the supplier of material of “colorimetry”; it matches what is usually used in the current language (see for example here).
And it is also a recurrent concern among people who come to look for their colors: the need to name, together with the effort of visual memorization. Probably to be able to communicate about colors (for example during a conversation, without visual support to show the color as it is in reality) or to find references on which to rely in the world and thus better memorize.
I confess that I feel more and more ill at ease by the fact that I “must” name colors in reference to objects in nature, even though I know that this is totally justified (the first color chart in history — Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World — was elaborated with only animals, plants and minerals).
My discomfort comes from the fact that there is sometimes a great deal of subjectivity, as well as “deviations”, in these references when they are assimilated by everyone – and we end up not knowing what we are talking about. Here, for example, “duck blue” is already a (slight) deviation: mallards (males) are mostly noticed for the green of their necks and not for the blue-green of their wings; there has obviously been a kind of “shift”. Another example shown here: “[vert doré] golden green” is not a common name and reflects more an interpretation of this color (which I myself would call “dark olive green”) by the supplier than a reference to a reality found in nature. In short, as far as color naming is concerned, would it be possible, I would stick to a system of alpha-numeric system, very “neutral” – but which one actually?
Transforming one’s eye
I always notice a striking phenomenon following the color test session: the person accompanied immediately begins changing her way to look at. This is because this session — quite long, once again — is a privileged moment of setting up new bearings and of training the gaze. This training will continue to develop, with all that the person’s eye will encounter: not only herself or himself in the mirror but all that they can see and watch, all day long. Above all, this process prompts people to change their relationship with themselves. Their new way of looking at colors nourishes them.
Very soon after the color test, I give the person her personal color chart and the photographs of her color combinations. Moreover, with the photographs that I take of her at the beginning of her journey, the contrast between the panel of colors — often extremely poor — that she resorted to before the beginning of her coaching and her personal color chart makes her react. So much so, that before I come and sort out her wardrobe, the person will very spontaneously start to discriminate by herself what is good for her and what is not.
I acknowledge I have few academic references regarding color. My own learning has been greatly helped by my family culture: my mother — steeped in British culture (she taught English for several decades) — has always advocated the use of colors other than black, navy, gray or white, for her clothing as well as for mine. Her sisters made the same speech —I can still hear one of my aunts say, for her own case, “Never black, never!” -— and carefully enforced it. And these examples, to me, are so much more powerful than the best of books, at least in my field of application…
On the other hand, I marvel at “nature”, everything that is alive, and this gives me endless examples to follow.
A book and a series
Nevertheless I wish to refer to The Harmony of colors – Pantone edition by Leatrice Eiseman, published by Pyramid. In addition to theoretical (and canonical) statements on the meanings and uses of colors in graphic design and visual creation, this book displays a series of thirty moods, in the form of 36 circles representing color combinations with Pantone references of the different shades.
I would also like to pay tribute to people who show magnificent talent, in the field of television: I am a great fan of the series Scènes de ménage (broadcast on the French channel M6), not only for what is in play (which is our topic here but on which there would be so much to say!) but also for the design and realization of sets and costumes. The mastery of the application of colors to clothing by the costume designer(s) is obvious : perfectly implementing the “rules” – and, much better: sometimes, deliberately bending them. Just like the characters of the series: at the same time very much compliant with their stereotypes, but also larger than life, and therefore also, paradoxically, perfectly convincing; therefore more human than fictional.