I took a picture the other day. It was in the loos of a posh hotel in London, because it’s a crime not to outfit selfie in a full-length mirror. When I looked at the photo, I couldn’t see myself at all – I’d completely disappeared into the darkness, save for my red metallic boots. I’d just bought those shoes; they’re the only colourful shoes I own, actually. I kept looking at that photo because it seemed like a metaphor for how I’m feeling at the moment and as a lifelong wearer of black: pretty invisible, but with a glimmer of hope.
Black always represented counter-culture to me, but if I take a reality check and think about it, that’s not the case anymore because I now wear it as a uniform.
Black clothes have always been a huge part of my identity, from my earliest incarnation as a 14-year-old gothling to now, as a grown-up goth. I love the drama that black clothing can bring – a billowing cape dress with a Cruella de Vil vibe and sculptural Yohji Yamamoto shapes that look like a neo-gothic version of the future. Black has always represented counter-culture to me, except that if I take a reality check and think about it, that’s not the case anymore because I now wear it as a uniform. After a decade of working on women’s magazines, I just look like part of the crowd – most fashion people wear black or navy. Everyone at the bus stop is in black. Everyone walking down the street is in black. Black now feels conformist in so many ways; the very opposite of what it meant to me, originally, as a baby goth.
This has led me to my current situation, sat at my dining table with Jo Baldwin Trott, an image and personal brand expert who specialises in colour. When she turns up at my fairly monochrome flat, she’s resplendent in blue and red; I can almost feel the room liven up. But she doesn’t look bonkers, which is how I always think a colour expert will look; like somebody who not only tasted the rainbow but decided to wear the whole darn thing too. "Colour engages us on every level," Jo says. "It changes emotions, how others see us and our own energetic vibrations. All colours have an energetic factor; red increases your heart rate as it is seen as a signal of danger. Green, the colour of nature, is calming and creative. Ancient Ayurvedic principles even say that you should avoid black if you want to be more fertile because the energy of the colours your wear transfers to the cells in your body."
I do believe in energies and vibrations from colour – the instant zap you feel when you see neon or a really bright hue. And while some of you may be screaming 'pseudoscience' at the screen right now, the biggest decider for me is what works in practice, not theory. The one thing I know I need to overcome is feeling uncomfortable being seen. "I do think women wear black to not be noticed," says Jo. "That’s what we need to change – it’s not about hiding – whatever shape or size you are. What you have to get over by wearing colour is that you will be noticed." I don’t feel ready yet, if I’m honest. I worry that if I wear bright colours, I’ll have to perform a bit to 'match' the vibrancy of the shade – I am quite shy naturally and I’m going through a career transition that means I need to be a bit more of an extrovert – and I’m feeling the pressure. "You think you have to create another character," Jo says. "But you need to allow the hidden extrovert part of yourself to exist more; now it’s hidden underneath the black."
Deep down I do want to be more visible. I have a feeling I’m missing out by choosing black as a tick-box every time I do an ASOS haul. Is it finally time to step away from the darkness?
The right colours…
Jo begins my colour analysis, a process created by artist Robert Dorr which suggests that we are all 'seasons' of colour. To determine my season, Jo asks me to look in the mirror and uses different shades of fabric to cover up what I’m wearing, ensuring the fabric is around my neck so I can see how it affects my skin tone. She starts with blues, showing me that I really suit navy – a shade I’ve always deemed "black for wimps". She shows me a brighter shade of blue and again I’ve got a line: "cheap bridesmaids' dresses," I tell her. Clearly I’ve been talking myself out of colour for quite some time.
Jo reveals that I’m a ‘winter’ – which pleases my gothic heart immensely.
Once I get over myself, I start seeing that the colours she puts on me do change my face. Khaki makes my skin look almost patchy. Bright red works though, as does hot pink. But warm yellow? Forget about it – it makes me look a teeny bit sick. We move through the other shade groups and finish on neutrals; luckily black is one of mine. Phew! When we’ve finished, Jo reveals that I’m a 'winter', which pleases my gothic heart immensely. She creates a wallet of colours for me to take shopping, so I know what I’m looking for, and also points out 'zing' colours – those that suit me most – putting a sticker on those shades in the wallet.
Afterwards we go upstairs and open my wardrobe. It’s almost dark outside and I realise you can’t see inside; I'll admit that after 6pm in dim light, I do struggle to find things. But there are some colours I’m instinctively drawn to, a few of which do actually reside in my cupboard of darkness – namely green and bright pink. "Those are two of your zing colours," Jo assures me. "You picked them instinctively because you look and feel great in them."
That’s probably right – but what about the random bits of colour I have amassed? She pulls out a peach pussy-bow top from last year that still has the tags on it. "Hold it up to yourself in the mirror – you’ll see the shade doesn’t really light you up," she says, and she’s right. Peach doesn’t work at all, it makes me look washed out. Jo brandishes a brown and purple tartan jacket from M&S which I love but again, haven’t worn. She says it’s because brown isn’t one of my colours, which is evident when I put the jacket on to show her. But I do love this jacket, so she suggests getting the lapel altered with purple velvet – purple being one of my 'zing' colours.
One thing I am worried about if I do wear more colour is the loss of my 'alternative' identity. Deep inside I'm still that kid in the Slipknot hoodie with kohl-ringed eyes; I’ve been going to Download Festival for 15 years now, sandwiching it in between fashion months. Now that I've 'made it' professionally, wearing colour feels like cheating on that identity – I’ve always felt that black keeps me authentic. I may no longer have the blue hair and multiple facial piercings but I’m still that same girl who doesn’t want to conform. Can I evolve her into colour in a way that feels natural? I definitely feel more inclined to try.
At the end of the session I do feel excited by colour and the possibility of using it to express myself. Neon shades I’ve decided are a goer – I’ve seen this Collision jumper in neon pink that I definitely want. Jo suggests that when I do wear all black (that uniform won’t disappear overnight), bright shoes or accessories are a great choice to change the energy of my outfit. The next day I decide to remove a Vestiaire Collective listing for a hot pink MSGM coat I bought but put up for sale because it was so bright, I worried that everyone would look at me all the time. Now I can see that coat is actually a weapon. I’m beginning to see colour on other people more too – and Jo’s right, it’s an instant draw.
The following week I'm looking at colour more as an option – I wear brighter makeup and at a vintage fair, yes, I buy a black '40s swing coat, but I also buy a ton of bright scarves and a fluoro pink dress. I'm excited about colour in a way I didn’t think was possible, and I feel brighter and more ready to be 'seen' than ever before. I just wish I’d done this sooner, it really has changed my outlook.