How to Wear Colour – A Detailed Guide & Where to Get Started

How to wear colour is something I get asked frequently. Here is my detailed guide with plenty of resources to help you decide which are your best colours and how to wear them. This is going to be a long post, so make yourself comfortable, grab a coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy. By the end you will hopefully have a much better idea about wearing colour, whether you should care about what suits you and if you do how to find out what does.

My How to Wear Colour Journey

My journey with colour started back in the early nineties when I met a “Colour Lady”. Over the course of a few months she tried to persuade me to “have my colours done”. I resisted for a while, because I didn’t want to be told which colours I could or couldn’t wear. Eventually though she wore me down and it isn’t exaggerating to say my life then took a different course! I became a bit evangelical about wearing colour and probably bored the socks off of many people I met, because I couldn’t believe the difference it made to me and how often I got complemented. And people didn’t say “you look great in that colour” they just said “you look great ” or “wow what have you done?” I think I may have been her best sales person until she moved away.

how to wear colour, Maria Sadler, Stylist, wearing yellow jacket

I had started my career working in a bank (I hated it) before moving on to working with software, both project managing large software installations and then selling (I tolerated it and can even say I sometimes had fun). But I had always been interested in fashion. From about the age of 11 Vogue was my favourite magazine and I always dreamed that one day I would work in fashion. Stopping work to have children gave me the opportunity to also change my career. That was when I started investigating becoming a personal stylist.

Showing Others How to Wear Colour

It wasn’t just that I loved fashion and had always thought in outfits (it was a while before I realised not everyone does this!) I also understood that at key points in our life we can suffer a loss of confidence. While some think focusing on appearance is trivial, when we look good and feel comfortable in our own skin, we feel better too. This can affect your confidence and all areas of your life. It’s no coincidence that when we are depressed we take less care over our makeup, hair and what we wear. After having both my children and suffering with Post Natal depression I understood this more. As I started working with other women I discovered that it was common to have a confidence crisis over the way we look during those big life changes. It’s not just as a new mother that this can happen. I met women going through divorce, illness, caring for elderly parents, hitting 40, 50 or 60. All of them at some point had either not had the time or energy to care about their appearance or felt that they shouldn’t be worrying about something so trivial. Then it becomes a downward spiral, the less we care the more depressed we become.

Then there was the group of women who really broke my heart. Those who thought they shouldn’t be spending time or attention on themselves. Usually they would have come to see me as a gift from someone else. I had one lovely lady who wouldn’t look at herself in the mirror. I had another whose mother had constantly told her “not to show off” and consequently she would never wear anything that would make her stand out. Another one, once I had done her makeup and put her in colours that made her eyes shine, promptly cried it all off. Self confidence is such a fragile thing, one small comment can cause untold damage and these days, with some of the bullying that goes on on social media we have to have thicker skins than ever.

What has all this got to do with colour? Believe me plenty! One client I saw had a wardrobe full of grey and black – some of us actively choose minimalist colours and if it is a choice and what you love, that’s fine. But if your wardrobe is devoid of colour because of your mood, then that’s not fine. Have you ever looked in your wardrobe and thought about what it’s contents say about you and how you feel about yourself? It’s an exercise that can be uncomfortable, but a few small changes and injections of colour could lift your mood considerably. The longer I worked with these women, the more I wanted to help them discover how they could look, and more importantly, feel good.

how to wear colour, Maria Sadler, Stylist and fashion blogger wearing red and yellow print shirt

Colour Psychology and What Colours Mean

There has been much written about colour psychology and I am no expert but there are some tricks you can use with colour. Did you know, for example, that navy is an authority colour? Ever wondered why so many police uniforms are navy? Other blues can be calming and show intellect. Wear blue for an interview to show you would be a safe pair of hands.

Red demands attention, think about warning and traffic signs. Use red when you want to get attention – only woman in the meeting? Wear red and you won’t be asked to pour the coffee (I know it’s happened to me!)¬†Yellow is self confident, playful, optimistic and extrovert, great for working with children or in a creative environment. Green is restful and harmonious (lots of spas use green to promote this feeling) Grey is sophisticated and efficient.

It is said that as children we naturally choose colours that suit us. But as we grow up we are dressed by our mother and end up wearing colours that suit her. And then our significant partner might also influence the colours we wear. Some clients would say to me “oh my husband hates me in green”. Sometimes colour can bring back bad memories too. I had a client who wouldn’t wear green because her school uniform was green and she had hated her school days. Not surprising that we end up with a mishmash of colours in our wardrobe, or just settle for black, because of course it is smart and everyone knows it is slimming and black is the new black! If you do want to wear black, and I will never tell you that you can’t, this video will give you some ideas on how you can make black work for you.

Early Colour Analysis

Back in the 80s Colour Analysis was born. Suddenly we were all carrying around our wallets of Autumn colours and not daring to stray from those 36 little fabric swatches. How often did we turn down a gorgeous dress because it wasn’t the exact shade of salmon pink in our wallet? Or say the words “I’m not allowed to wear violet, it’s not in my palette”. I think for some, colour analysis did more harm than it did good!

Add to that the number of times I have seen clients who have had 2 and sometimes 3 different colour analysis sessions and have ended up with conflicting information. This is not unusual and it saddens and makes me a little cross that they have bought a complete wardrobe on misinformation. What is interesting though, is that in their heart they knew something wasn’t right, which was why they had tried again with another session of colour analysis.

Even if you have had colour analysis and it was correct and you have loved your colour palette, there is a good chance that you still only wear a percentage of the colours that look good on you. We all get stuck in a rut and stick to what is safe and what we know works. Why not try some of those other colours and create some new combinations.

One more thing to consider, when did you have colour analysis? If it was a long time ago there is a chance that your colouring has changed. Has your hair got lighter, or have you gone grey? You might be feeling that your colours don’t work as well as they used to.

how to wear colour, Maria Sadler, Stylist and fashion blogger wearing burgundy trousers and top

If you have been to any of my events or heard me speak about how to wear colour, you will know that my biggest bugbear about colour analysis is putting us into a box with a label. Even though my first introduction to colour did just that (Autumn) and I was happy with it until I knew better, I soon realised that the seasonal approach to colour was a starting point not the final destination. Because we are all individuals and four categories of colour is just to general. The company I first saw for colour analysis (naming no names) almost insist you will not go outside your colour palette and still to this day use the 4 season approach. My first colour wallet also came with a list of the colours marked with ticks, stars and percentages. So I was allowed to wear one colour top to toe, another at 25% and another only as a 10% accent. Do you really want to stand in front of your wardrobe doing a maths calculation of what colours you wear! I’m joking of course, but it is no surprise many get confused about how to wear colour and are scared to experiment.

Specialising In How to Wear Colour With The Extra Dimension, Your Personality

Some have moved away from the 4 season method, understanding that an Autumn could have red hair, pale skin and freckles like Sarah Ferguson, or could have dark brown hair and eyes like Cindy Crawford. So the tonal system was developed and is the one I have adapted, after years of showing women how to wear colour, for my clients. ¬†When I show clients which colours suit them, I give them guidelines about what suits them physically, using the tonal system, but then I add another element; what suits their personality. It makes it a much more personalised service and incorporates “you” because every one of us is different. Maybe you have Soft colouring but would love to wear some bright colours. Or as I often saw with my clients, you are a bright but red lipstick terrifies you. By bringing in your personality, what you love and what you don’t, I show my clients how to wear colour in a way that makes them feel confident. This is key, because I believe if you feel good, you project that outwards. Confidence is the most important element in wearing colour and if you are wearing the colours that “suit” you but don’t feel confident, it defeats the whole object.

How the Tonal System Works

The Tonal System works on the basis that every colour has three qualities; how light or dark it is – the Value, how warm or cool it is – the Undertone – and how soft or bright it is – the Clarity. The theory behind this system is that wearing colours that have similar qualities to us; the combination of our hair skin and eyes, will be most flattering.


how to wear colour, colour value how light or dark

how to wear colour, how cool or warm a colour is

Warm colours contain more yellow, for example and orange red and cool colours contain more blue, for example a plum red. Some colours that sit in the middle and are neither warm nor cool, like taupe and teal. This means we can wear them if we have a warm or a cool skin tone.


how to wear colour, colour clarity how bright or dark

Bright or clear colours are vibrant and contain less, or no grey and muted or soft colours contain more grey, almost like they have been left in the sun to fade a little. Again there are some that sit in the middle of the scale, Taupe and Teal are neither bright or muted so everyone can wear them.

When you look at a colour, there will usually be one quality that is dominant (although like Teal and Taupe there are some exceptions)

how to wear colour, bright red top

Using the 3 qualities of a colour discussed above, the red above is Medium in depth, its undertone is warm (it’s more of an orange red than a blue red) and it’s clarity is bright. However, the dominant characteristic of those three is that it is Bright.

how to wear colour, deep red blouse

This second top is Deep, Cool and Soft. But its dominant characteristic, the one which is most obvious, is that it is Deep.

Those colours that sit in the middle of three scales are what we call Universal colours, this means that we can all wear them. They include Taupe, Teal, Purple and True Red.

Dominant Colouring – Which Best Suits You?

We can use this same method for choosing our Dominant characteristic. There are 6 Dominants; Light, Deep, Warm, Cool, Bright (sometimes called Clear) and Soft (sometimes called Muted). This video I created also has more information on Colour Dominants.

Here are examples of each of the Colour Dominants:

how to wear colour, woman with dark hair and brown eyes, deep dominant

The woman above is on the Deep end of the scale, she has a Warm skin tone and is Muted or Soft. Her Dominant characteristic, the one we notice first and is therefore her Dominant is that she is Deep.

how to wear colour, woman with red hair and blue eyes, warm dominant

This woman is Light, Warm and Bright. Her Dominant characteristic is Warm.

how to wear colour, woman with brown hair and green eyes, soft dominant

This woman is Medium depth, with a neutral skin tone and is Muted. Her overall look is blended so she would be a Muted or Soft Dominant.

should I go grey, woman with grey hair, how to wear colour, cool dominant

The woman above is on the lighter end of the value scale, is cool toned and and bright. Her Dominant characteristic is that she is Cool.

how to wear colour, dark haired women with blue eyes, bright dominant

This woman has dark hair, she has a Cool skin tone and her pale skin contrasting with her dark hair give her Bright look. Her Dominant is Bright.

how to wear colour, blonde woman with blue eyes, light dominant

Finally this woman is on the Light end of the value scale, she has a Cool skin tone and is Soft. Her Dominant is Light.

How to Wear Colour – Resources

As well as the resources mentioned throughout this post, here are some more you may find useful.

If you would like more information on Dominants and a download tip sheet check out my page on your best colours and how to wear them. Plus it gives you some ideas of this season’s clothing to suit you.

My blog contains lots of posts where I give examples of what to choose for your Dominant colouring and how to wear colour. You can always find posts under the Wearing Colour category. Another great resource for seeing how I put outfits together to suit your colouring are my Pinterest boards. You will find a board for each of the colour Dominants as well as one on wearing colour. This video answers some of the most common questions I get on wearing colour.

How to wear colour, Looking Stylish Pinterest boards

If you would like to get my help to find out which colours you would look fabulous in, take a look at my Colour Dossier service. It is a detailed booklet which will give you your Dominant and Secondary colouring, plus I also choose 10 additional shades just for you, to really personalise your colour palette. You also get plenty of information on how to mix your colours together and whether you would look better with contrast or a blend of colours. It also includes tips for choosing jewellery and glasses as well as the complete Makeup Prescription (which you can also buy separately if you know your colouring).

If you have had colour analysis before and don’t feel the colours you were given worked for you, or if your colouring has changed (perhaps you have gone grey) then please do get in touch and I will make recommendations of how I might be able to help you.

I hope I have persuaded you to add some colour into your life and wardrobe and hot to wear colour. It really can make a difference to your mood (and those around you) If it has whetted your appetite to delve further into the subject and create your own colour palette and really understand how to make colour work for you, check out my Colour Course. It is packed with information, videos, downloads and a workbook showing you how to wear colour confidently, how to make it work for you, break “the rules” and create a wardrobe filled with the colours that make you happy and confident.

You can probably tell that I am passionate both about wearing and using colour and helping my readers and clients gain confidence in what is right for them. Please use any of the resources I have mentioned above if you want to know how to wear colour. Some are completely free and others are services you can buy if you would like my help.

Be confident in Living Life in Colour!