How to Work with a Limited Colour Palette

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Answering another lovely reader’s question about how to work with a limited colour palette, Jill Chivers of Shop Your Wardrobe and I took up the challenge to help demystify and share our secret sauce on the subject.

How to Use a Limited Range of Colours and Not Get Bored

Is it really limited or  is it a select range of colours?

It depends how you look at it!

Many people who don’t ascribe to the theory of personal colour analysis (they always say “you can wear any colour” and of course you can, it just may not make you look good),  feel that even a colour palette of 50000 colours is too limited for them.

As you’re aware I am a firm believer in personal colour analysis  (so much so I co-created the Absolute Colour System of 18 colour palettes and teach it to aspiring colour consultants) and wearing a palette of colours that flatters. I see daily just how much wearing colours that harmonise with your appearance really bring out the best in you. There is a science behind personal colour analysis (it’s definitely not all hooey or mumbo jumbo) because colour is reflected light, and your skin is made up of different pigments, from the melanin to the carotene and how we see the haemoglobin.

Just like in interior decorating when some colours look better together.  Your colouring (hair, eyes, skin) looks better with some colours rather than others.

Jill Chivers and I discussed in this post about how she likes to limit her colours, even within her palette and we’ve been asked by a reader just how to work with a smaller, more select palette of colours.

How to Work with a Select Range of Colours

How to create lots of outfits using a limited colour palette - it doesn't have to be boring - find out more - click here
An animal print can add a range of neutrals to an outfit, plus can give the appearance of texture and detail.

What is Jill’s secret?  Animal Prints, they can work as a multiple neutral element to an outfit, and also giving the outfit more variety and even a textural quality to the outfit and colours.

What’s my secret? Use both light and dark versions of any colour – there are many variations of a colour, you don’t need limit yourself to just one specific shade of a colour.

Limiting your palette may actually expand your options – as all the colours you wear work together.

So rather than having less outfits to wear you may end up with way more!

Another option is to use patterned items that include your range of colours in a multi-coloured garment – you can then mix it back with neutrals plus a range of your select range of colours.

How to create lots of outfit options with a limited colour paletted - click to watch the video and find out more
Here is Jill’s multicoloured animal print – in her select range of colours, but can be worn with red, turquoise, yellow, orange, beige etc. I’m wearing blue – yes – but it’s not just one blue, but two, back with neutral white.

If you want to know what your best select colours are, then why not join my 7 Steps to Style program which includes discovering your best colours with my professional help.

7 steps to colour and style

How to work with a limited colour palette in your wardrobe without getting bored.

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12 Comments

  • I love your chats with Jill. I love how you celebrate your individuality and differences.
    Got me thinking about colour palettes… In a previous post you asked if there was type of clothes that you bought multiples of. I have done that but also to turn that idea around, when a colour that suits me is ‘in the shops’, I buy many things in that colour. For example years ago (in the olden days!) I was a Spring so if I ever wanted warm jumpers I had to wait till actual spring so those colours in jumpers just might be in the shops. Actual autumn and winter clothes traditionally seem to have dark and cool colours. Thanks

    • Thanks Carol, Yesterday I was shopping and there was lots of warm toasted colours – and we are going into winter clothes. There was always the grey and black too – the cool, colour wise I saw a mix of both warm and cool. I don’t think the seasons are quite as defined as they used to be.

  • I love what Jill said about being your own touchstone. We are dressing to please ourselves, aren’t we! I wear my self colors of brown, black and white…and if I need a little brightness or contrast, I wear a scarf…my favorite contrast at the moment is orange red!

  • I have a different question: I have discovered through your articles that I am most likely colour dominant. Unfortunately, I’m a person who loves minimalist neutrals-only style that so suits value dominant people. Help! I want to switch to a wardrobe of clothes that suit my colouring, so presumably I need to start thinking of some colours as neutrals for me? Or how do I come up with a way of wearing colours that doesn’t offend my preference for strict, minimalistic neutrals? Also, I have a preference for wearing dresses, which again seems incorrect from what I gather from your articles about people like me not wearing a monochromatic look. I strongly prefer not to have a line cutting across my waist, such that I even have a preference for princess-seam dresses rather than ones with a waist seam. I can’t be alone in preferring a minimalistic neutral style and to wear dresses rather than separates, yet having the wrong colouring for this. Any thoughts on this would be gratefully received.

    I think that pale pinky (not orangey) blush might be a neutral for my skin, but whatever would I use for a darker neutral, given that my (natural, undyed) hair is still full of dark auburn, ginger and yellow though it has slightly less so than it did 40 years ago — slightly more muted but still definitely nearer cognac-coloured rather than mousey brown or grey. Cognac works for footwear and handbags but I’m not at all sure I’d want to wear cognac over a larger area of myself.

    • Remember Wendy, personality trumps all guidelines.

      These are guidelines.

      You can choose to do what you want.

      I never, ever, ever (in the words of Taylor Swift) said people with colour dominance (or any kind of dominance) shouldn’t wear dresses. No idea where you got that from.

      Many people add a layer over a dress. It could be a cardigan or jacket, it could be a scarf or piece of jewellery. They also add shoes, jewellery, handbags, accessories of many kinds. These can all add in another colour if you choose.

      I don’t like drawing attention to my waist either. That has nothing to do with colouring.

      You may want to wear your neutrals in your minimalist style and just add slight touches of colour with an accessory. Or use ‘coloured neutrals” rather than black or grey as your neutrals. Coloured neutrals such as navy, olive, the entire brown family in many ways) deep aubergine etc are a good option to try.

  • Great video. I am a sublime colour palet and have chosen teal greens light through to a bit darker (my eye enhancing colours) and soft rosy pinks through to plum (my skin enhancing colour) and blues as my main wardrobe colours. I have chosen navy as my neutral. I now find when I go to my wardrobe I have so many options to wear as nearly everything goes together. After watching your video I think I will add another neutral possibly grey by adding just some grey pants and a skirt I will have dozens more outfits. Which is an inexpensive way to really expand my wardrobe. After doing the 7 steps to style and having a personal session with Imogen my wardrobe has shrunk but getting dressed and feeling great is now so easy.

  • Love you and Jill working together. My palette is Intriguing. I’m travelling to Europe shortly for 2 months, and have chosen all the colours from one of my heros (a skirt) with deep taupe, ivory, deep olive, green earth, watermelon along with my trusty jeans and jean jacket, as the only colours I’m going to pack. (Wish me luck)

  • It’s true, since I have bee sticking with a select alegre, over the years you collect thighs that all go together. I love it when I buy a new patterned to for example, and find that I matches ALL my bottoms, scarves, etc. that never used to happy before and making outfits is no longer difficult .

  • Love you guys. As you say sometimes colours just don’t seem to be fashionable. Isn’t it just so frustrating when you know what you want but can’t find it at the price you can pay. Keep up the good work. Your articles brighten my day.

    • Ah the vagaries of fashion! Yes it’s so annoying when you can’t find a colour you want because it’s not in fashion. What is good though is that you can buy dye and change the colour.

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