Brown is a funny colour. The colour that all colours become, at the end of the day. Plasticine that is no longer kept in separate slabs. Over-cooked vegetable soup or curry. Tea leaves and coffee grounds. Compost and manure. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes. Brown is what happens when you mix red, blue and yellow – the three primaries – the destruction of all that is exciting about colour. Remember Vincent Van Gogh’s potatoes? This painting was made from all the colours, none of them brown. To make brown you mix a primary colour with its opposite secondary – two of the most zingy opposites (say red and green) turn into brown. It is such a disappointment.
And yet, brown is a lovely colour. It is calming, with complexity and depth. Brown can be a serious, respectable, supportive, empathetic, approachable and creative colour, but it can also be seen as rather dull. It looks nice with white, pink, yellow and red – as found in this sweet Clothkits print, made into a summer dress for Esme using Butterick B4386.
There are versions of brown that are warm or cool, or light or deep, and even bright or muted. It is a natural colour and the backdrop for green in nature – soil, wood, bark, rocks, sand and lava are all come in dozens of shades, so long as they are brown.
Let’s look at the variations of brown.
Deep or Light?
Cool or Warm?
Bright or Muted?
For people with warm colouring brown is good basic, so long as it is brown that includes yellow undertones (it normally does). You cannot make brown without yellow. If you want a cool brown you have to add quite a lot of blue to it, so this is the shade of brown that cool complexion people need to seek out. This is really the only brown that men might consider for a business suit. The lighter browns are nice on people with lighter colouring, especially if they have lighter brown or light reddish brown hair. And personally I love the muted browns and find them very nice to live with. Farrow and Ball have quite a lot of muted browns in their palettes are they look restrained, calm and easy on the eye.
Brown is seen as a natural colour and will be a first choice for people who have a natural wardrobe direction. Tweedy, knitted items; soft woolies and scarves; cozy coats with long brown leather boots; sheepskin linings. The classic academic look of tweed suit, cardigans and leather patches on your elbows. Putting a range of browns together looks good on people with muted shading too.
If you want brown to look very smart, and your colouring is cool, deep or bright, wear it with bright white or silver. On brown skinned women with nearly black hair I really like a deep brown coat or suit (avoid those warm yellowy, reddish browns) with something bright like a turquoise, shocking pink or orange scarf. For myself I love wearing silver shoes with a long cool-brown dress for summer. For warmer shaded women try browns with the coral pinks, gold jewellery or shoes. Brown is a great neutral, with lots of variation. Here is Esme in a brown Burda coat I made for her – the deep brown, with white really gives her cool skin a nice boost – much more so than black.
Brown is much more interesting than black and grey – a three- rather than one- or two-dimensional colour. Try it for a change and I think you will enjoy it!
Winter is coming, as they say on Game of Thrones. I am going to need some warmer clothes, and warmer clothes are what I most enjoy sewing. Jackets, skirts, coats – warm but elegant. I always plan my sewing to some extent, and I want three or four work outfits in the following colours:
- dark brown
- dark green
And I prefer to use vintage patterns, probably from the 60s or 70s. Maybe I will focus on using patterns from famous designer patterns, such as the Vogue “Paris Originals” range, or some other nice shapes I have collected.
Here are some options.
So, if you would care to comment, I would be interested in which outfit I should choose, and in what colour?
At the moment I am thinking
- 1. Green (love the flared skirt and the bow on the jacket)
- 5. Grey dress – possibly a tweedy look, like on the packet, but probably not that jacket which is excessively 80s
- 6. Navy, not too dark, with silvery buttons
- 7. Brown skirt with white shirt and yellow waist coat. Or 6. in brown, and make this with a navy skirt, white blouse and yellow waist coat.
I really like 2. Its But it is not really suitable for work with the cut away bodice on the dress, or the cape jacket. I would like this outfit in red. At the other end of the spectrum is a 9. A 90s suit – that looks like the 1970s, with its princess seamed jacket and A line skirt. Although this has a zip front I like the silhouette and this would work in linen or corduroy.
The two dress and jacket sets 3. and 4. are slightly putting me off with the jacket shapes but I think it is the styling. The technical drawings give a clearer idea of the shaping, which should be fine. Both of these designs would work well with colour blocking. I quite fancy a strong pink and red combination for 3, and maybe dark brown for 4. So why not 8? What is wrong with 8? Nothing really. The shape of the top is very close to my African overblouse. This outfit would be stylish in a smooth charcoal wool, but knee length.
Hmm. I only really need three outfits. So please give me your views!
I am sure that Jane Shepherdson thought an edgy photo shoot on a Council housing estate would make her clothes really stand out. Why not use a Council estate as a backdrop? Perhaps the sculptural beauty of the Municipal architecture would emphasise the structural lines of the frocks. The curve of the dippy hem against those rows and rows of concrete walk-ways might make a pleasing, yet challenging, contrast. Have a look at the collection from www.whistles.com/look-book
The entire collection is more or less made out of black jersey and is styled, accessory and colour-free, on a model without obvious make-up and slightly lank hair. The stark background may be appropriate. Do these estate shots look beautiful or threatening to you? They certainly look clean and tidy. No washing or satellite dishes. But no people either. I mean no tenants. No residents. No caretakers. No visitors. I guess the company paid the Council for the opportunity to take pictures of people’s homes without the humanising element. The model doesn’t look very comfortable, or at home here. The setting is ironic. She doesn’t live here. Does she convey some anxiety that a boy on a bike might nab her bag, or is she just really uncomfortable on the Council benches, bolted to the ground?
We are working with tenants on the Aylesbury estate in Southwark at the moment, on a long-term plan to regenerate the area. Their famous estate is the one used for the Channel Four “ident” – the short film that introduces the channel at the start of a programme. You can read about it here. Local residents were angry that C4 had made their estate look worse by hanging washing and putting rubbish out, in order that the programme makers got the image of Council housing that corresponded with their own stereotypes. In response they made a short film which, while recognising some of the architectural and maintenance failings of their estate, celebrates the people who live there.
And below we feature a Norman Parkinson photograph from 1950 of a model in a beautiful suit, backdropped by a Peabody estate in Fulham. The desolate pram – maybe she doesn’t want to hear her baby crying as she stands to the photographer’s attention. In her hat, gloves and bag she looks like she is about to leave. Is she running away from the baby and the estate? Or is she a doctor or social worker, perhaps, visiting the estate because she is just doing her job?
Finally here is photograph taken, not styled, of my beautiful daughter outside her home. She is wearing Vogue 9435, block printed and made by me for the early months of her pregnancy.
I met this stunning young woman at the bus stop. I like to see how Arabic women interpret their strict dress code and still make an outfit their own. This lady wears three shades of orange with a traditional black dress – her headscarf, her bag and her super orange shoes. Doesn’t she look lovely?
The only thing I have made in orange is two cushion covers in some Roland Mouret tangerine wool. Very beautiful but hardly accomplished. Unfortunately orange is the one colour I really can’t wear. It is has conotations of youth, dynamism, energy and fun. It is not surprising that when we designed our logo at work we went for orange. Or is it? Why not serious, trustworthy navy blue? Or inoffensive green? Orange can be associated with immaturity and frivolity – but that was a risk we were prepared to take.
And here is Danielle wearing a lovely shade of orange, which really suits her cool-deep colouring.
Here are the types of orange that will work best with your complexion. Orange is basically red plus yellow – one of the secondary colours made up of two primaries. It is the only secondary that has no blue in it, and for that reason it is not a first choice colour for cooler complexions, unless they are fairly deep. You can add blue to orange but then it becomes brown (brown is made by mixing the primary with its opposite complementary colour). For everyone else there is a great orange out there for you.
Politically this is an almost impossible question to answer. The polls are jumping about, the dynamics between the main parties and the smaller ones are changing all the time, and the electorate is fickle. But what I can tell you is that Ed Milliband is a good dresser. In fact all three of these leading Labour shadow cabinet looks very pleasing. Ed Balls, who has cool light colouring looks very nice in his mid-navy suit, a light blue shirt and a purple tie. Rachel Reeves has chosen a flattering outfit that shows off her figure but also looks serious and competent. Did she and Ed co-ordinate on purpose. You bet they did! And I can’t fault Ed’s choice either. A very deep blue, almost black, suit, which is fairly close fitting, a navy tie and a bright white shirt. His deep colouring – dark brown eyes and nearly black hair – means that this outfit is ideal. The cuffs are evident and the whole impression here is of authority, clarity and polish.
Let’s have a look at who he is up against. Here we have David Cameron with a couple of world leaders – always a good accessory for Prime Ministers.The Norwegian looks nice with his grey hair and pink tie. Mrs Merkel I have written about before. But looking at David what do you immediately notice? His suit, shirt and tie are obeying the same rules as Milliband. Dark, well-fitting suit, white shirt with a good classic collar and a dark plain tie. Cameron’s colouring is not as deep as Milliband – his hair is fairly dark brown and he has quite bright blue eyes. A brighter, lighter tie – ideally bright blue, would be more flattering, and the suit could be one shade lighter too. But Cameron doesn’t want to look lovely. He is aiming for maximum Prime Ministerial authority, and that is what we have with this outfit.
OK, one more. One more dark blue suit, one more classic white shirt, deep purple tie. But Nick Clegg has warm red hair and light blue-green eyes. I think he actually looks much better in a lighter grey suit, often worn with his politically correct yellow tie, but again he is communicating his seriousness, strength and seniority with this outfit. And his wife looks beautiful too.
And finally…Farrage is not a serious politician to my mind, and his clothes are often deliberately old school (striped ties, Barbour jackets, mustard tweed) but I thought he looked quite reasonable in this outfit. The nice blue suit, worn with a light pink tie actually makes him looks heaps better than his normal look. He looks clean and healthy despite his 40 fags a day habit.
Based on their clothes, whoever you vote for, the man in the dark blue suit will win the election.
I got a call the other day from a journalist who told me she “couldn’t get enough” of my blog. I suspected a wind-up, but she was genuine. We agreed to meet.
In walked a smiley young woman, flat shoes, clear tights, Prada glasses, tatoos. Reporter’s notebook and novelty phone case. Natural, reddish-brown hair and sparkly eyes, no make up.
First impressions count, and my first impression was she was nice, unthreatening, engaging. But journalists can be tricky and I worried that she might write something negative or sarcastic about my organisation, or me.
Jess McCabe is the Features Editor of trade press title, Inside Housing, and she is preparing a special edition on People, focusing on the people who work in social housing. She wants to talk to me about how they dress, if we tell them what to wear, what is appropriate in central London, on a hot day, for people from different backgrounds, in varied professional teams.
As a journalist, Jess needs to gain the trust of a wide range of people very quickly. Her warm and friendly manner helps, but what she wears helps build an image of someone who is approachable. Her outfit today is relaxed, not overly formal, but a work outfit nonetheless. The navy tailored collar on the upper part of her dress, and the grey marl of the bodice and skirt, both reference work clothes, and give her sufficient authority to hold her own with those she interviews. The dress is pleated and semi-tailored but in a soft fabric which clings a little. Jess wears colourless tights, and navy round toed shoes with elasticated straps. If Jess wants to increase her “authority” she could wear a jacket and maybe a more “grown up” shoe – navy or tan leather would go with everything. If Jess decides to buy a suit for interviews then I would suggest maybe russet-brown or camel with a structured jacket, good waist shaping and a slim skirt.
Jess has amazing, naturally reddish brown, curly hair which she keeps tied up. Why not let it out and celebrate it? If you always wear a pony tail consider a shorter cut – some layers would emphasis the curl and bring the colour to life.
I would like to see Jess’s natural beauty emphasised though a more colourful wardrobe. She would look amazing in reddish browns with a coral blouse, or mustard with cream or teal, or a pea green jumper with jeans. She might try some patterns too, and gold jewellry would enhance her natural sparkle.
I mentioned the tattoo which is revealed by her short-sleeved dress. Body decoration is important to Jess and she speaks quite passionately about the designs, the people who did them, and how they connect her with her past. As we talk about fashion trends I admit that until recently I would have expected body art to be covered up at work. But times change and I don’t think it’s much of an issue today. Tattoos have well and truly moved out of prisons and the Navy, and are now sported by celebrities and middle class youth alike.
And here are some of the colours she could have worn…
Very few staff at Notting Hill wear anything other than modern contemporary clothes for their work. We don’t have uniforms or a dress code. But when it comes to dressing up for parties our teams really like to push the boat out. Here is a selection of African fashions they were proudly wearing last week.
Sherefe Jemal works at our Extra Care scheme at Penfold Street. She is originally from Ethiopia, and we have talked about the food a few times. There is an Ethiopian restaurant in Kings Cross so I can enjoy injera for lunch, if I fancy one. But this was my first experience of Ethiopian dress. I enjoyed looking at the weave, the strong contrast between red, orange, yellow and black, set off against snowy white. The unique head dress, necklace, earrings and bracelet is beaded in similar Ethiopian colours and symbols and perfectly complement the dress. I have since had a look at Ethiopian styles on the internet, but would love to visit the country one day.
Here is Sumbo Adedeji from Notting Hill Pathways, wearing a lovely Nigerian dress. I love the subtle grey of this outfit – her neon mobile looks somewhat out of place – and the subdued tones of the outfit. This makes it look very modern and fashionable. Sumbo has put together a great outfit, wearing black sandals, beads and bracelet and two deep blue fabrics on her head – a plain one and a tie dye one. Her striking modern spectacles really set this off.
I love Audrey Vanderpuye, Property Management Officer, in this dress from Ghana, made with the famous “Dutch Wax print” fabrics that can be seen stacked up in Accra’s Makola Market. They can also be found in Brixton and many other parts of London. Here the traditional fabrics have been made up in an international style – a long, fitted dress. The insertion of lace into the bodice and the bias bound arm-holes provides a nice deep red frame for Audrey’s beautiful face, topped off with a big lace flower brooch.
This is an African dress at its exuberant best, made for her mother and modelled by Betty Margai, a Housing Officer. Although the dress is short it has so much drama in its draped sides, its voluminous sleeves and ingenious design (it is tied around the body). Betty who makes alot of her own clothes has arranged a neat head-wrap to coordinate and I love the leopard espadrilles – making it a modern and stylish outfit. Again by choosing somewhat neutral shades – deep indigo and beige – the dress looks contemporary and suitable for a British weather.
One way to tell a Nigerian from a Ghanian outfit is the head wrap. Can you see how large and showy these are? The Yoruba women’s “gele” are made from stiff damask type fabrics, pinked at the edges, and the idea is to get it stand away from the head. I think they look sensational, and have the same effect as wearing a big hat. Lots of drama, drawing attention to the face and giving the wearer a real sense of status.
Here is Emmanuel Njoku-Ama, one of our accountants, wearing a traditional outfit consisting of a full length wrap, topped with a knee length shirt. The beads, hat and walking stick are very much part of the outfit. The bright turquoise and orange work so beautifully with his deep colouring and the hat and stick ensure the outfit is very masculine and grounded despite the gorgeous, ornate, textured fabrics that make it up. Simply stunning.
Isn’t this just such a sweet, elegant outfit on Oluremi Alli? I love the way the bold green print (light, bright, deep and cool) works on this outfit, complementing Remi’s deep skin and eyes wonderfully. But it is the proportions that work especially well. The shape is almost an inverted triangle with the greatest width at the shoulders, topped by a large headdress. The ruffles on the shoulders, the sweatheart neckline and the gele all serve to focus us in on her beautiful, confident but slightly reticent face. She has carefully chosen lovely silver jewellry too, which reflects light and keeps our focus on her face. But as our gaze moves across the circles and ruffles we see the slimmest hips and the most elegant bearing, complemented by silvery, pointed shoes. This outfit is an absolute delight.
This week I made a yellow dress. A primrose yellow. It expresses perfectly the moody weather we are having – the last remaining weak rays of summer sun, with sticky days and squally showers. Light cool yellow, combined with grey. I love this lemony yellow and think it is a beautiful shade; an easy way to wear yellow if your colouring is light and cool. The grey print on this dress makes the yellow appear more muted from a distance – but light, muted yellow is said to be a shade that suits everyone. I made it for an important lunch event and I needed tights, a grey cardigan, a cotton scarf, my grey flannel jacket and an umbrella. But I got to wear my sunglasses too. But the core of this outfit is a light summer look and I shall take it on holiday with me during September when we go to Spain.
Unfortunately constructing this dress turned out to be very hard work, all of my own making. It took ages and it is not entirely satisfactory. Usually my makes are uneventful, especially when I have made the item at least once before. I am competent enough to make up a garment that fits and looks nice, nine times out of ten. But sometimes I don’t think it through properly and things go horribly wrong. Some readers have said they like to read about disasters, so here goes.
Style, pattern and alterations
I used a pattern I had made before. This time I wanted a sleeveless dress. Reusing a pattern is normally a great idea, as this means it has been tested (or proved), both in terms of fit and making up. However, the downside is you switch to auto-pilot and your concentration fails. Then it is stressful as you have to undo and redo.
Previously, with the green dress, I added an inch to the length of the torso, just above the waist. While the fit was pretty good I found the under bust seam was just a little bit high, and that I would rather have the additional length above the bust-line. I slashed the pattern and pinned the shoulders together. I found I needed an additional 4cms of depth in the bodice piece (front and back). As a result it is far more comfortable and looks decidedly retro in the bust area (perhaps 1940s nightdress rather than youthful 1970s dress).
But unfortunately this alteration created a new issue that I should have anticipated. The surplice (wrapped front) is too low and slightly more revealing than I want. I fixed this by tacking the wrap together. Yuk.
The construction was not straightforward. With a sleeveless dress there is always the question of how to finish the neck and armholes, and the pattern proposed and supplied a pattern for interfaced facings. With the green dress I lined the bodice to avoid facings, and it worked perfectly. This time I decided to line the whole dress – skirt as well as bodice. As I try to be economical I used two pieces of left over fabric for the lining – one recycled from the pirate outfit (muslin) and the other the left overs from my recent printing swap experiment (cotton shirting). This worked OK, although the muslin is much lighter and more flexible than the shirting. Unfortunately the problems didn’t stop there. Lining the wrap feature of the bodice gave me a major problem which I should have foreseen. The surplice is attached to a straight edge of the front piece, creating an issue with the lining. I had to do quite a lot of unpicking. I solved it, but not very well, by treating the lining as lining for the back, and underlining for the front. I overlocked the lot (six thicknesses in the centre) in the end. It is OK but not so pretty inside. And I did the hem, in which the fabric was attached to the now-attached lining and underling, badly and had to redo it.
I hate it when a project doesn’t work. It is my own fault for just not thinking it through. It is still a wearable dress but I spent two or three times longer on it that I should have, with a suboptimal garment at the end, and a feeling of anger and misery rather than joy. I was close to throwing it out, but I like the yellow Turkish viscose off-cut that I got in Simply Fabrics for about £5. And I do love a bit of happy yellow when the summer starts to seep away.
According to a recent Guardian article it is not acceptable to the indigenous people of North America for young ravers to wear feather head-dresses. I can see their point. The beautiful, ancient, treasured and rare garments are regarded as sacred and powerful. It is a bit rich to see a semi-naked youth cavorting on drugs with one atop his skinny frame, or a pretty girl wearing one with a jeans jacket. I am grateful to Tim Morton (@TimMorton2) for bringing this to my attention.
However I think there are four things to bear in mind when considering such questions
- fashion and art have always taken inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. You can’t ban this if you believe in freedom of expression
- sampling, being inspired by and ripping off ideas can be done badly or well, and you and I can be the judge of that
- crude or childish “fancy dress” is obviously based on stereotypes but banning them is probably going a bit far
- there is something positive about taking from the past, or from other cultures, in that you learn about and experience something which may challenge your preconceptions
And it is this final point that I feel quite strongly about. I did dress up as a “squaw” when I was a kid, just as my brother wore a “cowboy outfit”, and we ran around the garden attempting to kill each other. The Glasto-type youth are just overgrown kids that haven’t really thought it through. But even as a small child I wondered how the “squaw” managed to attach her baby to her back, and what her dress was made of, and how she accrued the feathers. I wanted to make and wear the moccasins on her feet and I wanted to have long, glossy, black plaits.
There is something about the challenge to “walk a mile in my shoes” – it implies you get to understand the world as I experience it. But I always took it literally. As a kid I was always putting on high heels and staggering around in mules. I even customised my sun glasses with a flower. And dressing up in your parents’ and grandparents’ clothes is just such an important part of growing up and really does give you insights into how others walk, live and feel. Oh the feeling of that Malibu collared bed jacket on my check – the swishy long blue nylon night dress – being Bridgette Bardot in a Rochdale rockery.
Over the years I have found a good way to get to know other people is to seek to understand them through the food that they eat and the clothes that they wear. To people who say “I could never eat snails, frogs’ legs, pie and mash, dog, horse, raw fish…” I would only say, try it! And the same with clothes. I have had a lot of fun in being dressed in a sari, a kimono, a Tibetan gown with outlandishly long sleeves. Here I am in Mumbai in a Kurta (tunic) and churidas (leggings) with a matching scarf. I actually felt less conspicuous dressed like this for a meeting with a women’s housing organisation. I would have felt uncomfortable in an obviously western outfit. But going to a shop, Fabindia, and spending an hour or so looking at the amazing choice of fabrics and styles, learning a bit about where and how they were made, carefully matching a couple of outfits helped by knowledge (and thankfully English-speaking) staff. The history associated with proudly wearing locally made textiles rather than imports was a key part of the Ghandian freedom movement which I discovered more about at the Ghandi museum in Mumbai.
When I thought about what to make for our international evening at Notting Hill I decided I would make an African garment. I used authentic textiles and I dressed in a way that I felt was respectful and honourable to the traditions. Certainly wrapping the head-dress was something I just went with rather than asking for advice. but my friends assured me it looked the part. Of course I got more than one double take on the bus – white woman/African dress – but I felt proud, and statuesque, and I really enjoyed wearing the outfit, partly for the insight into how it feels to walk along in a loud print, a cotton ensemble, with a head wrap. The sort of steps you can take. The need for a straight back. To be stared at. Good lessons.
At the party there were lots of people in their own national dress, but quite a few, like me, culturally cross-dressing. I thought they all looked wonderful and I know they enjoyed themselves.
Yellow, or “Lello”, is Ted’s favourite colour, the first one he recognised and described. This may be why
As a result of his affection for yellow I made him a dressing gown in soft yellow wool from Simply Fabrics. I used a vintage pattern, Simplicity S.137. It used a surprisingly large amount of fabric – somehow I thought I was making dolly clothes – (1.5m), but was such fun to make. I made view 1 – with raglan sleeves, a shawl collar and pockets.
And here it is, on the boy. Doesn’t he look like a proper gentleman in his full length yellow “robe” with its glamorous shawl (tuxedo) collar?
Yellow has nice associations like sunny, happy, bright, enthusiastic, but it can be seen as unserious in a business environment. But like red at work it can be a great colour for a tie, or a belt. If I wear a formal grey business suit with a white blouse I invariably reach for my yellow belt (and perhaps a scarf with yellow in it) to ensure it has a little individuality and style. The light yellows work well for shirts and blouses and go with the neutrals, especially all the blues, but of course the right shade of yellow looks great with grey, brown, camel and cream too. The stronger yellows make nice one-piece dresses for summer, but its probably best to wear neutral accessories with them. If your colouring is bright you can include another bright accessory – in shocking pink or cobalt blue for example. The warm yellows – like cantaloupe and light apricot, and muted yellows like “maize” are perhaps more wearable (on the right person), and will complement the rest of your wardrobe. Many people avoid yellow, feeling it is a difficult colour, but once you know the right shade for you, it is a lot of fun.
Yellow can be described in the six main ways.
Deep or Light?
Cool or Warm?
Bright or Muted?