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!