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The Value Of Contrast For Balance, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:54am

Color is one thing–contrast, another, and possibly more complex. Through contrast, we communicate our measure of balance. Layers become more evident, both in clothes and, at least for me, the persona.

Well, hey, that was theoretical.

OK, more concrete. Sue’s post (excellent comme toujours) got me thinking. I’ve  known which colors to wear–no yellow or orange, only certain greens–forever. I have been happy in blues, with various neutrals and a little pink, olive, tobacco, or rust, as above, forever. (Added purple as my hair went gray.) Wasn’t cultural, either, my mother wore yellow, celadon and coral with ease, my middle sister is brilliant in sage.

But contrast. That’s what has changed for me. I used wear mostly gray, navy, and white, sacrificing any intensiby of color to the idol of low contrast. Not wanting to make a scene. And that was surely cultural.

Now I add more color, but keep the perceived contrast low by using scarves–in all their waviness–to break up the blocks of shirts, jackets, jeans. Wearing mixed patterns, and shoes and bags with matte texture does the same thing. In fact I think I like woven Bottega Veneta bags in part because they support the effect of consistent color-rich but low-value contrast.

Intrecciato as a way of life and hair, on a good day.

For holidays and other special occasions, I’ll ramp up, and don ye old solid blocks. Bright red, white tee, shiny black pants. Because balance isn’t just for clothes, it’s for the self, and on Christmas I balance high contrast by shining for family.

You guys were so great about that sweater. “Red is your color!” someone said very kindly. “Wear it more often!” And all I could think was, yes, thank you, but then I’d have to wear RED more often;). I’m not sure anything can tone down a bright red.

Some Ideas For A Low-Contrast But Color-Rich Wardrobe For Those Who Lean Blue (Assume The Jeans Or Navy Trousers You Guys Are Very Resourceful)

The index I work with might be called the Vivacity Index. I don’t ever want to be called vivacious, despite or perhaps because of my high-speed speech and intense emotions? Who knows. We’ve all got our internal calculus.

Another way to put all this. Once you figure out what colors to wear–and it is a truly valuable quest–the question becomes, “How much of an impact do you want to make, within your palette?” Work with contrast.

Alternatively, even, do you want to step just to the edge, taking pink with you like a small fluffy animal?

Because we can find the right light for any outfit, and the right beholder. (Photo above by Sue. Thanks to her for that and for the continued inspiration.)

These are photos you’ve seen before, I know. Thank you for your forbearance in letting me make a point without having to, yes, point and shoot. I’ll see myself out.

Have a wonderful weekend.


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31 Responses

  1. Oh, I do love it when you get all philosophical about clothes. Appeals to my profound shallowness, or my shallow profundity… or something. Also you always make me want to be better with words. Thanks for the inspiration.
    P.S. I remember that photos in the elevator after the haircut. Love, love that navy jacket and patterned scarf. So chic. The hair is pretty awesome too.

  2. Lisa, Only you can have a fashion article without it actually being about fashion.
    I’m with you on red. I will tell you the last time I wore it. I was in a meeting with many prominent doctors (I am a psychiatric R.N.). When I asked a question the speaker shouted “lady in red” I thought I would go through the floor. I’m really quite introverted and didn’t really want to wear the top in the first place.

    You are stunning and inspire!


    1. @luci, You are very nice. Thank you. Lady in Red. I mean, that’s it exactly. I’m sure you looked wonderful but it’s kind of a heavy weight to shoulder.

  3. Holiday outfits are kind of uniforms, you just follow the convention.
    I hadn’t thought about low contrast/color rich as a convention but it does work. It’s also good for a wardrobe long on special seperates. You acquire things in your color range and then they happily fall together over the years.

    1. @RoseAG, Yes, exactly, the convention removes the need to fully own a look. And yes, absolutely, I agree, the special spearates thing works really well and I like nothing better than bringing something new home (rare these days) only to find that it works with something I’ve already got in a way that I did not predict. It’s like two new things in one.

  4. With Sue on the philosophy! And while I do love my turquoise linen shirt I do have to give myself a pep talk to wear it out of the house. Layers mutability communication— not so much about keeping warm

    1. @Laura, Thank you. And I admire you for having the fortitude for those kinds of pep talks, I am probably just too dang lazy at this point!

  5. A hairdresser once told me, not entirely disapprovingly, that I wore “swamp colors.” She wasn’t wrong. I too favor low contrast, and am happiest in my eye colors: dark brown, caramel, muddy green, a little golden yellow. I’m nervous around pattern (except for paisley, which is hard enough to find that I rarely indulge) and shy away from shine. My secret ingredient isn’t texture but asymmetry. I can’t abide either vertical or horizontal stripes (too regular, too … *linear*), but a diagonal seam or off-center neckline always calls my name.

  6. I’m torn between wanting to be New York sophisticated in all black and wanting to wear orange shoes. And carry an orange purse.

    And then there is leopard print, which I would wear head to toe if I didn’t think it might be Too Much.

  7. Lisa, I just want to compliment you on your amazing hair. I know some weeks back you asked us all for ideas about your hair. Well, that was fun to be able to add some theoretical input, but as it turns out, your hair looks absolutely stunning. In both pictures. The one where it is long and straight, the colours are amazing, and I would guess that you had some colour work done because it is so refined looking yet natural. Thanks as always for injecting some thoughtful awareness into our sartorial habits and you look fantastic. Blessings Xxxxx

    1. @TJ, Thank you. The long and straight one, I think you’re right, maybe I was still getting some lowlights. It was several years back. My hair is whiter now, all over. And it’s crept down my back again. So, timely, I am getting ready to restart the What To Do About My Hair process that I’d begun but got interrupted by my mother’s death etc. First step, planned for next week, just go gawk at some local salons;).

  8. Have never been a fan of contrasts. Scarves are my way of adding some splash to my very neutral wardrobe.

    Love what you do. You seem to nail it in the color department.

  9. You have a great signature style.. You know yourself well, know what works for you and even better are comfortable in your own skin. Impressive and accomplished. Well done..

    1. @Susan, Thank you. It’s taken a while, and has been informed, developed, and polished simply by writing this blog. Oh, and looking at eleventy-bejillion photos of myself and at twelvety-million items of clothing looking for examples for posts. Oh, and the brilliant comments from you all.

  10. Lisa love you in these grey and blue tones, but I do think you can rock the red too! Your BV bag is awesome. That looks like something you can use forever. Glad to see you posting! xoxo Kim

    1. @kim, Thank you Kim. Some of us are sticking around, right? And I do use the BV almost every time I go to SF!

      As for red, thanks, it just takes it out of my emotional stamina if that makes any sense at all :P

  11. Love your sleek straight great hair!
    It sparkles and looks amazing.
    Keep on refining your identity and blaze the trail !

    1. I just purchased some Aveda Blue Malva shampoo to tone down the brassiness of some of my grey hair….not to be used daily only twice a week but it works. There are lots of options for grey hair shampoos. Good luck!

  12. I like a bit of orange. Since going grey – which I like – I haven’t been able to take very strong colours any longer, especially near my face. And I love green but find it hard to wear because it makes me look a bit amphibian. But I have a fine pair of orange sling back heels which I adore. And yesterday I bought a cheap and cheerful orange and black bangle. I think it will continue to be black, white, gold, silver and greys for me for the rest of my days, with a bit of something groovy for good measure.

    1. @Annie Green, I think orange is the best native accent color in the universe;).

      That said, it looks hideous on me, so I use a mustard, or tobacco, or burnt umber for a similar effect.

  13. Thanks so much for the mention, Lisa! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations (both IRL and online) about color and style.

    Contrast….yes, that’s a whole ‘nother dimension. I think a medium contrast works best for me. The brighter colors in my Spring palette can create too much contrast if I’m not careful.

    You’ve really evolved a wonderful signature style, both the physical and expressive aspects. Thoughtful, but not overdone.

  14. I’ve been thinking about this all week as I sort out fabric and yarn in a studio. I wear more color, but really only within a few small ranges. I sometime wear “high” contrast, for me, which really isn’t all that high at all in terms of absolutes. Increasingly I think I am all about medium to low contrast with color, shape, texture, cut, pattern in a narrower range of colors. There are exceptions of course; but they are like cake — occasional treats. Even those may be fading into something less shockingly sugary. I’m not sure about the last time I wore red, although I always got compliments in it. It always seemed to make too many demands.

  15. You look so pretty in that Christmas picture, with the red sweater and welcoming smile, and so chic in the pic above, with that fabulous scarf. I’d call this post “Contrast for Oomph,” myself …

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