Throughout the natural kingdom, camouflage is key. Blend into the background with a cunning colour palette of brown and green and beige and… brown… and you are less likely to be caught and eaten by something; that something is also likely to be brown and green and beige and brown in order that you can’t see it rushing out of the woods and pouncing on you.
In this world, bright colours either say “Don’t eat me because I am poisonous” or “I am a bird of paradise”. If you’re not deadly at three feet or a preening avian poseur, it’s sludgy taupe for you I’m afraid.
And as humans – little more than apes ourselves – it’s tempting to camouflage, too. We are drawn to colours that help us blend into our urban jungle: grey, black, white, navy.
It is ingrained in our psyche that you draw attention to yourself at your peril. It doesn’t help that at the time of the day when we are getting dressed (early morning so bleary, put-upon, stressed), we are aware that it’s easy to make a bad call.
We also just want to hide. Or is wearing a lot of colour just not very British? Our avoidance of bright shades isn’t just instinctive – I’ll freely admit that when I hover the cursor on my laptop over the ‘buy’ button, or stand in a shop trying to choose between the pink one or the navy one, I start to think about money and cost-per-wear.
“But,” I think, “I will wear the navy one more. Won’t I get sick of the pink? Won’t mauve go out of fashion just like lime green did in 1994? Won’t I just spill something on it that will show and then have to walk around the rest of the day with a blob on me and then have to wash it – or, worse, dry clean it?”
And that is how it’s so easy to find ourselves stuck in a colour wasteland.
As a passionate advocate of spending money on good quality, neutral basics, I would always say that when it comes to those basics all you have to do is make sure that you own T-shirts, neat sweaters and trousers in navy, grey, white or black (maybe not so much the white for the trousers) before you buy clothes in canary yellow or pink.
But once you have those basics in those building-block colours, it’s time to branch out. You do not need three navy sweaters.
Buying yet another navy or grey sweater when you already have useable ones at home is inefficient and suggests that you compulsively buy the same things over and over again just because you want something, but without any real thought for building a workable wardrobe. (I speak from personal experience. A low point was when I counted and had 450 white vests and 9,000 green cocktail dresses but nothing in my wardrobe to actually wear.)
The most important question, though, is why should you choose colour? What is wrong with sticking to neutrals or head-to-toe black? If it works for Vogue’s Grace Coddington, why shouldn’t it work for you?
And the answer is: because on most of us, it’s miserable and ageing. There is no quicker way to lift your mood and the mood of those around you than by putting on a yellow dress. I’m asked where my tomato-red sweater is from more than any other item of clothing I own.
Wearing only black might work for Grace Coddington, but it’s Anna Wintour who’s in charge and she, famously, only ever wears colour.
I’m not suggesting that the rules that apply to the world’s most stylish and well-connected woman apply to you – and the good news if you are still shy of colour is that I’m not suggesting that you go full mother-of-the-bride in a cerise two-piece skirt suit, or even a bright pink sweater like the one I’m wearing.
In fact, what I’m saying can be boiled down to one simple suggestion, my One Colourful Thing Rule. To every outfit, add one colourful thing. It can be a bag or a pair of shoes, a scarf, a necklace or even a bright lipstick.
If you can get over the fear that people will stop and point if you wear a cerulean blue hat (they won’t), then you might find that wearing colour is such fun that it’ll be a short hop from there to that cerise skirt suit. You’re welcome!