Marie Schrader, Skyler White’s sister on Breaking Bad, played by Betsy Brandt, was known for wearing purple. A lot.
It started off subtle, but as the series progressed, so did the amount of purple in Marie’s wardrobe. Fans even created conspiracy blogs about how much purple she wore.
So the other day, I was rummaging through my closet looking for something to wear, and I noticed: Wow, I own a lot of purple clothes. Did Marie sneak in at night and take over my wardrobe? How the heck did that happen?
There are a zillion of them, usually centered around the four seasons, or “light”, “clear”, “warm” or “cool”. Most of them date from the 70s or 80s, and involve some self-described colour theorist or specialist attempting to categorize you by draping scarves over your face, and then using those to diagnose what colours you should wear. These colour theories are mostly outdated, stale, ethnocentric in favour of Caucasians to the exclusion of People of Colour, and — frankly — a bit laughable.
But the underlying theory isn’t wrong: Most of us do have colours that look better or worse on us. Just because there’s no scientific method to find them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Most of us naturally gravitate towards colours that make us look good. We learn through trial-and-error, by seeing ourselves in photographs or different lighting, by getting feedback from people around us. I don’t know exactly why certain colours work for me and others don’t… but I can identify them when I see them.
Personally, I’m pale, cool-skinned and freckled, with green eyes and reddish-brown hair. I look good in strong colours like teal, coral, bright yellow, and — yes — purple. My neutrals are navy blue, chocolate brown, olive green, and charcoal grey… but never black; it just washes me out. I also have to avoid the heck out of pastels, bubblegum pink, most shades of orange, and lime green. I can wear pure white, but I can’t do beige, off-white or blush. And I opt for silver jewellery over gold.
Sometimes I rebel and buy something in a colour that isn’t in my palette. Usually it’s out of some sort of misguided sense of anger, as in, why am I limiting myself in this way? A camel beige sweater? A pastel mint-green blouse? They seem like good ideas in the store, but not once I get them home. Generally, those pieces go mostly unworn in my closet, until such time as I throw them in the donation box or sell them on eBay. Wastes of money, all of them.
Seasonality and personal colours
So when a colour I like comes into fashion, I sometimes go a little nuts. Purple was a big colour last year, and I went on a purple shopping spree. After all, I tend to keep clothes for a long time, and that’s a colour I know suits me well. Who knows how long it will be before the fashion powers-that-be try to bring it back?
My favourite purple items
I have more purple in my wardrobe than I care to admit. Here are just a few of my current favourite items:
Calvin Klein dress
I love this dress. It’s professional, appropriate in both summer and — with tights and a sweater — winter, and of course, purple! Calvin Klein Petite is one of my go-to brands for workwear, since the proportions work perfectly for me.
Nils ski jacket
I searched high and low for a petite ski jacket that wasn’t too big at the shoulders or too long at the torso. Petite ski jackets are rarer than four leaf clovers, so my options were limited. Ultimately, I ended up with a Nils jacket that’s warm, cozy, and … you guessed it, purple! A ski jacket is a major investment that I expect to wear for seasons to come, so I’m not too upset that I bought something in a colour I know I love. The only problem is that it doesn’t really match my skis — but that’s okay, I can always replace those.
GAP merino sweater
This is actually the second one of these I own. I sorta shrunk the first one accidentally in the wash. Oops. Anyway, I don’t usually love crew neck sweaters, but I couldn’t resist the comfy feel of this one, nor its lovely heathered plum colour. I’ve been known to wear it both on its own, and also layered under a vest or jacket.
Alpaca tuque and poncho
These were travel purchases, of the sort that you make when you’re someplace abroad and there are a million market stalls all selling the same handicrafts. Of course, I gravitated towards purple, and picked up a couple of (fake) alpaca wool items to keep me warm in the cold Bolivian altiplano. Since getting home, I’ve found myself wearing them more than I thought; it turns out that a poncho is the perfect solution to an over-airconditioned office in the summer.
- Dress: Calvin Klein Petite, size 4P. $71.98.
- Ski jacket: Nils Petite, size 4P. Approx. $400 at time of purchase.
- Crewneck sweater: GAP Petite, $49.95
- Tuque: Alpaca blend, purchased at a local market in Cusco, Peru. Approx. $5.
- Poncho: Alpaca blend, purchased at a local market in Copacabana, Bolivia. Approx. $10.