Episode 25. Color Theory and Palettes

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25. Color Theory and Palettes The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this episode, we're talking about color theory, color palettes and how they can influence our identities and our sewing. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-25-color-theory-and-palettes/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective

Links 

Patterns & Designers mentioned

Redwood Coast Quilt Pattern by Strawberry Creek Quilts

Range Quilt PDF Pattern by Modern Handcraft

Medlow Robe Sewing Pattern PDF by Muna and Broad

Veronik Robe Pattern by Closet Core Patterns

Resources

Color Theory, Interaction Design Foundation

The Curated Closet and Color Me Beautiful, Jasika Nicole
Color Analysis, Wikipedia

Episode 465 Shirley Cards, 99% Invisible

Colour Analysis Introduction, The Concept Wardrobe

A digital camera that gets dark skin right: What took so long?, Boston Globe

Should we decolonize color?, @sewmuchhistory on Instagram

Jūnihitoe, Wikipedia

My difficult BIPOC journey to color palettes, Let’s Make Stitches (Koss’s blog post)

Show transcript

Ada: Popcorn is a great snack, I just buy the plain kernels and I stick it in a microwave bowl.

Nicole: Oh.

Ada: You make as much or as little as you want, because you just, it’s the same thing as getting those like, the presealed bags. Was way cheaper.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.

Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.

Ada: I’m your cohost, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S promise – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your cohost, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine-American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: I can. So, one of my cousins is having a baby in July, so whenever this comes out, just depends on… On whether the child has been born already. And I have a nice almond colored lyocell twill that I think I got at Joann’s, probably, ages ago, and I thought it would make a really nice robe. So, for pre- and postpartum, especially for a summer…  I mean, I’m sweaty, so I’m like, I’m always thinking about stuff like that. It’d be a nice cool robe for her to put on and my cousin is always one of those people that I’ve seen as very cool, you know? I don’t know if you have like, Ada, I also think of you as this, just like cool! I don’t know, like… 

Ada: Am I cool?

Nicole: The styling is very chill, classic, elegant. That’s how I would describe my cousin Justine and I thought, you know, it would be nice to give her something like… I, we did buy baby things already, but to do something like, for her, as a, as a new mother specifically. And it’s a Big 4 pattern just something I already had, so no, no need to mention, it’s a very standard robe pattern. But I do want to shout out a couple of robe patterns that I do want to try. One is the Muna and Broad Medlow robe. I’ve purchased it, I’ve already printed it out on A0 paper, but one of my problems with robes is the overlap-y thing. I just never feel comfortable, like it’s enough. I forget what they call it, but… 

Ada: Just the front flap?

Nicole: Yeah, the front like, the under, the under part is never long enough for me.

Ada: Ohhh.

Nicole: And I think it’s a sizing thing, you know, but when Muna and Broad came out with the Medlow robe, that was one of their selling points, was like a deep under flap is definitely not how they described it. But, but that like, so that you can feel comfortable that it won’t open up or anything like that.

Ada: Does it have ties on the inside?

Nicole: It probably does. Yeah, but I find that with a lot of robes even if it does, I still feel that way because it just ties in the one part and then it just like, splits open on the bottom and the top.

Ada: Right. Right.

Nicole: So, Muna and broad is definitely one I want to try. And then, Closet Core just came out with a really cool-looking Veronik robe. And I don’t have that yet, but I do want to try it because it has a really cool-looking notched collar that I think I can get away with while working from home. So, robe vibes while I’m working from home. Just don’t tell my boss. I’m… I’ve got robes on the mind though, right now. Is there something specific you’re working on?

Ada: Related, I also have a friend who I have two friends who are unfortunately not coming to our wedding because they are due in July, like, just a few weeks shy of when our wedding is, so they’ve sent their regrets. One of them I’ve known about for a few months now and I’m kicking myself for not starting the baby quilt earlier. But I’ve decided that for all of our close friends to make each of their babies a baby quilt. We started this with the Redwood Coast quilt that I made for a friend who had her baby last year. She’s actually very good friends with the person having a baby this year, so I’m making now the Range quilt by Modern Handcraft. And the Range quilt looks like a bunch of mountains and I thought it was fitting because this friend, we’re always trying to convince them to move out here with us. We’re like, you guys love beer, like, you’re very creative, so it’s the craft beer capital of the US, there’s a brewery on every block, come on! So yeah, I thought it would be fitting to give them some mountains to remember us, if they can’t make it out here anytime soon. So…

Nicole: I would love to make a baby quilt for Justine. I just know, for Justine’s baby, I just know that like, it’s not going to get done. Maybe I should add… No, I’m still just gonna make the robe.

Ada: I will say that I decided to go with a Range quilt for this one also, not only because like, it’s a range and mountains and it’s very fitting, it’s also just a lot simpler piecing together than when I did the whole Redwood Coast quilt, like, that took a long time, because there were four different blocks with different sections of each block and a lot more, there were a lot more pieces to that quilt, than the Range quilt looks like it has overall. And I think I can make progress faster with the bigger pieces than I can on that. But I’ve also done just like, single piece quilting, where it’s just like, flannels back together, and like, quilting those together. And that was like, the first baby quilt that I made for another friend. So we shall see how they end up. I’m sure by like, the fourth, this is only like the third one, I guess, and then the fourth one will be the other person due in July. So maybe by like, the fifth or sixth one, I will have it down. And who knows what that will mean?

Nicole: Yeah, well, if I, if I feel inspired, and like, I have energy, maybe I’ll make some kind of quilt or blanket, it would be nice. My sister who has two young children, she’s like, she’s gonna need a lot of blankets. I’m like, but it’s July! She’s like, the babies run cold or whatever. Babies need blankets. And I was like, okay. If I get to it, I’ll get to it. If I don’t, I don’t. That’s okay. Today, we’re talking about color theory. And this is a hot topic, something highly relevant to many sewists. Not only are we going to dive into what it is and how it works, but we’ll also be exploring the intersectionality between color theory and being of Asian descent. So there’s a lot to unpack and examine there.

Ada: Yeah, so let’s get into it. What is color theory anyway? So I’m sure many of you tuning in already know, but color theory is the collection of rules and guidelines that one follows to ideally create appealing color schemes. Sir Isaac Newton established color theory when he invented the color wheel in the 17th or 18th century. Please note that I say 17th or 18th century because different sources online have different dates for when this happened. The color wheel, which you may have already seen before in maybe your elementary school art class, or maybe you are further educated in art than I am, contains colors of various categories arranged in a certain order in a circle, color wheel. The categories of the colors were defined by Newton as primary, which includes colors like red, blue, and yellow, secondary, which is colors created by mixing those primary colors, so green and orange, and then tertiary, or intermediate, which are colors that are mixes of primary and secondary colors. Just a little confusing, but it’s, there’s kind of like, a hierarchy here. Colors have three dimensions. So that’s hue, which is the temperature of the color which can be warm, neutral, or cool. Value, which tells us how light or dark a color is. And chroma, which dictates how muted, neutral or bright a color is.

Nicole: It might be helpful to just Google a color wheel, to envision and maybe while you’re looking, while we’re, you’re listening to the episode, you should be able to find one that matches all of these characteristics, you might get ones that look a little bit different, but you gotta look for your primary, secondary and tertiary colors. And color theory can get technical. So we’ll just focus on the color wheel and how it plays into sewing. If you are interested in diving really deeply into related topics like color properties, hues, temperatures, and so on, we’ve got a good link to a page on the Interaction Design Foundation website, in our show notes, and we invite you to read it on your own time. The colors on the color wheel are laid out in a certain order so that various combinations form color schemes that work. And when I say work, it’s kind of an opinionated statement, depending on who’s looking at the colors, but basically colors in a color scheme would be visually, aesthetically pleasing together. There’s a bunch of color schemes out there, but I’m gonna focus on the common ones that would interest us sewists. So first, there’s monochromatic, where you take a single color on the wheel and create other similar colors that are different shades or tints of that original single color, so monochromatic looks come in and out of fashion, but they’re always around, so that’s, that’s what monochromatic is. And then, there are analogous color schemes where you pick three colors located next to each other on the color wheel. And then there’s complementary color schemes where you use color pairs that are on the opposite sides of the wheel. Basic complementary colors include orange and teal or blue, and not unlike the color scheme you often see on movie posters.

Ada: I can see how using the color wheel to pick a color scheme to use in like, a quilting project would be useful. For example, there are a few color schemes at the back of the booklet on the Range quilt that I’m working on. But how does this actually play into picking the right color scheme or sometimes called a color palette for your own wardrobe? And we’ve only covered the scientific and artistic theory behind the concept of color so far. So please note that what we’re about to cover is based on some deep knowledge and logical discussions made from our researcher for this episode, Koss, who dabbles in photography in their free time. And if we can find any resources that can back up the information they provided us, we will be sure to include it in our show notes.

Nicole: Color theory started off with a heavy focus in science and art. But over time, it seems that people eventually realized that they could coordinate certain colors to their skin tone. This possibly happened when ready-to-wear fashion became available in fashion, and just in general. There was an increase in studies and books targeting women saying things like coordinate your wardrobe, or this is better for blondes, and these colors are better for brunettes. And eventually color theory evolved into color analysis, i.e. color theory for skin tones, which talks a lot about skin tones being warm or cool, or what season, quote, unquote, a person falls into. When people are looking for makeup and start talking about their season, they often don’t realize that all of the various concepts of skin tone and brightness, and other things, are pretty much the same concepts that you learn about color in art school, but simplified and referred to by other names. So for instance, instead of the word contrast, we talk about people’s complexions being bright, deep or soft. Saturation and temperature, attributes we use in photography and other art mediums, are instead all lumped together into the concept of seasons. And in case that’s new to you, summer and winter seasons are associated with, quote cool colors, which can be shades of blue, whereas autumn and winter are both saturated and not muted. The simplification of color theory concepts and keywords may have been to make it more accessible and easier to understand by an everyday person, although it’s great for marketing too. So changing the way that we talk about color theory and making it more palatable, pun very intended. Not really, but you know, more accessible to people so that they can buy more things that you’re selling, but just an educated guess from our end. Any listeners who have done deep historical dives, you know, feel free to chime in.

Ada: So quote, unquote, looking for your own color palette or color analysis became popular in the mid 19th century. So almost about 200 years ago. It became widely popular in the 1970s and 80s when Carol Jackson, a white woman, published a book called “Color Me Beautiful”. Now, Jasika Nicole, a Black woman sewist who is @jasikaistrycurious on Instagram, wrote a great blog post in January 2020 summarizing this book, but also pointing out its problematic nature, as you can probably guess where this is going. In fact, to quote Jasika directly, “I read the thing cover to cover within a few days. It was jam packed with both a wealth of thoughtful and helpful information and some of the most antiquated, racist, sexist and fatphobic tropes that you can imagine.” Her blog post is a great read, which we will also link to in our show notes.

Nicole: And in her blog post, Jasika points out that many of us may have noticed that certain colors of clothing make you look tired and washed out. While on the flip side, others will make you really pop, so to speak. And this effect has to do directly with color theory. Basically how the colors work with or, quote, unquote against your skin tone. In fact, pretty much every resource out there, whether it’s magazines, websites or other media, starts the color analysis process by having you look at your skin tone. So they’ll usually divide skin tones into three groups: warm, cool or neutral. Whichever your group your skin tone sits in dictates the color hues that you should go after.

Ada: Splitting your skin tones into warm, cool and neutral kinda reminds me of other color systems used in makeup. So for example, each foundation shade created by MAC Cosmetics starts with two letters, NC or NW, and then it’s like, followed by numbers. NC stands for neutral cool, while NW stands for neutral warm, and the numbers that follow these letters relate to the value or depth of the shade. So the higher the number, the darker the shade, although I should point out that the shades don’t nearly go dark enough. And if you have at all looked at other beauty brands in the past few years, um, this is a problem that they’re trying to address. So on the MAC color scale, which I guess is the first, kind of, foray that I had into makeup and matching foundation, neutral cool or NC is typically recommended for warmer yellow undertones, and NW or neutral warm, is recommended for cool or pink undertones which sounds great in theory, but in practice as a human being who still occasionally wears makeup and is not white, it is very obvious to me that these systems aren’t really designed for us, not only because I can’t find a freaking match anytime and have to blend all the colors, but it’s generally, like we get labeled into a color or shade, that doesn’t actually suit us. And so you kind of end up looking like a clown. 

Nicole: And like, most resources, say that Asian skin is yellow. And if your skin has yellow in it, as opposed to pink, then you have a warm skin tone. But just because you have some yellow in your skin, does that really mean you have warm skin? I mean, yellow can be warm, but we also know that yellow can be cool. Colors have the dimension of hue, which affects the temperature of the colors, and therefore, there are just different hues of yellow. And more importantly, not all Asian skin is yellow, not all of it has yellow, that’s definitely a social construct invented by white people to say that Asian equals yellow.

Ada: Right, and Asian communities have kind of adopted these colors as well, at least in the English speaking world. So like many East Asians will refer to themselves as yellow in a self-effacing way, or not, including myself, in the past. Many of my South Asian friends refer to themselves as brown. It’s even become a pop culture reference. So how many of you have heard or used the term “yellow fever” for white men who are attracted to East Asian women? This term, it was, I mean, it’s it’s been on the Internet, probably as long as the Internet has been a thing. But, it was used as a title for the Wong Fu Productions short film from 2006. If you were around like, pre-YouTube, in the beginning of YouTube, you might know what video I’m talking about. There’s like, lots of problematic tropes in that video, now that when you go back and watch it, so I’m not going to unpack all of the misogyny and sexist crap in there. But 16 years later, it really hasn’t aged well. And, neither has the term.

Nicole: The term “yellow fever” just makes me cringe. I’m like, oh, gross, that’s just nasty. And it’s associated with this color that people think that Asian, like, East Asian, or all Asians are yellow, and I’m like, ugh, ugh, ugh, just gives me the heebie jeebies. Anyway, we’ve, so we’ve talked a lot, we’ve thrown a bunch of words at you already. But here’s another one that often comes up when we’re talking about skin tone and color theory, and that’s olive, quote, unquote. So it may apply to some of you. A lot of our sources say this means darker skin, which is not necessarily true. If you’ve ever seen or eaten an actual olive, you can guess that olive just means you have green undertones to your skin. Now, if you think about the primary colors that make up green, blue, and yellow, those primary colors are both warm and cool. So if your complexion and skin tends towards olive, it means you have a bit of warmth and coolness to your color, and you might find you’re a little cooler in the winter, warmer in the summer, because of how much exposure to the sun that you get. And that’s definitely the case for some of us. I think that’s part of my confusion as well, I will get a tan walking to the mailbox. And honestly, olive just isn’t very well represented in resources out there because few white folks have this appearance of oliveness in their skin. And it’s a shame, because I’d love to learn more about people who have olive tones, and you know, navigating the mix of those tones for themselves.

Ada: I love how you said you get tanned walking to the mailbox, because I, like, living in the climate that I do right now, it’s very sunny here. But in the winter, there’s lots of overcast days, and especially when I was living in places where it was more of a dreary winter, I would be very different colors at different times of the year. It was, it’s shocking, some of the different photos that I have of myself.

Nicole: And how do you manage that? How do you navigate that right? Like…

Ada: Like, you can’t just own 50 foundation shades for your makeup, that’s just impractical. You can, you can own, like, a few. But you know, mixing all along the spectrum is is a lot. So there are other tests to determine the temperature of your skin tone that work if you’re not white, Nicole already mentioned looking at your veins to determine the temperature of your skin tone. So if your veins appear blue or purple, then you could have cool skin. And if they’re greenish, then you’re warm, which sounds simple, but then it doesn’t really work for everyone in reality, because a few of us in the Collective feel like our veins fit in between the two, or they’re not quite blue or not quite green. And I also just want to say how ridiculous this stuff sounds? Like, Nicole’s doing it right now if you’re watching us on YouTube, looking at the inside of your arm. What if you have darker skin and it’s just harder to make out your veins? Or what if you have small veins and you can’t really see them easily. I hear these complaints, both of them, all the time whenever I go to donate blood every few months, it’s a thing. And if you can’t find your veins or determine your skin tone by examining them, resources often love to tell us to put on silver or gold jewelry and then see which one, quote, unquote, pops more against our skin tone. Which is another kind of shoddy test, to be honest. I think, most people listening mix and match or wear both metals at certain times and feel that we can pull them off.

Nicole: I was going to say, that is a garbage test because honestly, I look great in both. Like, I just feel like there’s no ego there, there’s just like… I don’t know what to tell you. Gold and silver, both look fantastic on me. And so besides skin tone, there are other aspects of your appearance and features like hair color or eye color that are supposed to dictate whether you should go for brighter or muted colors. But I’m keeping it simple for our episode. Basically, the idea is that your combination of skin tone and hair color, for instance, could look better when you wear one color versus another. And Ada and I, we don’t necessarily agree with that, of course. What looks better than another color is super subjective. And I also know that some people say to dress in colors that bring out the color in your eyes. Well, what are you supposed to do when you have brown eyes like the both of us, like, this is not useful at all. And I always hated that because even makeup palettes, I don’t know, Ada, if you, if you ran into this growing up or now. Like maybe, one of the big makeup brands used to do little palettes that you could buy to enhance your green eyes or to enhance your blue eyes or to enhance your hazel eyes. And like, there was always a brown one, but it always sucked, it looked like like, it looked like someone just tried to… It often included purple. And like, I’ll wear purple now, but like, I didn’t know what to do. It just felt like people with brown eyes and just thought of as like, an afterthought, never mind that we’re very common, you know, very, very common in humankind. At this point. In the episode, you may be thinking that it’s difficult to do color analysis on your own to determine what your skin tone, complexion and other aspects of your appearance is, let alone come up with a color palette. And you may have already found some color analysis tools online that can supposedly do the work for you. There are places where you can upload a good quality image of yourself, after which it will parse the hue, value and chroma that works for your complexion before spitting out complementary colors on the color wheel that will form your color palette. And I’ll just say that, I recently did this, like in the last two months. Someone started doing this, and showing like, the wheel around your face on sewing Instagram, and people were trying to figure out their palettes. I did this, same time, same lighting, I was both cool on one, and then warm on the other. And I remember there was, one of them was like, you shouldn’t wear black. I’m like, excuse you, I can wear black, all the time. But it was just so strange. But yeah.

Ada: It’s like a bad TikTok filter.

Nicole: Yeah.

Ada: The concept of good quality images is also problematic and subjective. It’s really only applicable if you can get an accurate image of yourself. And for folks with darker skin, this has been historically difficult. It’s so difficult that Google came out with a recent marketing campaign bragging that they had finally made a smartphone camera that could, quote, get dark skin right. So a common problem is balancing an image of black or brown faces when they share the frame, you know, they’re in the same picture as white faces. Or when the black or brown person is standing in front of a brightly lit background. If the rest of the image is exposed correctly, then a darker skinned face can become an indistinct blur. And if the image is brightened, to bring out the facial features, then the rest of the image is overexposed, and oftentimes, the face will kind of appear ashy as well. It’s just, if you understand that concept, and then you go look at photos, you’re like, wow, that’s not what this person looks like in real life.

Nicole: I remember seeing that Google ad and at first having an eyebrow raise and then realizing like, this was really important. I have a tiny bit of a background in photography back in the day like film photography, it’s been many years. But these concepts of light and dark and exposure, overexposure and underexposure, are something that most people don’t think about. But for folks with dark complexions, it’s a thing that can definitely be more than an annoyance, you know, then when you are looking at pictures and so then it influences the uploading of finding your seasons and all that. And you can blame the technical limitations of cameras to some degree for not being able to handle darker skinned faces. But this problem, again, goes way back to the film camera era, and for many years film and all various things associated with it were specifically developed to make white skin look good.

Ada: Right. If you are interested in learning more about how colors for film photography were developed and catered to white skin, and then, you know, led to digital photography, which we predominantly use now, highly, highly recommend listening to the podcast 99% Invisible and their episode about Shirley cards. So these cards were named as such in honor of the first model who posed for them, and of course, Shirley was a white woman. And subsequent Shirley cards also contain, surprise, surprise, white women, and Kodak used Shirley cards to calibrate their film processing literally nationwide. So obviously, when they were sending those cards out and calibrating to that card, people of color always came out a bit off, and that has carried over, as we’ve seen in digital photography. Side note here, also lighting has a huge impact on how anyone appears in a photograph. I’ve seen photos of myself taking hours or days apart with various types of good lighting, like. portrait lighting versus natural light. And my skin and my hair just look completely different.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly, and I have the same issue myself. I wonder if those online tools are going to recommend the whole spectrum of colors? Like they kinda did that one time and tried it, or…

Ada: Here’s a rainbow!

Nicole: Yeah, I’m like…

Ada: All of them.

Nicole: Okay cool, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. Our researcher for this episode, Koss, has a great blog post about their experience using these color palette tests that you should definitely check out. Koss is of Cambodian descent and struggled to find their color scheme using these traditional methods. In their blog post, Koss shares their experience with color in their wardrobe from childhood to now. And like Ada, Koss first learned about color palettes while they were looking at makeup as preteens, and they had similar frustrations about warm versus cool tones. And when Koss came back to color palettes recently, they found that a lot of the information out there excluded BIPOC people from the start, before they even started testing their photos and an online color palette tool. They tested at different spots on the same photo and multiple photos, different times, to count how often they would get any palette. Koss got two different palettes, one that they knew would not look good on them, and one that closely resembled their wardrobe. There are a lot of great observations in Koss’s blog post. We’re going to share some observations shortly, and we’ll definitely link to their blog post in our show notes.

Ada: So we’ve covered the shortcomings of using conventional methods and tests to find one’s color palette. So it’s time to talk about how you actually do it, especially if you’re not white, and you can’t figure out if you’re warm or cool. So before we share some great tips and steps from our researcher, I just want to preface that finding your color palette is just, it’s a fun thing. It’s not a steadfast set of style rules or even rules in general to follow, guidelines, you should not feel restricted by whatever fashion or the patriarchy dictates, like, wear whatever you want. Wear what makes you feel good. Personally, before we started working on this episode, I just stuck to the colors that I liked in my wardrobe, primarily black, gray, blue, and pink and various shades of those colors. And when I buy fabric, I tend to buy those colors, thrifted or otherwise. And while I can and want to expand the colors that I have in my wardrobe, I recognize that for most listeners, figuring out what you want to make and wear, and how you want to represent yourself in your clothing and to the world, it’s an extremely personal journey.

Nicole: Totally agree. Having a color palette to work with can help narrow down options for yourself when you’re fabric shopping. And I do think you may end up wearing clothes more when you look good and you feel good in them. You know, do you like what you see in the mirror great, of course, you’re gonna wear it more. And it also helps make your wardrobe coherent, because more items pair well with each other, which can in turn compound that really good feeling. But we do want to stress that there isn’t a color out there that will make you look horrible or sick, like, that’s super judgmental language steeped in a lot of -isms. And we want to emphasize that finding your color palette is just one of the many things that you can do, you know, with color and incorporating it into your practice. But if you’re still worried about how you might look in a color that isn’t in your color palette, that’s also fine. You can wear that color further away from your face if that’s the case, or you can utilize that color in an accessory instead of like, you know, an entire garment.

Ada: I love that. That’s, that’s pretty fun. And don’t limit yourself to accessories in your wardrobe. You could use color anywhere in your home dec, for example. One more thing before we continue, Nicole, I want to talk about that Instagram post that you shared with the collective on decolonizing color by Annahid, who goes by @sewmuchhistory on Instagram. Listeners, we will link to her post in the show notes.

Nicole: Yes, yes. Let’s talk about Annahid’s post. Annahid, in case you didn’t know, is an amateur researcher who is interested in precolonial fashion and history. In the specific posts we’re referring to, she talks about how art class and style guides teach you all of the things that we’ve talked about to this point in the episode, organizing colors into categories like neutrals versus brights, warms versus cool, winter versus summer, etc, and then choosing outfits based on these categories. She also talks about learning rules such as not mixing metals, like we talked about, never combining black and brown and complementary colors clashing, so on and so on. Now in Annahid’s research, she did not find other cultures that historically followed these rules. Many cultures have attached meanings such as protection and rituals to certain colors, or equate certain colors to being expensive or a certain season. However, she didn’t see any references to having to worry about clashing colors or having a warm toned outfit or a cool toned outfit, or building an outfit around a neutral colored garment.

Ada: Thanks for sharing that post with the Collective and now with our listeners. Similarly, we’ve also talked about certain colors meaning certain things to different cultures on the podcast before like, red symbolizing good fortune or luck in Chinese cultures, which is then often tied to gold because, well, it’s literally gold, so it symbolizes wealth or prosperity. And if I recall correctly, the best example and exception that Annahid found was a Japanese style of formal court dress called a junihitoe, which means 12 layers and so for those not in the know, it’s composed of a number of kimono-like robes layered on top of each other with the outer robes cut larger and thinner, so you can reveal the layered garments underneath. The junihitoe has extremely specific color combinations and layers that are worn for specific occasions and seasons. But as Annahid says, even this formal court dress isn’t really organized into warm, cool or neutral as far as she found.

Nicole: And we bring up this post in today’s episode because as Annahid concludes, in her post, the concept of color theory per Isaac Newton is actually rather modern. So what would fashion look like without the color wheel? Listeners, if you didn’t have a color wheel, do you think you would dress differently? And many folks have provided detailed comments on the post, either sharing some insightful thoughts or with additional information that they know and I highly recommend you check out this post and the comments on Instagram to learn more about this. Personally, I loved hearing about how our ancestors for the most part did not fuss about color matching rules, just utilized clothing based on the assigned meaning or symbolism of the color. And I was thinking, like, is it mirrors? Did mirrors bring about this color theory, like, color wheel? Because people were looking at each other, but they didn’t necessarily assess themselves. I mean, I understand mirrors to be something that was for people with a lot of money, at least, when they’d started to become invented. But I don’t know. That’s just my observation. Maybe people weren’t as concerned about things mixing because they weren’t looking at themselves as much.

Ada: I thought it was interesting because my partner is a little bit colorblind, as many people are. And it just brought up the, some notable disagreements we’ve had on colors, because I am not colorblind, and so I think I am seeing everything that color that it says it is, or you know, that we dictate it is. But um, being that he is there was one time where we picked out a jacket for his mom, and it was, it was purple plum, violet, like, that shade. It was a very nice purple, and it was a puffer jacket, it was a winter, kind of like, Christmas gift. And he literally said it was brown. And I was like, well, technically, whatever color she thinks is she can wear whatever she wants to wear with it. Neither of us is wearing this. And I do you think that like, some of that, I guess, pressure that we feel to match or maybe find a color is external because, like, my partner basically has a very monochrome closet of blues, black and greys, not even that much black. It’s just blue and gray. And I’m pretty sure it’s because those are the colors to him that look good in general. 

Nicole: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ada: So let’s say that after all that introspection, you, and you know, whether you’re colorblind like my partner or not, you still want to figure out what your color palette is, I get it. Knowing your colors is pretty empowering. It takes a lot of guesswork out of fabric shopping, and we wanted to share some things that you can try that worked for Koss, our researcher, and they mentioned in their blog posts that it isn’t important to know if your skin tone is warm or cool, or if you have a soft or bright complexion off the bat, it could help you know if you have this info and it’s you’re certain it’s correct, but it’s not crucial. And using those online tools where you upload a photo of yourself can help narrow down your colors, but maybe approaching it from that way instead of treating it as the, you know truth or the one whole thing you’re going to base off of. But you know, that’s because they’re not necessarily accurate or per discussion earlier. So just don’t blindly believe it. Try uploading a variety of photos of yourself, preferably in different lighting at different times of the year, whatever you can do to kind of get more information. And hopefully you will see some patterns in the likely varied results that you will get back. Personally, like I said before, my skin tone changes drastically throughout the year because I spend more and less time in the sun, more in the summer less in the winter. And so, moving somewhere particularly sunny and higher in altitude has reduced the amount of variation I have, but it’s still there and you can generally date the photos you see as to whether it’s winter or summer.

Nicole: Yeah, definitely, same. Even growing up, you know, I played tennis in high school and in college and so there are definitely times of the year where my skintone was multiple shades darker, and I definitely use sun protection still, that of course is part of it. But moving on. We also want to acknowledge that this is likely going to be an overwhelming process, but the whole point of uploading all the photos to different online tools is to try to narrow it down as much as you can, and take your time with it. If it starts to suck, and it starts to be overwhelming, like I get when I’m trying to figure out my foundation shade, step away. Do something fun. Discovering your color palette should be painful, it’s just a way to enhance the way that you express yourself. Once you have a bunch of different palettes, identify a color that you fully relate with and find the palettes that include this color. And to figure out a color that you love, you know, you may have an item in your closet that, like, you always gravitate to, you love that thing. And it’s that garment, you put it on and you feel like a total badass in it, and you love the way that you look. Maybe when you look in the mirror, like, your skin glows in it. All of the passersby come up to you and they’re like, wow, I love your garment, this is great. So something you feel great in, like, you already know what your color is, because, you know, you have feelings, are evoked when you put this thing on in the mirror. And it’s just years of, you know, white overrepresentation in media and fashion trends that may have your subconscious’s preference feeling a little less obvious than that. So hopefully you end up with one palette that you’ve narrowed down. And you can start experimenting with the other colors in the palette to see if they work for you. You might find that the other colors already exist in your closet. And if they don’t, that’s fine too. Go to a fabric store, hold some things up to your skin, you know, they got mirrors in the stores, right? And if they don’t, you know like that’s all right, or go to a ready-to-wear clothing store and try on some things that you’ve identified as part of your color palette, and fitting rooms have mirrors, so you can see what colors you feel good in and hopefully you find something that’s like, yes, this is totally me! And go from there.

Ada: The last part about colors being totally me has me wanting to share two stories. So here’s the first one. As a child of the 90s, I wore a lot of pink and purple growing up and when I say pink and purple, I mean from light pinks to hot pinks, like lavenders to deep eggplant purple, sometimes together. Literally, I have, I had one vest that was reversible, hot pink and eggplant purple. And I know…

Nicole: I’d wear that. I’d wear that now.

Ada: I mean, like, right now, I’m like, a little horrified and a little proud and I can’t decide if I would wear that. But one of my favorite outfits growing up was a lavender fuzzy sweater from Limited Too, it was probably polyester, thinking back, and some light pink metallic jeans from kids’ Gap. And yes, I did wear them together. Like I said, pink and purple, together. And I gradually stopped wearing these colors together, I think, as trends change, and I started wanting to, quote, unquote, fit in. Like, nobody else was wearing them together. Pink, as I mentioned before, stuck around in my closet, but purple pretty much disappeared. Some like plummy or pinks, magenta stayed, but that was about it. And at the same time, I distinctly remember trying on yellows and browns in, like, the fitting room mirror and being horrified by what I saw. Not only because generally fitting rooms have terrible lighting, but I just, it did not suit me and I didn’t feel good. And so I didn’t buy those colors. And so listeners, you can kind of see how I ended up on a track towards having black, gray, blue and pink mostly in my entire wardrobe. And in preparation for this episode, I did run a few photos of myself in natural lighting and portrait lighting through a tool to come up with palettes and the tool suggested deep pinks, purples and blues and said to avoid yellow. Sounds familiar, right? I think it’s true. I mean, not really, I think I’ll wear whatever color as long as I feel good in it. But it felt like it took me a really long time to get there and to venture into any color at all. And I think I’m still working on it, right? Like, a good example of how this tool is wrong is that one of my favorite ready-to-wear pieces is this bright yellow linen tank top that I got at a slow fashion sample sale a few years ago. Now, I never would have normally gravitated towards it, and I will admit that it being a sample sale and that top being you know, 25, 30 dollars, didn’t hurt either. But when I tried it on, it was fun, and it was bright and it looked great on me, it still looks good on me. And this piece is part of the reason of why I recently bought more taupy browns and caramel colored fabrics which I wouldn’t have ventured into before. And I think the point that I’m trying to get at is that your personal style and your color preferences can change and that’s okay. And I think as sewists, we’re all just in a unique position to be able to play with our styles a bit more, and to be able to literally create what we want to see on our bodies.

Nicole: And that’s the coolest thing about being a sewist, whether it’s color, style, size, whatever and I definitely agree with you, Ada, like, I’ll wear whatever color I want, as long as I feel good in it. I think I’ve said it a few times. But like color theory, and all of those associated tools, you know, they’re meant to inspire you. They’re not meant to inhibit your creativity and the way that you see yourself. And your story about being horrified when you saw yourself wearing yellow and brown, like, it just made me laugh, because I can see that happening to me too, where I’m looking in the mirror. I’m like, oh, no, but at the same time, I can see myself putting on those exact same things, maybe 10 years later, you’re like, yeah, this is great. You know, so the way that you see yourself in the exact same thing, you know, it could be totally different at a different part of your life. So you’re right, like, our personal styles and preferences will change over time, and color theory can just help enhance that journey. But if again, if it’s getting you down, it should absolutely be something that you don’t worry about as much and focus just on how you feel about what you see in the mirror.

Ada: Right, and my second story about colors, as we’ve mentioned, countless times on this podcast, I swear, listeners, I will stop talking about weddings soon. I’m getting married, one of the first things I did, and probably the biggest thing that I cared about for my wedding was wedding dress shopping. I’m not making my own dress, like, I bought, I bought a dress. And through the shopping process, if you’ve been through the, kind of, traditional process of going to a store, you kind of have to come with ideas, otherwise, you’re going to be there forever. And I had, I had ideas, I’ve had ideas, I thought I wanted a big white ball gown, no lace, no embellishments, just something highlighting the structure of the garment and myself. But when it came to try on those big white ball gowns, I was really, really disappointed, because it turned out that bright, bright bleached white all over, not a good color on me. I looked super washed out and gray even though it was the middle of summer and I had a tan. And seeing myself in these, the stylist started actually pulling out some more light pinks, light greys, even lilacs. And once we put those against my skin, they actually looked more like white than they did when they were on the rack. And at the same time, I can’t tell you how many gown shopping photos I’ve seen from friends and the actual gowns I’ve seen on them that, they look fantastic in that bright white or like, eggshell or ivory, and so having to let go of the big white ballgown fantasy which like. I won’t dissect everything that went into that, was a little hard, right. And I don’t want to share what I ended up with quite yet, but it’s not white, it’s definitely not white, or not completely white. And so it was, it was definitely kind of a learning process, almost. But also just like, coming to terms with what I thought I wanted in my head was not actually what I wanted when I saw it on.

Nicole: Yeah, and that’s fair, particularly with something as momentous as a wedding and a wedding dress. I think, a lot of thought goes into it more than, you know, you would for a party dress or anything else that you’re making. And so, that makes perfect sense. That being said, I may have said this on the podcast before but when I bought my wedding dress, I was like, whatever, let’s try it, just try, we’ll try what’s there, you know, so my experience is a little bit different. I’ve been married for, don’t test me on this, a while, like eight years or something like that. And like, it wasn’t as momentous an occasion or decision for me, but that being said, I’m sure I gravitated toward shades of white that like, spoke to me. I don’t remember saying, I want a cool white, you know, or ivory tones, or cream, you know, tone, are that I’m like, you know classic satin white. I was just like, I don’t know, what do you got? This is kind of literally how I was. But I’m sure I… Like, I gravitated toward like a warmer white. And that’s just what ended up, that get kept, like, that kept getting pulled, you know? And there’s there’s this theory, but then there’s what you think like, just what do you like, and you saw what you saw you didn’t like it, so you went for something else and I can understand the disappointment of having those white ballgown fantasy but, and you know, realizing that you end up with something that you’d love even more than that. So I’m sure it was hard to, to let go of. But I, it sounds like you found something that that you really love and works for you. I don’t know if I’m going to be great on this episode because I’m just gonna keep talking about how I do not use color theory and like, I don’t think about it. And then so you shared your wedding story and I was like, oh shit, I’m not gonna have anything saved besides I just pulled whatever but, but you know, that’s, that’s the thing about color theory, right? Like, you can use it how you want to use it. And so I’ve just never really thought about it too much. I love colors, you know that, Ada.

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: But, not super deliberate. I just go with the whole, do I like what I see? I do think though that color palettes come up for me the most when I’m thinking about traveling. So just for  practical reasons, I like to optimize my travel wardrobe to mix and match pieces to wear so that I can, you know, have fewer things in my luggage, so I have more more room for fabric when I, uh… When I go travel, and I’m buying souvenir fabric, we just had a conversation on our sew and chat about souvenir fabric. And I love color. And I want to wear more than just like black leggings and a chambray shirt, which by the way is definitely my travel uniform. But I try to be more deliberate with the pieces that I choose so that I can make sure I can get the most wear out of everything. And so I actually did bust out the color wheel for a recent, like, spontaneous weekend trip to Las Vegas. And I consulted the color wheel to see like what might match with orange. So because I happen to be working on something that’s mandarin colored, so to speak, like the color of the fruit. And I ended up taking two two-piece outfits. One that was all orange, and one that was all lavender. And they mixed and matched really well. But I think if you asked me I would have been like, I don’t know about this. But when I looked at the color wheel and I looked at the possible combinations, seemed like it could work. And if I do say so myself, it was very cute, like I did, like, I did like the mixing and a bonus was apparently, I didn’t know this, BTS, the K-pop band, color is lavender. And then for the concert that was there that weekend, the concert theme was orange. So I was like, very on trend and I was very BTS matching, even though I wasn’t going to the concert, I’d gone to go with a friend who was going to the concert. But so that’s like, color theory and color palettes. I use them primarily for the clothing, but not necessarily for the, does it match me. And many people may say that I should, but I’m like, it’s fine. If I like what I see, then, then great. So that’s really where I’m at.

Ada: Lavender and orange. I mean, you, I, you sent me some photos and those outfits were pretty cute, but I would not have pegged that as like a, here’s the colors of the BTS concert. I didn’t know their color was lavender. Clearly neither of us are hardcore. But I think that’s all we have on color theory and color palettes for today. If you end up on a journey to find your color palette, let us know how it goes. Tag us in your Instagram stories so we can see what works for you. It might help a fellow Asian with similar coloring, who knows.

Nicole: And alternatively, if you have any other methods of color matching that work for you, let us know too. I don’t really think there’s one tried and true way so we can definitely all learn from each other.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and allows us to give back to our all-volunteer team. You can make a monthly or one time donation at ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. You can find this link in our show notes, on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram, at @asiansewistcollective. That’s one word, asiansewistcollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts PocketCasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages, if you want to be featured on future episodes, at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com This episode is brought to you by your cohosts, Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Kossoma Kernem, produced by Mariko Abe, and edited by Sareena Granger and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our Collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.

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