E.J. Topper’s “Colorful Thoughts” – Pastel
Don’t Go Pale at the Thought of Pastel Tones
Wearing pastels – do they have to be problematic? Or can they be a joyful and exuberant part of your spring and summer wardrobe? Topper has words of reassurance: “You don’t have to look like a character in a movie with sub-titles! Or feel like you’re taking part in a British Empire drama. Pastels are a part of modern fashion life. Learn about them. Experiment with them. Above all, enjoy pastels!”
Successfully wearing pastels is firstly a question of overcoming any sartorial prejudices. And that happens through the confidence that comes from a little knowledge and insight. We can usefully start with a definition. So just what are pastels? To be more technical than anybody will ever likely want us to be, we could say that they are “colors with high value and low to intermediate saturation”. A more useful explanation is that pastel shades in clothing tend to be the paler, subtler cousins of the regular colors. Pastel pink, blue and yellow will be noticeably less forceful than their full-on, block color origins.
So, What’s the Point of Pastel?
As winter gives way to spring and we even start to experience a hint of summer, most of us instinctively sense that it’s time to put our heavy clothes away and don outfits that make us feel lighter. The warm tones that cheered us through winter now feel like overkill in the strengthening sun. It’s time, literally, to lighten up. And a great way to do that is by selecting some well-chosen pastel garments to refresh our wardrobe. As ever, Topper has some Top Tips on what to embrace and what to avoid in pastel, to help us make the right choices.
Avoiding Pastel Pain #1 – “Pale Into Insignificance”
Our natural coloring needs to be taken into account when considering the pastel path. Topper says: “Don’t attempt them if you are particularly pale – pastels work better with naturally darker skin tones or a tan. The last thing you want to appear is washed out, or even ill. So if you are very light to start with, enjoy the contrast with bold colors and stick to them. It’s not flattering when you walk into a room and everybody thinks they’ve just seen a ghost!”
Avoiding Pastel Pain #2 – “The Ice Cream Sundae”
Don’t overdo it on the pastels – the risk is you can end up look like a serving of gelato Napolitano. Topper offers this anecdote, by way of illustration and warning: “Sitting in St Mark’s Square, Venice, two summers ago, I overheard a couple of elderly ladies struggling to order the ice creams they wanted from an equally elderly waiter with no English. Then, one of them pointed at a young man in a symphony of pastels, seated at the next table, and cried out ‘Bring me one that looks like him.’ Mortifying, you’ll agree.”
Avoiding Pastel Pain #3 – “The Shiver Down the Spine”
Pastels are not primarily practical. They won’t protect us from chill winds. Here’s Topper: “Looking good is, at heart, about feeling truly comfortable in the artificial skin that we call clothes. And you cannot feel comfortable in clothes that are designed for warm breezes if the weather turns cold. Your outfit should cause a shiver of pleasurable anticipation, not leave you simply shivering. So unless the weather is guaranteed, if you’re wearing pastels then bring an overcoat just in case.”
Getting Pastels Off Pat
At first base, think about context – if you want to come across as authoritative, at the helm and very much ‘’on duty’’ then it probably isn’t time for pastels. But if a relaxed vacation vibe or other downtime is on the agenda, they are simply perfect.
The season is another consideration – of style and practicality. Nobody usually thinks of the winter in terms of pastels, unless you are living in Florida or going away on vacation to the sun. Pastels and light fabrics aren’t for keeping you warm and snug.
Then there’s the question of just which pastels you pick. As with every other color choice, there is a spectrum with pastels, from somewhat darker and bolder to paler and subtler, or even just the merest hint of color. Topper says: “For building an outfit in pastels, one reliable tip is darker on top, lighter on the bottom – for example, a pastel sport coat, shirt or sweater with white or very pale pants is a combination that’s pretty much sure to work.”
The one arguable exception to the “darker top, lighter bottom” rule is denim. Topper has this to say: “Pastels transform jeans from everyday wear to a true statement of style. Pairing quality blue jeans with pastel shirt can be an inspired move in the smart casual stakes. And to complete your advantage, try a cream linen jacket or even salmon pink. You’ll feel that summer has truly arrived.”
The final pastel perspective we’ll explore for now is the opportunity to pair with really adventurous, even explosive, full-on colors. Topper puts it best: “A pastel outfit also allows you to make a real color pop statement – very bright colors for a necktie, shoes or socks. This is one time you almost can’t go overboard with overstated color.”
You might not feel ready for lime, mint green or cerise, but, rest assured, there are plenty of ‘mainstream ways’ to go pastel. Enjoy.
Get more of Topper's advice on any of the color palettes here: