A slightly edited version of a talk I gave at Sunday Assembly London on 18 September 2022.
People often comment on how colourful I am, with some friends referring to me as the most colourful person they know. It hasn’t always been this way though.
As a child, I remember always wearing colourful clothes (kids clothes are always better than adults aren’t they?). I once dressed up as a clown wearing every colour under the sun, with my hair backcombed and sprayed bright pink. A photo of me like that made the front page of the Oxford Times – though of course the photo was in black and white, this was in the 80s when newspapers contained little colour.
At some point in the 90s though, this changed. I don’t know if it was because 90s fashion was a bit dark and moody, or whether it was simply because there were limited options due to my size. At university, around the turn of the century, I was even more aware of the limited options of clothes available to me – whether it was for fancy dress, going out drinking or dancing, or for those few nights we had to really dress up, it was always so hard to find anything that wasn’t in shades of black, brown and grey. I also didn’t want to stand out so wearing those colours helped me blend into the background. I avoided being in front of the camera as I didn’t like how I looked, especially next to my slimmer friends.
I did dabble with colour where I could though – accessories and hair colour were my way of adding some colour to my uncolourful outfits. Those red highlights on my short spiky hair perhaps wasn’t my finest hair choice though.
Away from fashion though I’ve always loved surrounding myself in colour. Since I discovered street art around 15 years ago I’m constantly drawn to the colourful walls around east London, though street art now appears all over the city.
I moved into my own flat in 2010 and it was the perfect blank canvas. Literally – the previous owner had painted everything white so it was time for me to let rip! One of the first things I did was paint the doors – yellow for the sitting room, blue for the bathroom and red for the bedroom. Now every wall is covered in colourful art. I’ve got to the point where I’m going to need to start hanging art on the ceilings. When I see photos of Sue Krietzman’s (the main speaker at the event and an artist and colour enthusiast) colourful home it inspires me to fill the flat with colourful art that brings me joy.
About ten years ago I asked my friend to dye my hair postbox red and that started the transition to who I am today. I remember walking into work with my (then long) red hair, and a male colleague commented “what have you done!”; I was working in the civil service and, dare I say it, it was a pretty grey environment.
It wasn’t until 2016 though, when I took redundancy from the civil service (just before the Brexit referendum – a very good time to get out!) that I really took advantage of colour and started dressing for me. It helped that by this time I’d found more places to buy interesting and colourful clothes. I went through the rainbow with hair colours, starting with blue, then green before heading back to my more comfortable colours in the pink and red spectrum. Each colour enabled me to try out being a different person.
By the time I went back to work a year later, I was a different person – inside and out.
After years of trying to hide away and blend into a crowd, I started going the opposite way. I’m not saying I wanted to stand out but I decided it was time to own the space I exist in and not be apologetic for who I am. Wearing colour, and seeing others dress colourfully, makes me smile. And I know it makes other people smile too. In the early hours of last Saturday morning, whilst out embarking on one of my silly challenges [the 24 hour project] a young guy on Brick Lane said my outfit was “mad” – I clarified whether that was a good thing, to which he confirmed it was. For context, I was wearing pink dungarees, a stripy jumper I had knitted myself and yellow DMs.
In the past few years I’ve embraced slow fashion and have discovered brands that cater for plus size women and offer clothes that are not only colourful and fun, but that actually fit. It’s enabled me to fill my wardrobe with clothes that bring me joy, not just the ones I can find that fit. I’ve even stepped out of my comfort zone to be in front of the camera!
Social media has a lot of negative sides, but through Facebook and Instagram I’ve been introduced to so many like minded groups and individuals who don’t shy away from colour and want to live a colourful life. Instagram challenges to hunt out colour, wear colourful outfits and encourage colourful crafting got me through lockdown, and the London Colour Walk and In Colourful Company communities in particular have really helped me embrace colour in everyday life.
To quote two fabulous women:
Ironically, my boyfriend’s colour of choice is black. I guess that’s proof that opposites attract.