It’s probably one of the first questions you’re asked as a child: what’s your favourite colour? And it continues to be asked through your teenage years and into adulthood. From the photograph above, I think you can easily guess that I like pink. With a splash of khaki or purple.
It hasn’t always been so. Until recently I never wore pink! Black, grey and yellow dominated my wardrobe. But, on two occasions when I’ve been asked about my favourite colour, it’s caused me to pause and think about my colour “choices” and how they have evolved since I was a teenager.
In my twenties, after graduating with a Masters degree in Engineering Geology, I worked onshore and inshore supervising drilling investigations. Under my overalls, I wore subdued muted browns, blues and greens. Nothing that would stand out or draw attention to me. It was hard enough being the only woman on site, the only woman engineer in the office, the only woman at design meetings. I always remember my first day at a prestigious consultancy, my dream job. One of the directors appeared and asked me what my initials stood for. Before I could answer, Sarah Barlow, he responded with Silly Bitch. Yup, wearing the same colours as everyone else rather than pink or purple seemed the only way to go.
Through my next decade, I worked for the Scottish government and helped oversee the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, as I’d started to specialise in contaminated land engineering. This involved frequent trips to London and Whitehall, or Brussels and the European Parliament. Again, I was usually the only woman and the youngest person in the room. Wrongly or rightly, I felt I needed “serious” clothes for a “serious” job: navy or grey suits, white shirt, flat shoes, briefcase like everyone else in the office.
My early forties: children and a return to uni! I’d had enough of government. I decided to pursue one of my two loves, plant-based medicine like my great grandfather. My other love, art and textiles, would have to wait. Going back to school at the age of forty is quite an eye-opener as was studying herbal medicine. There were two camps: the students and tutors who wanted a wee bit of science stirred into their medicine; and those who perhaps didn’t. My friend, Pam and I tightrope walked down the middle. But, what could I wear? I think we can safely say that my colour choices and style during these years were transitional to the point of confusion. Who was I? Geologist? Mum? Mature student? Herbalist? Scientist?
Mid forties and I transferred my medical knowledge and counselling training to becoming an outreach welfare rights adviser visiting the parts of Edinburgh that tourists didn’t see. This was a serious job. I felt I should wear muted colours in simple designs. Nothing distracting. Nothing intimidating. I didn’t want anyone coming to see me for advice, for support, for a shoulder to cry on, to feel uncomfortable. It takes a huge amount of courage to talk to a complete stranger about your physical or mental health issues; to ask for help; to detail your overwhelming debts; to step across the doorway into which ever room I’d be assigned that day by the health centre. I wanted to be in the background. So, greys, blacks, white and a flash of Citizens Advice yellow dominated. And, again simply styled clothes.
And, now my fifties. Breakout time! In the background since my teenage years, I’d been studying art and design: evening classes; weekend courses; daytime practise. Buying a secondhand knitting machine in April 2015 was life-changing. Yarns, design, colour, pattern, texture all took over my life without asking. Woolly Originals was born. In November 2016, I said goodbye to the NHS and Citizens Advice, and hello to full-time self-employment. But my clothes and colour choices remained behind. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t able to walk the creativity of my Woolly designs into my wardrobe. Look at photos of me at EYF2017. I’m wearing grey, grey and more grey!
Until July 2017 when I was visiting London. Susan at Loop, chatting about a wholesale order, asked me what’s my favourite colour. I was dressed in grey, white and yellow. Yellow and grey I said. She replied that she like muted pinks. I returned to my hotel room and looked in the mirror. A switch flicked in my brain. I didn’t like grey and yellow anymore! It wasn’t “me”. The now me. It was the previous me. As I only had grey, black and yellow clothes with me, I spent the next day uncomfortably walking round London. I couldn’t wait to get home and sort out my wardrobe.
Oh my, did I do that! The local Shelter charity shop was probably overwhelmed with my now rejected clothes. My wardrobe was Mother-Hubbard-esque! Except for my hand knits. Those I no longer wanted to wear were distributed to family and friends, or folded and placed on a back shelf. So, what colours did I want to wear? I had no idea! So I just started hand knitting. I chose a Gamaldags cardigan by Hélène Magnússon in Lettlopi khaki with pink and purple. A Laine magazine Nuuk sleeveless sweater in beautiful pink Yeavering Bell yarn from Whistlebare followed. Next, a pink and khaki Break Cowl by Donna Smith in Little Grey Sheep mini skeins. And so it began. An unconscious drift to the Pink Side!
In June this year, I went on a knitting and hiking trip to north Iceland organised by Hélène Magnússon. She pointed out that my favourite colour was pink. I was about to deny this but the evidence was somewhat against me. She was right. When I now reached for a cardigan or a hat, it wasn’t a choice between light grey, dark grey or mid grey, but pink or purple or a mix of both.
It recently set me thinking again. Not so much that I now loved wearing pink but how my colour choices have changed over the decades. The influences of my various careers and the people around me have all contributed to what colours I felt I could or should wear. And whilst I have always encouraged and aided my sons to wear whatever they liked or wanted to and whenever, in a bizarre double-standard, until recently I didn’t seem capable of that for myself.
Colour plays such an important part in our emotions and in who we consider ourselves to be. But society does keep making up colour rules. Mourning clothes? Black or white depending on your cultural background. Getting married? White dress or red. Want to be a Goth? That’ll be black then. What about gender? The list could go on and on. But I’ll simply finish with…..I wear pink because I like pink. I’m in my fifties. I’m a self- employed designer. And at this particular moment in time, it’s me.
So what’s your favourite colour?