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Author Erin Kaye on how Colour Me Beautiful transformed her style

So there I was, a harried mother on the wrong side of 35, bouncing a teething baby on my lap while my three year-old ran riot through a friend’s flowerbeds with his pals. None of us Mums sitting round the patio table even batted an eyelid. I announced I’d bought some clothes online.

‘So what did you buy?’ someone said.

‘This,’ I said plucking at the frilly, ruffled neck of my baby blue and pale pink striped top.

My friend’s sister, Gillian, smiled and said, exuding a cool, easy style that I had never mastered, ‘You would look fabulous in turquoise, coral and hot pink. Emerald green too.’

‘What?’ I never wore strong, bright colours like that. I was a pale pastel girl during the day, black at night. I had also not been to the hairdressers in several years (my straight hair was half-way down my back) and all my shopping was done mail-order. I didn’t used to be like this. I used to care what I looked like. But Gillian was a consultant for Colour Me Beautiful and I reckoned she knew what she was talking about. ‘Tell me more,’ I said.

The next week I found myself sitting in her front room draped in swathes of brightly coloured fabric. And she was absolutely right. The strong, clear bright colours lifted my entire complexion, made the blue of my eyes sharper and brighter and my pale Celtic skin glow like finest porcelain. The pale, muted, earthy colours that I had, until then, favoured drained my face of all colour. I learnt the difference between an orange-red and a blue-red – how one can look great on you, the other awful, depending on your colouring.

And it wasn’t just the colours I was wearing that were all wrong. I’m tall and thin and I looked like a leek, straight up and down. Gillian showed me how to break my long, lean figure up with vertical breaks, e.g. a short skirt over knee high boots and layers over one another, and how to create the illusion of a waist. The hair had to go too as it was adding to the overall lanky, drippy impression. I got it cut into a graduated shoulder length style. And there’s more. Gillian helped me identify my style – I’m most comfortable in classic, tailored, clean cut styles. Explains why I never felt comfortable in that new top with the frilly neck. Finally, I learned that I should have one day in the shops at least once every season, to keep track of trends and see what’s new.

Next came the wardrobe clear-out. Gillian helped me discard four black binbags of clothes that were the wrong colour, the wrong style or just plain old-fashioned (who isn’t guilty of holding onto something long past it’s sell-by date because it cost a lot at the time?)

I never looked back. Ten years later I still follow those CMB colour and style rules. I take my colour swatches with me when I go shopping. It makes the whole process so easy – I can walk into a shop and see with one glance whether or not a rack has anything in it of interest to me. I know, almost without exception, that the frills and flounces of Per Una at Marks and Spencer, while they look fabulous on my petite friend Alison, are not for me. And I no longer buy things that look gorgeous on a curvy friend, or the model in a magazine, but ridiculous on me. I now know that on-the-knee dresses make me look frumpy and A-line skirts just look plain awful on me. I still make the odd mistake but I’m more confident about shopping and how I look. I buy less and what I do have, I wear.

I think every woman should have a CMB consultation for her 21st birthday. I can honestly say that of all the (probably thousands) of pounds I have spent over the years on the way I look, the CMB consultation was the best money I ever spent. And the best value. Go on, book your appointment today.

Erin Kaye is a warm and highly emotive Irish writer who deals with issues that affect real women. Her new novel, Always You (Avon) is out on the 6th June and centres around a pair of star-crossed lovers trying to rewrite their past. At university it all seemed so simple, Sarah and Cahal would conquer the world. Nothing could separate them. But Cahal was from the wrong side of the tracks and when family pressures mounted, they weren’t as brave as they hoped they’d be. Fast-forward twenty years and Sarah and Cahal lead very different lives very far apart. But a chance meeting will bring them together. Can they do things differently this time?

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