Let's face it, no one looks good in lime-green

Tamsin Blanchard knows why we wear unflattering colours
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The Independent Online
The tyranny of the fashion designer has struck again. With a flick of their marker pens, they have transformed quite sane women and men into looking like the contents of a packet of Opal Fruits. The sweets might be mouthwatering, but bright orange and lime-green clothes were made to make your eyes water and put your teeth on edge. And yet, these are the colours of the summer of '96. If you haven't already bought anything in what fashion commentators describe as shades of citrus, chances are, by the end of the summer, you will have succumbed - either out of a temptation to look fashionable and modern, or desperation that there is nothing else available.

The last time the British high street saw so much vivid colour was in the early Eighties when there was a fad for day-glo yellow and fluorescent pink. Soon after that shocking outburst - no wonder people started wearing sunglasses after dark - the shops were swamped with serious black, which was relieved by neutral shades of beige towards the end of the decade. Fashion moves in cycles, and the backlash against bland colours has kicked in. But don't be fooled. While you may think that the buyers and designers of the high-street stores are working with you in mind, there are very few people of pasty, northern European complexions who can get away with wearing colours that are best left in the fruit bowl.

So how did this acid explosion happen? And who allowed it to happen? You cannot blame the innocent consumer (these colours do not differentiate between the sexes) for presuming that they should be wearing lime-green and orange when the shops are full of it. The responsibility lies with fashion forecasting agencies, such as Design Intelligence in London.

Kevan Tomlin, head of womenswear, is one of a team who, twice a year, meets with the International Colour Board and the British Colour Board to pull information together that will decide the colour palette we will be wearing two years hence. The information is then published for fabric manufacturers who set the dye works in motion. In turn, the international designers make up the fabrics and show their designs to the buyers and fashion press a season before they will be on sale to the fashion elite. After that, the high-street chains join the merry-go-round. For the past few months, fashion pages have been singing the praises of citrus fruit tones and the retailers have been rubbing their hands, waiting for the tills to ring.

So it was two years ago that Design Intelligence helped determine that orange and lime would be the colours for this summer. Whether or not the colour will suit anyone does not appear to have come into consideration. While Mr Tomlin agrees that citrus colours do not suit many people, he thinks that is a minor irrelevance. The clothes-buying public is credited with little intelligence and the mentality of a flock of sheep: once one person wears it, confidence will grow and everyone else will follow.

Colour therapists are worried, however. They do not have the cynicism of the fashion and textile industries. The spread of lime-green could have a serious affect on the well-being of the population. According to one therapist, orange is bad for the aura, giving off negativity and fear. And while grass-green and sage-green are life enhancing, lime-green is thoroughly unhealthy for those who wear it and those who have to look at it.

The only way to buck the trend is to do yourself, and everyone else a favour, and don't buy it. There are alternatives - how about good old- fashioned black, white, and navy, or lilac or aqua blue? All are widely available, cowering on the rails behind the dazzle of lime and orange. But be resolute and prepare for next summer. The cogs are already in motion and the fruit bowl has been raided once again. The colour to run from in the summer of 1997? Grapefruit.