Editor Rachel Weber wearing red color sample with color swatch and pink lipstick on pink gradient background

Redefining My Personal Style After Breast Cancer

It’s been one year since finishing up treatment, and as I try to find my new normal, I’m testing out how the colors I wear affect how I feel.
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This month marks one year since wrapping up 20 weeks of chemo and undergoing a double mastectomy. The five months of aggressive chemo treatment destroyed my breast cancer, but it also took my hair—an unfortunate part of the process. I'm happy to report that I'm still cancer-free and that feels really good. But one of the most difficult parts of the healing process has been redefining my personal style without the comfort blanket of my long hair. I still don't feel like my old self. I'm not sure if I ever will, and when I heard a few friends sharing their positive experiences about finding their best colors, I wanted to try it out.

Before cancer, I dressed mostly in black. It was effortless and being a working mom with two kids under age 4, I enjoyed the simplicity of what I considered a simple uniform. When I lost my hair, I lost a key component of my uniform. That loss coupled with the weight fluctuation that comes with cancer treatment has made me reconsider what feels and looks good on me. With my new short hair that's grown back dark and curly (it was previously loose, beachy waves that were highlighted blonde), I was finally ready to make a change. 

"Many women who make appointments are postpartum or going through a big change in their life and feel lost," says Ally Van Iten of House of Colour Des Moines. The color analyst is quick to point out that she's not making anyone look different. "I'm making you look like you, but better."

The process of getting my color analysis took about two hours from start to finish. I kicked off the appointment with a makeup-free face. One of the humbling parts of the process is a sort of color-blocking experience where your hair is covered in a pure white cloth and your body is draped in another white cloth; only your face is exposed. Then, the color analysis begins. Van Iten spent more than an hour draping me in various colors (she's got 336 hues in her arsenal). At first, it was pretty difficult for me to see any sort of difference between how I looked from one color to the next, but gradually I started to understand what she meant when she would say one color looked in harmony with my skin tone, while other colors made my skin look sallow, diminished my chin line, or overpowered. The drapes reminded me of giant napkins that Van Iten expertly and strategically swapped out until she found my perfect colors. "I'm not changing anything about your features," she explained. "I'm just switching color to color." 

House of Colour's color analysis is based on four seasons, as defined by color theorist Johannes Itten. "There are more than 10 million colors in the world," she shares. "We're giving you access to a quarter of those colors. Everyone knows how it feels when we're told 'that color looks amazing on you' or 'I love that color on you.' I'm helping you repeat that every time you get dressed, every day for the rest of your life." 

As it turns out, I'm a summer. My best colors are blue, soft, smokey, and rose (and sadly black is not in my season). I left my color analysis with a booklet that outlined what colors look best on me and a wallet-size book with color swatches that takes the guesswork out of color matching. I took Van Iten's advice and started incorporating my colors gradually. I'd wear my perfect shade of musk pink lipstick on a video call for work and was told that I looked so happy. I swapped out my olive green shirt for a rose pink sweater and felt chipper. I was admittedly pretty skeptical about the color analysis process, but now that I've experienced it, I feel more confident about my reflection. My short hair is still a harsh reminder of the reality of the last year, but I'm taking baby steps to embrace my new normal. 

After the color analysis, Van Iten recommends clients assess their existing wardrobe and see what works best for them. "When your closet is in your season, you'll have a cohesive look no matter how you match your accessories and your clothes." Here's where I started to incorporate my best colors into my everyday look.

Since the majority of our communication is nonverbal, Van Iten encourages clients to embrace that part of their personality. "You're constantly communicating to people whether you like it or not," Van Iten says. "I like to say you have control over that—you have control over the message you send to the world."

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