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Designer Pauline Burrows on finding your own personal style

Interview: Clare Finney

So much of style is about confidence. If you are confident in something, you will feel and look amazing. This is true of any garment, but particularly of patterns. I think anyone can wear patterns, so long as they feel comfortable. To carry it off, you just need to get the scale and volume of the pattern right.

I always get people coming and saying, “I’ve had my colours done, and I shouldn’t wear this colour.” I say, “What on earth makes you think that?” And I show them they absolutely can, as long as they get the right shade, the right depth of colour. I would look sick wearing a yellow shade of green, for example, but something more on the blue spectrum would work perfectly for me.

That said, some people really cannot wear black or white. If you have a yellow skin tone, like me, any shade of white looks horrendous. With black, you have to think about skin tone, hair colour and eye colour: there are people who absolutely can’t do black, but a lot of people avoid it who could actually suit it, if they choose wisely. I had a lady in the other day who insisted she couldn’t wear black, and she left with a bagful.

Short people like me often think they’ll look taller if they show their legs. In fact, the opposite is true. If you have that skirt below the knee, the fabric will serve to lengthen you. Giving the appearance of longer legs is rarely about showing the limb.

I cannot work out why, and I have thought a lot about it, but some people simply cannot wear collared shirt necks. I don’t know if it’s because their neck is wide, or maybe thick, but it doesn’t suit them. Same with v-necks. They suit some people brilliantly, and others not at all. The merit of coming somewhere like this is, we can take time to figure out what works. If you love an item but it has the wrong neckline, I can change it for you. We can almost always make it work.

Dressing is a delicate balancing act of pattern, colour, shape and cut. Someone might be skinny but have prominent bones or hips—the shoulder line needs to balance that out if they’re to avoid looking wider than they are. Equally, when it comes to pattern, you don’t want too much, generally speaking. For some people it is their trademark, but if you look especially busy, then the clothes start wearing you, rather than the other way round. You’re better off balancing a patterned top with plain bottoms or, if one item is heavily textured, having a different, flatter texture elsewhere.

Cut and material: that is what distinguishes clothes of good quality. Cheap fabric doesn’t sew well or hang well. It’s not just about natural fabrics—I use purely manmade technical fabrics for my raincoats, and they are brilliant. It is about quality and fit.

Pauline Burrows