Which element are you?

03:17, Sep 30 2011
Feng shui
Joanna Davis asks an image consultant for wardrobe advice.

In your element by Joanna Davis

The colour brown is bringing me down, or so my image consultant says.

Remember "getting your colours done" in the 1980s? It was just about compulsory for women of a certain age and - although I was too young then - I hitchhiked on my mother's diagnosis of "winter" and have been semi-following its dictates ever since.

My interpretation of that was brown on brown and to stay clear of that murky winter white colour.

Other than that, and given I always seem to be on a meagre sartorial budget, I've never given fashion much thought. I don't wear yellow and I don't wear five-inch heels, and that's it. If only my education had gone further. Your wardrobe, according to image consultant Pauline Watson, can and should reflect your inner essence; your true self.

I'm at her sun-filled Papanui townhouse for a two to three-hour session of fashion feng shui. This is all about dressing the whole person - mind, body and spirit - in line with the ancient Chinese art of arranging one's personal surroundings "to achieve increased harmony and balance".


Gok, Trinny and Susannah have it wrong, Pauline says, with their emphasis on body types. "They are only dressing the physical person," she explains.

"You notice they go back six months later and the people are back to wearing their own clothes. Because the clothes did not dress their authentic selves.

"It's the same when you go shopping with other people; they talk you into things that they like."

At first, having a whole philosophy around getting dressed seems excessive. It makes me think of American author Jean Kerr's quote: "I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?"  

Could style and fashion really be more than skin deep? Should we even care this much about what we wear? But my task here is to suspend my cynicism and hear Pauline out.

The first job is to decide which element I am: water, wood, fire, earth or metal. This is easy for me, because from the website I can tell I'm definitely the quiet-seeking, creative and intellectual type (water); at least when compared to the competitive (wood), playful (fire), conventional (earth) and perfectionist (metal) alternatives.

At home, I'd already filled out a one-page introductory sheet. ("List any specific concerns you would like this consultation to address" and "If there was one thing you could change about your life, what would it be?")

My goal, as a working suburban mother-of-three in post-earthquake, depressed Christchurch, was to have more energy. To be more dynamic. It seemed a big ask, but Pauline was confident - my clothing should reflect my essence (water), but should also contain some "fire" items to add excitement and fun.

This is where it turns out the brown is not working.

"It's pulling you down," Pauline says. "It's tying you to your nurturing side; that's no fun."

She goes through a computer slide show that details the various elements, and what people of each type should wear in terms of colours, styles, patterns and shapes.

For me, it's about dark colours, flowing ("like water") shapes, sheer fabrics, asymmetrical styles, nothing restrictive or too figure-hugging. Except that I need to add a little fire, which can be figure-hugging, revealing, red, or all three.

Pauline checks out my hair, eye and skin colours in the mirror and gives me swatches to match. From these, I should choose the colour and tone for my outer wear (jacket), top, and underwear (in somewhat drab tones close to my skin tone).

Next, we go through the four items of clothing I have brought to the session: one thing I love, one I love but never wear, one I think I should love but never wear, and one thing I dislike.

"I got that from the Farmers kids' section about 10 years ago," I apologise. "And this one's from Trade Me."  

"It doesn't matter where you shop," is the emphatic reply.

The "should love but never wear" dress is pretty much perfect for me, Pauline says. The thing I hate (boxy jacket) has no flow. The red cardigan I love works because it adds the fire.

It all makes perfect sense when explained this way.

Dressing only our physical selves is why most women have thousands of dollars worth of clothes in their wardrobes and yet can still earnestly say, "I've got nothing to wear", Pauline explains.

"The average woman wears 20 per cent of her clothes 80 per cent of the time," she says.

"That's about $6000 hanging in your wardrobe, collecting dust."

As well as fashion feng shui, Pauline sees men and women for image consultancy in body shape, shopping and colour (it has moved beyond the four seasons these days).

She says she's seeing more people since the earthquakes.

"I've had more people coming to me because their houses are broken, their land is broken. Now, they want to spend money on themselves."

After my session, I'm ready to go shopping. And this time I know what I want. First up, I'm looking for a red or purple top. It's got to have flow, and maybe some kind of abstract pattern.

I feel more energised already.

  What is your essence?   What suits your essence?
Water: Creative, intellectual   Dark colours, fluid shapes
Wood: Energetic, motivated   Blue/green, sporty or structured clothes
Earth: Conventional, nurturing  Browns/earth-tones, traditional styling
Fire Playful, fun-seeking        Red/purple, animal fabrics
Metal: Organised, perfectionist White/tan, elegant styling

Source: fashionfengshui.com

For more information, go to wardrobemagic.co.nz. A two to three-hour fashion feng shui session costs $300.