How to enhance one's appearance with the easiest and most practical of options.
Consultants help clients find their true colours
With swathes of white fabric covering my hair and clothes, you might think I am dressing up as a mummy or auditioning for a part in The Crucible.
But the reason for my unusual attire is much simpler; I am having a colour analysis done.
Under the careful guidance of Janet Small - Dubai's only House of Colour consultant - I am discovering which hues complement my skin tone and eye colour and which have totally the opposite effect.
Why this matters is key. Most of us wear only 15 per cent of our wardrobe, which shows we instinctively feel better in some clothes than others and in most cases that preference comes down to colour.
Wearing the wrong colour can accentuate wrinkles, black eyes, a double chin, weight gain and even cause someone to look tired and drained.
Get it right, and wrinkles and bags under the eyes magically disappear, chins look slimmer and the face less rounded as the light reflected from the colour of the clothes boosts your features. It is like a facelift without the surgery.
"People often find a T-shirt they like and buy it in every colour but they'll wear the wrong colour T-shirts far less because they don't look as good. They just don't know why," says Small, a mother of three grown-up sons who became an image consultant five years ago after running her own wedding dress shop in the UK for 20 years.
Which is how I find myself sitting in front of a long mirror in Small's luxurious Arabian Ranches villa in the "girls' playroom"- a studio filled with colourful clothes, make-up and accessories.
While such a girlie enclave may seem like paradise for some, I'm the type of girl who only shops once a year, has a minimal relationship with make-up and only learnt to use a hair dryer a year ago, so appearance has never been a priority.
But over the next couple of hours I am lured in by Janet's warm personality and find myself immersed in a sea of emerald greens, sapphire reds and electric blues.
Colour analysis is based on the historical theories of artists and chemists who concluded that colour is not static but something that, like people, has a personality and can change depending on who it comes into contact with.
It was the introduction of colour to film in the 1930s that ignited an interest in how colour can affect personal appearance. While an actress could look great on screen one day, she could look terrible the next, demonstrating that the change in appearance was due to the effect the colours were having on her skin.
At House of Colour, a UK-based company which also has a consultant in Abu Dhabi, colours are divided by the four seasons, with warm-based colours complementing those in the spring and autumn groups and cool-based colours enhancing summer and winter clients.
After a quick chat about my lifestyle as a working mother, I am invited into the studio where I sit in front of a mirror and my clothes and hair are covered to ensure the test is based purely on skin tone.
Small places a series of swatches of fabric around my neck to decide if I am a warm or cool toned person. Electric blue - a cool tone - is quickly followed by burgundy, a warm tone.
"It's not about the colour, it's about your skin and how it reacts to the colour," explains Small.
"Looking at your skin and shape of your face and eyes, the burgundy is not good because your face looks wider and you lose the definition between your face and your neck. With electric blue you've instantly got a nice chin."
The next stage analyses if I have strong or soft tones with the conclusion Winter's strong tones of purple, scarlet, emerald blue, mint ice, charcoal - and thankfully, black - all fit with me.
A mini make-up session follows. Small insists I wear lipstick - something I rarely use because of my lack of an Angelina Jolie pout.
"Winters have the most wonderfully neutral palette with black, white, and grey, but they need a pep of colour; that could be a necklace or a lipstick," says Small who has one final trick up her sleeve.
She stocks season-specific outfits for clients to try on and buy if they like them. For me, she picks out a fabulous long navy patterned dress, an emerald green fitted dress and a Grecian-style gown in charcoal - none of which I would ever consider picking off a shop rail myself.
With compliments flying, I'm starting to realise why the Dh700 session is so uplifting. It allows you a few hours to focus on yourself and understand what suits you as an individual.
"There is a whole variety of reasons people come; it could be a man, a woman, a housewife or an executive. A lot of people do it because they are looking at getting a promotion," says Small.
"Then there are those who have had personal difficulties. One lady bought her mum along and later emailed: 'I haven't seen my mum as animated since my Dad died. She's sorted out her wardrobe, been out shopping and is getting out and about again.'"
A confidence boost is one of the reasons Briton Debbie Steedman had her colours analysed. The freelance social media specialist was feeling low as she adapted to a new life as a stay-at-home mum to her eight-year-old daughter.
"Then my husband lost his job in the recession and things were all up in the air. I wasn't working, I'd put on quite a bit of weight and I just felt empty," she explains.
So Steedman, 47, booked a consultation with Small in 2009.
"Janet taught me how to look good. I'd gone from a career woman wearing fabulous dresses and suits to wearing tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts because I didn't see any need to dress up.
"I was probably depressed and often joke: 'if I hadn't had this done, I would have ended up in Prozac alley'.
Steedman then encouraged her engineer husband to have his colours analysed.
"I've never seen him wear a wrong colour since he had it done. He never cheats," she says."Last year he had a trilby made and wears it to work everyday. He's really identified his fashion niche."
At Colour Me Beautiful, a similar concept, the consultants divide clients into six colour categories by first deciding if they are deep, light, clear, cool, soft or warm based on their hair colour.
The second test determines if the skin is yellow or blue toned and the third can find out what depth of colour can be worn.
This is followed by a full analysis of your make-up bag and a makeover to ensure you are wearing the right products for your skin tone.
And like House of Colour, clients walk away with a colour wallet they can take shopping to ensure they only buy clothing in their colours.
"It does change your life because it's not just your clothes, it's your make-up as well; it's surprising how many people wear the wrong foundation," says Denice Collins, a former estate agent from the UK, who trained as a consultant a year ago and now has a studio in her spacious villa in Dubai's Victory Heights.
"Knowing your colours cuts shopping time because you can walk past rails of clothes that are not your colours. And it stops impulse buying so you save money in the long run."
Collins switched careers to join Colour Me Beautiful, which also has consultants in Abu Dhabi, after having her own colours analysed.
"I loved it but the company only allow a few people in an area so I had to wait until someone left.
"Then I did all the courses, handed in my notice and haven't looked back since. It's really nice to make people happy," says Collins, who also offers styling and wardrobe de-cluttering sessions.
Over the next two hours Collins concludes that I am soft, warm and light, leaving me with 42 colours to choose from.
But it is the make-up session I benefit from the most. As Collins rummages through my make-up bag, I discover black mascara is too harsh and I should opt for brown. My blusher and eyeshadows are almost spot on but, again, lipstick is a must.
Best of all, Collins teaches me how to apply eyeliner, meaning I can put years of wobbly black lines around my eyes behind me. Instead of liquid liner, I use a wet angled brush and a brown eyeshadow to dab the liner on. It is a mini milestone.
For Suzanne McDonald, a 39-year-old confectioner, having her colours analysed with House of Colour four years ago has transformed her life.
"I thought if I'm going to do this I'm going to do it properly, so I went home and gave away all the clothes that I knew were definitely not right to charity. Then I went shopping with my colour wallet and bought things to replace them," she says. McDonald, a mother of two teenage children, says friends and family instantly noticed a difference.
"They don't notice what you're wearing necessarily, they just say: 'oh you look great' and ask if you've lost weight. And because you are wearing the right colours you look healthier."
McDonald was so impressed she took the process one step further and booked Small for a style consultation and a personality test.
The personality test uses pantomime characters to decide which type of personality someone is.
"I am a romantic, which makes me the highwaymen or the swashbuckler, so I need embellishments like boots with buckles or straps, textures like heavy velvet and chunky statement jewellery
"I was doing it to an extent anyway but this gives you permission to wear the colours and clothes that you like because you know what works best for you."
Having my own colours assessed made me realise a few things about myself. I do wear too much black; I don't wear enough make-up for a woman of my slowly advancing years and I don't pay enough attention to the way I look.
But the process is more than just finding out your colours; it's about taking time out to invest in yourself.
As I point out to Collins, 'my husband looks at himself in the mirror more than I do."
"Well, it's time to change that," she replies firmly.