It's often said that first impressions are made within the first few seconds of meeting someone. In an ideal world people would wait until they had gathered enough information to form a more holistic opinion of us. But we all know that's not how it works. From a little piece of spinach in our teeth to a stain on our shirt, people make snap judgements.
Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman would call those snap judgements System 1 opinions. According to Kahneman, System 1 thinking was formed as part of our evolution to stay alive. Our minds assume that it's better to hear that sound in the trees and react as though it is a lion vs. take your time to process all the things that could have made that sound and get eaten instead. Making quick judgements is part of what keeps us out of harms way.
In today's fast paced world, we are less worried about getting eaten by a lion and more concerned about nailing an interview, calming an angry customer or landing a new account for our company.
Enter the science of color psychology. From the attractiveness of food packaging on grocery store shelves (yellow is the most popular) to the impact your blouse may have on your clients, colleagues and partners, the psychology of color plays a massive role in our daily lives.
Colors can help tell others a bit about who we are. And when better understood, might even help us know a bit about more about ourselves and how we can influence the world around us.
David Zyla, author of Color Your Style, offers the following in his book: "Even if your wardrobe is filled with clothes of a variety of colors and shades, there is always the color that you give a greater preference to because you feel more comfortable and confident in it. It is the very color that reflects your character."
Because there are some many factors that play into colors, and so many colors to choose from, we will stick with the primary colors (Red, Blue, Yellow) plus white and black. This will serve as a good base to get the main colors on your radar with the rest of the colors and their related psychology not differing too much from the base colors.
This guide will serve to help you:
- Learn what story the colors you wear are telling those around you
- How to choose color based outfits by occasion and occupation
- How to choose complimentary colors for any outfit
A little color for your palette
- Bright colors can help convey confidence and energy
- Light colors are perceived as more friendly, honest and approachable
- Muted colors are received as less threatening and conservative
- Dark colors offer dominance, authority and formality
Clothing Colors And Your Personality
Oaklynn Cuffed Sleeve Tunic - Black
Outfits that are predominately black can appear dominant, aggressive and intimidating. It can convey prestige, power and seriousness. Villains in movies often sport black, as well as powerful CEO's and grooms at a wedding. More often than not, wearing black tells the world around you that you should be taken seriously.
Personality traits for people who prefer black clothes often include ambition, purpose with a light dose of sensitivity. Typically they are emotional and easily excitable (but often try to hide this).
Wearing black can shift the focus of what you are wearing and more on the environment or issue (meeting, sale, negotiation etc.). In this way, black colors are similar to white colors.
If you are in a leadership position black can help reinforce your authority. But don't be surprised if you come off as less approachable.
A few occasions where a predominantly black outfit may be appropriate:
- When wanting to assert your dominance or to be taken more seriously
- Senior management position, executive roles, authority position or situations
- Interviewing for management positions
- When you want to direct focus away from what you are wearing and more on the environment or cause.
Situations where black may not be the best choice
- When trying to create a environment of approachability and warmth
- When meeting with existing or prospective clients
- When selling or negotiating. You want to build trust vs. appearing intimidating
Short Sleeve Maxi Dress W/Pockets - Ash Blue
Confidence, reliability, trust, honesty...are just a few of traits you can communicate through the use of blues. From police and private school uniforms to business suits and fabric on airplane seats, blue can invoke calmness, intelligence and tranquility.
If blue is a heavy color in your wardrobe, your friends may describe you as kind, sympathetic, shy and courteous. You may be perceived as having poise and and someone who can be trusted with confidential information. You may be the person who handles cash or calms down angry customers.
The best situation to wear blue may include:
- When dealing with other females. Women often rate blue as comforting and calming more often than men do.
- Meeting with clients, especially when dealing with sensitive situations or customers/clients unsatisfied with a product or service.
- Sales or lead generating meetings with potential clients
- Teachers dealing with parents, soft selling environments, business lunches
Complimentary Color Combination Tool. We are huge fans of all things Canva. They speak our feelings. If you are looking to add some color to your outfit, but wonder what color might look best to compliment that coral blazer top, this color wheel does the trick. Originally designed for digital work, little did they know they'd be helping us get dressed.
Dotted Midi Style Dress - Red
Next up with the primary colors is Red. Red is often the color of passion. Red can convey power, energy, movement and excitement. It is also a risky color. On one hand red can convey confidence, self-assurance, focus and commitment. On the other hand, red can send the message of aggression, stress and danger.
Stop signs, police lights and blood are common associations with Red. But so are roses and wine. Wearing red will definitely draw attention to the person wearing it. Psychologists from the University of Rochester found that men are more attracted to women wearing a variety of reds.
Those who's closets contain a lot of red are often bright, slightly self-centered, easily excitable and even prone to addiction (Grey's Anatomy is not considered an addiction!)
The best situation to wear red may include:
- During negotiations to demonstrate self-assurance
- When speaking in public
- When trying to persuade or influence others, especially men considered imposing
- Business or networking functions
When to avoid wearing red
- Job interviews - red could signal arrogance, rebellion and even that you are not a team player
- During relaxed settings, around friends etc. If you want people to feel relaxed around you, it's advisable to steer clear of red
- For instances where you are trying to do damage control or conflict resolution. Red can keep people from feeling calm
Simple, Classic Cardigan - Yellow
Yellow is the happy color. It's the color of the sun and the color people point to when asked what color makes them think of laughter. Yellow signals vibrancy, optimism and positive energy.
Yellow has been shown to help with concentration and attention. We alluded to this above, but it's for this reason that grocery store shelves are littered with yellow boxes screaming for your eyes to look at them. It's also the most common color used on billboards and road signs, in advertising, street lines and caution symbols. It is meant for you to pay attention.
Color psychologists say that people who wear yellow often are typically active individuals with a leaning towards creativity. Teachers may have categorized you as a dreamer or adventurous. Don your yellow when you are in the mood to explore.
Dress in yellow when:
- You are attending casual work functions
- If you work in a creative environment or want to spur creativity
- Speaking in public as it can help hold the audience attention longer
When to avoid wearing yellow
- Job interviews - Yellow may convey immaturity and aloofness in serious settings
- Job promotion discussions
- Client meetings
- Selling, negotiating and other serious or semi-serious situations
Elisa Cuffed Sleeve Tunic - White
White flags symbolize surrender. White wedding dresses are the symbol of purity. It makes sense as white is the absence of other colors. In the consumer world it is not uncommon for people seeking to turn over a new leaf to go out and buy a white car, crisp white button up or maybe just a new white IPhone.
People who wear white often are described as neat, organized and perfectionists. They may consistently put things back in their place and scold those who don't. White helps convey innocence, purity, simplicity and optimism.
Dress in white when:
- You want to allow bold colors to pop
- When attending formal events or want to appear "put together"
- You want to appear clean, innocent, avoid conflict
What is your intent?
That should be the first question you ask yourself when contemplating the best color to wear for an interview or the best color to wear on a date. At the end of the day, there are many factors that go into how you will be received by your audience (did you not get hired, because the interviewer didn't eat lunch first and didn't hear a word you said over a growling stomach?).
We think that if there is a chance to improve your odds of getting hired, being taken more serious at work or coming up with a title for your book, why not lean into your intentions with color that helps foster that environment.