Happy day, dear reader!
Clients look at me like I have two heads when I ask them what effect the color of their clothing is having on their business. Marketers know that color is powerful. The colors of your logo are important, and the colors of the walls inside a business… So why not apply the same reasoning to the colors we wear?
Color responsiveness is built into the human body. Most of us have three different receptors (cones) in our eyes that allow us to see color, and humans have physical reactions when exposed to different hues. Red is an exciting or stimulating color that increases our appetite. Wearing red on a first date may be a good or bad idea, depending on the date! Fast food restaurants often decorate with red in the order-taking zone or dress their employees in red. Stimulating your eyes to be bigger than your stomach benefits their bottom line! Bright yellow, on the other hand, can be irritating in large amounts, and when painted in the seating area will motivate you to eat quickly and leave to make room for new patrons.
Every hue has emotional associations, some positive and some negative. Many of these associations are cultural, and even generational. A few are universal. The color of a clear blue sky is universally appealing. That blue tells us that we are not in danger from rain or lightning. The rich green of vegetation is another universal. It feels secure and calming. We will not go hungry anytime soon. In the US, green is losing its cultural connection with money. Many children have never seen paper money; plastic has taken over our lives. How many people do you know who never carry cash?
Blue is the world’s favorite color. We associate blue with safety and security (no lightning!), and with dependability. There is a good reason so many uniforms are blue. Police and fire fighters’ uniforms immediately come to mind. As a negative, the dependability of blue can be seen as boring, lacking creativity, or exacting.
Bright saturated colors are most often associated with childhood. They are animated, optimistic, and cheerful. The bright yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks of our crayon box usually make us smile, but the connotation of childhood can give an impression of being fickle, flighty, or unstable. More subdued colors, on the other hand, lose some of those negative associations. Deeper mustards, rusts, and wines (shaded versions of our yellow, orange, and pink) are taken more seriously than their brighter siblings.
If all this makes you want to run in fear and dress all in neutrals, they too, have positive and negative associations. Black, often thought of as chic and dignified, can read as solemn, antagonistic, and arrogant. Reputable and harmonious grey can seem unexceptional and detached. White, pure and modern, can come across as clinical and uninteresting. Even friendly and welcoming brown takes a hit as mundane and overly practical.
If the psychological associations of colors are important, the concept of value contrast can have even more impact. Think of value as the lightness or darkness of a color (imagine seeing in greyscale). Outfits with a high value contrast appear more authoritative, and aggressive. Lower contrast outfits make the wearer seem more friendly, welcoming, and sympathetic. Let’s dress a lawyer in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie. This high value contrast is perfect for the boardroom, a takeover bid, or in court. But, when the task at hand is mediating between (soon to be ex) spouses about child custody issues, that same look can provoke a negative response and put both parties on the defensive. A lower value contrast brown suit, blue shirt, and blue tie will come across as more approachable and composed.
Think of Value Contrast and Color as tools for your business toolbox. Make sure you have more than a hammer in there. Not every problem is a nail.