Banish the Black! Why You Need Color in Your Closet

Someone I work with regularly was wearing something out of the ordinary for her today. And she looked amazingly refreshed and vibrant, and dare I say it, years younger. Ironically, we had just discussed our ‘colors’ the other day, and yet, the color that seemed to be making her sparkle today was not one of her ‘best colors’.

Color Begets Confidence

Which got me to thinking about color. I am probably more obsessed with getting this right than most! Because I’m aware how much difference it can make, especially as we age, and because I believe so much of our confidence comes from feeling and looking good in what we wear. Not to mention the way other people treat us. But that’s possibly another blog post entirely.

I think most everyone except my husband has some idea of which colors suit them best. I’m sure you know the outfits that you are complimented on every time you wear them and the ones that literally stop people in their tracks. You know which colors make you feel happier. And you know which colors make you stand a little taller and ‘own’ whatever you’re doing just that bit more. And you likely know the colors that make you look washed out and just plain old. Ugh.

Which Colors Work for You?

But sometimes this color stuff can get a little murky. There will be a whole range of colors that you think you look good in, but no one ever pays you a compliment when you wear them. Or there may be a color that you absolutely love but simply cannot wear. For me these are the sunshine shades – I NEED these in the dismal, gray winters we have when I feel my spirits literally sinking, but they make me look ghastly. So I’m forced to choose between looking ghastly and feeling ghastly. Not fun.

So how do you manage this color crayon situation? (Actually, the larger boxes of crayons aren’t bad places to look for color inspiration!)

The Stylish Marketer's Color Rules

Rule Number 1: Determine which colors suit you best and which you should avoid. You can do this yourself if you are reasonably color aware, or enlist the help of a friend, or contact a color specialist. ColorEnalysis and Color Me Beautiful both have online tests and you don’t need to give them your email address.

Rule Number 2: Do not wear a color just because it’s THE color of the season. If you want to incorporate the IT color, do it with accessories away from your face like shoes, bags, and bracelets. Depending on the color, you may also wear it on your bottom half. Alison Gary of Wardrobe Oxygen had a great post this week on how to wear a color I love – citron.

Rule Number 3: Have a couple of super-confidence colored outfits in your wardrobe you can always turn to when you need to feel 100% on top of your game.

Rule Number 4: Unless you really love makeup, don’t wear colors that require you to slather on the maquillage in order to look semi-alive.

Rule Number 5: Wear color. Please. Black is abused far too much and should be reserved only for somber occasions and for those who actually suit black. Oh, and for power interviews, see below.

My friends from way back in my London BBC watching days, Trinny and Susannah, are big color believers and put together outfits that really push out the color boat, but are absolutely marvellous. I just wish more people would embrace this concept! Please note what Trinny says about black here . . .

From "Trinny and Susannah What You Wear Can Change Your Life" 2004
From "Trinny and Susannah What You Wear Can Change Your Life" 2004

The Psychology of Color

Color is far more powerful than many realize. It’s an instant communicator both in terms of how it makes you look, and it what it says in its own right. The psychology of color was first brought into the mainstream by Carole Jackson of Color Me Beautiful in 1987. But I think color intuitively communicates regardless of the psychology behind it.

I don’t agree with the advice doled out in all the ‘what to wear to an interview’ columns (do you really need to subvert your personality that much?), but I can agree for the most part on what they say color communicates.

Black is a power color and can be intimidating. Unfortunately it’s also become the unthinking go-to for most office workers. Stop! I say. Unless you are aiming to be the next Machiavelli or black is one of ‘your’ colors.

Navy blue is universally approachable, while still conveying a sense of trust and confidence. It’s also a great base for wearing with virtually any other color.

Brown and gray are apparently great interview colors because they are dependable and professional while not overtly screaming dominance. I, however, feel that brown and gray need to be treated with caution unless you want to find yourself sitting on the sidelines. If you are truly an autumn and brown is your color, work it and wear it well. (That means adding accent colors that express who you are!) And gray/silver look absolutely smashing on a friend of mine who has silvery white hair.

Red positively conveys energy and passion, but can be overpowering and attention seeking. And apparently red is wearable by everyone, as long as you get the right shade of red. This brunette has found that to be difficult, although I can supposedly wear a blue/red tone. Hold the phone – I’m trying to incorporate red as one of my winter warmer colors, just to have some vibrancy in the dark days coming. I’ll let you know how I get on.

White conveys simplicity and brightness, but again, it’s important to get the right shade for you. There IS a difference between optic white, white and ecru.

Now about green, yellow, purple and orange; apparently there is a reason all the stock photos of business people are a sea of navy, gray and black. Because these four wonderful colors are associated with creativity, youth and clowns. Yes, clowns. Not the impression you want to give in a professional job interview. Although I would think that some creativity isn't a bad thing?

This is where I will draw my line in the sand – lighten up a little! I find myself viscerally responding to the sea of navy, gray and black, and not in a good way. Please, please find some way to express your individuality with the use of color and under no circumstances resort to black unless it is truly your color or you are using it to anchor the rest of your personality expressing outfit.  

I learned something from this article on color psychology that I hadn’t come across before – apparently women tend to respond more positively to blue based colors like blue-gray, pinks and true red, while men respond more positively to yellow based colors like orange-reds and apricot. Something to keep in mind for first dates and interviews alike.

Hopefully you’re at least somewhat mindful of the colors that suit you when you are shopping for new things. I think the trick is finding a way to wear what you want to wear while also flattering your complexion and not getting stuck in a ‘I can’t wear that’ rut. (Stylish Marketer, follow your own advice!) I often think of Laura Ingalls lamenting how she always has to wear red while her blond, blue-eyed sister Mary gets to wear blue dresses! Ma Ingalls had her color theory all worked out - she knew how to make both of her girls look their best.

And on that note, I had better be out looking for some yellow accessories . . . maybe some yellow booties for winter?