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Megan Payne

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Instantly embodying the positive or professional persona you envisage isn’t always easy. But what if something as simple as the colour of your clothing could turn these visions into reality?

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Staring at a wardrobe over-flowing with tops, trousers, skirts and shirts can be daunting on a day-to-day basis. While as humans we have excelled in the art of decision-making for the most part, these first-world problems can cause us great confusion. This is where psychology can help. Have you ever considered eliminating your options by choosing a particular colour of clothing to wear? Perhaps you have an important job interview or feel fatigued due to a poor night’s sleep. By strategically selecting certain colours you can enhance your mood, improve your confidence or reduce anxiety – all whilst answering that recurrent question of: ‘what do I wear?’

For decades, research has been investigating how colours can be used to manipulate our mood and help us work at optimum performance. These effects seem to be embedded in our emotions and behaviours from as young as four years-old, with findings showing that when playing in a pink room, children displayed more strength and had a more positive mood, compared to a grey-coloured room (Hamind & Newport, 1989).  The warm tones of the colour pink reflected a welcoming, safe environment, so increased stimulation and arousal to make children more alert and interactive. Therefore, colour seems to play a significant role in our learning and interaction with our environment. Perhaps by popping on some pink shoes in the morning can set you up for a productive, positive day.

Later research looked at emotional responses to colours in adults by assessing the colour they wore and emotions towards and reasons for their choices. Bright colours elicited positive emotional associations and dark elicited mainly negative emotions (Hemphill, 1996).

However, these colour-emotion associations aren’t as straightforward as they seem, as they appear to change with age. In 7-year-olds, colours were meaningfully related to emotion preferences. However, the associations can become increasingly more evenly distributed with age, meaning we can create new meanings and attach multiple emotional associations to colours throughout our lives (Terwogt & Hoeksma, 1995).

Here are some ways you too can use coloured clothing to boost your mood and perhaps prevent the floor-drobe from making an appearance every time you can’t decide what to wear… 

Job Interview

Reiss: Shimmer Suit £185
Reiss: Shimmer Suit £185

While many opt to wearing black to a professional occasion, it may not necessarily always be the most effective option. While wearing black can make someone seem respectable and powerful, it can also indicate aggression (Linhartová et al., 2013). Therefore,  wearing a slightly softer shade such as grey can reduce the aggressive intent whilst giving you an equal amount of perceived respectability. Don’t be afraid to add a pop of colour though – a pair of blue heels or a yellow tie can give add a little personality to your appearance and make you all-the-more memorable.

Date Night

Fashion Psychology
House of CB: Mareena Dress £109

If you’re hoping to dress-to-impress that someone special,  research has recently suggested that wearing something red can make you appear more attractive due to associations we have built up overtime with the colour. Biologically the colour red indicates sexual receptivity; non-human primates display red body parts at times of ovulation, which indicates fertility and meets the evolutionary desire to reproduce (Guéguen and Jacob, 2013). Socially, the colour red represents sexuality, with associations to places like Amsterdam’s red-light district and sexy lingerie. However, a successful love life isn’t purely this shallow – an emotional connection is equally as important – by opening up to partners it allows trust and rapport to build in a relationship (Joinson & Paine, 2007).

Time to Relax

Topshop: Khaki Washed Cycle Loungewear Set £22

When it’s time to wind-down, whether it be in the evenings or on the weekends, the colours you surround yourself with can help relieve tension and encourage relaxation. Green and blue are highlighted as being the least stimulating and most pleasurable colours (Wilson, 1966; Valdez & Mehrabrian, 1994). The connection of these hues with nature may encourage positive attitudes and a sense of tranquillity which in turn helps us disconnect from the day.

There’s no denying that the challenges of daily life can become somewhat overwhelming – and proposing that the solution lies in something as small as the colours of our clothing, may seem overly-optimistic. However, it does appear that anticipating the demands of the day ahead can help to narrow-down outfit options by selecting shades that will encourage an appropriate mindset – and put you in a positive position for the day.