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Colour Psychology

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We make assumptions about someones personal and occupational attributes in the first 0.10 seconds (yes, that quick) of seeing them. But how much do our fits affect these judgements? Well, research suggests that what we wear may have a tremendous impact on first impressions… even more than you think!

Here at Fashion is Psychology we’ve devised a list of the most popular studies on clothing and perception. Perhaps you can gain a few tips or two on what you want your clothes to say about you!

Participants were shown images of a man wearing a dark blue bespoke (made-to-measure) and a regular (off-the-peg) suit. They were also shown images of a woman wearing a navy skirt suit and a trouser suit. Participants were asked to rate the individuals confidence, success, trustworthiness, salary and flexibility based on the images. 

A more positive impression of the man was created by the bespoke suit than the off-the-peg suit as he was rated more positively on all five attributes. The woman was perceived more positively in a skirt suit than in a trouser suit, perhaps because it maintains an identity that balances professionalism with attractiveness.

Take away: Clothing fit is just as important as clothing style when it comes to first impressions. Alter your clothing for the perfect fit or take a trip to the tailor if you can.

Researchers observed men having conversations with women wearing different coloured shirts. 

It was found that men asked women more personal and intimate questions when they were wearing a red shirt opposed to women wearing green shirts. Likewise, men sat closer to women in red compared to blue shirts. It is argued that red is associated with sexual receptivity due to cultural pairings of red and female sexuality. 

Take away: The science says dressing in red may be the hue that woos! 

Waitresses were observed during their shift when wearing a flower in their hair for two nights and not wearing a flower for two nights. 

The results showed that diners left larger tips for waitresses who wore a flower in their hair than the same waitresses without a flower.

A further study extended the results of this study by showing that the positive effect of ornamentation on tipping was found whether the waitresses used floral ornaments or other ornaments (a barrette with a flower, a little bird, or a sprig of black currant).

Take away: Don’t under estimate the power of subtle, seemingly insignificant items of clothing, they may serve as predictor for how others behave towards you!

Participants provided images of their most worn pair of shoes, they then disclosed parts of their personality and their age, gender and income to the researchers.

A separate group of participants then anonymously looked at the pictures of shoes and made judgements about the shoe owners. They were asked to make judgements about the shoe owners. 

Surprisingly, results revealed that the shoe owners’ age, gender, income was accurately determined just based off these images of their shoes! They could even guess their attachment style- crazy!

Take away: People evaluate you off your shoes whether that’s your crocs or your heels, they be finding out about your character!

Fake and counterfeit goods promote unethical behaviour

Participants who thought they were wearing fake Chloe sunglasses cheated significantly more on tasks than those who thought they were wearing authentic Chloe sunglasses.

Participants who believed they were wearing counterfeit Chloe sunglasses perceived others’ behaviours as more dishonest, less truthful, and more likely to be unethical than those wearing real ones.

The effect of wearing counterfeit Chloe sunglasses on one’s own behaviour was due to the meaning of inauthenticity attributed to the fake sunglasses.

Takeaway: Although we buy counterfeits to signal positive traits, it may cause us to behave dishonestly and judge others as dishonest. Don’t fake it hun!

Dressing for Success: Effects of Layering on Perceptions of Women in Business

Participants viewed sketches of business men and women. Within each sex, one person wore a dark blue jacket and skirt, and another wore the same outfit without the jacket. 

The researchers concluded that the “layered look” (vest and/or jacket) presented a more authoritative image than the nonlayered for both sexes.

Takeaway: If you want to be listened to – Layer up, girl!

So everytime you get dressed it is important to ask yourself: what are my clothes saying about me? because after all “First impressions count!”. 

‘Dopamine Dressing’ explains how our clothes can make us feel positive. ⁠It was born out of one of the core principles which explains our motivations behind why we dress a certain way and why we buy certain clothing to satisfy our emotional needs. 

People really do use clothing as a tool to help them alleviate certain negative emotions, to improve their wellbeing. When you wear an outfit that makes you feel happy, you get a rush and that rush is linked to the chemical dopamine, which is released in the pre-frontal cortex. 

Set: House of CB Photo: JKG Photography

Colour Psychology and Dopamine Dressing

When our bodies realise dopamine, we feel pleasure which makes us more likely to carry out the behaviour that caused this again (and again). This works when we wear any clothes old or new as long as it has symbolic value to us. Researcher Karen Pine found that items symbolic to the wearer left them feeling much more confident. 

The theory of ‘enclothed cognition’ teaches us that the attributes we associate with specific items of clothing are extremely powerful. When we wear these clothes, the associations have the power to alter the way we feel and even impact the way we act. So, for example, if you associate a yellow dress with joy, then you will embody that feeling of joy when you put it on. 

Researchers found that people wearing black clothing have a larger influence on a group as they come across as more authoritative. If your end goal is to feel confident when wearing black, then feelings of happiness will surely follow. However, it is important to stress that it is all about your personal associations and symbolic value. 

Dress: Kai Collective Photo: JKG Photography

The pandemic and Dopamine Dressing

The pandemic has caused a shift in the way we relate to our clothing, so it’s less about “how does this look” and more about “how does this make me feel”, both psychologically and physically. You might find yourself asking: how can I function in this? Or, how does this signal something specific about me?

In terms of trends when it comes to clothing we are seeing two groups emerging. The kind of people who are going bold vs those who are champions of comfort. The bold dressers are utilising outlandish creative styles as a means of escapism to free themselves of loungewear pieces (that can feel like a uniform). Afterpay’s Global Fashion and Beauty Trend Report found that Millennials purchased 47.8% more vibrant colors and patterns in 2021 than in 2020.

However, comfort has remained an important fixture in our wardrobe and that’s something alot will find hard to relinquish anytime soon, for example, elevated basics are taking centre stage. Therefore, many of us will lie somewhere in the middle of these two groups – wearing clothes that make us feel comfortable, that we can navigate our day in but that can also say something about ourselves and our creativity.

Set: Rouhi Photo: JKG Photography

Sustainability and Dopamine Dressing

Fast fashion and social media mirror each other in how they provide dopamine hits and instant gratification. More sustainable fashion practices like slow fashion, or buying less, almost runs in opposition with everything that social media really is, which is quick, fast, shiny and new.

Although, Afterpay found that Millennials and Gen Z actually purchased more of their items from Enterprise level retailers in 2021 than in 2020 suggesting that big fast fashion companies are progressing off the cards. 

Gen Z have become extra creative in order to remain sustainable whilst fuelling their desire for fresh outfits they are constantly exposed to on the gram. It’s all about making more for less: following TikTok trends to craft and customise their own clothes, hitting the charity shops or earning some cash by selling pieces they no longer love. 

Therefore, it is evident getting dressed in the morning is much more important than you may first think, it can be used as means to elevate positive emotions and bring us joy! 

I was thrilled to share my insights on Dopamine Dressing and Colour Psychology with Harpers Bazaar. Science has proven that the associations we have with our clothing can influence the way we feel, so, it is extremely important to bear this in mind!

“The link between colour and emotions is tricky because cultural interpretations of colour impact the emotions that arise when wearing them. For example, in Western cultures, white is associated with purity and fresh starts, whereas in Eastern and Asian cultures, white is linked with death and mourning.”

“The theory of ‘enclothed cognition’ teaches us that the attributes we associate with specific clothes are incredibly powerful. When we wear these clothes, the associations have the power to change the way we feel and even change the way we act. So, for example, if you associate a yellow jumper with happiness, then you will embody that feeling of happiness when you wear it.”

“Add more of your favourite colours into your wardrobe – the colours that remind you of a happier time, a place or a person… Figure out what you associate with confidence and joy – and wear it!”

Make sure to read the full article here.

Valentine’s day, the one day in the year dedicated to romance and passion. Whether you’re #couplegoals or #singleAF on Sunday, countless people across the globe will be dressing to impress to embrace the passion in the air.

In order put you in cupid’s eyesight and make the most of the day, psychology has taught us that when getting dressed it is all but essential that you add a splash of red to your ensemble. What role does this hue have in our love-lives? Colour Psychology reveals all!

All Red Everything

In testing the impact of colour on attraction, American Psychologists observed men having conversations with women wearing different coloured shirts. The researchers found that men asked women more personal and intimate questions when they were wearing a red shirt opposed to women wearing green shirts. Similarly, men sat closer to women in red opposed to blue shirts.

In Taiwan, researchers found that when women carry red-coloured products such as laptops men rated them significantly higher in terms of attractiveness and sex appeal. The impact of red is the same for women too! A study conducted on 42 females and 22 males found that when participants were asked to attend an interview about dating, exposure to the colour red caused participants to walk faster. Interestingly, exposure to the colour red decreased the speed they walked to attend an interview about intelligence – I guess it’s true that love makes you a bit foolish.

Makeup enthusiasts will be interested to know that psychologists in France have discovered that waitresses wearing red lipstick earn more tips more so than women wearing pink, brown or no lipstick at all. 

Red lipstick is often seen a as a handbag staple and to make sure you’re picking the best of the best, we’ve asked beauty writer Alysha Yates to trawl through her impressive make-up stash and give us the low-down on some of her red-lipstick must haves.

Uncensored, Fenty Beauty

fashion psychology
Image Source: harveynichols.com

Fenty’s Uncensored Stunna lip paint is undeniable. I love effortlessly sweeping the curved cushion wand along my lip line, filling in the middle and watching as bright red satin dries, transforming into velvet ruby matte perfection. 

The rich red pigment certainly pops so be prepared for stares and compliments all day long when wearing Uncensored on a night out as you steal the show. If you want unwaveringly raw pigment matched with a comfortable, unmovable matte texture, Uncensored is the way forward.

Ruby Woo, MAC

Fashion Psychology

If there ever were a lipstick hall of fame, Ruby Woo would stand self-assured as one of the most iconic red shades of its time. Retro matte, ruby rich and unmatched by it’s subtle blue undertone, Ruby Woo is the ultimate red shade to bring boldness to a puckered-up pout. Ruby rich, it’s colour makes me feel confident, classic and sexy all at once. No word of lie, I’d wear Ruby Woo everyday if I could, but that wouldn’t be fair to my lipstick collection. Now, every other day? I could settle for that!

90210hhh, Too Faced

Fashion Psychology

Frosty February evenings calls for 90210hhh and it’s candy apple red tone. This is one of my favourite crème based lipsticks hands down because it makes me feel festively classic. 90210hhh is ideal for the winter because of it’s ability to hydrate even the most chapped of lips, as well as to provide long lasting, powerful pigment.

Rouge Tuxedo No. 45, YSL

Fashion Psychology

This ultra-luxe lip shine looks and smells like the inside of a watermelon. I typically wear Rouge Tuxedo in the summer because it’s weightless, sheer shine is perfect for hot summer days when you wish you were naked and want to throw next to nothing on.

Irrepressible, Estee Lauder

Fashion Psychology

Irrepressible is what you wear on date night. Do not pick anything other! I fall in love with it’s alluring, sultry red brown undertone every time I pop the lipstick cap. It’s matte but not drying in the slightest and it’s deep plum dark hue is seductively dangerous for those whose eyes it meets. Wear Irrepressible and that’s what you’ll be.

Dance With Me, MAC

Fashion Psychology

No matter what you do on a night out, Dance With Me perseveres. This liquid lip potion is berry, burgundy and beautiful and dries retro matte like no other. Apply just before leaving home. It’s lick proof, sick proof, kiss proof, bitch proof, bite proof, fight proof, sweat proof, wet proof, smudge proof, hug proof and grease proof. Wear Dance With Me on the dance floor. No caution needed.

Did we miss out your favourite Red Lipstick? Share your recommendations in the comment section!

I was delighted by the monochromatic fashion choices and representation of Black designers at the inauguration. I discussed the significance of the bold hues with Amy de Klerk for Harpers Bazaar as Kamala Harris became the first female Vice President.

“The colour purple is not only emblematic of the suffragette movement, but it also has historical associations with nobility – making it the perfect choice for Harris, who has broken barriers and changed the face of history with her historic appointment.”

“Colour can be utilised as an implicit affective cue to elicit certain emotions and the bold colour choices of vice president Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden have done just that.”

Take the time to read the full piece here

Photo from Harpers Bazaar/ Getty Images. 

A new feature this week in my favourite publication refinery29! I spoke to the lovely Georgia Murray about the irresistible appeal of the colour yellow and why every designer from Emilia Wickstead to Christopher Kane is having a love affair with the hue at the moment. 

In the natural world, too, colours which sit beside yellow on the spectrum mix with it to create putrid shades that bring to mind acid, pus, poison and toxic foods and flowers, causing revulsion and fear. Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and founder of Fashion is Psychology, notes that it’s the colour most associated with urgency and alertness. “Having a greater effect on attention compared to cooler colours like blue and grey, yellow has been proven to induce feelings of high arousal which activates the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in the brain, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure, mobility and readiness to respond,” she explains. Think of the use of yellow in everything from road signs and horror films (Kill Bill, we’re looking at you) to graphic designer Harvey Ball’s 1963 smiley face, later adopted as the symbol of rave culture. What gets hearts beating faster than ecstasy and two-stepping?

Click here to read the piece in full and scroll down to see my favourite yellow outfit gifted from the lovely folks at Next. 

Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell

Header Image Source: Big Bud

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.

The Psychology of Fashion Blog™ Founder Shakaila Forbes-Bell was interviewed for CNN’s Colorscope -an award-winning series exploring our perception of color and its use across cultures, one shade at a time. It’s latest featured surrounded Fashions current IT-Colour ‘Safety Orange’, the focus of our current Colour Psychology Style Edit.

…. It is also considered a transitional color because it is associated with the change in season. Fashion psychologist and blogger Shakaila Forbes-Bell said the color has gained a lot of interest in recent years. “We see safety orange, as it is titled, up and down the catwalks for spring and summer 2018 especially in the New York shows like Tom Ford, Calvin Klein and Rihanna’s Fenty Puma,” she said.  Forbes-Bell said it’s not surprising that orange is having a revival.

Source: CNN

Read the full feature here. 

How often do we think about cultural differences when it comes to choosing your wardrobe? What may be ‘fashion-forward’ in one culture can be nonsensical and even out-right offensive in another. This week, we’ve seen how a political fashion choice got pop-sensation Katy Perry denied entry into China and subsequently booted from performing at the 2017 Victoria Secret fashion show. Whilst freedom of speech and correspondingly freedom of dress is a cornerstone of American politics, in other countries, certain choices can be career-damaging. No matter which side of the political fence you choose to sit, Perry’s outlandish and often times thought provoking dress sense is certainly ‘on-brand’. However, many would argue that adopting a ‘culturally aware’ sense of style is essential in our ever-growing multicultural society.

Colour is a key component in our styling choices and is also one that is drenched in cultural significance. In the 2005 paper ‘Are you selling the right colour? A Cross-Cultural Review of Colour as A Marketing Cue’, Mubeen M. Aslam notes that colour “influences consumer perceptions and preferences, purchase and consumption behaviour, and helps companies (re) position or differentiate from the competition. However, the notion of colour universality is fraught with risk. Sometimes companies fail simply because of inappropriate choice of product or package colours”.

colour psychology orange the psychology of fashion shakaila
Suit: Missguided Top: Levis
Suit: Missguided Top: Levis, Shoes: New Look

In the field of psychology, the modern doctrine of ‘Individual Differences’ discusses the importance of acknowledging both sociological and environmental factors that cause people to respond differently to certain stimuli. This Colour Psychology style edit is all about this seasons IT colour – orange and in conducting my research I was enthralled by the sheer magnitude of differences that exist between cultures and how one hue could be interpreted so broadly.  

For example, in Japanese and Chinese cultures, orange is associated with courage, happiness, love, and good health (Huffington Post). In the Netherlands, orange is the colour of the Dutch Royal family and therefore signifies wealth and prestige (Shutterstock). In Indian cultures, orange is considered to be a lucky, auspicious and sacred colour (Empowered By Colour)

colour psychology orange puffa psychology of fashion shakaila
Jacket: Puffa, Dress & Boots: Missguided
colour psychology orange puffa psychology of fashion shakaila
Jacket: Puffa, Dress & Boots: Missguided

Luckily, orange can be considered as a positive colour in many cultures for varying different reasons. But what if I was to wear this orange suit from Misguided or this orange jacket from Puffa in a country that deemed the colour to be distasteful? Given that our clothes often speak for us before we get a chance to utter a single word, are culturally specific colour interpretations something we should start to take more seriously? Does Individual Differences have a place in styling?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.