colour psychology

Colour psychology is an interesting niche. It’s a massive tool in business, with many companies utilizing sophisticated royal blues in their interior colour scheme in order to encourage clients to spend more money. But it’s also important to how we form opinions of the people around is; we often form quick, unconscious judgments on strangers based on the colours of their clothing. Perhaps you’re surprised, or perhaps you aren’t.

Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of visual branding (and in the Instagram age, when curating an eye-catching aesthetic is the primary goal, that’s pretty much everyone) knows the importance of colour psychology. Not everyone has an advanced degree in marketing, but most of us are aware, on a subconscious level, that colour plays a role in the way we process the world around us, for better or for worse.

Whether your first introduction was through your mother’s vintage fashion magazines advising you to figure out whether you were a spring or an autumn, or through a lengthy debate with yourself about whether red or green would be more likely to get you a second date, age-old principles of colour psychology prevail. Nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in the world of fashion. Think of weddings; brides are known for adorning themselves in white as a symbol of purity – and although that reasoning might have expired a few decades ago, tradition holds. Black ensembles, the epitome of classic French style, are indicative of elegance and formality. Bold red is a passionate, sensual colour often worn by Aries and Leo women. Purple speaks of nobility, mystery, and allure.

But it goes even deeper than that. The full impact lies in the presentation of the entire outfit. While a rose pink blouse might send the impression to your boss that you are reliable, friendly, and admirable, styling it with a black blazer will give you a more mature edge that will help you stand out.

In our highly visual world, it’s easy to find examples of aesthetically pleasing tableaus on Pinterest or between the pages of fashion magazines. An editorial in an October issue is likely awash in earthy shades: mustard yellow, auburn, hunter green. Our associations with these colours are based in our very real experiences of the world around us—during the fall months, the atmosphere is greyer, meaning that we feel inclined to dress in more muted tones—as well as archetypes driven from our collective consciousness. Army green likely calls to mind wartime images, even if you weren’t alive during that time. The colours you wear on a daily, or season basis, are often inspired by histories that you weren’t even alive for.

Unfortunately, most of the information you can find on the Internet about colour psychology emphasizes styling yourself in a narrow range of shades that leaves limited room for imagination or innovation. It feels sadly reminiscent of the 1980s trends of “doing your colours,” which went out of vogue along with shoulder pads and no longer speaks to our generation of women. When the fashion and beauty industries discuss colour, they aren’t telling the whole truth. In reality, once you know the basics, you can use simple psychology to your advantage. If you are facing a nerve-wracking social situation where you know you need to make a strong and powerful first impression, or even just hoping to improve your self-esteem, the best place to start might be your wardrobe.

If you have ever envied another woman for their ability to “pull off” a certain style while feeling uncertain that you can do the same, consider where that insecurity is coming from. Not everyone has the same skin tone, body type, or hair colour, but the idea that we are incapable of wearing certain things due to the genes we were born with is an outdated concept – if you’re blonde, you might think Gen-Z yellow is off the table, but why does it have to be? If it makes you feel confident, it can’t be a faux pas.

Colour has been scientifically proven to influence our mood. What colours you choose to wear will help you stand out in a crowd, but more importantly, they will give you the confidence necessary to thrive in the spotlight. If you’re starting college this fall or interviewing for your first post-grad job, it stands to reason you might be feeling more than a little nervous, but playing it safe by sticking to your old standards might not be as beneficial as taking a risk. Make yourself feel bold, and watch as that radiance comes through in your everyday life. It seems trivial to say a good outfit can make a good day, but it isn’t. If you feel good about yourself, that’s the best start to a day you can have.

Consider what type of impression you’re hoping to give off and play to your strengths. Simply integrating some small changes into your wardrobe can bring about surprisingly psychological effects. If you’re striving to appear self-assured and confident in a formal office environment, black and white is one of the few timeless trends that offers a combination of mystery and approachability. Other colours associated with sophistication and authority include burgundy, indigo, and royal purple. Smooth and calculated businesswomen tend to pair solid colours with stark modern accessories. The workplace is not just a place to be reserved; it’s a whole new style niche to take on and to be embraced.

If you struggle with anxiety, pale colours tend to give off a gentle, relaxed vibe. Wearing soft tones like mauve, orchid, and blush will help you feel instantly calmer, and give you an air of approachability and friendliness. Particularly when paired with delicate silver or gold accessories, these colours have a remarkably soothing effect. Dressing may seem like an oversimplified way of tackling your mental health, but every little helps and feeling calm before you leave your front door might be as simple as an outfit change some days. The control that you take when you choose clothes that make you feel more secure is important.

If you find yourself sticking to what you know and hope to embolden yourself to step outside your comfort zone, a few splashes of bright reds and oranges to your wardrobe will immediately bring out your inner assertiveness. It’s not about “faking it until you make it”—it’s about reigning in the confidence you already possess and showing it off to the world. If you’re not ready to add blazing colours to your wardrobe just yet, you can capture a subtler version of the same aesthetic with shades like burnt sienna, cordovan, and auburn. Most importantly, this from patterned bell sleeves to suede jackets, the earthiness of the ‘70s is inspiring many women to experiment with a more laid back and bohemian way of life.

Illustration: Eri Kai

Follow ITF on Twitter: @intothefoldmag