The Secret Influence of Color

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The colors you wear send not-so-subtle messages to everyone around you. They can soothe, flirt, excite, even threaten. A few examples of color psychology in everyday life: Police officers wear dark blue to convey authority. UPS carriers sport brown to show they’re reliable. And hospital staffers wear light green scrubs to evoke ease and tranquility. We asked a color expert how to make a rainbow of right impressions. Read on to find out more. Plus: Test your fashion personality…Leatrice Eiseman, nationally renowned color consultant and author of the forthcoming More Alive With Color (Capital Books, 2007), gives the low-down on what your favorite colors are communicating, whether you know it or not.

Out of the Blue
Conveys: Faithfulness, tranquility, dependability, sensitivity.

Blue connotes stability because it’s the color of the sky, Eiseman explains. “It will always be there for us,” she says. Even if the sky is temporarily gray or overcast, we know it’s still blue above those clouds and will be blue again eventually.

How to wear it: Darker hues are ideal for formal events (navy is a power color), while lighter shades work better in more casual settings. “For a touch of humor, try periwinkle,” which blends blue and purple, the color of creativity, Eiseman advises.

Shades of Gray
Conveys: Seriousness, dependability and stability.

Gray gets its reliable grounding from Mother Nature. In the great outdoors, everything gray is permanent (rocks and stones, for example), notes Eiseman.

How to wear it: “Gray is practical,” she says. “It’s also a power color.” Wear a gray suit to a job interview to show your future boss that you’re responsible. (See related story: Dress for Success)

But wear it head to toe and you might accidentally tell the world you’re boring. To stand out, pair a gray suit with something memorable like a printed blouse, a great pair of heels or sparkly earrings, Eiseman suggests.

Tickled Pink
Conveys: Love, affection, gentleness, femininity.

Pink is soft and delicate, but it lacks passion, Eiseman explains. It is also said to have a calming, soothing effect. Sports teams are rumored to paint the locker rooms used by their opponents pink to drain their energy.

How to wear it: Pink lacks the blatant sensuality that bolder colors (like red) convey, explains Eiseman. Charming and warm, soft pink is the perfect color for a romantic date – but not necessarily for a late-night rendezvous.

And don’t dismiss all shades as a “girly-girl.” Candy pink is usually thought of as quintessentially feminine, but a swap it out for hot magenta and you’ll make a splash on a night out on the town.

Red Alert

Conveys: Strength, power, confidence, passion.

Red is a versatile color that can symbolize everything from passionate love to violent warfare. Intense and aggressive, its influence isn’t only psychological – it’s physical, too. Studies have shown that seeing the color red not only speeds up your heart rate, it makes you breathe faster, too. (See related story: Red Lipstick and 9 Other Beauty Trends You’re Afraid to Try)

How to wear it: It’s a dynamic, dramatic hue that gathers attention and can be overpowering in professional settings. “Red is not a good idea for a job interview,” Eiseman warns. The same goes for negotiations or situations where there’s potential for conflict. To tone it down, pair it with muted hues: a red and blue striped sweater, for example, or a red camisole under a gray jacket.

Youthful Yellow
Conveys: Youth, joy, imagination
Yellow improves concentration, which explains all those legal pads and Post-It notes. It’s also the color of friendship (that’s why, come Valentine’s Day, we hope for red roses – not yellow ones).

How to wear it: “Many people shy away from yellow because they think it’s too bright,” says Eiseman. But remember that yellow comes in many shades, from pale pastels to deep, vibrant hues.

If you’re uncomfortable with it as a clothing choice, pair it with items you already love. Try a yellow tee with your favorite pair of jeans. Or, sneak yellow in with a mix of other colors in a floral print.

Black Beauty

Conveys: Elegance, sophistication, power.

Black has a bad reputation. After all, it’s the required uniform for movie villains and comic book criminals. It’s also associated with mourning and death. But it has an entirely different side – timeless, classic and universally slimming.

How to wear it: Afraid you’ll be just one more woman in a sea of little black dresses at the next cocktail party?

“Add more excitement,” Eiseman advises.

Wear purple eye shadow and an amethyst necklace with a black blouse; paint your nails red and wear the sexiest pair of silver stilettos you can find.

“Black offers the perfect opportunity to accessorize,” Eiseman says.

Green with Envy
Conveys: Tranquility, good luck, health.

Green conjures lush images of nature – from tropical forests to parks on spring days. It’s the color of life and growth, and a symbol of fertility. (Brides in the 15th century wore green wedding gowns.)

How to wear it: Rich, jewel tones are best for dates and evenings. Switch to softer, pastel shades for daytime.

But unless you want to channel the ’80s, go light, not bright.

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