Colour psychology and its applications in the fashion world are truly fascinating.
Why do certain colours fit specific occasions or jobs better than others? Why do fashion designers choose the hues they do for runway or rack items? Today, we thought we’d cover some of the colours that often appear in fashion as well as in everyday life (and why they do), starting with the two most popular colours (or shades) of all:
“I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.” – Coco Chanel.
“White is associated with purity because the entire spectrum is functioning in unity. White is a healing colour.” – Tae Yun Kim
While black represents a number of conflicting ideas, the colour white’s connotations appear to fall under one heading: purity. According to colour psychology, white is the colour of light, goodness, innocence and positivity, as well as safety, cleanliness, and faith. This is why, when it comes to fashion, arguably the white attire that most people will jump to instantly – especially in the Western world – is a wedding dress. A white dress is the physical representation of feminine purity, of female grace and goodness.
However, white formal fashion is not limited to wedding days. Occasionally, white is an alternative to the usual darker ensembles required for black tie events, though this is heavily dependent on fashion trends at the time. In 2012, for example, many female celebrities including Elle Macpherson, Dree Hemmingway and Minka Kelly began donning white suits. Male celebrities occasionally wear white suits to fancy events but this appears to be more of a personal choice than a fashion statement.
Where the colour white shows up often regardless of trends though, is in the professional world – in particular, within the industries that require reputations revolving around cleanliness. Chefs often wear entirely white outfits, as do a number of employees within the medical field such as dental assistants and some nurses.
“You can wear black at any time. You can wear it at any age. You may wear it for almost any occasion, a ‘little black frock’ is essential to a woman’s wardrobe.” – Christian Dior.
“You can have any colour, as long as it’s black.” – Henry Ford.
When it comes to diversity, few colours can compete with the versatility of black. In colour psychology, black represents a wide range of qualities, from power to mystery and elegance to death. Meanwhile, when it comes to language, the word ‘black’ tends to be almost exclusively adverse, such as in words like blacklist, black humour, and ‘black death’.
Interestingly though, while some of black’s colour connotations may be negative in both colour psychology and in linguistics, in fashion, it tends to represent a number of positive aspects. In fact, black is so revered in the fashion world that there are dozens of quotes taken from designers throughout history who often held the colour above all others.
Not only do many designers agree that black is the easiest colour of all to wear, as well as the most stylish, it has also come to represent formal elegance, thus, the term ‘black tie’. This notion of black clothing as formal has trickled down into everyday life and now the colour black is practically synonymous with professional attire. Lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, accountants, business owners: we tend to see most professionals donning black to some degree.
This is also true in the service and entertainment industries. For example, waiting staff at high-end restaurants are often required to sport a black uniform or black formal attire such as suits and dresses. The same can be said for those who work at the theatre, while even croupiers at online casinos, who may live stream games across the world, are required to wear formal, elegant, black clothing. Many businesses compel employees to wear smart ensembles to work but we, as a society, have decided that darker colours express how professional we appear, which is why nurses’ uniforms darken depending on how high up the career ladder they are.
“All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red.” – Diana Vreeland.
“There is a shade of red for every woman.” – Audrey Hepburn.
Now we’re getting to the trickier colours, starting with the most complex of all: red. In colour psychology, red creates notions of fire, blood, war and danger, but also passion, love, desire and luxury, depending on which shades are used. Due to this, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint just one use of the colour, which is why many fashion designers use red as an accent colour, used to bring one area to your attention.
Alternatively, some tend to mix red shades with other colours to evoke different reactions. For instance, orange combines the energy of lighter red shades with the bright, youthful happiness of yellow. Purple, on the other hand, combines the coolness of blue with the passion of red, or can even conjure ideas of royalty when more red is mixed in.
The result of the colour red’s many shades and meanings has led to a number of uses for the hue. For instance, individuals who must be quick, such as bellhops or fast food workers, often wear red. It would make sense for people in positions of power to wear red; however, this often sends a domineering message and so is usually avoided.
“The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” – Coco Chanel.
“Clothes aren’t going to change the world, the women who wear them will.” – Anne Klein.
Where red is highly complicated, green is relatively simple. More often than not, green represents nature, growth, harmony, stability, wisdom, and tranquillity. It can be associated with money and envy but this rarely comes up in fashion. Instead, wearing green denotes a deep understanding of nature, especially if you choose a darker or more diluted version of green.
These are especially popular at the moment, with many designers and retailers releasing khaki, olive and muddy, countryside greens. These colours have been worn by farmers for decades, and perhaps show our desire to nurture the earth and return to our environmentally-friendly roots.
There are, of course, a number of other colours that evoke other reactions and have a number of connotations in the world of fashion and in everyday life. Though we haven’t mentioned them all, we are fascinated by colour psychology so, if you have any colours that evoke specific feelings for you, do let us know in the comments below.