The Art of Wearing Color: From Theory To Practice

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When expressing ourselves with color, what message are we sending to the world?



From its effects on the human psyche to its ability to influence consumer behavior, the psychology of color – especially in relation to fashion – is fascinating. Understanding these effects may also give us a boost in the workplace or an advantage over the opposite sex.

Leading industry authority Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT), explains, “Color is one of the most fundamental components of fashion, yet it is often misunderstood. This is because color is not simply a natural phenomenon (the sky is blue, or at least it looks blue); it is also a complex cultural construct.”

For example, in centuries past, blue was regarded as a feminine color. Of course, in today’s modern era, blue is now traditional for boys while pink is for girls. Imagine a baby girl dressed in head-to-toe blue on picture day for a strong mental illustration of this influential shift in perception.



Also on the subject of popular perceptions and choices, the Pantone Color Institute seems to have been attempting to cheer us up en masse since the Fall of 2009. The global authority on color, Pantone’s seasonal picks sway industries from fashion design to home décor. Following the economy’s tumble, Pantone selections have included such shades as Tangerine Tango (shown above) in Spring 2012 and Emerald Green, Color of the Year for 2013. Declared to be the color for “money and growth (fertility), freshness and healing,” we’d say this shade evokes just what the world desperately seeks today.

Indeed, color is a powerful means by which to project a mood, desire, or personality trait. Send a message through your choice of clothing color, and maybe the world around you will follow suit. In the words of psychologist Jerry Burger from Santa Clara University, “Your behavior is often in tune with what you’re wearing.  If you feel confident and beautiful…it shows.”

Today, we’ll translate this thought to an exploration of the rainbow of colors at our fingertips when dressing. Conquer the boardroom, show your connection to nature, or just have some fun, by choosing the right color for where the day takes you.




Red: Filled with passion, the classic color of romance can entice.


Wear It: On a date (Dress by Parker, $265)










Orange: Evoking enthusiasm and productivity, this hue also enhances creativity.


Wear It: To a party or to go sight-seeing (Tank and Skirt by Alice + Olivia, $564)










Yellow: A new neutral, yellow increases your fun factor with logical humor.


Wear It: For lunch with the girls (Jacket by Gap, $60)










Green: This organic shade shows that you are social and one with nature.


Wear It: To meet someone new (Blouse by JCrew, $100)










Blue: Calming, blue notes emotional depth, truth, and kindness.


Wear It: For a job interview or to give a presentation (Jacket by Ann Taylor, $158)










Purple: Choose this tone to represent your creative and artistic qualities.


Wear It: To a concert or gallery (Top by Free People, $38)










White: Pure and trusting, this non-color exudes innocence.


Wear It: To a family reunion or to meet his parents (Dress by Milly, $395)










Black: Not only dramatic, black is also strong and mysterious.


Wear It: Year-round, to empower yourself (Sleeveless Blazer by Theory, $325)









Additional references on this subject include,,, and Photo credits, from top: 1., 2., 3. – 9. Individual Retailers



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