Color Evokes Emotion

One of the most powerful tools in the box is color, and it’s one of the easiest to deploy.   Ad agencies all over the world use color to manipulate your emotions – because it works.  Why shouldn’t you do the same, when you’re trying to create a certain impression?

There are three ways in which color evokes emotion; cultural, personal, and biological.

Biologically, we know that red increases your pulse and your blood pressure.  It increases appetite, which is why restaurants are frequently decorated with red.   There are certain shades of pink and green that are reputed to be calming, and so jails often use these to decorate.   Generally speaking, brighter colors are more energizing colors, and softer colors are more relaxing colors.

Culturally, we associate certain colors with certain holidays and events.   In the West, white is for weddings and black is for funerals.  If you wear red and green together, you look positively Christmasy.   Blue and white are what you wear when you’re ready to get down to business.   There are copious lists online (some of which I’ve pinned to my various color pinboards) of the various associations.   Your style elements (earth, fire, air, water) have heavy color associations.   Consider a dark brown suit – very solid, tending to sobriety.  You could lift it with a yellow blouse, but the yellow is going to have a solid foundation and not go floating off, carried in all that brown.

Personally, each one of us have “power colors”, we all have colors that are soothing and relaxing, we all have colors that represent getting down to business – and these colors are based on our own coloring.  Your hair, skin and eyes give you your personal best palette.*   These colors affect you when you wear them or surround yourself with them, and this factor is more important than the prior two when selecting your wardrobe.

Example:  red is a dynamic, intense color.   If you understood the first two factors of color psychology, you’d think that this made it automatically a power color for everyone.   But not everyone has the same coloring.   If you don’t have the skin tone to carry off an intense red, the red will wear you – and that makes you look less in control, less competent, and less well-pulled-together.   That’s not “powerful” by any measure.

So then you choose “your” red as your power color… but maybe your red is hot pink.   Hot pink is certainly energetic, but culturally, we don’t associate it with seriousness (it’s a very “Air” color taken on its own).  Maybe your best power color isn’t “red” at all… maybe it’s a bright blue, or intense yellow.   Mine is bright turquoise, and when I want you to wake up and pay attention, I pair it with bright navy.   (Navy is an excellent color for grounding).

These personal colors *are* personal, and one person’s relaxing space can make your skin crawl.  I am, admittedly, on the more sensitive side of the equation – but I once bought a bedspread in a warm burgandy – not one of my colors at all – and in less than a week, I could feel my blood pressure rising every time I went into my bedroom.  My bedding was making me angry!  Not helpful.

Contrariwise, I can tell what kind of mood I’m in by what colors I’m selecting for my daily wear.  Right now I’m finding myself in all manner of soft greens and blues – my relaxing/soothing shades.  If I *need* to feel dynamic, I wear red!!  (I absolutely use color to manipulate my own emotions – they’re my emotions, thank you very much).  Red is Fire, which is an element missing from my predominantly Water-focused wardrobe.   I have a friend who, although she’s an Autumn, needs the emotional energy from bright colors, so she picks the very brightest shades to lift her mood.

Color is incredibly powerful, so why not use it?   It’s not just about what colors are in or out this season, this year.  Color affects your life – it affects how seriously you’re taken, it affects how happy you feel, it affects whether you’re comfortable in an environment.   It can draw people to you.  And color is so *easy* to use – once you know what colors are your best colors, and then pick from those the colors that are most helpful in helping you achieve your goals, the world is your oyster.

You are your own marketing firm, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use all of the tools at your disposal.


*David Zyla wrote a fascinating book about this.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Going to the Fields says:

    You are genius at this. Since you did my “colors” I’ve cleared the closet and stuck with the palette. But I subconsciously gravitate towards certain colors over others, depending on my mood.

    Bottoms are almost always dark. I never, ever wear printed pants. Skirts are polka dots or florals. I always do pattern + solid, or solid + solid. Jewelry is for flair.

    Hot or deep saturated pink is my power, fierce, take on the world color. Salmon can kiss off. Navy and grey say I’m getting the job done. Interesting enough these were my Catholic school colors. Hmmm.

    Your color service alone is enough to take dressing to another level. I wish you the best as you move forward with helping women reclaim their beauty in their own special image!

    1. hearthie says:

      Thank you!

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