Color communicates emotion. If you don’t believe me, kindly pick up a marketing manual. All businesses use color to convey a message when they advertise themselves… why shouldn’t you?
Really – why shouldn’t you use the same tools that businesses, costumers, and public figures use? You surely don’t think that wealthy people are unaware of their clothing subtexts. A fascinating study can be made of the Queen of England’s wardrobe choices – they’re very nicely thought out, especially her wardrobe for state trips. There’s no rule that says this information is only for the few. You can learn it, you can use it. Make a decision about what you’re saying without words!
Color is one of the loudest, most instinctive speakers in your arsenal. It’s not just “green is for Ireland” – I don’t tend to think of Ireland when I see dark olive – you have to take shade and hue into account as well. And you always, always start with the colors that look best on you. What is muted and quiet on my very vivid coloring might be ridiculous on someone else. A sophisticated palette of neutrals might draw you in when L wears it, and make me look like I need a nap.
But you can *start* with these observations, then tailor them to fit you. Let’s take that neutral outfit. L (my tall, redheaded friend) looks divine in the colors of dust and bone – it doesn’t detract from her mane of curly red hair. If I wanted to dress her to get a table in a chic Beverly Hills restaurant, I’d send her in a dust colored pantsuit in linen with a washed silk blouse one shade lighter. Perfection. (All-neutral outfits, when in impeccable quality materials, look rich – note this down as a rule of thumb).
Would I wear the same suit? -shudder- No. I would, however, wear an ivory silk suit – a suit with a skirt and a shaped jacket over a washed silk blouse in cream… but only if I was rocking a statement necklace in turquoise. I need color. (Another rule of thumb – if you have to wear a pound of makeup to make your look work, it doesn’t). Why turquoise? Well, turquoise is a mellow color – blue/green is very chill – but the vivid shade I wear brings energy and focus. Why are we both wearing light colored neutral suits? Well, this is a chic restaurant in Los Angeles, which is a warm place with lots of light – light colors always feel appropriate in LA. And, as noted, all-neutral outfits are rich. (Whatever your version of white, note that because white is difficult to keep spotlessly clean, spotlessly clean “white” is an indicator of wealth).
Dark/muted colors tend to be reassuring, bright colors are aggressive, soft colors are relaxing, light colors are energizing. Within that, of course you have endless color psychology… red’s been proven to raise your blood pressure! Color psychology is cultural – white means innocence in the West and mourning in the East. Colors affect you too – I wear a lot of turquoise not only because blue-green is mellow, not only because it suits my coloring (and eyes) perfectly, but because it’s my favorite color and it makes me happy. I wouldn’t wear a canary-yellow dress to a wake – I would wear it to a friend’s birthday party.
Color also exists in combination – blue and white is a classic combination, and the default “what to wear” when you don’t have a clue. Lemon yellow and cornflower blue say one thing, lemon yellow with ice-grey says something entirely different. Colors play with one another, and while every color has a long list of emotions attached to it, adding a secondary color helps narrow that list down. Red and black vs. red and pink – totally different messages.
Since we’re trying to not only communicate, but do so with flattering colors, you might change this around a bit. L doesn’t wear fire-engine red when she wants to take over a room – that color doesn’t look good on her, it wouldn’t scream “fabulous”, but “trying too hard”. You have to tailor, you always have to tailor. I wouldn’t send her out in oxblood and charcoal grey (her red and black) to communicate the same sex + power message that scarlet and black would on a Winter. Nope. I’d send her out in only charcoal + statement jewelry. Or instead of a dress, I’d put her in draped sweater over leather pants… This always has to be personal. Start with what looks best on you, then look at what effect you want to have. We don’t have the same bodies, we don’t have the same coloring, we don’t have the same attitudes, so how could we possibly have the same formulae?
I urge you to look at yourself, look at your favorite colors, and look at your audience – are you using color as effectively as you might be? What could you change? Think about the times you’ve seen someone else really bomb the color communication – what went wrong? Think about the people you’ve interacted with who have amped their message with their clothes – the counselor whose softly draped, mauve sweater set you instantly at ease, the professor whose chocolate colored tweeds reassured you of his expertise, the saleswoman’s fuschia blouse that helped you identify her from across the store – what has worked for them, and what context were they in?
Color is a tool for communication… use it!
Suggested Reading: http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/queen-elizabeth-royal-style-icon/
The first thing to work on when you’re learning to speak with your wardrobe is simply accepting that getting dressed is an act of communication with anyone who can see you. For actresses, this is understood, for the rest of us, this is uncomfortable.
And so it is to film that I shall send you – or TV, as you like – to watch the way clothing is used to tell the story and flesh out the character. Turn off the sound to a story you already know, and watch as the characters tell you about themselves without a word. I was recently ill enough to spend a week watching bad movies on Netflix, and it was most educational. Take Legally Blonde 2 (please) and turn off the sound and watch…
- Reese Witherspoon is almost always dressed in flattering colors from her season (Spring). Her whites are ivory, her pinks are warm, she’s wearing quite a lot of turquoise and the loveliest warm red. In fact, Ms. Witherspoon looks better in this movie than she does in real life, when she tends to choose Summer colors (which are more conservative/classic, which is how she tends to dress, but that’s a different discussion).
- The exception to that rule is the opening scenes, when she’s wearing colors that are too bright, and discordant. The pink suit on the poster is the worst offender – it was chosen to show that she was clueless about current style in DC (really, a Jackie Kennedy hat?) and the shade is terrible on her. It was supposed to look awkward and it did.
- As she progresses through the movie, the styles and colors she wears are a better storyteller than the rest of the film. A scarf wrapped around her neck when she’s down, an ivory suit that makes her glow with openness and possibility when she makes her big speech at the end.
The costume designer can help or hinder any story, and you are your own costume designer.* Start with colors and styles that flatter you (you want to look your best) and then figure out what you want to say. There is no cloak of invisibility. (If you want the next best thing, wear jeans that fit but aren’t skin tight, a t-shirt likewise -girlcut only-, and a cardigan with some mom tennis shoes).
Women often assume that sloppy clothes are invisible, but they’re not – they communicate that you don’t care enough about yourself to dress well. Ditto clothing that doesn’t fit properly – it is more likely to call attention to your figure problems than to hide them. **
The last major acceptance blunder seems to be new – I hadn’t heard of it amongst adult women before this decade. “I am dressing for myself”. Are you? Very well. I don’t mind. Go ahead. Lime green gaucho pants with a polka-dot mustard crop top. You do you. That’s fine. But the rest of us are going to receive that visual communication and interpret it – so be sure of your message before you send it out. Then send with impunity and no regrets! If, however, you’re finding that people respond to your visual messages in ways that bewilder you, perhaps you might spend some time reviewing your “tone”. It’s very easy for our subconscious to sneak out information we’d rather it kept its trap shut about.
ALWAYS act with intention, and make choices with a clear conscience.
(You’ll be hearing that last rather a lot hereabouts, I’d get used to it).
* I have seen numerous pins about the design of the gowns on Game of Thrones – the detailing in the embroidery reflects character and story! I’m impressed. Okay, I’m impressed with the speed and size of that costume department. Custom embroidery on every costume? My, my.
**A brief word about capris and stomach aprons. Being someone who (at this writing) has one of the latter, I am scrupulously careful about pants, and rarely wear them. Any skirt is more flattering than a pair of pants that shows the apron. I’ve seen more aprons in capris than I care to, and I’d like to beseech you to invest in some peasant skirts. They’re comfortable, cool, and hide a multitude of sins – probably why women have been wearing them for a thousand years or so. If you’re bound and determined to stay in pants, I recommend a long (thigh-length) tunic with slits for movement. That’s another classic look – although this time from the Middle East. And yes, you can do what you like. I offer these as more flattering alternatives. If you don’t care about figure flattery it’s all a bit irrelevant, isn’t it?
You know this. But did you know how much beauty you can control?
The study says that, for women, grooming is a huge part of “beauty”… meaning that better grooming equates with better pay. Guess who controls your grooming? That’s right – you!
But don’t overdo. Your makeup is meant to make you look better, not to make you look like you’re wearing makeup. *
Bobbi Brown has a great Instagram campaign going at the moment called, “Be Who You Are” – a perfect example of natural + polished looks, great for most occasions. (Might want to sharpen the details a tad for work). https://www.instagram.com/bobbibrown/
Beauty-as-status is (and always has been) highly controllable. This is an area of study that has been neglected by masses of women lately, so it’s a very simple way for you to upgrade your status and improve how you’re treated – you might be the only one in your office who knows the truth.
Use that knowledge!
*Exceptions – when you’re out for a night at the club, when you’re at a party, when you’re in costume… have some fun, break out the glitter. But not at work. And, as always, unless you’re ready to own it, not at the school pick-up line either.
It’s been a good year for those who wear the Summer palette, and it will continue into Fall. Usually September brings us endless Autumn colors * but this year, we’re keeping soft blues (Riverside, Airy Blue) and a medium cool grey (Sharkskin) that truly suit the Summer wearer.
Instead of the panorama of warm greens and muted purples that the back to school season generally produces, the Autumn appropriate colors this year are a little more fiesty. Potter’s Clay, Spicy Mustard, and Aurora Red are – unless you’re a real door kicker – colors best kept to blouses and accessories. But what a year to add interest! If I were someone in love with those rusty reds and muted yellows, I’d be scavenging scarves and blouses in a big way.
This Fall’s big neutral, warm taupe, can be cheerfully armwrestled between the Summers and Autumns. Depending on the maker and the fabric, it can go either way. If you need a soft neutral in your wardrobe, give it a try. This light neutral is great for leather goods – heels, belts, bags – because it can be used with most of the colors from either palette. Being that it’s a light-medium color, it will bring a more relaxed, summery/springy vibe to most outfits.
Lush Meadow is another one of those colors whose maker and fabric are going to determine the season. Winters, Springs and Summers are all advised to keep their minds (and eyes) open. LM is too clear and bright for Autumns. If this color suits, it would make an amazing blazer or blouse – something to dial the fun up to 10.
Bodacious is pretty close to Radiant Orchid, which was Pantone’s color of the year for 2014. Bodacious is a bit warmer, and a bit more obviously a Spring color. If this is a color you hold dear, please remember that this is a good year to get those scarves and blouses… orchid is not a color that comes back around often.
The point of this color analysis is to clue you in on what colors are coming in so that if one of those colors is terrific on you, you remember that this is a season to put a bit more money in your clothing allowance and pick up some pieces that will last you. I’ll never forget the mid-nineties, which is when I started work and it seemed like someone ran through and confiscated all the bright colors that the late eighties had left behind. There were years I’d have about a month of shopping my colors before they disappeared again.
Pantone’s colors aren’t used by every designer, but they do inform the mood and overall outlook. Again, this is to give you a heads up, if you’re in need of certain pieces or have been waiting for a particular color to come ’round, this is information worth having.
*quick shopping note – your best time to grab clothes in your seasonal color is generally in your season. This is especially true in years where your colors aren’t in.
It irritates me when we needlessly replicate social science studies – especially when we do so on the backs of children. This popped up on my FB feed this weekend. https://www.facebook.com/NowThisNews/videos/1094289017327888/?pnref=story
The idea is to expose how horribly lookist that we are, in order to shame us into acting differently.
I’m all for treating people well, regardless of their appearance – it’s part of my commitment to Christ.
James 2:1 – 4 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (NASB)
So, insofar as it involves me – or you, dear readers – I hope that you’re controlling your actions and basing them on compassion. BUT. BUT. This wouldn’t have been in the Bible if it weren’t a natural human tendency. (“Natural” is not a synonym for “good” – especially in the realm of human behavior).
What’s upsetting? This has been proven. Babies prefer pretty people. Babies. This is not nurture, it’s nature. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6355-babies-prefer-to-gaze-upon-beautiful-faces/ This is known. Every interaction any one of us has ever had in the world has reminded us of this hard truth.
You didn’t need to make a little girl cry. I’m mad that they hurt this little girl – do they think she’s going to forget that day? Every protective parental bone in my body is infuriated right now. How DARE they do this to her? They knew she’d be rejected.
And I get mad when I hear grown people say, “well, it shouldn’t matter how I dress…” You’re right. It shouldn’t. But it does. Humans are visual creatures, and we take in information visually.
Learn to speak with your mouth closed, and you can make this work for you. In the meantime, remember that these things work on you just as they work on tiny babies, and act with love.
If you feel like you’re being overlooked at work, the very first question you need to ask yourself is, “am I doing good work?” The second question is, “what message are my nonverbal signals giving?” If you think that second question is unfair – so what? It’s real. Humans evaluate other humans non-verbally, and that evaluation is almost invariably subconscious. I’m going to help you manipulate your non-verbals, particularly your clothing.
Always, when you’re being overlooked, check your fire levels. You can’t ignore fire! Add bolder colors, bolder accessories, sharper contrasts. (Stay within your personal flattery guidelines, don’t skip over into costume). The next thing is to check the quality of your earth – all your clothes *are* in perfect repair, right? They fit properly? Good colors? Right for your industry? How’s air? You keep wearing the Hello Kitty dangle bracelet to staff meetings, maybe it’s time for that to move to a weekend-only accessory. Water? How’s the texture? Fuzzy sweaters will not get you taken seriously.
Let’s use an example.
Betty just re-entered the workforce after a sabbatical of 5 years. She’d previously had 20 years experience in the industry, and has kept up on the latest developments. She re-entered the workforce because the budget was tight, so she doesn’t have much money to invest in a work wardrobe. She’s wearing the suit skirts she wore five years ago with the cardigan she wears over her dress to church. She gets cold, sitting in the air-conditioning all day.
The five-year-old skirts are all just a little tight. They fit okay with a pair of spanx, but who wants to wear spanx to work every day? So, her skirts are pulling over her tummy. When she’s not wearing the cardigan, she wears tunic-length sweaters over knit trousers. This conveys, “soft”, “uncomfortable”, “worn”.
First assignment: Capsule wardrobe – dark blazer, light blouses, skirts that fit. Skirts should be in dark, neutral colors – the fewer Betty can afford, the more neutral a color she should pick (dark, neutral skirts in classic cuts are very nearly invisible, and can be worn repeatedly without being noticed). Next, grab a blazer. She’ll go to a fast-fashion outlet and get one for $20 if she can’t afford better, but again keeps it dark neutral. If she can buy two, add a vivid color in the blue/green/red range. (No pink, no orange, no yellow). Grab a couple of viscose t-shirts in light neutral colors and several in her best brights. Toss the knit pants into the “clothes to wear on errands” pile immediately. While she’s at the fast-fashion outlet, she grabs a couple of pendants on long chains and a bright scarf.
On Mondays, Betty’s wearing a blazer, viscose t-shirt and skirt. On Tuesday, the second skirt under a tunic-length sweater with pendant. Up the makeup ante on Tuesday. On Wednesday, see if that church dress can’t be worked into the routine – under the blazer. Thursday, again with the tshirt/blazer/skirt combo – but adds the scarf. Friday, Betty can wear the tshirt/skirt combo with your cardigan, assuming it’s in good condition. When she can afford to invest in quality pieces, the order of operations goes: Lingerie -> leather -> blazer/suit -> skirt/pants -> blouse.
By adding those dark neutrals with sharper edges, Betty’s drawing more attention (humans look at bright shiny things). By attending to the details of fit, she’s saying, “I’m serious about this job”. When she can afford to upgrade the other things, the good bra will youthen/slim her figure, the nice shoes and belt will complete and upgrade her entire look, the better blazer should go with everything (and last a lot longer than that fast fashion mess)… you get the idea.
Slowly, her co-workers will find that they are taking her more seriously. (It takes more than a day to change a long-held perception of someone). And Betty will take herself more seriously, which is imperative. Betty will be speaking, “I’m an expert in this field” and “I’m at work” to *herself*, which will change the way she interacts with others.
Clothes affect attitude. You can spiral up, or spiral down.. choose wisely.
Susan walks in the room, all long legs and raven hair, in an LBD and delicate jewelry, all eyes on her – including yours. You’re feeling a little blah in your dress, it’s definitely not getting the attention that Susan’s is. You compare yourself to Susan, and the next day run out to buy the same dress, the same shoes, the same jewelry… but somehow that Friday night, you walk into a room and it just doesn’t work.
You have some choices here…
A) You can beat yourself up and indulge in a lot of self-recrimination. “I’m so …” Congratulations, you just added to your burden of self-hatred.
B) You can call Susan nasty names in your head and make up motivations for her. Hey, you’ve just convinced yourself to hate someone you don’t even know!
C) You can sit back and observe Susan, and take notes about not just what she’s wearing, but how she’s wearing it, and what effect she’s having on her audience. Then, you can analyze your own outfit and figure out what you can change to get the same results.
Obviously, I vote for option C. A and B are counterproductive.
So, let’s look at Susan. First off, Susan has endless legs, and she’s choosing to showcase them in her dress and stiletto heels. Second, Susan has raven hair – so the black dress she’s chosen looks great on her, especially with the bright red lips she’s rocking. Yeah, yeah. Susan’s gorgeous. But what about you?
Well, maybe you have an hourglass figure, luminous green eyes, and strawberry blonde curls. Instead of feeling inferior about your “cute” looks, make them work for you. How about a bias-cut wrap-dress in ivory silk? A statement necklace to match your eyes, gold heeled sandals, and a soft updo with just a few curls drifting down and all of a sudden you’re in the spotlight.
And better yet, to my way of thinking, there are two beautiful women in the room tonight. Every night, let’s have a few more! Let’s take over the world! -ahem- We all have goals… 😉
In the meantime, you’re there, you’re sitting in the club … observe. Enjoy. Isn’t Susan pretty? Isn’t that a nice necklace? What a great effect! She’s like a piece of walking art! Oh look, here comes Veronica – meow, girl… check out that jacket! Fierce!
We have this really weird thing going in our society today where beauty = sexuality. And sure, endless legs are pretty sexy – but how about just enjoying the art? Appreciating other women doesn’t mean you want to bed them, and it doesn’t lower your social status. You don’t have to compete, you don’t have to compare, you don’t have to push someone else down to raise yourself up. That relaxed enjoyment is going to affect your attitude in a positive fashion, which is going to affect *your* beauty – in a positive fashion.
As far as I’m concerned, one of the highest compliments you can give is, “You really look like yourself today”. If Susan is capturing Susan, enjoy. She’s sharing part of herself with you. You don’t want to copy her style, you don’t want to buy those clothes, you want to emulate her achievement. And that is done by learning to work with your own raw materials… not hers.
Admire, don’t acquire.