The Color Code

Just as your favorite color speaks volumes about your personality, the color of the clothes you wear transmits a message, whether you mean it to or not. “We’re a visual society, and the way we present ourselves in any situation, walking into an interview or office, we’re conveying who we are. Color plays such a huge part of that: It creates a very strong impression and very quickly,” explains David Zyla, Emmy® award-winning stylist and bestselling author of “Color Your Style.”

What Color Says

What Color Says

Just as your favorite color speaks volumes about your personality, the color of the clothes you wear transmits a message, whether you mean it to or not. “We’re a visual society, and the way we present ourselves in any situation, walking into an interview or office, we’re conveying who we are. Color plays such a huge part of that: It creates a very strong impression and very quickly,” explains David Zyla, Emmy® award-winning stylist and bestselling author of “Color Your Style.” Of course, color isn’t everything. But because we have such a primal reaction to it, experts say the right hue can actually influence a situation to help you get your way at work. The wrong shade, on the other hand, can detract from your message. Here, six common career situations and how to use the right hues for each to get your point across.

Situation #1: Acing a job interview

Situation #1: Acing a job interview

Best Color: If you want to land the job, navy blue is the best color to wear to an interview, hands down, says Lynda Goldman, branding and marketing consultant, and author of “How to Make a Million Dollar First Impression.” Because darker hues are more professional than lighter ones, stick with medium to midnight blue.

Why It Works: According to Mary Lin Dedeaux, certified professional image consultant and president and owner of Wardrobe Perfect, blue is conservative and it sends a message of being calm, constant and organized. The color of the sky, blue is easy on the eyes, and in Western cultures, it’s considered the most pleasing color, says Joe Lupo, co-founder of the image consulting agency Visual Therapy and co-author of “Work It! Visual Therapy’s Guide to your Ultimate Career Wardrobe and Life In Color.” It also inspires trust and confidence.

How to Wear It: The best way to wear it is tonally, meaning stick with blue, but in varying shades, advises Lupo. For instance, pair a navy blue suit with an azure or steel blue blouse underneath.

Situation #2: Giving a speech or presentation

Situation #2: Giving a speech or presentation

Best Color: Red—if you can pull it off.

Why It Works: Red is a power color — a hue that makes you feel strong and energized. “I recommend that speakers wear red when they’re giving a presentation because it’s upbeat and it gets your attention,” says Dedeaux. “It also tells people that you’re in charge, and not afraid to stand out.

How to Wear It: “Depending on how it’s worn, red can be powerful or sexy—and you do not want to go sexy at work,” says Lupo. If you’re going to wear a red dress, make sure the cut is conservative; you don’t want it skin-tight or low-cut, advises Goldman. Lupo recommends topping it off with a jacket or cardigan in a complementary color, such as burgundy, brick red or burnt orange. If that’s too much for you, keep your palette neutral (think beige, black or navy). A little red can go a long way, and you don’t want your outfit to steal your spotlight.

Caveat: If you’re going with red, make sure you feel confident in it, warns Lupo. When you don’t feel comfortable, it shows—and the whole message that you’re trying to convey will quickly go out the window. Safer but strong alternatives include a deep rich burgundy or eggplant, which is still powerful, says Lupo.

Situation #3: Presenting to potential investors

Situation #3: Presenting to potential investors

Best Color: Black

Why It Works: Though a red outfit may embolden you, it could read too daredevilish to venture capitalists whose aim is to avoid risky business plans. “Black always shows clout and it’s inherently more conservative,” says Goldman.

How to Wear It: “Show up in a sharp-looking black jacket or suit, and you’ll be the one people turn to for authority,” says Goldman. To investors, you are the face of the company, and they want to know that you can market your brand. To that end, go for a monochromatic look that means business, with a pop of color to make yourself memorable. Here, a red accent will work to your advantage, keeping your overall look conservative but commanding.

Situation #4: Leading a brainstorming session

Situation #4: Leading a brainstorming session

Best Color: Purple

Why It Works: Purple inspires the imagination, says Lupo. “More often than not, creative types prefer the color purple. More people have opinions about this color than any other…The important point here is that it evokes a response, which can help the creative process,” he explains.

How to Wear It: “Wearing more saturated tones can make you look chic, creative, professional and approachable,” says Lupo. Think: Amethyst, plum, violet and berry. When dressing in intense jewel tones, opt for a blouse or sweater set with a black skirt or black pants, recommends Dedeaux. “Because it’s so intense, too much color can overwhelm,” she says.

Situation #5: Your boss (or client) is on the warpath

Situation #5: Your boss (or client) is on the warpath

Best Color: Dress like the ocean, in calming blues or grays, says Dedeaux.

Why It Works: If you have a boss — or a client or a colleague — who has been raging for days, you want to fly under the radar and avoid setting him or her off in any way. Serene shades of blue and gray can deflect attention and give the impression of calm.

How to Wear It: “Match your contrast level,” says Dedeaux. If your skin is fair, wear pale blue or a snowy gray. If your skin is dark, look to gunmetal gray or ocean blue. Another good option: Beige. It’s like camouflage, which will help you blend into the background.

Situation #6: Your first day on the job

Situation #6: Your first day on the job

Best Color: “Go for the darkest color in your iris,” says Zyla.

Why It Works: You want to make an impression on your coworkers, without being flashy. Wearing a color that matches your iris makes your eyes pop, explains Zyla, and can make you appear friendly, approachable and open. “It’s a color that both energizes you and restores energy,” says Zyla.

How to Wear It: “You might have brown eyes, but if you look closely, are they really made up of brown?” asks Zyla. You might see flecks of gold or aubergine, for instance. “It’s not always about taking the obvious. It’s about popping what’s unexpected in there,” he says. Pair that color with a dark neutral. Zyla says you can find your most flattering color by looking to your makeup bag. Your favorite eyeliner color, such as espresso, midnight blue, plum or olive, will generally be your go-to neutral.

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