Stop Living in Black and White
If I told you that you could transform your frame of mind with one simple tool, you’d be intrigued, right? What if I also told you it doesn’t involve any mental exercises or expensive investments? It just involves a trip to your closet. That’s right: One of the easiest ways to change your mood and mindset is simply by changing the colors you choose to wear.
Many of our responses to color are subconscious — we don’t even realize the effect on our mood. But color is so powerful there’s an entire alternative medicine field dedicated to healing through hues. Red, orange and yellow have been shown to evoke a broad range of strong emotions, for example, while colors like blue, purple and green can have a calming effect.
If you’re like me and prefer to clothe yourself in a sea of neutrals, you may be apprehensive about adding brighter colors. But even with a neutral base, it’s not hard to work a broad range of shades into your wardrobe via accessories and see an effect. Even a strategic addition of colorful accents can help you self-soothe, or feel more powerful and confident. Not sure where to start? Here’s a color guide to help you improve your mood — simply by getting dressed.
Our associations with the color red are complicated — from sexy, passionate and “red hot” (it’s not called the “red light district” for nothing) to danger. And while some studies have indicated that exposure to the color red before taking a test can impair performance due to its association with failure, red is also a physical stimulant that, as other studies suggest, can be a great way to ignite action and enhance response speed. So how can you best integrate this emotionally intense color? Since it’s powerful and too much can be overkill, stick to small pockets of red when you want to capture attention in an interview or motivate a room. Red lipstick, glasses or nail polish are subtle accents that still pack a visual punch.
Green is the easiest color on the eye, as it demands no ocular adjustment and it can actually reduce fatigue, making it the color of rest and relaxation. Green is a color that connects with us in a way that bridges cultures and delves into our psyche on a more primitive level. It connotes nature in our minds and mentally balances and reassures us.
Put on some green when you need a mental refresh. Play around with mixing shades of green — a combination of neon, kelly and forrest green bracelets, for example, can be both interesting and easy on the eyes.
Yellow is psychologically the strongest color, as its wavelength is long and stimulating. Use it to boost confidence and enhance optimism — and, of course, to add a dash of sunshiney cheeriness. Unlike green, yellow is difficult for the eye to behold (think of it like staring at the sun). Yellow also activates the anxiety portion of our brains and thus can ignite crying in babies and encourage fighting, proving too much of a good thing can have an inverse effect. So, like red, use yellow in moderation. Opt for a soft yellow blouse, a scarf or some yellow flats when you need a pick-me-up.
Orange is the hybrid of red and yellow, and its effects are the psychological offspring of those two intense hues. Red is physical and yellow is mental, whereas orange is all about instinct: If your gut had a color, it’d be orange. Orange conjures associations with basic survival — like food, shelter and warmth. It’s also the “fun” color, full of life and energy. But wear in moderation, as an orange overdose can suggest frivolity or anti-intellectualism. Add an orange bracelet or belt to enhance your playfulness factor and warm up the room on days when you want to be the life of the office party.
Blue is the color of the mind; it has a palpable calming effect and positively affects mental clarity. No wonder blue is such a dominant business color. And the evidence of its mental effects is pretty convincing: Using blue bulbs in street lamps has been shown to help reduce suicide and crime. Call on blue when you need to calm yourself and others, particularly when deadlines and tensions run high. Blue — not just red — can actually be a great interview color, as it connotes dependability and trustworthiness, and can put both you and the interviewer at ease.
Black is visual darkness. It’s the combination of all colors absorbed into one and represents the absence of light. Its intensity conveys seriousness and authority. We know that black is the American “color” of mourning and the color embraced by artists and designers alike, but its symbolic significance and psychological effects go beyond those contexts. Studies show that teams with black uniforms are issued more penalties than those in white jerseys, suggesting that black ignites aggression. Have a day where you need to negotiate and be more assertive? Consider an all-black outfit to command a bit more power and give your professional presence some weight (metaphorically speaking — black is also flatteringly slimming).
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is the "thinking person's stylist" and the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image-related issues and offers holistic wardrobe and image consulting services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.