On Wednesday I had the pleasure to attending a talk by Professor Carolyn Mair PhD, founder of Psychology.Fashion. Having a background in psychology, Carolyn moved into studying Fashion when invited to do so by the London College of Fashion. She is now the leading expert on understanding the relationship between fashion and the mind.
The psychology behind why we make our fashion choices has always fascinated me. I’ve mentioned before that, a few years ago, I went to talk with Grayson Perry who discussed taste and how we dress to fit into a certain ‘tribe’. And, as you know, I believe strongly that style is all about confidence and how you mentally perceive yourself.
Carolyn’s talk was fascinating, and I strongly recommend reading some of her articles, or even buying her new book (which I can’t wait to dive into). But there was one particular topic that really stood out to me: the power of colour.
We hear about what colours mean, and what colours suit us best, but in truth there is no psychology of colour; it is all about context. So for example, ‘getting your colours done’ isn’t as simple as some stylists suggest – because every shade looks different based on its saturation, illumination and its hue; under one set of lighting a colour may look great on you, but under another it doesn’t. So do get your colours done if it gives you more confidence, but only treat it as guidance and don’t avoid or stick to just one set of colours.
Instead, the power of colour comes with how it makes the wearer feel. A study found that people wearing red are more attractive – but not because of the observer liking the colour or considering it as ‘sexy’. In the study, a group were shown photos of people wearing red, and not wearing red, and those that wore red were found more attractive. But then a separate group were shown the pictures – this time just in black and white – and yet the individuals wearing red still were more attractive. The conclusion was that the colour simply made the wearer project themselves in a more confident, attractive way.
That’s not to say you should now rush and buy a red dress! But instead I propose appreciating how wearing certain colours can change our state of mind. Some say they wear navy because it makes them feel ‘safe’, the consequential result being that they come across more shy. But that doesn’t mean you should stop wearing navy; it’s what you imbue into the colour that makes the difference. So, if you see navy as a bold, strong colour instead, you’ll carry yourself in that way.
Yet, what if the prospect of wearing colour intimidates you? Surely it just undermines the whole point of wearing it in the first place? Yes that could be the case. But I suggest it’s less likely if you’re wearing colours you both really love and have an emotional connection with (rather than just focusing on the colours you’ve been told suit you). Because, as Carolyn highlighted, our emotions directly influence our clothing choices and preferences. For me it’s pink. Yes it’s a bit of a cliché. But aside from it being girly, the colour has significance to me because it reminds me of being my own person. I used to say I hated pink as a kid and teenager because I wanted to fit in and seem cool. But eventually I grew the confidence to own the fact I love it, and I’m proud of that.
And conversely, I avoid colours that for me have bad connotations attached to them. For example, I don’t like cobalt because a person who bullied me used to wear it all the time. No matter if anyone tells me it suits me, I won’t be wearing it because it will remind me of a darker time.
So do step into the world of wearing colour, because it could do wonders for your style and mentality. But try to ignore the classic meanings of colour, and instead focus on your own interpretations of them. After all, bright blue is meant to mean softness and understanding, and that certainly hasn’t been my experience of it…
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