Color Psychology: How to Choose the Right Color for the Occasion

A young woman with pink and hair and shirt
Understanding color psychology is a valuable tool to make the best impression on different occasions. Wear the color that delivers your desired message.

Colors influence emotions and actions in many ways. By understanding color psychology, you can use colors strategically for different occasions. Pay attention to the colors in your wardrobe. What do these colors tell about you? What message do you intend to deliver with your color selections? If there’s a discrepancy between these answers, it’s time to reconsider your choice of colors for different occasions.

Most people experience trouble deciding what to wear for different occasions: a job interview, a company party, a class reunion, or a first date. The most common approach is to pick an outfit that looks best on you. However, what looks best isn’t necessarily the optimal choice for a specific occasion. The key is to wear colors that convey the right message.

Colors can be divided into warm, cool, and neutral shades. Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, while cool colors include green, blue, and purple. Pink can be warm or cool, depending on how much red is present. Neutral colors include white, black, brown, gray, etc.

Warm colors often denote enthusiasm, joy, and fun, while cool colors signify trust, reliability, and wisdom. These color categories are more attention-grabbing than neutral shades.

Before diving into the color strategies for different occasions, let’s first go over the psychological associations of color.

 

Color Psychology

 

Red

Positive: Power, passion, and excitement. Red increases heart rate and makes people feel more alert.

Negative: Anger, violence, and danger.

 

Orange

Positive: Joy, enthusiasm, and creativity. Orange makes people feel more optimistic.

Negative: Insincere, indecisive, and self-indulgent.

 

Yellow

Positive: Happiness, clarity, and optimism. Yellow makes people feel more cheerful.

Negative: cowardice, deceit, and impulsiveness. Too much yellow can cause anxiety and irritability.

 

Pink

Positive: Nurturing, caring, and loving. Pink helps us feel loved and supported.

Negative: Immature, weak, and girly. Too much pink can make people feel like they are not taken seriously.

 

Green

Positive: Sincerity, harmony, and abundance. Green makes people feel more grounded and connected to nature.

Negative: stagnation, envy, and selfishness.

 

Blue

Positive: Trust, peace, and loyalty. Blue makes people look professional and capable.

Negative: Stubborn, sensitive, and anxious. People associate blue with sad or depressed emotions.

 

Color Psychology infographic by Shutterstock
Image from Shutterstock.com

 

Purple

Positive: Wisdom, royalty, and spirituality. Purple makes people feel more connected to our intuition and inner wisdom.

Negative: Loneliness, arrogance, and being disconnected from reality. Too much purple can make people feel isolated and out of touch.

 

White

Positive: Purity, freshness, and perfection. White creates a feeling of spaciousness and calm.

Negative: Empty, naïve, and sterile. Too much white can create a feeling of isolation.

 

Black

Positive: Power, elegance, and mystery. Black gives a feeling of authority and strength.

Negative: Death, evil, and mystery. Too much black can create a feeling of heaviness or severity.

 

Brown

Positive: Dependable, grounded, and sincere. Brown is a reliable color that helps us feel anchored and secure.

Negative: Boring, sad, and dull. Too much brown can make people feel trapped and uninspired.

 

Gray

Positive: Compassionate, comfortable, and calming. Gray is a supportive color that helps people feel more stable and secure.

Negative: Depression, sadness, and boredom. Too much gray can make people feel hopeless and trapped in a negative cycle.

Not convinced about the impact of color psychology? Here are some real-life examples.

 

Real-life Applications of Color Psychology

 

In filmmaking, color is used to set the tone of a scene before any of the actors have even uttered a word. Disney uses their special green-colored paint to hide the not-so-magical parts of its theme parks right in front of your eyes. During election time, candidates often dress in specific colors to create an image to sell to the voters.

Colors trigger chemical reactions in the brain that evoke emotions. You’re likely to eat more at a restaurant with red decorations than blue. TV studios often have guests wait in the Green Room before going on stage because of the calming effect of green.

Washington State Department of Corrections painted their prison cell ceilings and walls pink and found to cause a short-term decrease in aggression in inmates.

At Johns Hopkins University’s Health, Weight, and Stress Clinic, over one-third of nearly 1,700 of their subjects noted pink surroundings reduced their appetite.

 

Color Psychology: Choosing the Best Colors for Occasions

 

Before deciding on the best color for an occasion, you need to determine the nature of this event. Is it a professional or social event? Do you need to showcase your strength, accomplishment, trustworthiness, or fun-loving, easy-going nature?

Now that we understand the basics of color psychology, let’s see how to use colors strategically for different occasions.

 

1. Job Interview

 

According to the job-search website, CareerBuilder hosted a study of 2,099 hiring managers and HR professionals, and blue was the most recommended interview outfit color. Respondents reported associating the color with someone who’s a team player. Cornell University’s career center also says the color “implies that you are trustworthy… and credible.” What shade of blue doesn’t really matter — as long as it’s not too bright.

 

Stressful young woman waiting for job interview
by BartekSzewczyk

 

If blue is not your cup of tea, try neutral colors like black (conveys leadership) or gray (analytical and logical). These colors give the impression of trustworthiness and professionalism. Avoid wearing bright colors like red or orange as they appear unprofessional and lack discipline.

Fast Company interviewed image and style expert Carol Davidson who said brown appears comforting and reliable. “But in an industry that is fast-paced and innovative, it may give the impression you’re staid and passive,” she said.

Cornell’s career site also says brown implies you are “boring, simple, and slow to change.”

Top Interview website recommends avoiding multicolored or patterned outfits. They can appear egocentric and distracting to the interviewers.

Of course, these general rules may not apply to all types of job interviews. When in doubt, use your common sense and dress conservatively.

 

2. Company Party

 

At company parties, you want to show your colleagues that you’re fun to work with and easy to get along with. Warm colors like yellow, orange, or red can help you achieve this goal.

If you aren’t comfortable with these bold colors, try adding bright-colored accessories to your cool-toned or neutral-colored outfit. This way, you can showcase your fun side while feeling comfortable at the event.

A glittering dress with silver or gold brings out the festive vibe and is perfect for holiday gatherings.

 

3. Evening Affair

 

Your choice of clothing may vary depending on how formal the dress code is. Usually, the more formal an event is, the more appropriate to wear a solid color outfit. Save patterned fabric and prints for more casual occasions.

fashionable woman choosing dress in dressing room
Photo * 5,760 px X 3,840 px

 

The color choice depends on what you want to achieve at such an event. Wear neutral colors won’t make you stand out in a crowd. Consider the surroundings and lighting when deciding on your optimal color. You don’t want to blend into the background by wearing a similar shade of color to the venue decor.

If you want to make a statement, choose a bold color like red or blue. These colors convey confidence. If you want to look fun and approachable, try warm colors like yellow or orange.

Black is considered appropriate for almost all occasions. Finish your outfit with a pop of color to reveal your upbeat nature or playful side.

If there’s a designated theme at an event, follow the directions. You don’t want to be the oddball who shows up at the door.

For more ideas, the Art Institute of Seattle decodes what to wear for different dress codes, from smart casual to business casual to black tie.

 

4. First Date

 

First impressions matter, especially on first dates. You want to come across as confident and easy-going. The best way to achieve this is by wearing a color that makes you feel good about yourself.

In a 2012 study, researchers at Northwestern University found that clothing can alter a wearer’s psychological state and improve performance. One test group was instructed to wear white lab coats worn by doctors (a garment associated with intelligence and carefulness). The other group wore plain clothes while performing a series of attention-related tasks. Those who wore lab coats performed better on the tests, making fewer errors and exhibiting an improved attention span.

Southern Tide recommends “applying this theory to your date night outfits. You could potentially influence both your date’s subconscious and your own. Wearing items symbolically associated with success and sex appeal — such as a little black dress or a well-tailored suit jacket — may help you feel more confident while you flirt.”

According to color psychologists, red and black are the best colors to wear on a first date. In 2008, two University of Rochester psychologists discovered men will spend more on a date if the woman wears red.

2018 study of over 600 participants of a British reality dating show called “First Dates” found that black is the most popular color for a first date, regardless of gender or sexual preference. 

In a survey of 1000 people conducted by the British wholesale company Buy T-Shirts Online, participants were asked to match colors with corresponding personality traits of the wearer. Orange and brown received the least associations with confidence, intelligence, and sexiness — three of the highly sought-after qualities on a first date. Unsurprisingly, black and red received the highest number of associations with these positive traits.   

 

5. Court Appearance

 

Because of the psychological effects of colors on emotions and actions, you want to wear the colors that reflect professionalism, trustworthiness, and respect when making a court appearance. The best colors to achieve this are blue, grey, and brown.

Although black is often worn on formal occasions, it carries the negative connotation of coldness, darkness, and evil. You want to leave a good impression in front of the judge and the jury, so avoid wearing all black to court. Most law firms recommend wearing navy blue or dark gray, as both colors suggest seriousness, composure, and honesty.

Avoid bright colors and patterns because they are distracting in a professional setting. Dress in traditional, professional colors that look serious and don’t draw attention.

Color psychology is a valuable tool to make the best impression on different occasions. By understanding the psychological associations of color, you can always choose the right color to convey the desired message.

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Dr. Ivy Ge

Dr. Ivy Ge

Doctor of Pharmacy, author of The Art of Good Enough. She writes to inspire women to design their own fate. Her writings and interviews have been featured on MSNBC, Thrive Global, Working Mother magazine, Parentology, and The Times of India.

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