How to wear colour to work

Wearing certain colours can dramatically change the way we feel and act. Learn which colours can influence you (and your colleagues) and improve your confidence and performance at work.

Have you ever put on an item of clothing and instantly felt different – maybe more energised, serious, calm or determined? For decades, we’ve understood that colours can have a powerful effect on the way we feel and act.

Colour counsellor Jules Standish uses the power of colours to help her clients look and feel their best. And now she’s sharing her insights into the effect of colours on our professional personality to help you understand which ones to wear to work.

Colours have a powerful effect on us

Colours have a powerful effect on our personalities, emotional life and physical appearance, which in turn can positively benefit our health, beauty and self-confidence.

Colour influences us all through our eyes and skin, and has transformational properties that can be calming, stimulating or balancing – something that may be particularly beneficial if you’re returning to work after a career break, looking to get promoted or change jobs.

The power of colour has been observed throughout history

Throughout history, some of our greatest minds have observed the power of colour:

  • In the late 18th century, the great philosopher Johann Wolfgang Goethe noted that colour had an immediate effect on our emotions.
  • In the early 20th century, Max Luscher, a professor of psychology from Switzerland measured people’s preferences for chosen colours and how they related to their personality traits. He used this knowledge to treat physical and psychological conditions which provided us with a scientific basis for understanding the power of colour today.
  • The late American art historian Faber Birren wrote many books about the credible link between psychology and colour. He was consulted by the Army, Navy, hospitals and factories, advising on colour schemes to enhance productivity.

Colour is used commercially all over the world

The impact of colour on office workers, in banks, airlines and even in prisons has been well documented, and colour is now being used commercially all over the world.

Every colour has a purpose, an influence and a power to change the way you look and feel. It can make your life a happier and more fulfilled place by getting visible in the way you want to be seen, including at work.

Companies spend a lot of time and money figuring out exactly what they want their brand to say, because the message they portray is vital to their business. Likewise, the colours and styles women chose to wear at work projects an image about who they are, and how they want the world to see them.

The colours women chose communicates their own personal message allowing them to feel confident and happy in their own skin. 

The problem with black

The colour black has become a fashion staple in many working women’s wardrobes, with the belief that it is slimming, smart, chic and easy to co-ordinate.

Black also has many psychological issues surrounding it, and many women who lack confidence and self-esteem find it comforting to hide behind it.

However, few women realise just how detrimental wearing black can be to the appearance of your ageing process and damaging to your looks.

Colour can have a huge impact on your overall appearance, and in particular your skin tone and facial features. Wearing colours that harmonise and bring out the best in your complexion can be as transformational as having a surgical face lift! Black however often has the reverse effect, and highlights all the negatives on your face.

In some cases it can even make you look years older because it drains colour from your skin making it look dull, tired and unhealthy.

Black can also highlight dark shadows under your chin, lines around your mouth, dark shadows under your eyes and any wrinkles on your forehead. Even dark roots in highlighted hair will stand out!

So when considering what colours to wear to work think carefully about how you wear back. If you can, keep it away from your face, and combining with colours that suit you (and will help you psychologically).

What colours to wear to work

As colours play a powerful role in your working life, let’s look at their individual properties, what they say about you and how you can benefit from making conscious colour choices every day.

How to wear black

Black conveys leadership. Wearing a lot of black is best kept for management positions as this it’s a very authoritative colour. (It can be overpowering when worn by assistants, for instance.)

If you do choose to wear it then keep your blacks black and don’t mix shades. If you wear black trousers or a skirt, wear a different coloured blazer and or shirt/blouse.

Using black accessories such as handbags and briefcases to match shoes can look smart and professional.

How to wear blue

Blue is the safest option. It’s the colour that comes out top in surveys conducted by hiring professionals, with navy being the best colour for most jobs.

Blue inspires confidence, says that you are a team player, that you are calm in a crisis and that you have good communication skills. It also releases the hormone oxytocin which is a natural relaxant, so it’s a great colour to wear if you’re feeling particularly stressed at work, need to mediate with staff or give a speech.

Turquoise is uplifting and youthful and comes in many shades, making it easy to find the right one for your skin tone.

How to wear red

Red means power. You should choose to wear red in small quantities as it’s a strong and potentially aggressive colour. But if you want to show you are assertive and have lots of energy, wear some red.

Red is at the hottest end of the colour spectrum and it releases the hormone adrenalin, which increases body temperature and acts as a physical tonic.

You my choose to wear a red blazer or jacket and combine with navy or black trousers or skirt – or simply choose a red handbag or shoes. Wearing a lot of red is best in fields like sales and the law, where being aggressive can be seen as a positive attribute.

How to wear green

Green is the colour of balance and harmony. It you are feeling run down, this is the colour to wear. It is also the colour of fairness, enabling you to see both sides to a problem, so it can help to wear if you have a big decision to make.

Green will give you strength and courage, and if you are struggling to gain a sense of motivation or get some direction in your life then wearing green will help to encourage action, particularly when considering new possibilities.

Green and red are complimentary colours, so if you’re a red head, or have auburn or chestnut tones in your hair, green clothing can look stunning.

How to wear yellow

Yellow is the colour of mental creativity and clarity. Wearing yellow at work will not only help to brighten up your office (and colleagues) but it will also help you to feel more positive and self-assured.

Yellow can help to encourage you to take up new challenges. It stimulates your brain to allow for quick thinking and also allows your creative side to develop.

However, wearing too much yellow at work can lead to over anxiety and an inability to relax. So in order to keep the balance, wear a yellow shirt or jacket combined with neutral tones of grey, navy or black and white or cream mixes well with yellow in the warmer weather.

If you don’t usually like yellow, wearing yellow underwear or gold jewellery can have the same effect.

How to wear orange

Orange is the colour of confidence and sociability. It invokes good conversation, communication and interaction, and will have you thinking and talking all at once!

Wearing orange can help to attract others to you and allow you to feel at ease, particularly if you are lacking in self-worth or feel shy in social environments.

Orange can give you the freedom to be yourself, push your boundaries and meet new people. If you find it difficult to get started on a project or starting a new career, orange can really help you to get going.

Choose a shade that makes your complexion look healthy and glowing, and combine with dark grey and navy for a fabulous smart but colourful work combination.

How to wear purple

Purple is the colour of transformation. It suggests power and mystery, and reinforces the feeling that you are feminine and sophisticated.

If you are worried about returning to the workplace after spending time at home raising your family, purple may be a good choice. It will help you to connect with yourself and get in touch with your personal needs, so that you can understand your higher purpose in life at a time where you may be questioning how to plan and live your future.

Purple can give you a renewed sense of purpose and independence and will help you to get in touch with your leadership qualities. It is the most calming and healing of all the colours and encompasses shades from indigo, to violet and magenta, which blend well with greys and black.

How to wear grey

Grey is a great neutral colour for work as it is professional and dignified. Wearing grey says that you are logical and analytical. The understated colour implies you are a professional who behaves in a self-controlled and practical manner with fair judgement.

However too much grey can be depressing, so if you want to show some personality then wear a coloured scarf, tie, handbag or belt. Grey mixes beautifully with blue, red and pink in the workplace.

Choose your colour and change your mood!

In the wise words of Thelma van de Werff, chartered colour therapist, creator of the Colour Comfort Method, and successful author:

“Waking up in the morning and choosing a colour that sets the tone of our day and supports our goals, or counteracts a negative feeling we may be having can be a powerful tool when wielded with intention”.

So choose your colours consciously every day when you dress for work, and ensure you look and feel fabulous in colours that will brighten up your life and those of others around you!

Jules Standish is ‘The Colour Counsellor’ and author of How NOT to Wear Black. She’s passionate about getting women into their true colours and styles to look younger and healthier. Find out more on her website.