The Perception of Colour

Just how much consideration do you give to the colour of your clothes? Flitting through the clothes store rails, you're probably processing two or three garments a second, until one inexplicably stands out and makes it to the changing room. Colour will probably play an important but not decisive role. But is there a subconscious process going into your decision?
We've surveyed a thousand people on how they perceive other people based on the colour of the clothes they choose. It's thrown up some fascinating conclusions. It might be time to promote colour to the top consideration - if you care about how you're perceived by others, that is.

Black, for example, might have connotations of death, gloom, and forest gateaux, but it's a powerful performer in the eyes of the public, who see it as a serious, reliable and solid player, ideal for interviews and first dates.

But if you're a lover of all things pink, you might want to keep your pink thing private. That's because the public see it as a fluffy, frivolous colour, unsuitable for almost any social occasion and even likely to signify a lack of intelligence.

What colours work best on you?

These are only perceptions, of course. We're sure many an Oxbridge don has stepped out in pink, and some of the worst low-lives have lived their lives lowly in inky blacks. Badass quotesmith Mark Twain probably sums it up best in his rallying cry for clothing of any colour: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."

Let's have a look at some of our most interesting findings.

Dressing to Impress: First Dates and Interviews

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." It's an old saying but it's true. Your fellow human beings will have judged you within the first seconds of meeting you, and you'll have to have an impressive arsenal of inner charm to overturn their snap conclusion.

So on those occasions when you're hoping to impress someone - interviews, first dates, your kids' school entry interrogations - you need to look confident. And if you want to feel confident, you're probably going to have to go with black. A conclusive 56% of respondents in our survey favoured black as a colour of confidence. Split by gender, 48% of women and 64% of men favoured it. If you feel confident, you'll probably exude capability and trustworthiness, which can't be a bad thing.

Which colour most inspires confidence?

Red drove a wedge between the sexes. Asked about dressing to feel sexy on a first date, 54% of women said they'd opt for a passionate red number, whereas only 28% of men would.This is interesting because red is often associated with aggression, a typically male trait, and although most men aren't particularly aggressive, they absolutely don't want to give that impression, or even appear arrogant. Incidentally, men's second choice for a first date (after black) was a serene blue.

Orange and brown are off-limits for first dates and interviews

There were two standout no-nos for first dates and interviews: orange and brown. We don't need to delve into the negative connotations brown can conjure up, but even we were surprised at the brown smear: only 2% of women and 8% of men (5% overall) would wear brown on a key appointment.

Orange is only a few yellow droplets from power-colour red but those droplets make all the difference. Again it was only 2% of women's first-date colour choice, but 6% of men thought it would be OK to wear orange on the first date, making it the least popular overall.

Orange is definitely not the new black.

Knowledge is Power

It's quite hard to know when you're looking sexy. You look in the mirror before you hit the bar or go on that first date and all you'll see is faults. It's not until you reach your destination that your efforts will start to bear fruit. Are you turning the heads of all the right people? Are the bar staff fighting to serve you? Are people fainting?

These are the subtle cues that might tell you you've got the formula right. And as with all experiments, the best way to confirm your results is to repeat and observe. This is how we arrive at a personal colour scheme.

Intelligent Colours

Why are we talking about this? Well, we asked our survey respondents to gauge the colours they found most attractive in their potential mates. A key finding was that people generally liked to see other people wearing the same colours as they themselves chose to look confident. The familiar black-red-blue-white pattern remained, and brown occupied the bottom spot.

48% of women like men wearing blue

Once again red gave us an insightful result - men like to see women wearing red, with 56% expressing a preference, while women liked their men to be wearing black or blue (66% and 48%). It would appear, therefore, that the way we dress is influenced by the way we are perceived, because there's a tendency to feel confident in the colours that the opposite sex finds attractive. Does this mean we feel most confident when we're feeling sexy? Or is it the other way round?

Men on Women... (%)

Women on Men... (%)

Note: Respondents chose multiple colours per question so total percentage exceeds 100%.

The survey also showed that we're probably right not to go on hot dates wearing brown or orange, as they're considered unattractive by others too.

Arrogance and Lacking Intelligence: Guess the Colour

Who wants to appear arrogant? While on the face of it it's an unattractive trait, the logical conclusion of overconfidence, it can have benefits if you're trying to impress your authority on those around you. But it has to be used with care - projected arrogance without the emotional strength to follow it through can invite people to undermine you, which they'll gleefully do.

So let's assume you want to appear confident but don't want to stray into arrogant territory. You might want to avoid red. In our survey, red topped our chart in arrogance perception, although it was by a moderate 28% of the respondents. Orange and yellow came second and third, 19% and 16%, and good old white was considered the least arrogant of the colours at 6%.

Which colour would you most associate with arrogance?

This finding might put you in a quandary, because we've found that red is sexy and confident, but it's also arrogant. Maybe we need to think of redness as having an arrogance knob that we can turn up and down, and that we need it to be just so. Or perhaps arrogance is not the unattractive trait we might think it is - after all, feeling sexy and confident does require a certain degree of arrogance, doesn't it? Otherwise, why bother? We all know people who find romance in partners the rest of us find overbearingly arrogant, so perhaps it's not the passion-killer we might originally think it is.

Only 12% of people thought red was an intelligent colour

Red is also considered unintelligent, which might not come as a surprise as arrogance is often overcompensating for a fear of coping with life. Only 12% of people said red was intelligent.

But wait. Didn't we find that red is considered a sexy colour too? Yes we did. What does that say about the traits we find attractive? People, you need to take a long, hard look at yourselves.

Pink Stinks - It's official

Many social media users will be familiar with the "pink stinks" campaign, which named and shamed manufacturers and retailers who used gender stereotyping to market their products, such as pink screwdriver sets for women.

Well it turns out that there's even more to it than meets the eye. Because poor pink (which is just an innocent blend of colours, after all) has developed all sorts of negative connotations, most notably with intelligence. Pink sits blushingly at the foot of the chart that gauges people's perceptions of colours as markers of intelligence. Only 5% of respondents thought intelligent people would wear pink.

Only 5% of respondents thought intelligent people would wear pink

We can read a lot into this finding, however. Because in Western culture at least, pink is definitely associated with femininity, so does that mean that people view femininity as less intelligent? Pink's counterpart blue sits second behind super-thoughtful black, so the pattern seems to hold. It's a shocking conclusion if true.

Look deeper, though, and it might not be so simple. The intelligence scale ran Black, Blue, White, Green, Purple, Brown, Red, Yellow, Orange and finally Pink, so we can also see a series that runs from "serious" to "playful" colours, and playfulness is probably not considered an intelligence signifier. Somebody should probably tell the Financial Times.

Black is Best Most of the Time

Throughout all our survey, black came first or second in most "good" traits (for example confidence, intelligence and sexiness) and barely figured in the "bad" traits (arrogance). It wasn't a particularly good performer in the "generosity" scale, however, coming second to last after brown, but it's hard to imagine is being any other way. Try getting your kid to sit on the knee of a black-clad Santa.

Benevolent nocturnal visitations aside, black is the colour to wear when you're trying to impress, reassure or woo. There's a certain trustworthiness about it on a person that would make you hand over your life savings and thank them for the privilege.

Red was a mixed bag, being pretty damn sexy (and you know it) but teetering on the brink of arrogance (and you know it). It also ranked fair to middling on generosity; kindness ain't sexy.

Here's our cut-out-and-keep guide to life moments and what you should wear to be safe:

First Date
Away Football Match
SAS Assault
Criminal Mastermind AGM
Nobel Prize for Physics Award Ceremony

Down with Brown

Oh, dear. Brown. It just doesn't cut the mustard, even French mustard, which is brown. We might love our brown sauce, gravy and satay sauce, few people can resist brown chocolate, and most of our varnished wooden furniture is probably a shade of brown. But we just don't like to wear it or see others bucking the trend.

Could it be a throwback to our deep ancestry, when everyone wore brown animal skins from the boars and rats they could cobble together, but all the cool hunter-gatherers nonchalantly showed up in leopard skin?

Down With Brown Source: Flickr

Or is it something even more primal than that? Let's face it, brown is the colour of poo, and we're conditioned to avoid it and express disgust in its presence. It might not be the colour itself, but what we suspect people might be trying to hide, which probably doesn't bear thinking about.

Brown shoes? Fine. Brown underpants? You have got to be kidding me.

If you are in that 1% of women or 4% of men who would brave a first date in brown, we can only salute you. You must have one hell of a personality.