Your clothes say more about you than you might imagine. In fact, your choice of colour is a language in itself: If you’re Japanese, white is the colour of mourning; for Hindus, orange is sacred.
To help you learn the lingo, here’s our guide to communicating with colour – everything you need to know to choose the right clothing palette.
Rock the colour red
If you’re from the West, red is the colour of passion, emotion or danger. In India, it signals purity, while in China red speaks of happiness and exuberant celebration.
But while red is a broadly positive colour, you should wear it with care. What to you is a bold hue that exudes confidence and masculinity, might according to recent research, speak of aggression and a domineering attitude.
As research student Diana Wiedemann says:
“ People may wish to think carefully about wearing red in social situations and perhaps important meetings, such as a job interview.”
The cautionary note continues with a recent Yougov survey warning that nearly half of Brits disapprove of men in red trousers!
So how do you make red a positive statement? Greg Tuck, who blogs at The Idle Man, recommends using red as an accent to spice up your look without overwhelming it:
“an item of clothing in this colour can instantly liven up an otherwise pared-back monochrome outfit with minimal effort.”
Try contrasting a deep red scarf with neutral tones, or add a luxurious red silk pocket square to your navy jacket. To make a bolder statement, go for a red Harrington jacket or red lightweight bomber jacket. Teamed with navy, black or grey, you’re sure to make a good impression.
Green exudes positivity everywhere you wear it. We Brits associate green with nature and calm. To Asians it conveys health, prosperity and peace, while to the Chinese, green signifies growth – and for the Japanese, it’s the colour of luck.
Make your outfit radiate the calm positivity of green, by heeding this advice from the guys at Fashion Beans:
“No matter what shade you opt for, this masculine colour always looks best paired with blue white and grey, while darker military variants complement similarly earthy hues, such as brown and mustard wonderfully.”
Or, bring a country feel to your wardrobe with a classic tweed jacket in muted green. Cords, blazers and bomber jackets look great in green, or you could opt for something more subtle; a tie, pocket square or socks.
Boldly go blue
In the West, blue evokes cool rationality and sadness, but in many countries blue is a much more life-affirming shade. For the Japanese, it denotes love and life, while in China it signifies peace, loyalty and even immortality.
Combine these positive qualities to communicate dependability and strength. The Idle Man says blue is one of the easiest colours to wear:
“Whether it’s shades of sky, cobalt, navy or aqua, blue is colour that men should feel comfortable in, with its masculine undertones and easily worn hue, which any guy can pull off.”
Try pairing a blue blazer with a crisp white shirt. Alternatively, go for slim tapered navy chinos or good old blue jeans.
And of course blue is the colour for formal or smart casual wear. There’s nothing classier than a navy blazer worn with chinos and brown shoes to finish off the look.
Say yes to yellow
“Wake up your working wardrobe with alternatives to blue”, the people at Sartorialab say. A hue that speaks of sunny days, spring and cheerfulness, in Asia, yellow is a sacred shade and in China, yellow is the colour of royalty.
While the Americans view yellow as a light-hearted off-duty colour, we think it has a place in the office. The guys over at Fashion Beans agree, but reckon it’s a statement colour to use sparingly:
“Anchor it using neutral colours, eg pair it with white, blue grey, beige and charcoal.”
Bright yellows work best against darker skin tones. Otherwise, stick to warmer tones like mustard and gold which will lift your complexion.
Add panache with purple
This regal hue denotes wealth in Europe, mysticism in Asia and the Middle East, and serenity in the USA. With qualities like that you can’t go wrong. But use purple sparingly, and if you’re fair skinned go for a lighter shade.
Michael Drake, founder of Drakes of London, the largest independent maker of handmade ties in England, incorporates just a dash of purple into his outfits:
“Personally, I am inclined to wear purple socks with almost anything and like to think of it merely as a signature eccentricity.”
Purple teams well with beige, grey, sky blue, cobalt and teal, so there’s plenty of choice on the shirt front too.
Wear white wisely
White is the colour of death in Asia, Japan and China, but that doesn’t make it taboo. Far from it – in fact these cultures view death as a new beginning. For them, white represents the purity that the deceased take into the next life.
In the West, white has similar connotations of purity as well as symbolising peace and cleanliness.
A crisp white shirt is standard work-wear, but if you want to wear white casually, The Idle Man recommends picking a textured cotton fabric. This way, he says, “you won’t look like you’re wearing your office shirt.”
The humble white T-shirt also has plenty of potential if you have the body to pull it off. According to researchers at Nottingham Trent uni:
“A plain white T-shirt can create an illusion that broadens the shoulders and slims the waist, producing a more v-shaped body, which is a top sign of masculinity.”
And If you’re very feeling brave, the guys at Fashion Beans recommend white jeans as a “nice break from your go-to black and blue denims.”
Add a pop of pink
Until the end of the 19th century, the western world saw pink as a masculine hue – now, we see it as feminine. In Japan, pink speaks of springtime cherry blossoms – the colour of good health and life.
The guys over at Mankind defend pink with a passion, claiming it’s one of the biggest selling colours for polo shirts, and that enlightened men know pink looks great. They go on to say:
“As one guy correctly observed, a pink shirt actually looks great with a blue suit and women love it on a man.”
Pink is actually surprisingly versatile and as well as going with blue, it partners with brown, beige and white. We recommend using pink to add a pop of colour to a dull outfit.
Be original with orange
Embrace orange in your outfit and you’ll communicate warmth, energy and flamboyance. But for some people, orange has a less fiery character. To native Americans, orange has associations with healing, whereas to the Japanese it conveys balance and even courage.
The writers at Fashion Beans suggest choosing pieces that use orange as an accent colour; stripes, patterns, checks etc. If you’re not keen on being noticed, try accessorizing:
“A flash of orange injects a sense of individuality and suggests a playful side that your outfit might otherwise not show.”
Stand out from the crowd – this vibrant colour really is a must for your spring wardrobe.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to wearing colours without committing cultural faux pas. Why not head to our Facebook page and tell us how you add a dash of colour to your favorite outfit.