What Message Is the Color You're Wearing Sending?

colors at work clothing

Bored at work? This summer, AOL Jobs will be publishing a career quiz every week to keep you entertained. This quiz was so popular with readers when it originally ran that AOL is republishing it.

You might want to think twice before you fall back on basic black every day. You may believe it looks classic and sophisticated, or maybe you're wearing it because it's just plain easy. But black could also be signaling to your co-workers that you're depressed, unimaginative, dark-spirited and/or lazy.

"The colors you wear in a professional setting are about so much more than mere fashion or style," says Sheila Dicks, professional style coach and founder of the Fashion Expert Network. "Colors send subconscious messages, and can affect your mood, as well as the mood of the workers around you."

"Whether we are conscious of it or not, the colors we choose for our business attire send a strong message," says Lynda Goldman, business communications and etiquette consultant and author of 30 books, including 'How to Make a Million Dollar First Impression.' "The image you project with a beige suit is very different from the way you look in a navy suit," she says. That's why it's absolutely essential to chose the colors you wear on a job interview with great care.

Never blue in blue

What is the one color that absolutely breathes success? Goldman says it's blue. "Studies show that navy blue is the best color for a suit to wear to a job interview, because it inspires confidence. You are more likely to get the job when you wear navy blue to an interview than any other color."

And if you're not applying for a suit-and-tie kind of job? What color then? Still blue, of a strong shade, according to Goldman. "It's the color of the sky, or 'true blue,'" she says. "It's both friendly and powerful. It connotes loyalty. Have you noticed how many companies use blue in their logo and corporate colors?" Think the ultimate friendly and connected company, Facebook. Think IBM. Look at your computer screen right now and notice how many advertisers, programs, websites and platforms use blue as their main color.

What's said about red

Now if you really want to blow away your colleagues, superiors or potential employers, throw in a splash of red. "Red is powerful and strong. It shows you're not afraid to stand out, and it gets attention," says professional image consultant Mary Lin Dedeaux of Wardrobe Perfect. She is a certified professional member of the Association of Image Consultants, Int'l and is often hired to do corporate wardrobe consultations and makeovers for companies like Merrill Lynch, Sony Entertainment, Cushman & Wakefield and Aetna, through the company Corporate Icon.

But beware of too much, or too tight red. It could get you in trouble. A tight red dress says, to put it mildly, "flirt alert." A bright red button down shirt with a dark suit and tie could look too Vegas or Mafia on a man. And while a red suit on a woman is great for politicians and public speakers, in some settings it can be a little bright and intimidating. It can also give the impression that you're flashy, and not a team player.

Blending in: When beige is best

Is there any time on the job when you don't want to stand out -- when a blah beige or dark, neutral colors could be your friends? "I know of a man who works in construction," says Dicks. "He feels that bright-colored clothing would draw too much attention to him." He worried that he would be singled out for additional, undesirable tasks and be razzed by his co-workers if he wore bright colors. It's a little like wearing camo in the military because you don't want to make yourself a target.

Still, according to the all the experts interviewed, it's hard for a male executive to be taken seriously in a beige suit. Even in summer, for the most part, "the darker the color, the more powerful the look," according to Goldman. Whether you're wearing a suit or not, beige as the predominant color in your outfit can make you look drab, dull and milquetoast. Far better to go with ivory than beige.

Here's a quick rundown of what other colors can say about you at work:


If you're wearing all-white it looks like a uniform and employees will be on tenterhooks around you, just waiting for you to explode when you attract the inevitable stain. Unless you're a painter, chef or nurse, stay away from all white.


Darker greens can connote power, class, strength and conservatism. Brighter greens tell people you're sporty, more casual and often cheerful.


Pink is not just for women anymore. Men who wear pale pink or salmon accents tell the world they're confident, daring and independent enough to sport what has previously been considered a feminine color. Women can use it to soften a strong, dark-colored suit and look more approachable. Bright, bubblegum pink or fuchsia from head to toe is just plain annoying and hurts people's eyes.


Dark purple says elegance, authority, class and a regal demeanor. Men can get away with a deep burgundy jacket to give a refined yet highly stylish impression. Women can appear strong, powerful and confident in a deep purple jacket, suit or blouse. A deep purple dressy T-shirt or button down in a very casual work environment says "I'm confident and efficient, yet not stuffy."


Yellow tells people you're casual, playful, cheerful, approachable and not afraid to take risks. Seeing yellow can cheer people up, so you're perceived as having a sunny personality just for wearing it. Watch out for mustard, however, which can make people of almost all complexions look jaundiced or otherwise unhealthy.


You have to be careful with brown. It's been touted this season as "the new black, but unless your brown clothes are fitted properly, it can make you look like a potato, a potato sack, or any of a number of unattractive brown-colored substances. When your brown clothing has the right cut, however, and is accented with blue, pink, beige, yellow, salmon, green or a host of other colors, it's a great substitute for black -- not as severe, formal or depressing.


Go easy on the orange, lest your outfit be mistaken for a caution sign, safety wear, or prison garb. Because of the intensity of most oranges, unless the clothing is extremely well made, it often looks cheap or garish. Peaches are fine and blend well with other colors, but too much bright orange can make your colleagues think you're tacky and craving attention.

So how do those bold souls brave enough to wear (gasp!) prints come across in the workplace? According to Dedeaux, plaids can say you're traditional yet sporty; polka dots can mean you're fun and have a good sense of humor, and animal prints may tell the world you're flirty and sexy. How many times have you heard someone growl or purr when you pass by in that leopard print blouse?

These are all generalizations, of course. A lot depends on the shade, your own hair color and complexion, and the contrasting accents you put with these individual colors. But knowing a hue's psychological effect can put you at an advantage when you're going on a job interview, conducting a meeting, asking for a raise or trying to fit in. And these days, we need all the help we can get.

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