The Colour Of Magic

There was a  management fad a while ago that I’m sure is still alive and well in some corner of Corporateville to provide new recruits to grad schemes with fashion advice. No doubt this was designed to curb the wave of bright young things coming into the office in un-ironed shirts or the kind of body-con dresses that can play havoc with the blood pressure of the senior partners. The good consultants went beyond the condescending (“Wear a suit. No, not one from Topshop”) and started to provide advice on what colours best matched your skin tone… although I distinctly remember seeing pretty much everyone from one intake rush out and by purple shirts and ties after one session so I guess even fashion consultants get lazy?

The good ones started to look for opportunities to upsell their services to more seasoned executives closer to the top of the corporate ladder. These sessions focused less on the career benefits of investing in a good mouthwash and introduced colour theory into the workplace. Want to seem dependable? Wear this colour. Need to come across as friendly? Avoid these shades. That sort of thing.

I’ve never held much by the benefit of this sort of thing myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that colours, much like smells and sounds can trigger emotional connections and memories. Doing maths sums is supposed to make someone most likely to think of the colour red, for example, and there’s something inherently recognisable and comfortable in the associations drawn in the chart above (developed by The Logo Company — http://thelogocompany.net/blog/infographics/psychology-color-logo-design/ and http://thelogocompany.net/logo-color-choices/ ). Yet in the real world we are faced with so many stimuli that the psychological benefit is watered down beyond belief. How can you really expect the colour of a man’s shirt to make him seem dependable when offset against a rainbow of other wavelengths hitting the retina?

Where I do see a benefit is in our writing. Good writing does a lot of the filtering for the reader, choosing to describe just enough to create the scene and provide the descriptive hooks for the reader’s imagination to hang emotional reactions on. In this environment, mentioning a single colour can have a much bolder impact.

Easton sits back against the edge of the conference table and casually straightens his aquamarine tie. ‘Sure,’ he says. ‘What could go wrong?’

Easton sits back against the edge of the conference table and casually straightens his fire-engine red tie. ‘Sure,’ he says. ‘What could go wrong?’

What do you think? Is there a difference?

4 thoughts on “The Colour Of Magic

  1. Jane

    There is a saying clothes maketh the man. If you turned up for interview for a top city job in a kipper tie which played music, accompanied by dirty fingernails, would you offer them the job ?
    If you turned up for interview, say, bricklayer, in a pin stripe suit, with perfectly manicured nails, would you offer them the job?
    Appearance, including choosing the correct colour is vital.

  2. nom

    I agree, colour does make a difference. Going to a cocktail party in a black suit / black dress? Sure: Stable, dependable, expected, normal. Going to the same party in a black suit with purple-paisely waistcoat / dress? OK, here’s something a little different, the purple suggests something is up (but the paisley is *so* 1989 – I hope this is an historical story!).

    In the example you gave, I’d be cautious of both characters. The red tie suggests bold, adventurous, attention seeking, maybe even shifty. The aquamarine tie? It’s already gone wrong…

    1. pigfender Post author

      Do the ties suggest that because your thinking about it, or did you actually find yourself having a slightly different interpretation while reading the two examples?

      Also, an apology: It has been drawn to my attention that there is, in fact, no such thing as ‘fire engine red’, and that fire departments (in Britain at least) all use different shades.

  3. nom

    pigfender asked, “Do the ties suggest that because your thinking about it, or did you actually find yourself having a slightly different interpretation while reading the two examples?”

    nom replied, “” which, on reflection, that was probably not a sufficiently thorough explanation (actually, he thought he had replied in more detail, but it’s not here so he clearly didn’t).

    The more detailed response is: yes, the different coloured ties did lead to different interpretations. The interpretations I gave were probably also influenced by the character’s actions (sitting “back against the edge of the conference table” and “casually” adjusting his tie) and words, but the colour of the ties still made a difference above and beyond that.

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