Since ancient times, colors have been important in art, architecture, decor, fabrics, and more. Colored pigments were found in prehistoric cave paintings that were painted over 17,0000 years ago in France. So, how does color fit into our everyday lives in the modern world?
What's your favorite color?
Colors have only been studied since the 1890s. Generally, since the first studies were conducted, it has been confirmed over and over that the color blue is preferred overall. Yellow-green is the least favorite color. Favorite colors may be influenced by gender, culture, age, and other factors. Additional studies have found that even animals and birds have color preferences.
Different colors for different situations
But even though we may have a favorite color, that doesn't mean we believe that that color will suit all circumstances. Though blue is favored in general, people do not necessarily want a blue house, a blue car, or blue walls.
Color can affect moods, feeling, creativity, and energy.
White is often preferred for walls, because it creates a spacious feeling, and evokes quiet and the ability to concentrate. Shades of white, and neutral/natural colors are often chosen for the exterior of homes. For cars, red is a popular choice.
How does color factor into our clothing choices?
Black is the clothing color most preferred by women.
Men prefer blue or dark blue
Is there a one-size fits all?
Clothing color selection for each individual is complicated, and recommendations for women’s clothing colors vary. Skin tone (warm, cool), skin lightness or darkness, hair color, and eye color are used to try and determine the most pleasing color for each face.
For years, stylists have indicated that clothing color should be chosen with skin undertones in mind. Warm skin tones (yellow/gold) should wear warm colors (reds/oranges), and cool skin tones should wear cool colors (blues). But there has been no scientific basis for fabric color recommendations - until recently...
Approaching Color Selection Scientifically
A study conducted in 2021 at the University of St. Andrews looked at which colors would best suit light or tanned skin white women (https://phys.org/news/2021-11-complexion-basis-aesthetics-choices.html). There were 160 study participants who were asked to match 12 women’s faces with what they felt was the best color for each face. The subjects’ hair was covered as much as possible, so the hair color would not interfere with the participants’ selection of clothing color.
Woman with a fair complexion (light eyes and skin tone, left) and a dark complexion (dark eyes and skin tone, right). Lower panels show the colours of simulated clothing that were selected for fair and tanned faces. Credit: University of St Andrews
The participants chose blue colors for light skinned subjects, and red/orange colors for tanned subjects.
The University stated, “Scientists at the University of St Andrews have finally proved what every discerning fashionista knows—a person's complexion determines the color of clothing that suits them.”
But that’s not the end of the story…
In 2023, the University of St. Andrews released the results of a new study focusing on eye color and clothing color (https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-10-eye-plays-aesthetics.html). Researchers completed the study in two parts, and used groups of 100 participants in each. Some subjects' faces were modified so that skin color was more uniform (light skinned subject photos were darkened, and dark-skinned subject photos were lightened), and would not factor into the results.
Left: images of light (top) and darker (bottom) complexion faces. Right: the same images with eyes swapped. From a spectrum of colors, light blue clothing was chosen most frequently for the faces with light eyes and brick red clothing was chosen most when the eyes were dark. Credit: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (2023). DOI: 10.1037/aca0000626
This study found that a person’s eye color is most important in determining which clothing color suits them. Blue fabrics are favored for subjects with blue or gray eyes, and orange/red fabric hues match with dark brown eyes.
Even when participants were instructed to match clothing to skin tones, they used eye color as a basis for clothing color choice. The analysis indicated that,
"The emphasis on skin color for personal clothing color choice may be misplaced."
The study results suggested that matching skin color and clothing color is advisable when the wearer is seen at a distance (where eye color is not as visible), but for close encounters, clothing matched to the eyes is most important.
If you’re going to be making a presentation, or in a situation where you are farther away from your audience, consider clothing in fabric colors that complement the lightness/darkness of your skin.
If you’re going to be in a situation where you’re close up and want to make an impression, you should consider clothing that complements your eye color.
And if you still can’t decide, you can go with the women's tried and true favorite – Black!
1) Bakker, IC., van der Voordt, DJM., Vink, P., de Boon, J., & Bazley, C. (2015). Color preferences for different topics in connection to personal characteristics. Color Research and Application, 40(1), 62-71. https://doi.org/10.1002/col.21845 Publication date 2015
Clothing Aesthetics: Consistent Colour Choices to Match Fair and Tanned Skin Tones
3) Perrett, D. I. (2023). Eye color is more important than skin color for clothing color aesthetics. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/aca0000626
- Provided by University of St Andrews