Color is a powerful tool for communication, and it’s also one of the ways we self-identify. The color of our clothing serves as a signal to others; it tells them who we are. When we get dressed each morning, we’re telling ourselves who we aim to be and how we hope to feel, with color as a vital component. 

“The color of our clothing serves as a signal to others; it tells them who we are.”

For centuries, theorists have attempted to understand the meaning attached to various hues. History, rules, and laws have both forbid and required people to wear specific palettes. Doctors and nurses, for example, wear specified uniforms in designated hues. Color has often been used to exemplify status, too. During the Tudor period, England’s sumptuary laws forbid anyone under the rank of “knight of the garter” from wearing crimson. It was the most expensive to produce and thus reserved for higher ranking individuals to flaunt their wealth. 

There’s no doubt that color can play a significant role in our wardrobes and our lives. The question then is, how can we choose the right color to impact our mood?

Putting Color Into Context

Color psychology is both fascinating and incredibly controversial. “Most of today’s conversations on colors and persuasion consist of hunches [and] anecdotal evidence,” writer Gregory Ciotti explains in Psychology Today. Each individual’s feelings about color will ultimately be informed by their experiences, making it difficult to stand by blanket statements about colors’ effects. There are certainly recurring themes when it comes to different shades, but context is ultimately key.

“There are certainly recurring themes when it comes to different shades, but context is ultimately key.”

Color meaning can vary vastly across cultures. In India, red is the most traditional color for brides because it represents prosperity and purity, as well as passion and power. In many Western countries black is worn for mourning, though in some east Asian cultures, white is preferred for funerals, as it’s a nod to celebrating life.

Historically, color has also been a form of resistance—like when movie stars wore black at the Golden Globes to raise awareness about the #MeToo movement. We’ve also recently seen color used in a cultural movement for Black women, with the hashtag #BlackWomenInYellow trending, and celebrities like Rihanna, Viola Davis, and Beyoncé donning the shade. “Black women in yellow is boldness, the context of the colour changes completely,” color psychologist Dr. Dawnn Karen told Refinery 29 in a recent interview. “Black women looking good in yellow is essentially a culture thing, the washed out narrative is no more.”

All this to say, context matters, but there are many common themes within color psychology.

Finding Your Color Palette 

How do you find what colors work for you? Start with the basic knowledge of “warm” versus “cool” and “muted” versus “vibrant” tones. Then, start experimenting! The specific meanings accepted by color therapy and psychology may not be true for everyone, but they are a great launching point.

Green and blue hues (often referred to as “cool” colors) can help to achieve a sense of calm. Likewise, reds, oranges, and yellows (or “warm” colors) can boost your mood. Each of these colors takes on a different meaning when separated into different shades. More muted or light hues can invite a quieter and softer posture, while bolder shades can bring out more energy in the environment or yourself.

“Take a look in your wardrobe and see what emotions come up with each color.”

Take a look in your wardrobe and see what emotions come up with each color. Try muted tones with pops of color—does this raise or lower your confidence level? Experiment with various activities as well. Does green feel calming when you’re eating breakfast but heavy when you’re working? Through trial and error, you can find the right combination for your moods.

Finding Your Perfect Shade

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you get started:

Anger, love, passion, and power 

Red is often a contradictory color, and it tends to bring out strong emotions on either end of the spectrum. As already mentioned, some cultures use red to signify prosperity, while in others, the color alludes to danger.

Wear red when you want to feel bold. It can help you stand out in a crowd (or on a Zoom call!), and it makes a powerful impression on a first date. Because it’s a fiery hue, red can also be a great uniform when you’re hoping to fight for a cause you’re passionate about.

Enthusiasm, attention, happiness, and energy 

Orange is a vibrant and attention-grabbing color (hello, construction cones!). We associate it with energy and enthusiasm, and it can bring about happiness, especially if you have fond feelings about changing leaves and the fall season.

“Wear orange when you want to feel extroverted, like a social butterfly.”

Wear orange when you want to feel extroverted, like a social butterfly. Similar to red, orange is not for the faint of heart. Many suggest wearing the color when working out or participating in group physical activities for these reasons. 

Brightness, energy, warmth, and attention 

In the US, we’re used to seeing yellow signs and markings as a means to get our attention and communicate helpful information. At the same time, we associate the color with the sun, brightening our lives, warming our skin, and giving us energy through the all-important vitamin D.

Wear yellow when you want to embrace joy. It’s hard to feel sad when surrounded by this glowing shade, which is why we so often associate the color with spring and summer. It’s the perfect color when you need a little pick-me-up!

Luck, envy, nature, and safety 

“Wear green when you’re hoping to feel grounded or renewed.”

Green can provide a sense of calm and safety. The color has also long symbolized fertility and luck. On the other hand, “the green-eyed monster” is a trope often used to convey envy.

Wear green when you’re hoping to feel grounded or renewed. This can be a very approachable color and is ideal for meeting new people. It’s also a great shade for starting a project or embarking on a new chapter in life.

Sadness, stability, productivity, and calmness 

Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean, two parts of our world that are constant. For this reason, wearing blue communicates loyalty and stability. It can help us and those around us to feel calm.

Wear blue for confidence. The color can have the ability to ease anxieties, making it an excellent shade for work or school presentations. Blue can also be a comforting color in stressful situations.

Wealth, royalty, mystery, and imagination

Purple has a long history with royalty and wealth because it was costly to procure (it was made from a rare seashell only found in what is now Lebanon!). Today, the color is also associated with mystery and the fantastical.

Wear purple when you want to feel unique or special. Like red, this color will make you stand out. Wear it to make a statement on your next virtual call! 

Romance, kindness, calmness, and nurturing 

“A mix of red and white, pink can connect with both masculine and feminine energies, despite gender stereotypes.”

Over time, pink has come to be intimately linked to the feminine and is usually associated with softness and compassion. However, pink was considered a “stronger” color in the early 20th century and therefore reserved for boys until the roles were reversed decades later. A mix of red and white, pink can connect with both masculine and feminine energies, despite gender stereotypes.

Wear pink when you’re looking to connect. This color offers a fresh and playful feeling but can also bring depth the longer it’s interacted with. Pull pink out of your closet for special romantic occasions or celebrations with loved ones. 

Nature, isolation, security, and strength 

Brown is associated with nature, so it brings a sense of security. The warm tone feels solid, much like the ground beneath our feet, but can feel depressing or “drab” in large quantities.

Wear brown when you need stillness or a moment to slow down. This color can be wonderful for a night in or a lazy weekend afternoon. Brown is also perfect when you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature instead of standing out. You can also use brown as a base for making bolder colors pop.

Mystery, boldness, power, and elegance 

Because black absorbs all light on the color spectrum, it isn’t considered a color but rather the absence of color. Black’s absorption of all colors can be seen as a power move and invoke boldness, or it can be viewed only as a lack of color and trigger sorrow, as in for mourning.

“Black’s absorption of all colors can be seen as a power move and invoke boldness.”

Wear black when you want to feel subtly strong. Black doesn’t scream assertion like red, yet it can easily intimidate others. This color can be useful for work environments where you want to be taken seriously or perceived as someone of authority.  

Peacefulness, cleanliness, innocence, and emptiness 

Another hue that contains seemingly contradictory meanings, white can be associated with innocence or purity in many western cultures, while it often symbolizes death in some eastern traditions.

Wear white to feel uplifted. White conveys a feeling of newness, so it’s a nice color to wear on the first day of a new endeavor or if you just want to feel as though you have a fresh start. 

Give yourself ample time to explore the colors in your wardrobe, and let us know what you find! What colors put you in the best mood? 🎨


Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.