Fashion, textiles, and the psychology of color

We tend to think of colors as simply what we need to match together in an outfit or a room. But have you ever considered that there is more to color than just appearance?

Color is deeply psychological. First of all, color can create a “mood” or atmosphere, and it can express an emotion, or how we’re feeling. And, color can help us convey an idea or brand image. Mobile phone company Orange used… you guessed it… the color orange for its branding. But why? The tone of orange that the company adopted was a clean, modern color. You wouldn’t really find it in an antique painting, for example. It was close to the orange used frequently in 1960s textiles and fashion. So, it had both a feeling of modernity and of being familiar.

Color has cultural connotations, of course. And it’s probably no coincidence that Orange mobile emerged at a time when Buddhism was becoming popular in the West — Buddhist monks wear orange robes; and Buddhist monks, we believe, are trustworthy and ethical, not to mention spiritual — which, like modernity, signifies uncluttered.

Here’s another example of psychology and color: Japanese designer Issey Miyake has used a photograph of several rows of Japanese men, wearing black, behind a caucasian women, wearing white, in his promotional material. Why? Traditionally in the West black clothing signified ‘death,’ ‘funerals,’ and so on. Not in Japan. In that country, it’s the reverse: white is the color of death; black is the color traditionally worn every day. If the  Japanese men and the woman had worn the opposite colors many Japanese people, at least, would have associated it with death — a very bad idea, from a commercial perspective. Instead, the use of the black and white, male and female, called to mind the yin yang of Asian culture, signifying balance, motion, life, serenity, and so on.

Think again of Apple’s signature white color for its products, which not only helps it stand out from the crowd of computers and mobile devices, but which conveys the idea of sophistication and an almost futuristic leap into the future (remember astronauts wearing white?).

When designers think about color they will want to research through museums, galleries, magazines, and more. And they are also going to want to turn to Pantone, the color standard company that produces swatches for textiles, fashion, graphics, and more. If you flip through a Pantone book, you’ll be struck by the thousands of tonal variations for a single color.

Pantone would probably tell us that there is no such thing as “orange,” “white,” “black,” and so on. There are thousands of tones of each. More to the point, there are thousands of things a designer can say by making the right choice of color and tone, and using the right mix of colors in their work.

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