Updated: May 25
Colour is a hugely valuable tool when it comes to your professional image and style. It’s one of the strongest ways that you can communicate through your image because it's the first thing that people will notice on you and it has an immediate impact, particularly when it comes to first impressions.
You can use colour in so many ways:
It can help you reflect your personality through your style
It can help you build a consistent signature style aesthetic when you stick to the colours that work best for you
It can help you be perceived in different ways
It can influence the mood of people that you meet with as well as your own mood and how you feel
It can help you stand out and be memorable
And on top of all of that, the colour you wear impacts the way you look - when you wear colours that work for you - that is, they are in harmony with your hair, eye and skin colour - you will simply look amazing.
Whereas colours that aren’t right for you can make you look washed out, tired or drained.
Before I get into some of the best ways to use colour in business or in the workplace if you’re a female professional or leader, I’m going to do a quick overview of colour analysis and how it works.
Colour analysis is based on finding the colours that harmonise with your own natural colouring. It started with four seasons - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (known as seasonal colour analysis).
For many years, the seasonal system was used to identify the colours that would suit you.
That system was later expanded and each season was divided into three different types - giving us twelve individual palettes, which are much more specific to your individual colouring and characteristics than just the broad, overall season.
There are lots of different tools and quizzes online to help you figure out your colouring - and while you might be able to do this at a basic level, my recommendation if you really want to know what colours suit you best is to have a colour analysis with a qualified and trained professional.
When I do a colour analysis for a client, I’m not just looking at what palette they are; I’m also looking for their standout colours within that palette that are absolute winners for them as well as their contrast level which determines how to mix and match colours in the most harmonious and flattering way.
Why is it important to know what colours work for you, especially when it comes to your professional image?
When you understand colour, and what colours make you look best, you can build your wardrobe around this, starting with your neutral colours, which are best for your base or key pieces, and then add in your accent colours in supporting pieces and items.
When you do this, you will find that everything mixes and matches seamlessly and easily, plus it will save you so much time and money when shopping. Wearing colours that best suit you will also make you seem healthier, younger and far more radiant.
So knowing your colours and your colour palette is the first thing that I recommend you do if you really want to leverage its power.
Now let’s have a look at how to use colour strategically and successfully in the workplace through three key ways.
1. Know how to create presence and gravitas with contrast
The first key way to use colour strategically and successfully in the workplace is with contrast.
Contrast (or the difference between colours) is a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to visually displaying presence. When we see someone wearing high contrast, such as the combinations below, we perceive them as being more dominant, formal and commanding.
These can be great combinations for speaking engagements, presentations and so forth, but they can also be too strong and intimidating for many professional environments and situations. They also only really suit individuals with very bright or dark colouring themselves.
On the other hand, low contrast combinations can look very elegant but can render you almost invisible so they’re ineffective if you want to create presence.
This level of contrast is best for a low key casual look or a soft graceful evening look and works best for people with low contrast in their own colouring.
Medium contrast is the mid point and it's the most people friendly and professionally effective combinations.
They also suit everybody, no matter whether you have low, medium or high contrast in your own colouring.
So when it comes to creating presence and gravitas, a medium contrast is the safest combination to go for.
2. Choose colours according to the message you want to convey
The second key way to use colour strategically and successfully in the workplace is to choose colours according to the message you want to convey. Given that colour is the first thing that we notice on someone, it's an incredibly powerful tool that can support and influence your messaging.
Blue is the most universally liked colour so it is a safe colour to wear. It is ideal to wear in serious, formal settings when you want to be seen as professional and credible.
Red is the colour most often associated with power in the western world, and it will project authority and can be worn to show you are in control.
Really dark colours (such as navy, black or charcoal) are seen as commanding and credible. But be aware that an all black outfit, especially a black suit or black trousers and top can make you seem unimaginative as well as severe and unfriendly.
Really rich colours, such as burgundy and rich purples, are seen as sophisticated and elegant and can be great substitutes for black.
Light and pastel colours are seen as fresh, innocent and sometimes childlike or girly, they portray the least professional presence but can work when combined with a darker colour such as grey or navy.
You can read more about colours and the messages they send in a previous post I wrote here.
3. Choose colours according to the mood and energy that you want to feel
This is one of the best uses of colour, because every colour is going to affect your mood and energy, and help to set the tone for your day.
If you would like to feel more active and uplifted, choose warmer colours such as reds, oranges, yellows. Just be mindful not to wear these colours in excess as they can cause anxiety and overstimulation, so pair with one of your best neutrals or another colour.
If you'd like to set a a mood that is more peaceful and tranquil, choose cooler colours such as cool blues, purples and greens. These colours are more passive and can help you to focus or induce a sense of calm in a busy day. They will also attract less attention than warmer colours.
So there you have 3 key ways that you can use colour strategically and successfully in the workplace, and I hope this helps you understand the best colours to wear.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to know more about how you can leverage the power of personal style in your professional life, book your complimentary style discovery call with me.