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7 Surprising Things Your Outfit Color Says About You

Here's why yellow might be off-putting and blue could land you the job.

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Asian couple man and woman using laptop computer wall background with copy space

Blue means business

You really can’t go wrong with wearing blue. Back in 2013, research from CareerBuilder found that blue was the color the highest number of hiring managers thought was the best color to wear for an interview. Where do the positive associations with blue come from? Well, it all has to do with color psychology. Sally Augustin, PhD, Principal at Design With Science and Fellow of the American Psychological Association, told Reader’s Digest that blue is “linked to impressions of trustworthiness and competence.” “It is also the color that people are most likely to name as their preferred color, worldwide,” Dr. Augustin added. Of course, there’s more to getting a job than what color you wear, as these tips from HR departments demonstrate.

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Close up attractive African American couple huging and holding red heart balloon.
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Red leads to romance

Red is an interesting color in terms of color psychology. It’s bold, eye-catching, and is definitely flattering on many people. Shopping for the Real You author Andrea Pflaumer even says that “many people believe that red is a power color.” So it sounds so far, so good for a professional clothing choice…but there are other things to consider. There’s a reason red is so associated with Valentine’s Day. Pflaumer calls the color “arousing,” and Augustin notes its associations with “danger and romance, which are probably not good associations in a job search context.” Essentially, red will definitely make you stand out, but perhaps not in the way you want. If you’ve got a date or are heading out on the town hoping to meet someone, red is a great choice. But you might want to avoid it for a job interview.

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Happy african young man dressed in gey t-shirt and wearing eyeglasses using laptop and sitting at the table.
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Gray and black help you blend in

Feel like flying under the radar? Slip into some gray. The color is subtle without being overly conservative, and elegant yet unassuming. The same goes for black, which makes an interesting choice. On the one hand, black does convey authority and sophistication, but on the other, it can also be considered a “safe” color, especially if you wear an entirely black outfit. Los Angeles interior designer John Linden has noticed a mindset that “you can’t go wrong with black,” since it does look chic and sophisticated, but that can backfire. “All-black outfits indicate fear to step out of [your] comfort zone,” he told Reader’s Digest. Therefore, if you’re in a situation where you’re inherently going to stand out anyway, like a solo presentation, black might be a good choice to counterbalance that and convey a steady authority. But if you’re trying to stand out among others, consider a bolder color. Beyond specific colors, find out what you shouldn’t be wearing to a job interview.

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Portrait of a young, beautiful, attractive and intelligent looking Indian Asian businesswoman explaining a concept by sketching on a whiteboard. She is wearing a preppy green sweater and glasses.

Green and teal spark creativity

The color green appeases our senses on a primitive level. It tells us that we are safe in a fertile, water-rich environment, above freezing temperatures, and with enough food to survive. Natural shades of green are calming and reassuring. Dr. Augustin recommends green for this reason, as well as a psychological link to “rebirth” and, by extension, creativity. If you want to get specific, one shade of green that can have an especially positive psychological impact is teal. “Teal…is a combination of blue and green,” Pflaumer explains. “[It’s] a universal color that anyone can wear. Teal conveys both stability and authority without appearing subdued or conservative in the way navy or paler blues might.”

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Pink Skirt
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Pink shows positivity

Don’t be afraid of pink—that means you too, men! “Pink is an approachable color and can convey friendliness,” says Jennifer Thoden, color expert and founder of Your Color Style. “When going into a social environment, wearing pink will soften your appearance and open the door of communication.” She adds that combining it with a dark, bolder color like navy makes an approachable-looking combo and softens the darker color. “This is true for men and women,” Thoden concludes. So it’s definitely a good choice to make a positive impression, but it is on the softer side. If you want to make a strong impression and come across as bold, you may want to choose a darker, more striking color.

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Waist-up shot of happy and delighted handsome young man in glasses and yellow sweater tilting head, smiling and laughing as looking friendly at camera on right side of copy space over gray background
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Approach yellow with caution

When it comes to yellow, treat it the way you would a yellow traffic light: Approach with caution, because yellow can be polarizing. On the one hand, it’s seen as a very positive color in general. “Yellow is a warm and fun color. Most people identify yellow with sunshine and happiness,” says Thoden. “When you’re feeling playful, popping yellow into your outfit can bring a smile to others and to yourself.” On the other hand, “playfulness” may not be what you’re trying to convey in a workplace setting, and overuse of yellow can be off-putting. Augustin acknowledges that many people tend to dislike the color yellow, but the people who do like it respond very positively to it. “People who like the color yellow do feel more positively about it than people whose favorite color is not yellow feel about their favorite colors,” she told Reader’s Digest. But if your boss isn’t one of those people, a yellow ensemble might be one of the things your boss wishes you’d stop wearing to work.

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Stylish girl in gray pants and white cotton blouse posing near white wall. Photo of woman in cap and glasses
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White shows organization

In order to keep an all-white ensemble crisp and clean, the wearer must be at the top of his or her game. If you’re sure you’re the type of person who falls into this category, try it out on a job interview in a creative field, or to dinner with your parents. There’s no better way to show them you’ve got it together (through your clothing choice, anyway).

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Group of young people in jeans and colorful t-shirts jumping near light wall
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The bottom line…

While these guidelines are definitely a good starting point, and plenty of research has been conducted on color psychology, how people perceive colors is also very subjective at the end of the day. “People have personal associations to particular colors,” Augustin sums up. This doesn’t just go for how others perceive you, but for colors you yourself like as well. “If you…feel capable and powerful while wearing [a certain color], you should do so, because it is likely that when you’re wearing ‘your’ color you’ll carry yourself with more confidence.” Read on for more science-backed tips to boost your confidence.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.