What Color Should You Wear to Get Noticed?

We are spotted and judged based on what we wear.

Posted Jul 03, 2020

We have all heard of the “lady in red.” But is the attention merely because of the color, or is there something else? After all, we wouldn’t necessarily notice anyone wearing just any shade of red, would we? Research has some answers.

Image by Виктория Бородинова from Pixabay
Source: Image by Виктория Бородинова from Pixabay

When Judging Personality, Chroma is Key

Adam D. Pazda and Christopher A. Thorstenson (2019) investigated how we perceive strangers depending on color intensity.[i] Recognizing that color impacts psychological functioning, they set out to specifically investigate how chroma impacts person perception—especially with respect to the Big Five personality traits. They defined chroma as “the colorfulness of an area judged as a proportion of the brightness of a similarly illuminated area that appears white or highly transmitting.”

Using the color red as an example, they distinguish between colors with a red hue that vary on a “chroma continuum” between what they describe as “completely gray (achromatic), faded red (e.g., Nantucket red; moderately chromatic), and intense red (e.g., fire truck red; highly chromatic).”

They found that subjects who were wearing or were surrounded by high-chroma colors were perceived as being more open and extraverted than when they were wearing or surrounded by low-chroma colors. Specifically, their research contributed to the understanding of how chroma impacts perception when viewing both men and women. A meta-analysis across a series of experiments indicated that high-chroma colors enhanced perceptions of openness and extraversion, but not perceptions of conscientiousness, agreeableness, or emotional stability.

Color Palette and Personality

Apparently, color selection may make a significant impact both personally and professionally. Pazda and Thorstenson recognize that as applied to the working world, for example, colors matter. Personality is an important part of many occupations, and if chroma colors perception, clothing can be strategized accordingly. For example, they note that extraverts are in their element in fields like marketing and customer service, and suggest that consequently, people applying for these jobs might be viewed as a better fit for the position if they show up for the interview wearing highly chromatic clothes.

Switching from professional to personal, they also speculate that online daters might attract similar personalities by intentionally selecting chroma-matched clothing. Could it be that easy? No doubt people will give it a try. 

Feeling Blue or Seeing Red? The Impact of Color on Emotions

Research has also explored how viewing different colors impacts mood. Lisa Wilms and Daniel Oberfeld (2018) investigated the effect of three dimensions of color: hue, saturation, and brightness.[ii] Specifically, they varied hue (blue, green, red), saturation (low, medium, high), and brightness (dark, medium, bright), presenting 27 chromatic colors on an LED display, in addition to 3 brightness-matched achromatic colors.

In their study, after viewing the colors for 30 seconds, subjects rated their emotional state in terms of valence and arousal, while heart rate and skin conductance were continuously measured. In measuring the ratings of emotion, saturated and bright colors were linked with higher levels of arousal. The authors also found that hue had a significant impact on arousal, increasing from blue and green to red.  

Wilms and Oberfeld discovered the highest valence ratings for bright and saturated colors, which was also dependent on hue. Regarding physical arousal, they also noted that achromatic colors caused a short-term deceleration in heart rate, while chromatic colors prompted the opposite effect, creating an acceleration. Taken together, they note that their results indicate that color impacts observer emotional state not only in terms of hue, but by all three color dimensions, and interactions.

What does this mean for painting walls and making wardrobe choices? According to the authors, within relevant literature, as well as in fields like interior design, people often make assumptions about the impact of color on emotion. Knowledge of the subtle differences is important. 

Regarding which color might be most alluring, Wilms and Oberfeld found that after controlling for saturation and brightness, the color red was most arousing, followed by green and blue. What is the least arousing color? They note that gray received the lowest average arousal ratings—an effect they attributed to saturation.

They note that their data has implications for using color in applied design contexts, as well as when using colors to create a certain mood, remembering that it is important to consider the ways in which hue, saturation, and brightness interact with each other.

Color and Character

Obviously, first impressions are significant, but so is the process of exploring the person behind the persona; the character behind the color. Research findings are interesting and informative to help explain why we might feel the way we do about situations and settings, and while that information is valuable, investing the time to uncover relational goals and values is priceless.


[i] Pazda, Adam D., and Christopher A. Thorstenson. 2019. “Color Intensity Increases Perceived Extraversion and Openness for Zero-Acquaintance Judgments.” Personality and Individual Differences 147 (September): 118–27. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.04.022.

[ii] Lisa Wilms and Daniel Oberfeld. 2018. “Color and emotion: Effects of hue, saturation, and brightness.” Psychological Research, Vol 82(5), (September): 896-914.