In Living Color

Focuses on the role of color in fashion. Meaning of different colors; Impact of color on mood.

By Lisa Liebman, published July 1, 1996 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The fashion industry may be touting Technicolor clothing this summer, butNorma Kamali seems to be the only Seventh Avenue stylemaker actually putting color where her closet is. The designer has decreed that as of July, she and her employees will ban black from their wardrobes.

"Black was originally an elitist color for the fashion savvy," says the innovator who introduced parachute apparel in the seventies and sweatshirt dressing in the eighties. "But now black is in The Gap, in children's clothes, and yes, mere unfashionable mortals wear it. The fashion industry's been in a depressed state for quite some time now and I believe black refuels that mood and may even contribute to it."

While color alone can't possibly snap the rag trade out of its current slump, dressing in bright hues does have an impact on mood. Judith Waters, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, says they tend to "cheer us up and give people a lift, especially after a long, dreary winter."

But color can become intrusive. People may pay more attention to what you're wearing than what you have to say. What's more, it takes confidence to sport color. "You can't hide out in it," says color forecaster June Roche, corporate fashion director for Milliken, one of the country's largest textile manufacturers and dye mills. "So, if you're not going to be open to people's spontaneous reactions, don't wear it." And if you want to be taken seriously, choose pastels rather than neons, notes Waters.

That's what Vera Wang did this year when, as an alternative to white, the bridal gown designer began offering women walking down the aisle pale blue, pink, yellow, and green dresses. "As much as I've always loved tradition, a break from it can be chic as well," Wang says."Color in wedding dresses is unexpected and very exciting."

Roche also believes color gives you more energy. It's just that effect on the wearer that Kamali is after. "It's inspirational," she says, "and dressing with it is a much different experience than dressing in black. Color is like the sun, it's full of light and reflection. It's optimistic and fertile."

According to Roche, green symbolizes new growth, and, as the most energizing color, increases our sense of well-being when we wear it. Orange is also high energy; it denotes heat, fire, and the harvest. Yellow, another energetic color, indicates spontaneity, vivacity and youth. Red represents courage, valor, and passion. Light blue symbolizes water, sky, and heaven; medium blue: friendship and sincerity; royal and electric blues: strength and vibrance. Purple personifies power, royalty, and richness. But violet, Roche says, is charged with emotion; she cautions against wearing it around the sick, because it's draining.

So, might all of this color talk lead to a future fashion blackout? "Color in fashion is more than a trend," says Kamali. "It is its lifeblood. The reemergence of color is a profound shift that will have more impact than a season's hem length or change in necklines."

PHOTO (COLOR): Kamali and company in color