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Fashion & Finance: The psychology of color in the workplace

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September 14, 2012

Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, is quoted as saying, “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” Color can have a powerful effect on people’s feelings and mood, trigger scientifically noted physiological reactions, and leave a lasting impression. Color is a powerful communication tool, and whether it your wardrobe choices at work or a firm’s corporate identity, color scheme or office décor, color is influential and impactful.

Just think, color is so powerful that various religions, artists, architects, interior and fashion designers, stylists and even therapists all thoughtfully use and interpret the many shades, tones and variations in different ways. Let’s take a look at how color comes into play in accounting.

“In the red and in the black”

As any accountant or financial professional knows, “in the red” is a phrase that designates a negative or below zero value. Conversely, “in the black” is the opposite; above zero. Let’s take a closer look at these colors and some of the psychology behind them.

Red
As the phrase “in the red” is associated with something negative, more often than not, this color may not be found in CPA firm logos, on their websites, or used within corporate identity guidelines, as it can symbolize danger and be off-putting. In fact, when my firm rebranded earlier this year, we made a point not to include red in any of the new ads and visuals that we created, as the color did not fit in with our core firm values or themes, and could symbolize something negative.

However, red can have stopping power when it comes to the design of an important tax alert, power point presentation graphic, legislative update or special report that clients need to pay attention to.
Commonly associated with human emotions and feelings such as passion, love, anger and danger, red is a powerful, intense color, often stimulating a faster heartbeat and breathing. Red can also be political, as it is a color that has been related to the economic system of socialism and the political, economic and social ideology of communism.

Red apparel gets noticed by others (ever head the song “The Lady in Red?”) and in some instances can make the wearer appear heavier than they really are. Since red is an extreme color, red clothing has been said not to help people in negotiations or confrontations. It’s a color that can often be loud, obnoxious and definitely makes a bold statement.

My web research shows however, that the style experts are torn between wearing red for an interview or not. Some say yes and some say no.

What do I think? Well, my advice is that job applicants should carefully and thoughtfully consider the company or firm they are interviewing with or the client or prospect they are meeting with. Generally speaking, accounting and finance are very conservative fields, and the old gray, navy and black color scheme is classic and a dress code best practice.

However, if you are interviewing or meeting with a creative company or unique firm with a more youthful or liberal philosophy, a little red may be eye catching and help show off a winning personality. My best advice is to carefully think it through and make sure that whatever you choose for an interview or meeting, it fits in with the philosophy of the company or firm you are meeting with.

Black
Black is said to be the color of seriousness, authority and power. Just think of some of the places where the color black is used in one’s wardrobe: academic dress such as robes for graduates, black tuxedos worn during formal black-tie occasions, and, of course, the black robes often worn by lawyers and judges throughout the world.

In the fashion world, black is a popular color as it is considered timeless, elegant, chic, sexy, stylish and powerful. Just think of Coco Chanel and her black tweed suits and pearls! Classsic! Black matches most other colors in the rainbow, so it’s a good color choice for maximum wearability. The color black also makes many appear to look slimmer, and many women I know have a favorite “LBD” or “little black dress” in their closet for corporate events, business functions and dress up networking opportunities or industry award shows.

However, entirely black outfits can also be overpowering, drab, uninspiring, or make the wearer seem aloof or even macabre, so make sure to balance your wardrobe color choices so as not to appear too dreary.

In addition to red and black, here is a quick rundown of other thoughts, feelings and emotions associated with color. You may want to choose your office décor, wall color, interview outfit, vlog or TV appearance wardrobe a bit more carefully once you know some of the psychology behind color!

Green: This is a big one in our industry. It’s obviously the color of American paper currency and a nickname for money as well. It is also a symbol of growth, profitability, prosperity, abundance, financial and material wealth. Green was actually a color choice in my firm’s recently rebranded corporate identity. Coupled with our legacy color of navy blue, green is associated with protection, growth and safety for our clients, and what we have to offer of value to them.

 

Yellow: This color makes me think of warmth and happiness, but often a too-bright hue can represent anger or frustration. It can also look garish on the wrong skin tone, so choose your yellow clothing carefully!

Blue: Like red, blue is also a very emotional color, as it can be associated with feelings of sadness or depression. However, it is also described as a favorite color by many and is often preferred by men. In the workplace, I found out something interesting during my web research. From About.com: “Blue is often used to decorate offices because research has shown that people are more productive in blue rooms.”

Pink: Girly, feminine and pretty, this color could be seen as juvenile or out of place in a more serious setting. There are ways to make it work though. The outfit in this blog post might be even better suited to wear to a CPA office with a tailored black blazer thrown on top. Also, check this out!

Purple: The link I chose here is an interesting take on home design, which could translate to what you choose for your office décor.

Brown: From About.com, “Brown brings to mind feeling of warmth, comfort and security. It is often described as natural, down-to-earth, and conventional, but brown can also be sophisticated.” Brown is a great color for the fall season. Check out this stylish dress I found at Nordstrom… it features pockets (which I love) and is a great modest length for the office!

At the end of the day, dressing well in a work setting is a great way to build confidence, appear professional and earn trust from your clients and gain admiration from your peers. Knowing the science behind color may help your along the way in your career and it certainly doesn’t hurt to know what colors might work best for you.

Emily Burns Perryman is a State University of New York Fashion Institute of Technology graduate and started her career in New York City working for companies including Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Christian Dior and Jones Apparel Group. She is now e-Marketing Communications Specialist for Freed Maxick CPAs in Buffalo, N.Y., and was named the Association for Accounting Marketing's 2011 "Rookie of the Year." Follow her on Twitter @FreedMaxickCPAs or email her at emily.burns@freedmaxick.com.

 

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