"Roses are red…" begins the famous love poem, evoking the color of desire, passion and romance. But where do these associations come from, exactly, and just how powerful are they? A few years ago, a research team at the University of British Columbia set out to investigate how color impacts the way we think, and the results were nothing short of illuminating. People who performed tasks in front of blue backgrounds displayed a more creative thought process, while those tested against a red backdrop revealed acute attention to detail and accuracy, rather than expansive thinking. It would be easy to link these findings to everyday cultural associations: red isn't just the color of love, it's also the color of alarms, and danger makes us alert and aware. Blue, meanwhile, is the calming color of the sea and sky on a glorious summer's day.
But according to Angela Wright, acclaimed color psychologist, consultant, and author of The Beginner's Guide to Color Psychology, there's much more to color than meets the proverbial eye. "Color is light", she reminds us. "It's universal, not cultural, and those conditioned reactions are relatively superficial." We thought it was high time to look into just how color - in our homes, clothes, accessories, make-up and even hair - can impact our mood and behavior, and how we can use it to enhance our lives.
BALANCE AND HARMONY
When it comes to colors, there's no such thing as the "wrong" hue for well-being - it's all about how you pair it up. Take vibrant red, for instance: is it thrilling, or hostile, passionate or angry? It's all about context.
"The story of red is that it's physically stimulating", explains Wright. "It raises the blood pressure, creates the impression that time is passing faster, and encourages an over-estimate of temperature." So whether you find red energizing and exciting, or aggressive and demanding, you can easily personalize the impact of your color choices by experimenting with clever combinations. "People often choose aggressive color combinations in their wardrobe just because they want to be edgy," says Wright. "But they don'’t realize that it may be affecting their well-being." So why not channel your fiery red dress in a powerful yet inviting direction by pairing it with a rich, warm blue instead of a cold, strong black? Or take a cue from Mother Earth and try matching greens - a color of serenity and calm, but one that can also reflect immobility and lack of progress - with vibrant, floral-red make-up accents to revitalize and re-energize your palette.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Our color choices can reflect a subconscious response to what' going on in our environment - the way we decorate our homes and build our wardrobes changes from times of recession to periods of optimism, from gloomy winter days to the welcome start of summer. If you've noticed a muted atmosphere in some of your city's boutique window displays lately, there may be a deeper explanation: "Grey is the color of austerity", says Wright. "The human instinct is the same as that of the natural world: when our surroundings turn grey, we want to hibernate." Wright warns against decorating an office in the somber tone: "You're actually creating a situation where your personnel will need to fight their natural instinct to fall asleep!"
If the grey patch is more personal in nature, there's plenty of easy ways to lighten your mood: bright lipsticks and lively hair colors go a long way towards improving one's outlook. "When women are going through an intense time, they'll often go blond", explains Wright of our natural impulse to counter-balance the doldrums. "And when a fiery woman feels she's being ignored, she'll often dye her hair bright red!" She also suggests that recent neon fashions may mark a step in an exciting, optimistic direction. "Synthetic colors may be a way of seizing control in a chaotic world", she says. Try weathering the storm with a festive nail or lip color to come out energized, radiant, and ready to seize the day.
THE RAINBOW DIET
We often hear that eating different colored food is great for our physique and general health - mix vibrant greens, oranges and reds in with the browns and whites of grains and dairy, and you're régime is guaranteed to be balanced for beauty. Likewise, a colorful visual diet may well be the best thing for our emotional and physical wellbeing. "Every waking moment, we're adapting, physiologically, to the colors that surround us - the ones we're wearing, and the ones that inhabit our décor", says Wright. "Different wavelengths strike our eyes in different ways, and we need all the seven spectral hues."
For a healthy mood boost, check your make-up, wardrobe and accessories: are you getting all your color groups, or are you stuck in a monochrome rut? If this season's yellow polka dots or electric nail polishes aren't your thing, don't sweat it: adding some colorful pop to your repertoire doesn't mean you have to throw out your go-to black or grey staples.
"When people say black is 'safe' it's not just because you can wear it with everything", explains Wright. "It's the ultimate security blanket. It absorbs all the energy that's coming towards you and can literally protect you."
So if you're going to a party but you're unsure of the crowd, a black frock can really enhance your self-esteem. Wright suggests adding just a drop of colorful flair - even if it's imperceptible to others, it can make a world of difference to how you project yourself: "There’s nothing like a pair of brightly-colored underwear to ward off the heavy, downward energy of a black city wardrobe." If there's an easier - or cheekier - antidote to the daily grind, we haven't heard of it.