“The best colour in the world is the one that looks good on you.” Thank you Coco Chanel for your endless fashion wisdom. Whilst I’m usually inclined to defer to Coco on just about anything style-related, her thoughts on colour definitely have me wondering. Is colour selection really just about figuring out what looks ‘best’ on you? Or does this approach simply narrow the way that we think about colour and its potential impact on us?
Interestingly, I have lots of books about both sewing and fashion but one thing none of them mention is colour. Yet, to me, colour is such a key part of why and how I sew. As most of you know, there’s little planning involved in my selection of new projects. Instead, I just trawl fabric shops for endless hours until a fabric catches my eye. Then I either pair the fabric with a pattern I think it’s perfect for, or stash it away until I find exactly the right project. Although my being drawn towards particular patterns and projects is driven by a whole variety of factors, colour plays a massive role in how I select my fabrics.
My attraction to particular colours goes through phases. It doesn’t just influence the sorts of fabrics I select and sew – it dictates most of what I place around me at any particular time. Frequent visitors to Sew For Victory might recall that I’ve been in quite a strong and unrelenting mint green phase recently. From my favourite shoes, to my fabric choices, to my water bottle and my nail varnish – everything has been mint green. And, honestly, I’m not even slightly mad about it. You see, I firmly believe that our colour preferences and choices are tied heavily to our mood and general place in life. I’ve become more and more interested in this as I’ve delved deeper into both the various dynamics of self-care and sewing, as well as trying to understand my own very prevalent attachments to colour.
The psychology of colour impacting our moods is actually very well documented. Throughout history, people have created dominant associations between particular colours and certain emotions, thoughts, and situations. Red has, for example, become almost synonymous with love and romance. However, our colour choices go beyond this in actually having a demonstrable impact on the way that we feel. According to Professor of Psychology Andrew Elliot, some evidence points toward green as having a particularly calming effect on us “because it is associated with growth and nature.” (1) Similarly, orange “is said to stimulate enthusiasm and creativity,” (2) which is good news for us sewists! One really powerful study from back in 1982 found that colour has a dramatic impact on the health and wellbeing of children. As reported by the New York Times (the article is well worth a read if you’re interested), school room colour and lighting changes saw a drop in the children’s mean systolic blood pressure from “120 to 100, or nearly 17 percent…” Their behaviour also changed for the positive. (3)
So what does this mean for us sewists? Colour definitely doesn’t have to be a conscious choice because, ultimately, if it makes you feel good then there’s really no need to interrogate. However, sometimes understanding the impact that colour has on our mood can help us to make purposeful choices in order to move ourselves in a particular direction. If we’re feeling down, throwing on a bright dress can certainly work wonders! As with everything, colour is obviously no miracle cure. But I was super impressed by the amount of evidence out there to suggest that colour really can have a demonstrable and measurable impact on the way that we feel. Having browsed around and plucked different pieces of information from different places, here’s a summary of colours and the moods most strongly associated with them (I’ve included a list of articles at the end of this post, if you’re interested!):
Red: Stimulates and excites. Can be associated with passion and love.
Orange: Stimulates creativity and enthusiasm. Also associated with feelings of playfulness and warmth.
Yellow: Creates positive emotions, such as hope and happiness.
Green: Creates a sense of calm and relaxation, largely due to the association with nature.
Blue: Calms the mind and provides a sense of concentration. Can also be associated with trust and security.
Purple: Creates a sense of calm and soothing. Purple is also historically associated with spirituality, so can help you to feel spiritually connected (is that’s your cup of tea!)
Pink: A calming colour that stimulates a sense of safety and connection with femininity.
I find it so reassuring to know that something as simple as picking a colour to wear can help my mood. Even working with bright and playful colours on my sewing machine has a very real impact on my mindset. Although I couldn’t find the evidence out there during my search, it would make sense that there is also a sort of reverse relationship here – meaning that we might be ‘drawn’ to particular colours as a reflection of how we feel or (if you believe it) what we most need at a given time.
Part of the reason I’ve been reflecting so hard on this recently is that I’ve very much transitioned from a mint green obsession to a love of all things pink. I didn’t even notice it happening but just suddenly found myself picking out pink fabrics, wearing pink nail varnish and clothes – even selecting pink/red flowers at the supermarket. I’m not sure how real the connection is between colour and the way that I feel, but there’s definitely some kind of relationship between how I choose to surround myself with colour and the way that I’m relating to the world around me.
So what does this mean for self-care? Thinking more consciously about the way that we interact with colour may be a positive step toward checking in with ourselves. However, I think the indications that our colour choices give will vary dramatically from person to person. Just like I wouldn’t suggest wearing black will make us all depressed and sad (it actually makes me feel pretty good most of the time), it won’t be the case that choosing pink fabrics or clothes means the same thing for all of us. As with everything relating to self-care, it’s really about becoming more aware of yourself and your needs – looking at what colours you’re drawn to and how they make you feel. Ultimately, it could all be one big placebo effect – but, if it helps us to be our best and happiest selves, colour is an amazing tool to have at our disposal!
Do you find that colour has an impact on your mood? Are you ‘drawn’ to particular colours when you’re in a certain frame of mind? I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
(1) ‘How Color Affects Our Mood’, Rachel Grumman Bender, HuffPost (27 Nov 2011)
(2) Same as above
(3) ‘Color Has A Powerful Effect On Behavior, Researchers Assert’, Lindsey Gruson, The New York Times (1982)
Other articles/websites of interest: