How to Use Colour To Communicate Your Authority or Approachability


When you’re putting together an outfit, always consider what you want to communicate with it.

Ask yourself what the situation/occassion you are wearing it.  Who you are going to be interacting with, and how you want to be perceived.

How to Use Colour To Communicate Your Authority or Approachability


Then you can use this knowledge to choose the right combination of colours and contrast to assist you in communicating with your image (before you even open your mouth) they way that you want.

High value contrast outfits are overall seen as more ‘yang’ or authoritative.  Yet it matters what proportion of light vs dark is in the outfit as to how it communicates.

Do you want to be more professional or approachable?

If you want to appear more professional, make sure your outfit has a higher percentage of darker colours.
Efffect of colour proportions on how we read an outfit

If you want to appear more approachable or fun, then go for a higher percentage of light colours in your outfit.

Now here is an example of how changing just the top changes how the whole outfit communicates.  By changing the top from a light blue to a navy, the proportion of light to dark changes and suddenly the outfit commmunicates a stronger, overall more authoritative message.  But because the white jacket goes over the dark top, there is still a very approachable element to this outfit as we will see more light near the face than dark.  So it’s not as overall professional as wearing a light top with a dark jacket.How changing just one element of an outfit changes how the outfit communicatesSo if you were wearing an outfit like this for a casual Friday at work, then if you need to look more professional, choose a darker top, if you want to look more friendly, then choose a lighter top.


How to Use Colour To Communicate Your Authority
More authoritative


How to Use Colour To Communicate Your Authority or Approachability
More approachable

Do you want to be more formal or friendly?

Now if you’re going out for an evening.  Consider the colours you choose to wear.  Which outfit is friendlier?  Which more formal?

You can see by adding in more colour, you reduce the formality of how an outfit communicates.

Evening out - formal vs fun

If you find social situations hard work (more likely you’re more introverted or shy) then why not avoid that LBD (which will just communicate a “stay away from me” vibe), instead opt for a brighter lighter more “fun” dress that will help draw others to you.

You can use this knowledge to also balance your own appearance.  If you are more naturally high value contrast, and you want to be perceived as more friendly, then add more colour or lightness to your outfit to assist you in communicating a more approachable appearance.

Light vs Dark and the apperance of friendliness
Dark hair – high contrast vs light hair and lower contrast

If you have overall ligher colouring, then you will be perceived as more friendly (it’s one of the bizarre things I’ve learned since going from brunette to blonde, now I’m apparently more approachable and friendly, I’ve been told this on a number of occasions!).  But you may find then that you need to wear a higher percentage of darker colours to work to add in that powerful presence you might want in the office.

Further Reading on Yin and Yang and How Outfits Communicate

Using Yin and Yang to Balance your Appearance

Ways to balance your yin and yang

How to make an outfit more yin or yang

Evolve your Style 31 day life and style changing challenge


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  • Very interesting lesson! Last year I needed a suit to wear to work when needed, and I instinctively picked a black one, over light gray or other colors. I guess without knowing I picked the most authoritative choice, which for work is fine…

  • I like this post. I dress in a friendly fashion most of the time, but it is helpful advice you give on making an outfit more professional looking for those times I need to speak to groups, bankers, lawyers, etc. Your pictures and wardrobe capsule examples are very helpful to a visual person like me. The Yin and Yang posts are favorites of mine.

  • Hi Imogen,
    I am a long time follower, first time responding. I will be re applying for a position after a restructure. For an interview how could you bring the two together? What would be the best colours to wear? I am applying for a position in IT which deals with customers and vendors at various levels within the business ?

    • Navy is a great neutral for job interviews. Then it really depends on who you are, and your natural presence and appearance and what you want to communicate.

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