The Psychology Behind Why You Should Wear White to Wow at Work
Every colour evokes an emotional response. These can be both unconscious and obscure, or immediately obvious — and no hue demonstrates the multifaceted nature of colour psychology better than the somewhat enigmatic white.
There’s a reason why the crisp white shirt is the staple of the chic working wardrobe and — while we might think this is simply because it goes well with almost anything — there is way more at play underneath the surface.
Even the very foundations of what white is are fluid and variable. White light is a sublime mixture of all hues on the light spectrum, so some consider it to be a colour. Purists however will say that, along with black, white is technically a shade. Despite this, both white and it’s edgier goth sister, black, function as colours. Like blue or yellow, say, they both carry a feeling within them and can both also easily be a child’s favourite colour.
In the luminous words of British writer, art critic and philosopher, G. K. Chesterton : “White … is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black…. God paints in many colors; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.
For white to even exist in its true form, there must be a perfect equilibrium of all of the other colours on the light spectrum. Even a smidgen too much red or green, and it would no longer be white at all. This balance brings with it a suggestion of neutrality which we naturally associate with white.
Rooms we wish to have a neutral, calming aura — free from the associations of other colours — are painted white without us even having to think about it, it’s just so. If we gently meander along this line of thinking, white paper (or increasingly, the white screen) is a neutral space where new ideas can take flight.
This sense of new beginnings which is also embodied in the psychology of the colour white can also be seen refracted through a slightly different lens if we look to Eastern cultures. In China and Korea, white is associated with death, but not in the brooding, morbid Victorian kind of way linked to funerary black in many Western cultures. Instead, white is a signifier of change, rebirth and purity.
In Japan, two meanings collide in the white wedding dress — a familiar totem of purity in Western countries — where the white also symbolises the death of the old family structure and the beginning of a new family unit.
Ideas of purity and cleanliness also swim through the stream of our subconscious in the colour white through the brilliant white doctors coat and, indeed, the well-pressed white work shirt. These garments tell the truth, as anyone who is a slightly overenthusiastic eater like me will know! White is transparent and there are no illusions to hide behind.
Concepts like these seem blatantly obvious when we consider how often white is used as a shorthand for good. For example white magic and even, white lies. This symbolism is so often used that it seems downright twee and predictable, hence the tongue-in-cheek use of the term ‘white hat’ to denote the good guys in Western movies. A concept so prevalent that it can be applied from characters through cowboys to wizards, and it has been swept forwards into thoroughly modern vocab with ethical computer hackers also known as ‘white hats.’
Of course, not everything about white is sweetness and light. It can also be shorthand for being cold, sterile and aloof. Qualities which you would not want in your favourite Aunt, but translate well to the business world. After all, if you put a more positive spin on these qualities as any great manager or leader would they could also be seen as independent, not easily influenced and objective.
Wearing white provides a neutral background which let’s your true self shine and allows the things you wish to convey through your work and actions speak for themselves. Conceptually, the brilliance of all colours and the world around is both contained within and reflected out of white.
In the words of American architect Richard Meier, best known for his trademark love affair with white: “White is the most wonderful color because within it you can see all the colors of the rainbow. For me, in fact, it is the color which in natural light, reflects and intensifies the perception of all of the shades of the rainbow, the colors which are constantly changing in nature, for the whiteness of white is never just white; it is almost always transformed by light and that which is changing; the sky, the clouds, the sun and the moon."
So, what better colour is there to wear when you’re putting your best foot forwards?