Clothing May Affect Mood, Suggesting Nonverbal Communication of Roles

strong colors of "power suits" may affect our feelings of confidence

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

An article in HuffPost said that our choice of wardrobe could be affecting our moods. Examples include wearing a cologne or perfume that brings back warm memories, or wearing a flattering outfit on your day off. Colors of clothing and colors in ads also subconsciously affect our thought patterns.

young man picking shirt to wear for the day
Although the colors we pick from our wardrobe for the day are usually determined by our mood, we can actually select the colors to affect our mood. Photo by Ivan Kovbasniuk / Shutterstock

In the HuffPost piece, Alyssa Dana Adomaitis, who serves as professor and director of the business and technology of fashion program at New York City College of Technology, said that one reason we unintentionally lean towards wearing certain outfits is “role theory.” Professor Adomaitis said that we dress according to whichever image or role we want to portray ourselves as. For example, if we feel frumpy on a day off we may be more likely to wear sweatpants and a baggy shirt. However, not only do our moods affect what we wear, but what we wear can also affect how we feel. It’s part of humanity’s subconscious association between feelings and things like colors or shapes.

Color as Communication

Restaurants often use the color red in their advertising, just as products emphasizing their natural ingredients use green. Focus groups and market research show that these are effective colors in convincing consumers to buy whatever is being sold, but why? How does color become a form of nonverbal communication?

Design and color send messages that are received, and acted upon, by others, and they affect interactions amongst people, all without using words,” said Dr. Mark G. Frank, Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. “Moreover, it’s nonverbal communication that often works at the subconscious level because, unlike verbal messages, these nonverbal messages are not explicit, and many times they don’t have clear, hard meanings.”

Dr. Frank, who also serves as Director of the university’s Communication Science Center, mentioned the color black. He said that we associate black with death and evil, hence biker gangs and the grim reaper are often wearing black, but judges and the clergy do as well. These juxtapositions are a perfect example of the ambiguity of certain colors and why we need more context for them to fully form an opinion.

Color Associations

Sometimes the words we use speak volumes about our nonverbal associations with colors. “Besides anonymity, darkness is also a metaphor for bad things—we talk about the dark side of somebody; we talk about the Dark Ages, [or being] in a dark mood or a dark place,” Dr. Frank said. “All these common phrases [have] this similar meaning: something bad.”

Darkness and the color black aren’t the only example. Similar cases can be found all across the color spectrum. “White is often seen as good, like a white knight riding to the rescue, where black is bad,” Dr. Frank said. “Red, orange, yellows—the bright colors—seem to be seen as more active; whereas, black and white and blue and pink [seem] a bit more passive. You can put that knowledge to use to help shape behavior.”

Dr. Frank said that in an area where you want to encourage quiet, like a bedroom, it helps to paint it blue. A more active room like a living room may benefit from being painted one of the brighter colors.

Whether it comes to interior design, wardrobe choices, or just picking where to go out to eat, color matters. As the HuffPost article points out, wearing the right type and color of an outfit can help make the difference between having a bad day versus a good day.

Dr. Mark G. Frank contributed to this article. Dr. Frank is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. Dr. Frank received his B.A. in Psychology from the University at Buffalo and received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Cornell University.