Color Communicates

Color Communicates

Dressing in black and white may not communicate the workplace message you desire.

Pantone is a company that considers itself the authority on colors and consumer trends. Pantone named radiant orchid the “it” color of 2014. If you can imagine a lighter version of royal purple, you’re on the mark. Pantone describes the color as a “captivating, magical and enigmatic purple.”

What exactly does that mean? Why is this important?

No matter what the industry, color communicates. When it comes to your personal brand, color can make or break you. I often ask my executive clients what colors they tend to favor in their wardrobe. Many say black. When I remind them that black is actually not a color, they look dismayed. Turn that frown around and realize you have much at your disposal when you pair the right colors with your intended message.

“Red states” and “blue states” have newly intrinsic meaning. Color has long had the same ability to define. Both men and women have various ways to use color to enhance or hit home meaning. Green can represent money or eco-friendly. Incidentally, Pantone’s 2013 color was emerald, which it says represents growth, renewal and prosperity. Red says power and passion. Yellow conveys friendship. Blue communicates calmness.

Color and your image

To select the best colors for you, first analyze the parts of your wardrobe for which adding or using color are natural for you and appropriate within your industry. For men, ties, shirts and socks are good choices. Women have many more options, including blouses, scarves, jewelry, wraps, shoes—nearly any part of the wardrobe really, as long as you don’t go overboard for your setting.

During the 2012 presidential campaign season, I was frequently interviewed by various media outlets about what different colors meant on candidates. If you remember Congresswoman Michele Bachmann during that time, she wore red often. She wore it well, it photographed well and I’d guess she knew it communicated power.

Some men would wear red ties with a blue pattern or vice versa. I read this as trying to dress bipartisan. Others strictly chose red or blue to make sure they were in alignment with party identity. Whenever I saw purple, the subtextual message was power, but also unity. (If you blend red and blue, you usually get purple.)

Powerful use of color in your wardrobe can also help you own your space and be more confident when you communicate. Just as I always recommend you plan your work when prepping for a communication endeavor, I also suggest you make attention to color communication part of that preparation. Do audience analysis to find out if there are colors that may endear your audience to you. For example, is the president of Minnesota State University, Mankato, in your audience? Throwing in some purple as a subtle shout-out to the school’s colors adds a nice touch to your overall performance. Use your imagination and research to match meaningful colors to that performance.

Color and gifts

Clothing is not the only area where color communicates. Think about flowers or other gifts. You usually give red roses to someone you love, romantically or familially. I suggest you not give red roses to a new business prospect or client—red could be read as a mixed message. At the very least, you place yourself in the danger zone.

Safe colors for business gift-giving are cool tones. Think blues, greens, maybe even radiant orchid. Some pinks work as long as they’re not overly bright. Avoid oranges and yellows unless you know those are colors preferred by your recipient. For example, maybe she went to the University of Minnesota and is very proud of being a Gopher; a gold ornament or scarf might show thoughtful customization. I know someone who goes gaga for orange. Whenever I see orange, I think of her. If the item is a suitable gift, I buy it and am ready for her next birthday.


Don’t be afraid to experiment when it comes to wardrobe and gift-giving. If you’re not comfortable with color, work it in slowly. Perhaps pick out two new ties that are authentic and bright enough for you. Wear each one in the next week or so and notice any reaction, as well as how you feel wearing them. Or maybe go for textured, colored nylon or socks or bright red shoes (for ladies) to add some personality to that next meeting.

Once you arrive at your own comfort level with color, grow that muscle. Pretty soon, you’ll wonder why you always wore black or gray. For men really interested in experimenting, try an ice (almost not there) purple or ice lime shirt with a coordinating tie and/or pocket square. You may be amazed at how these looks make you feel and, consequently, the added edge they give you.

Roshini Rajkumar is a communication coach, host of News & Views on WCCO Radio, and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit

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