Kitchen Table Psychology Online

Chapter 3:

The Stem and the Flower:

Brighter-Color and Darker-Color Personalities

For Ashley 

      Do you have clothing colors you don’t like to wear, or think you “can’t wear” because you don’t like the way they look on you?  Do you think some colors are too bright, or too “colorful” for you?  Do you think some reds are a little too red, or some blues a little too blue?   Some yellows too yellow? 

      Or, are you on the other side of this coin? Do you think some colors are a little too dark for you? Do you think some colors aren’t “colorful enough,” or just not vibrant enough, as if some colors aren’t red enough, blue enough, or yellow enough for you? If they were, would you feel more at home in them? 

      Somehow, don’t we all have clothing colors we feel most comfortable wearing? Also, don’t we all have clothing colors we somehow feel awkward wearing? 

     There seems to be a reason for some of this. There seems to be a pattern to some of the colors we wear and we seem to make consistent preferences when choosing our clothing colors. 

      Even though we all have individual tastes, and we all make individual choices about what to wear, we seem to be divided into two different personality types when it comes to choosing clothing colors.  One personality type seems to choose to wear one set of colors, while the other, or opposite, personality type chooses to wear a different set of colors. 

     This may explain some of the negative experiences we have each had in the past with choosing clothes. This difference in personality types could be why some colors fit well on some of us, but those same colors would not fit well on others of us, even if we were all the same heights, weights, or overall builds.

      Maybe we thought the problem was that some colors do not go well with our skin complexions or hair types? Maybe we thought some colors do not fit with our ages or our occupations? Or, maybe we just attributed these mismatches to clashes with the seasons we were in, or the locations we were at, or even the weather we were experiencing that day? 

      Whatever the reasons, we knew something was off, and if we continued to wear those “wrong colors,” or colors that were opposite to our personalities,  then we wouldn’t be content, or somehow feel true to ourselves. We would have eventually decided for ourselves that what we had on was not our best match. Also, friends or family, or even strangers, would have let us known that what we had on was not working for us. How often have we heard, “That color is not you?”  We have at least once in a while, if we’re lucky, and someone was being honest with us. 

      The pattern that seems to be present when choosing clothing colors is that we each choose from a certain spectrum that agrees with our personalities. We choose from a specific set of colors because matching our clothing colors to our personalities seems to be more important than matching our clothing to our skin complexions, hair colors, the weather, the season, or any other variable. In sum, we seem to be separated into two different personality types based on the colors we choose to wear.

      The difference in the two personality types presented here is that all of the clothing colors possible can be divided into two exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories.  This would make two halves of a continuum or spectrum.

      Half of us choose from one side of the color spectrum while the other half choose colors from the other, or opposite, side of the spectrum. We each seem to choose from one side of the continuum of colors or another, and not from both. Rarely, we might cross over from one side of the spectrum to the other, meaning wearing items considered to be from the “opposite” side of the spectrum from our own, but usually only to add small accents. 

      For those of us who have a choice of clothing, we like to choose colors that that best fit our personalities and which make us feel more “at home” in them.  We like items that “agree” with our inner personalities, and we make choices that make us feel, at least psychologically, like we are wearing a second skin. 

Our Spectrum of Color Choices?

      Dividing up all the colors into two halves is not as simple as identifying some people who wear red and other people who wear green, but rather, the difference between the personalities is revealed in the type of red, or type of green, a person might wear. The pattern that presents itself is that half of us tend to wear darker colors, while the other half tend to wear brighter colors.

      This is not predictable for every piece of clothing, for every outfit, every day. However, over the majority of the time, a person will choose to wear colors that could be considered either darker or brighter, in general.

      Everyone chooses colors from a brighter or darker end of a spectrum in which he or she feels more at home. Also, choosing colors from the opposite side of the spectrum would make a person feel somewhat uncomfortable, or not “at home.” 

      You could ask, “What does that mean, exactly?  What are darker and brighter colors?” 

      For every color category, like blues, browns, reds, greens, or yellows, there is a certain luminescence, or brightness, which makes a color that could be characterized as a darker or a brighter color to the everyday observer. For example, some blues are dark blue, like midnight blue or navy blue. Meanwhile, other blues are bright blue, like baby blue or ice blue. 

      The brighter the color, the more luminescence, or brightness, it has compared to its darker opposites. This is also true for other color categories. Browns, reds, greens, and yellows all have darker and brighter shades, each with its darker and brighter counterparts. For example, some browns are dark brown, like chocolate or mocha, while others are bright, like caramel or cream. Some reds are dark red, like burgundy or maroon, while others are bright, like cherry red or pink. In the same way, some greens are dark green, like spruce or hunter green, while others are bright, like Kelly green or sea mist. Also, some yellows are dark yellow, like mustard or goldenrod, while others are bright, like lemon or daffodil. 

      Imagine for a minute if we could take all of the shades of any of these color categories and line them up in a row from the darkest to the lightest. You could imagine there could be a shade with “0% brightness” at one end and a shade with “100% brightness” at the other end. Then, between the darker end at 0% and the brighter end at 100%, you could imagine a point midway between where there could be a shade with “50% brightness.” 

      Now, for example, if we lined up all the blues from blue-black at the 0% brightness end, to ice blue at the 100% brightness end, then there would be a point midway between them at the 50% brightness mark, where we could call the color “medium blue,” for a lack of a better term. Then, any color on either side of this 50% brightness mark could be considered either a darker color or a brighter color, respectively.[1, see footnote below] 

      There are many possible shades within each color category and if we view them all this way, half of them will fall on one side of the 50% brightness mark while the other half will fall on the other side of the 50% brightness mark. This creates a spectrum where half of the colors could be considered “darker than 50% brightness” and the other half could be considered “brighter than 50% brightness.”

      When these colors are used for clothing, one personality type prefers to wear colors from the darker half of the spectrum, while the other, complementary personality type prefers to wear colors from the brighter half of the spectrum. This means some of us prefer to wear darker colors, while others of us prefer to wear brighter colors.  Some of us choose from the darker side of that 50% brightness mark, like navy blue, spruce green, burgundy red, or chocolate brown, while others of us prefer to wear colors from the brighter side of that 50% brightness mark, such as turquoise, mint green, cherry red, or caramel. 

      In this way, if two people leave their homes on a given day wearing green shirts, one might prefer a green shirt that is darker than the 50% brightness level while the other might prefer a green shirt that is brighter than the 50% brightness level. So, one person’s shirt might be hunter green while the other’s might be key-lime green.  

      Figures 1 and 2 (click here) show examples of what could be considered darker and brighter clothing colors to demonstrate this difference. Though different colors could be considered to fall under the general categories of green, blue, red, purple, or brown, they have differences when considering the subcategories of darker or brighter colors. There can be a noticeable difference in luminescence, and when these separate shades are worn as clothing colors, they identify different personality types.

Everyday Choices?

      In everyday life, on the great canvas of humanity, the individual shades of colors can vary widely and the difference in clothing colors might not always be as obvious as the difference between the colors shown in Figures 1 and 2. The differences between light and dark colors on ordinary people seen while at work or walking down a street may be more subtle. However, as long as a color is considered to be on one side or the other of the brightness scale to a reasonable observer, say at 49% or 51% brightness, then it could be considered a darker or brighter color, respectively. 

      Of note, there can be great variability between individuals and their color choices, even with the same brightness category. First, there is “inter-individual variability.”  Even among people with the same personality type for darker or brighter colors, one person who prefers bright colors may prefer clothes that are very bright, like bright green, while another may prefer clothes that are only mildly bright, like pastels. Likewise, one person who prefers very dark clothing, like near-black, may be different from someone else who prefers only mildly dark clothing, like mildly charcoal gray. So even if they share the same personality type and preference for colors from the same side of the brightness spectrum, people can still differ widely in their clothing choices.

      Next, there is “intra-individual variability.” A single person may make a wide range of choices over time, even though the colors are all from the same side of the brightness spectrum. He or she may choose to wear an item that is very bright one day, but then choose something else that is just mildly bright the next day. The same is true for individuals who choose darker colors. Some items worn one day will be very dark, while the next day, the clothing items could be not so dark.

Business Clothing?

      To give an example from men’s business clothing that demonstrates this difference in color choices, there is a difference in choice of men’s dress shirts. For business shirts, men from both personality types can wear white. White shirts are “neutral” in general, unless satin-like or ornately patterned. Several light blue shirts are also fairly neutral and are a staple of both personality type’s wardrobes as an alternative to white. However, beyond this, only some men feel comfortable dressing in business shirts that are bright yellow, bright purple, or bright pink. These are popular, handsome colors, and well respected in business circles. Every designer clothing manufacturer sells them, but only some men can wear them, or at least, wear them “well.”  Only some men look stylish, sophisticated, or powerful in these brightly colored shirts and the rest will look out of place, as if it doesn’t fit their personality. 

      It is the personality type that prefers brighter colors that wears these vibrantly colored dress shirts and that is perceived as looking natural in them.  Meanwhile, other men will be perceived as looking improperly dressed or out of their element in them.  In this setting, the color of a dress shirt can identify a man’s personality type and identify his future preferences for clothing colors.

      Another example from men’s business clothing is the “power tie.”  The power tie is a vibrant, bright red tie. If having to choose a red-colored tie, men with “darker color” personalities will normally prefer to wear a burgundy or a wine-colored tie and will feel more comfortable in these darker choices. Meanwhile, a person who prefers brighter colors will feel more at home in a brightly colored tie, like bright yellow, bright blue, bright green, or in this case, bright red.   

      Women achieve the same affect with the color of their business suits and dress scarves. A bright red business suit is considered a “power suit.” Similarly, a bright red scarf is called a “power scarf” just like the “power tie” of men’s fashion, and it is worn most comfortably by women who prefer brighter colors. 

      It is not a measure of the amount of style, assertiveness, or bravado a person possesses. Men and women who wear darker colors can have equal style, assertiveness, or bravado.

Accents and Accessories?

       The examples of the power scarf and power tie also show that the accents we add to our clothing also identify our personality types.   For example, not only wearing bright clothes, but wearing bright accents over dark clothes will identify a person’s personality type as a brighter-color personality. A person who prefers brighter clothing colors might wear a dark outfit but still accent it with a brightly colored tie, hat, scarf, sash, belt, necklace, or earrings. This is to top off the outfit and show his or her true, inner personality type. This is true even if the rest of an outfit is dark, or even all black. For example, if a woman tends to prefer brighter, “more colorful” items in general, she might wear a bright blue or bright red suit, normally. However, if she wears a dark outfit, she might wear a bright green, bright yellow, or bright purple scarf over the dark suit. This is because she might feel the need to accent her outfit with something more vibrant that reflects more of her inner personality. 

      Meanwhile, a personality type that prefers darker colors might choose a navy blue or burgundy scarf, for example, to wear over a dark outfit. To choose something brighter would seem odd to that person or perhaps “too loud” for her personality. In the same way, a woman with a “darker color” personality may also not feel the need to accent a dark outfit at all, and might feel at home in her dark outfit, sans accent. Or, if she did choose accessories, they might be either darker colored, or bright but small so as not to be too “loud” or too “colorful” for her. 


Are There Neutral Clothing Colors?

     Though we all choose brighter or darker clothing colors, there are also “neutral” items we seem to share. These items seem to be worn equally well by either personality type and both types seem to feel equally at home in them. Each personality type uses them as a base and then adds colors from his or her preferred clothing scheme, from either side of the brightness spectrum. Figure 3 (click here) shows some examples of neutral colors.

      In general, black clothing is neutral. Blue denim jeans are also neutral. Khaki colored pants or shorts are neutral, for the most part, but this can depend on how “neutral” or “colorful” the shade of khaki is. Some khakis contain an element of bright green, yellow, brown, or orange to make them brighter, or more “colorful.”  For example, British Khaki is more colorful, in general, than ordinary khaki, having more orange and light brown elements in it.    
      Next, gray clothing is mostly, but not always, neutral. It can depend on the brightness of the shade and its sheen. If it is lighter, being closer to light cloud gray, it will be considered a brighter color, while if it is darker, being closer to charcoal, it will be considered a darker color. Also, if the sheen is more like silver, then it is a brighter color. 

      Meanwhile, white clothing is less neutral. It falls mostly on the bright side. For example, personalities that prefer darker colors do not often feel comfortable in bright white pants. In contrast, those who prefer brighter colors probably consider white pants or shorts a wardrobe staple.

Can Color Choices Identify Mates? 

      The reason we seem to have these differences in color choices is to identify potential mates. It is helpful to predict our future for those of us who are single, and helpful to understand our partners for those of us who are in relationships. 

      Another part of this theory is that the two personality types mentioned here are complementary opposites to each other and this is important for dating and forming romantic relationships. Long-term relationships seem to be formed from a combination of one personality from each type, and though the heterosexual example will be used here for simplicity, this pattern is also true for same-sex couples.  We marry, or form long-term relationships, with other people who wear “opposite” colors from ourselves.

      This is another way these color choices can be recognized as a reproducible pattern. We marry people who prefer colors that are darker or brighter than our own color choices, and we find this attractive. It helps us identify others with complementarily opposite personalities and different points of view. 


This is Biological?

      This could be one of the ways we find partners with different genetic information from ourselves. Biologically, this could be part of successful mating. We tend to seek partners with different genes to augment our own gene pool for our progeny. In general, the more diversity we find, usually the better. Having different genetic information gives our progeny better survival potential, and for us as biological beings, that seems to be important.

      Therefore, for love or biology, or both, marriages and long-term partnerships seem to be formed from one spouse with one personality type and another spouse from another complementary, opposite personality type, based on clothing colors. In each long-term relationship, one partner would have a “darker color” personality, while the other would have a “brighter color” personality.

      If you asked each partner in a happy, long-term relationship, “What is was your favorite color?” you might get an answer from each such as “blue.” However, if you probe further, asking, “What shade of blue?” you might find that one prefers a dark, midnight blue while the other prefers a bright, electric blue. Or, more likely, if they didn’t answer the same color, then one might prefer deep forest green while the other might prefer bright, champagne pink, for example. 


      Figures 4, 5, 6, and 7 (click here) show examples of heterosexual couples with women wearing brighter clothing colors and men wearing darker clothing colors. The shades of each woman’s clothing could be considered to be on the brighter side of the hypothetical “50% brightness” level while the shades of each man’s clothing could be considered to be on the darker side of the “50% brightness” level. That is, except for the “neutral” clothing colors being worn by the man or woman such as black, khaki, or blue denim.  Figure 8 shows a same-sex couple displaying the same pattern.

      Meanwhile, Figures 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 (click here) show heterosexual couples with the man wearing brighter colors and the woman wearing darker colors, again except for some neutral items.  The difference in colors can be subtle, but in each case, one person is wearing what could be considered brighter colors while the other is wearing what could be considered darker colors, to an ordinary observer. 

Dichotomous Types and Their Children?

      This pattern is similar to the dichotomy of personality types for Primary-Career and Secondary-Career personalities. Each personality type in that example was complementarily opposite to the other type.  However, unlike with Primary-Career and Secondary-Career personalities, that have children in a nuclear family that are all of one personality type, the children of “Darker-Color” and “Brighter-Color” personalities, if you will, will have a mix of both personality types.  The children in these nuclear families will represent either personality type. Also, it appears that being a Darker-Color or Brighter-Color personality is “inherited” by gender. By nature or nurture, we seem to favor the same color types as our same sex parent. Sons seem to have the same color choices as fathers and daughters seem to have the same color choices as mothers. If the mother has a Darker-Color personality, then her daughters seem to have Darker-Color personalities and her sons seem to have Brighter-Color personalities.  

Colors of Other Assets and Objects?

       Lastly, though this essay focuses on clothing colors, this preference for colors extends to other objects and accessories in our lives.  People who prefer brightly colored clothing also prefer brightly colored cars, furniture, and miscellaneous objects. The same is true for people who prefer darkly colored clothing: they prefer darkly colored items in general. The coffee mug or mobile phone cover of someone with the Darker-color personality will be darker rather than brighter, and without large, bright accents. Meanwhile, Brighter-Color personalities will likely have brighter objects like coffee mugs, mobile phone covers, desk accessories, sporting goods, and household items. They will also shop for things like bright yellow sheets, while their Darker-Color counterparts will regard them with awe and fascination for their color choices.  

      This has practical utility. For example, say you were an interior decorator and were consulting in a person’s house who has a Brighter-Color personality. You would probably note the pattern of colors in the household objects around you. This will be the side of the brightness spectrum the client will be interested in when seeing the finished product.  If you were to make a successful sale, your color scheme would need to agree with your client’s brighter color preferences. Likewise, if you are a car salesperson and a customer enters your dealership wearing a bright red or bright blue shirt, he or she will probably be more interested in the bright red or white car on the lot than in the dark blue or dark green one.

      Or, even if you are an ordinary person picking out a gift for a friend, if the object you are considering has a choice of color between bright and dark, and the person you are buying it for prefers brighter colors for things such as his or her clothing, house, or car, then it is probably better to buy him or her the brighter colored gift than the darker one. Also, lastly, clothing manufacturers could also tailor clothes to fit color schemes on one side of the color spectrum or other to cater more successfully to the different color tastes of their clients, offering darker or brighter options of many common items.  This happens most often now, but could be done with even greater effectiveness if the color schemes of the two personalities were appreciated.    


     In closing, some people might be inclined to consider one personality better than the other. Some people might be tempted to think one type is stronger, smarter, bolder, more stable, or overall more important than the other, as sometimes people are wont to do.

       Which car is better or faster, the red or the black? Which tie or scarf is more powerful? It is likely there are as many CEOs without bright ties as there are with them. 

      In all, it could be said that arguing which personality is better is like arguing which half of a wheel is more useful. Is one side better? In the same way, it could be akin to arguing which part of a rose is more important, the stem or the flower?  Without one, where would be the other?


      So to put it all together, if you’re someone looking for a potential partner and you’re wearing a bright red or green shirt, and the person across the room you might be interested in is also wearing a bright colored shirt, then he or she may not be your best match in the long run. Sounds strange to eliminate a potential partner just based on clothing preference, even if his or her other features or qualities seem attractive, but if given time, in the long run, your personalities may not match. They may not complement each other the way you’d like to in the end. We can’t find love everywhere in every person, unfortunately, and it could help to sort out who would be compatible with whom.  Meanwhile, if the person you’re interested in is wearing “opposite” colors from your own, there’s a good chance your personalities will also complement each other. This would be one dimension on which you and your potential partner would be compatible. 

      If you already have a long term partner, knowing this pattern could help you understand your partners preferences for color choices for your home or for gifts you may want to give each other. Also, if you have children, it could help you with their color choices so they could feel comfortable in their “second skin” and with the settings and objects that surround their lives.   

[1] Some computer programs use this kind of formula to display colors on a monitor or video screen.  A popular color coding system is the “HSK” system.  It gives a number value for three characteristics: “Hue,” “Saturation,” and “Luminescence (or brightness).”  In this system, for example, baby blue would have an “HSL” code of “H:132, S:218, and L:184.”   To create dark blue with this method, we could decrease the luminescence (L) value from 184 to 30.  You can try this on your own if you have a computer with a word-processing or drawing program.  You could create a table or a drawing object and then change the color of a table cell or object.  If you choose the HSL option for color coding, usually found under “More Colors” or “Advanced Options,” you could change the color’s brightness by increasing or decreasing its luminescence, or “L” number.  An “L” number of 50 does not equal to 50% brightness for a given color, but increasing and decreasing the luminescence will give you the idea of how brighter and darker shades can be created from the same color category, like red, blue, green, yellow, etc.