When Does Wearing Black Harm Your Brand?

Alan Weiss is the authority on solo consulting. A colour analyst is in many ways a solo consultant. I own several of his books.

I enjoy the balance of his very linear approach with my very eclectic one. I admire that he listens to his own drummer, as far from locked down by how the majority thinks as it’s possible to be. His idea of success is not the corner office and all its trappings. Neither is mine.

Because I would like to upgrade this site this winter, I went to the source. I’m reading his new book, co-written with online strategist, Chad Barr. The book is Million Dollar Web Presence: Leverage the Web to Build Your Brand and Transform Your Business. I appreciate how rich the content is. The advice is to be provocative and re-inventive.

In the earlier Million Dollar Consulting, pg. 327, Alan is discussing what a speaker should wear when filming a video from the speaker’s perspective. He asks the question, what’s not to like about black?

The short answer is that there is no colour, cosmetic, diet, vaccine – nothing that works equally well on everybody.

(Edit October 9, 2013: Alan and Chad get the influence that colour has on the impression we create. On Pg. 112 of Million Dollar Web Presence, they recognize the importance of colour analysis to look like a true professional.)

Since I’m incapable of short answers, I’ll be provocative and take on the question about black, one that almost every client asks a Personal Colour Analyst. Our clients know their best version of black.

12 Reasons for 12 Different Blacks

1. With respect to anyone who feels otherwise, I disagree that “black is always stylish and it’s slimming, plus all accessories go with it”. It isn’t, it isn’t, and they don’t. Not for men or women.

2. The fact is that black flatters very few people’s natural colouring. Black can’t be at home with most types of natural colouring because it isn’t there in the first place. The native pigmentation doesn’t darken that far. Black just sits on top, out of sync. For those of us looking at it, it’s the visual equivalent of riding 50 miles in a car with an out-of-tune radio.

3. The slimming myth is a myth. A fashion propagandism. Black is not slimming unless that darkness exists in the natural colouring to provide balance and context for it. Without those, the black block gets bigger. On the bottom half, the black block looks heavy. Bulky. Fat. Fuzzy. Sweatpants.

On the top half, the shoulders appear wide and the head small. That looks weak, especially in a man, since women can often balance the picture with bigger hair. In video, where scale and proportion can be distorted without the rest of the body and background to re-align things, it’s especially noticeable.

Even in a little photo, a Facebook profile or a head shot, we feel it. In black, Man #1 in black looks

  • calm,
  • settled,
  • present,
  • and intelligent.

Man #2 in black looks

  • shiny, which comes across as sweaty and anxious,
  • has a redder nose than the rest of his face = unhealthy, and such an easy thing to alleviate in right colour,
  • and really needs a shave.

If Man #2 now did a video wearing a so-white-it’s-blue shirt or jacket, his complexion is corrupted, as if wearing too-light foundation. We’re distracted, almost suspicious, like there must be a reason for the distortion. Result: We can’t listen to 3 consecutive sentences. All because of the shirt he wore, here comes this background feeling of “He’s never on. He’s always off.” Only one natural colouring can make that white look normal. Even on Dark and Bright Winter, the clearest, cleanest, freshest, most accessible skin (which are extended beyond skin to the entire person in the perception of others, of course) require a better choice.

Would a man react to the images of Men #1 and #2 in the same way as a woman? Not sure. Given two options, most men would likely pick the better one. Many men are well tuned in to what they see.

Sarah asked if men pick up global cues or individual feature changes better during their colour analysis. Depends on the guy. They have fewer voices in their head regarding appearance to wrestle down than women do. Once they get it, they’re often really good at it from both wide and narrow angles. Photographers are terrific because they know already how much perception can be altered by visual information and that it’s an illusion, nothing to get nervous about.

4. On the wrong colouring, the woman looks more childlike than ever in black. There was an editor of Allure magazine who probably lived in NYC, wore the black uniform, probably paid a fortune for it, and looked immature and little girly. Angela Merkel could fit into this group as well. It’s hard enough for women to get taken seriously.

5. Black is so dense, dark, and cold that many people completely disappear. Say, Kelly Ripa, a woman whom the show’s producers already make hard to see on a small screen for some reason. Her image always looks vanishing, but much more so in black or against a very dark background.

6. It changes the skin colour of many people to gray or green or red or blue, sometimes more than one at a time. Health is a definite power player. Telling the world anything else is detracting.

7. Black ages most people. I do not believe for one second that youth is a power player. Authority can increase with age in both men and women. There are many powerful ways to age but appearing fatigued or gaunt is not one of them. No faster way to look old and weak than sink your eyes back in their sockets, compliments of black.

8. Only one type of natural colouring is 100% enhanced and complete in black. Alongside a distant colouring, black causes the expression to be severe, the opposite of team player, counselor, guide, or teacher. The face above the black says, I am abrupt, humourless, and unfeeling. Clothing communicates. It tells our story and it tells it inside 20 seconds. It’s worth getting our clear message out in every way we can. Truthful self-expression is so important. Ask any blogger or forum contributor. It’s what keeps our tribe together, how we discover our shared purpose. It’s how our best-fit clients find us.

9. All-black is boring, overdone, and monotone. It expresses neither imagination nor creativity, both of which feel nimble. How does this guy look like he’s feeling today?

Photo: mzacha
Photo: mzacha

 

Isn’t it better to tell others that you feel like this? Dark grey pants, pearl grey shell or shirt, dusky gold blazer or stripe in a tie, and almost white accents. Extra ordinary. Energy. Lift. Sparkle.

Photo: SailorJohn
Photo: SailorJohn

 

10. Black might make textile look more expensive but usually the opposite happens. An expensive choice looks cheaper. On women, there’s a Baboushka effect. Sheryl Sandberg looked much better in the gray and black she chose for her brilliant  talk at TED than she would have in all black.

Colour is inherently young and expressive. Black plum, dark espresso, the soft gray on the underside of a cloud that’s sunlit on the top, golden barley, crisp teal, stormy Atlantic blue, do not reduce professionalism. They’re a visual attraction in the best way. We in the audience love to see that. We feel a little more cared for or like we’re already friends. You went the extra mile for us.

11. Black is a space hole, a blank. On too many people, it creates no impression. People’s attention flits over and past us. We become faceless and nameless. It’s hard enough to get noticed. How often have we seen this coming at us across an urban intersection? How often have we connected with each face, or any face? No accident these faces are blacked out.

Photo: ljleavell
Photo: ljleavell

 

12. Light women, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton, can appear to have beard or mustache effects. Light coloured men can look as if they haven’t shaved in days. Or took a punch under the chin.

 

Our Eyes Are Our Focal Point

I agree with Alan is that clothing shouldn’t be distracting to be audience. Busy prints, whites that glow, colours that brighten under the lighting, are not the best choices. TV news and sports anchors are an amazement of clothing, hair, and cosmetic distraction. The women’s appearances are going in a thousand directions. The men’s shirt/tie/jackets can be eye boggling.

Our eyes should settle on the eyes of the person with whom we’re communicating within a few seconds. Our eyes are the focal point of our entire being. When the viewer’s eyes keep traveling around with no place to rest, it’s like a painting full of details with no centre of attention. Our eyes get tired and move on, looking for the relief of a resting place that feels better.

A face without a focal point is like watching a buzzing fly, waiting for it to land. Annoying just thinking about it and annoying to look at.

Photo: bigtel
Photo: bigtel

 

Solid black shifts the distractions up to the person’s face. Break down the order of what you recorded in the next ten people you see. In order of appearance, on a person who could have spent their money on a much better version of black, customized to their own colouring, we will see

face,

black,

lips,

shadow under chin,

black,

eyes,

red eyelids,

eyes,

oily shine,

black,

jewelry,

red eyelids again, how come they’re red?? must suffer from allergies,

black,

hey, nose is red too,

black,

eyes, why can’t I just stay here? weird

red nose again…on a woman, it’s wrong hair colour but why a guy? you think he drinks?

around and around, where it ends, nobody knows,

OK, I feel tired,

now they’re making me think, which I never signed up for, BTW

I need a rest,

look at somebody else.

There. Him over there. That’s a relief.

I like him better.

 

Professionals should have their colour analyzed in their first year of school, and the Media Communications class first in line. Second in line: Real Estate Agent class. You know how the real estate companies post all those profile pictures of their agents side by side in the newspaper ads? Oh, boy.

Whose face and eyes can you make out? DiCaprio’s or Federer’s?

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be so much better. Below, I can see the guy and the clothes. Not the guy or the clothes. He’s apart and defined by clothes but I like that they’re there. His pocket square is interesting and says something real about him, in the right amount. Would he be better in black? Doubt it.

Justin Theroux is on the cover of October 2013 GQ, with some great photos inside. Nice choice from the style editor. His image has energy and substance, almost like having him here with me. I don’t read this publication but maybe I should. I have many male clients and get great satisfaction from analyzing the colouring of men. I wonder if GQ dresses all the men this well.

Photo: GQ magazine cover October 2013
Photo: GQ magazine cover October 2013

 

Your PCA gives you the most becoming black alternative. Neutral colours are great on video. Just knowing your best black and gray is miles ahead of the appearance game. Wolf gray and stallion black-brown are interesting and strong. Colours of smoke and shadow are dimensional, full of character. Grays are moody, thoughtful, mature, and profound. They work well against the light and dark backgrounds of day and night.

Photo: SBillBerg
Photo: SBillBerg

 

What can you do to learn if black works in your favour or against you? And what to replace it with?

By doing the same thing that Alan Weiss and Chad Barr’s clients do. They hire an expert with an excellent tool kit.

 

J.T. Used to Look Dull (but really wasn’t)

Having your colouring analyzed is a brand investment.

J.T.* is a personal trainer. He loves blue and summertime. As he walked in, our reaction was medium. Hair was medium, height: medium, appearance impact: medium. Most noticeable were nice blue eyes and a very fit body. His clothes said exactly zero, as in “I could be anybody.”

Looked like Lance Armstrong in a vague way. We analyze him to find Daniel Craig in an obvious way. Sparklers for eyes, tight skin, gorgeous circulation and vitality in his skin.

A man can dull himself down in wrong colour something unbelievable, and gray his hair to looking 10 years older. Clean, sharp gray is great. It’s electric. Dingy gray is hardly hot.

I react much more strongly to my husband in his right colours (True Winter). In his usual garb, I barely notice him. He’s like a washed out person that I mostly ignore, which is easy because he’s not a big talker. He’s just gets easier to ignore, like he’s camouflaged himself. Hey. Waaaaaaait a minute. Maybe he’s doing it on purpose to be left alone. Oh, dear, is he really that clever?

J.T. looks Spring/Summerish. It’s great to have that colouring, but a Bright Spring pays a very high price to try. J.T. looked like Lance A. will in 20 more years. Buy personal training from him? Don’t think so. He looks like he can’t walk a mile himself and wouldn’t be an ounce of fun.

About himself, he said, I always have a song in my head. The colour analyst’s job is to help J.T. show that to the world. That’s the guy I want to meet, not the dial tone guy.

By wearing Summer clothing colours, he’ll never have the incredibly calm eye of a True Summer, with the fantastic reflectivity in eye and skin that Summer colouring attains. Light will never play off the angles of his face with the same silvered edges that a True Summer could have. Never will he look heavenly, as Summers do. In Summer colours, all he can ever achieve is medium. God’s sake, why be telling people that about yourself? It’s a sad day when Daniel Craig drops himself down to, yeah, whatever, I’m pretty sure he has blue eyes.

Is Craig a Light Spring? Soft Autumn because of red hair (nobody still believes in that, do they?)? Who knows? We’ve just trained two new analysts. The experience was warm and sharing, with a huge amount of new learning about what PCA is, not what it was. They saw first-hand how wrong we are when we guess. I know they would confirm for you that we can’t eyeball human colour dimensions. We can’t even eyeball a paint chip accurately because the biology of our eyes gets confused about colour levels once any colour dimension changes. Comparisons are the key.

And this is before we talk about having any other colour nearby – makeup, walls.

And before we apply hue, value, and chroma to the emotional and cognitive psychology of a human being. PCA is so much about human connection.

Craig’s blue eyes…Light Season, you think? maybe…what are the differences between icy colours and pastels? (Dearest Graduates – rhetorical Q, don’t chime in.) We’ve got your really light Bright colouring people and your really light Light colouring people. Until colouring is put to a measured test by draping, knowing its frequency on the saturation scale, or heat scale, or value scale, is beyond my sense of sight. I do know for sure that it matters a serious lot when they all go shopping.

 

Photo: Annie Leibovitz, cover Vanity Fair, October 2012
Photo: Annie Leibovitz, cover Vanity Fair, October 2012

In the Vanity Fair article, J.T. and Craig seem the same exact man, a little strict but great sense of humour.

 

Colours and humans are so alike. The moment they get close or touch, they both change. It’s all about relationships as energy fields come into contact. They can’t not change. It’s not in the Nature of living energy fields to be frozen. The frozen kind would be called photographic images.

Could Winters change less? Summer reacts the instant someone walks in the room, offers tea, brings in a chair, suggests we sit on the porch where the breeze is so nice. Winter will notice you 15 minutes after you get there and say Hi 10 minutes later, when they’re done focusing on that pin point.

No, no, joking, that’s not true, everybody’s colour changes the same amount. Everybody and everything is about relationships. True what I said about them noticing you though :)

After a day together, students see where my analogies come from. The best one to date has to be from R., about a True Summer in school bus yellow, You look as if you’re about to burst into flames. We laugh, we relax, the client has fun, and the analyst has fun.

By the time he left, Bright Spring colours in his pocket, my entire assessment of J.T. had shifted from medium and ‘Buy a workout from him?? No way. He looks like he needs help getting his groceries into the car!’

to potent, spiritual, would really care about helping me, funny, fun, energized, pain free, a man who looks like he’d deliver.

Today, J.T. is an ad man’s dream: a 3D, living, breathing ambassador for Brand J.T.

 

—–

 

8 thoughts on “When Does Wearing Black Harm Your Brand?”

  1. Great article as always. I loved the images of DiCarpio & Federer; it really showed the effect of black on two different colorings. I live in NYC where the financial districts of Manhattan are indeed hoards of nameless, faceless people dressed in black.

  2. Thanks, I think.

    I just fell in love with Roger Federer. TW must stand for True Winner.

  3. Since I’m still not sure if I’m SA or DA, I don’t know whether I “balance” black or not. But I appreciate the discussion.

    Oh, and thank you for the easier way to access the archived posts! I was going crazy.

  4. This is a bit off topic, a shopping comment. I went shopping yesterday for the first time since the pca and I can say with my hand on the oxford dictionary that it was an improved experience. Usually I’m fairly stressed when clothes shopping. There’s no plan, no guidelines and often no success. I’m constantly asking myself, does this look good? Does this look good? Would that look good? Can I wear that? Shop mirrors are so badly lit half of the time that you can’t actually see yourself anyway. Yesterday, however, I noticed about two hours into the slog that I felt about as stressed as I would feel shopping for socks. There really wasn’t any. Usually clothes shopping leaves me ragged. I just sort of went about my business and knew what to look for. You can literally stand at about four vantage points in a store and just scan the racks. Who knew? Totally different experience. You really do start to feel like the ball is in your court.

  5. I seem to be fortunate, I do not care so much about black- lucky me that my work does not require almost-all-black outfits. But… I am mad about navy. So Christine, when you have the time and the drive, and only then, please comment a little on navy for the selected few that are like me. :-) :-)

  6. Inge – that is a BEAUTIFUL recording. Even the Pope is clearly enjoying it! She does look beautiful. Such a gigantic relief, a weight taken off, that she isn’t in black. Her face reminds me of Tom Hanks.
    Navy is excellent and underdone. I love it much more than grays on any of the 5 Spring types. On Dark Winter, it’s outstanding to complement the orange tones, indeed on any Autumn blend.

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