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When Does Wearing Black Harm Your Brand?

When Does Wearing Black Harm Your Brand?

access_time 2013/10/4 account_circle chat_bubble_outline 8 Comments
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 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 recognize 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 disrupted, 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.

Only 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 bleached white look normal, the True Winter. Even on Dark and Bright Winter, the clearest, cleanest, freshest complexion require another white.

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 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. 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 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.

8. Alongside a discordant 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 within 20 seconds. Truthful self-expression is so important and 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


Consider the order of what you saw in the next ten people you meet. In order of appearance, on a person who could have spent their money on a version of black customized for their own colouring, we will see




shadow under chin,



red eyelids,


oily shine,



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


hey, nose is red too,


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. 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.

Photo: GQ magazine cover October 2013

Photo: GQ magazine cover October 2013


Your PCA gives you the most becoming black alternative. Just knowing your best black and gray is miles ahead of the appearance game, and more if you appear on video.

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


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



8 Thoughts on When Does Wearing Black Harm Your Brand?

  • "; ?> Melissa

    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.

  • "; ?> Julie

    Thanks, I think.

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

  • "; ?> Linda

    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.

  • "; ?> Jane

    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.

  • "; ?> inge

    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. 🙂 🙂

  • "; ?> inge

    Here is a recording with Hilary Hahn playing Mozart.

    She avoided the black and the strong colours that seem to be a must on stage, and she is beautiful.

    • "; ?> Christine Scaman

      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.

  • "; ?> inge

    Thank you, Christine!

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