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Eye-ing Up Your Style

New research from the University of St Andrews uncovers the truth behind what colours suit you best.

Mary-Kate Olsen, a well-known frequenter of both the best and worst-dressed red carpet lists, also finds herself featured on British Vogue’s “Inspirational Fashion Quotes to Live By”. Her style advice? “There are no rules.” Controversial and incorrect according to the trillion-dollar fashion industry’s countless magazine publications, educating billions of women, particularly, on exactly how to dress. Recently, researchers from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews have proven Mary-Kate Olsen and much of the existing fashion advice wrong. The art of well-executed fashion does have rules — it is based on your eye colour.

Professor Perrett and his team’s work recently highlighted the importance of complexion in colour-matching clothes. They invited participants to choose the colour of clothing that they thought best matched an array of different faces. There was an obvious difference in colour choice depending on the pigmentation of the face.

However, they did not uncover the specific reason behind participants linking certain colours with certain faces. Given the likelihood of darker eyes with darker skin and hair pigmentation and lighter eyes with lighter skin and hair complexion, Perrett concluded that “any one of these features could be the basis of clothing colour choice”. Complexion was assumed to be most important in line with “virtually all stylist advice”.

Recently, Professor Perrett and his team asked two hundred participants for their opinions to test the relative importance of hair, skin, and eye colour for clothing colour choices. One experiment used images of white women, half with light-coloured skin, hair, and eyes, and half with darker skin, hair, and eyes. These images were then transformed so that the skin tone of those with naturally fair faces was altered to give them a tan and the skin colour of the half with naturally darker faces was lightened. Across the board, there was a consensus that clothing colours matched the eye and hair colour; reds for darker features, and blues for lighter features regardless of the complexion being lightened or darkened respectively.

A second study compared both light and dark-toned naturally featured faces and swapped eye colours between light and dark. The results concluded in the “dominant role of eye colour with warmer, more saturated, and darker clothing colours being chosen for faces with darker eyes. Reciprocally cooler, less saturated, lighter clothing colours were chosen for faces with lighter eyes. Hair and skin colour had little influence”.

On 23 October, Professor Perrett and his team’s work was published in The Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Their research into the relatively unstudied scientific field of aesthetics of clothing colour has shown that, despite the fashion industry’s never-ending attempt to sell you the season's latest trends, there are clothes that suit you and clothes that don't.

You can change your hair colour, sometimes by the persuasion of your favourite model or influencer. You can even alter your complexion slightly, either by staying in or out of the sun or with a trip to Boot's self-tanning section, if you so desire. This massively benefits the fashion industry financially. By convincing you that certain colours will suit you, by matching them to a relatable characteristic or seasonal trend, they entice you to spend more money, only for you to discover that your new garment just doesn't look as good on”.

While this situation is annoying, to say the least, it primarily promotes incredibly unsustainable consumption. This new scientific research can confirm, better than any fashion magazine’s style tips, what colours you should wear to dress to impress. Professor Perrett’s fascinating research can help you play your part in conquering climate change by building a more sustainable wardrobe with pieces that always work for you. Not to mention the benefit of not wasting time endlessly hunting for that perfect outfit.

The future of this study continues to excite with Professor Perrett commenting that they “will attempt to introduce more realism in the garment’s depiction and will explore colour choice for men and women from more diverse ethnic backgrounds”.

I shall leave you with a poignant quote from the late fashion legend Miss Vivienne Westwood; “If you love something, wear it all the time, don’t just suck it all up and consume. Find things that suit you. That's how you look extraordinary.”

The Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts

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