I made a sartorial mistake a little while ago. Yes I did (and if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone, let me tell you!). I had been invited to speak at a residential course for young people who had been deemed to be of management calibre. Personal presentation is of course, vitally important to this crowd, even if they didn’t realise it themselves; hence my talk.
The problem was that, as it was a warm day in summer, I had dressed in a yellow jacket, cream top and mint green trousers. I looked great – and it is an outfit I’ve taken along to business networking meetings before and received a lot of complimentary feedback. What I had not taken into account was the natural conservatism and corporate expectations of these young people. The women I normally do business with are in their middle thirties upwards. This was a mixed group and young; oh so young. If I’m ever invited to speak to a similar group I shall make sure I am in my most corporate of colours, my bright navy and dove grey.
We all have colour expectations. If I Google business meeting images I get lots of photos that look like this:
Overwhelmingly, even in this new millennium, we expect business to be done in a charcoal, black or navy suit with a white or pale blue shirt or top. I got very excited when I found one photograph with people wearing colour – but it was clearly labelled “Creative Team Business Meeting”. Is there some kind of rule that only creative people can wear colour in business? I know a woman who invariably wears bright pink to all her business meetings (I think she wears it to everything, actually). It works powerfully for her because it’s part of her business branding, it’s a great colour on her (she’s a Winter) and oh boy, does she have the personality to pull it off! But she’s a website designer: creative and cutting edge. What about the rest of us. Black, grey and navy for business then; is that the rule?
Well, that’s all well and dandy for you Winters out there, even Summers are not too badly off, but what about us warm people? Most Springs and Autumns really don’t look their best in greys and navies. And of course, you’d never touch black now that you’ve been educated, would you? And for men, finding warm coloured shirts, is challenging in the extreme.
I have a theory that most women become less conservative the more mature they become. Quite frankly, we’d rather look good than bow to the slavishly conventional and we’re more inclined to live by our own rules than mindless obey the law of “they say”.*
But if you’re going to break the rules then it’s vital that you know what the rules are and how important they really are.
So what are your Authority Colours?
There’s a simple rule: the darker the colour, the more authority it carries. There is an additional rule that says “White trumps everything!” Why is that? Well, it goes back to the days of our British Imperialistic past when the majority of the world map was pink and the British White Naval uniform was the pinnacle and symbol of the British Government.
I wouldn’t advise a chap to go off to work in a white or cream suit (although a white dinner jacket, if you have the nerve for it, tends to be a winner), but for we lasses, a white or cream jacket in summer is both business like and professional.
If you need to go “corporate” for your look, then do try to think outside the box.
Winters have Indigo, Damson and Pine Green (and you can usually take these colours deeper than your swatches so they’re closer to black. Just make sure they keep the edginess to them that you need as a Winter).
Autumns have dark brown (take it into the mink, chaps. Honestly, everyone will assume it’s black until they’re right up close, and then they’ll admire your style), and dark olive, also bronze. Again, these can all be taken darker if necessary. I once worked with a man who wore a dark green suit. He looked fantastic in it and, being the IT guru, he got away with it. This was back in the 1980s when, although things were more conventional, the IT guy was God and usually earned more than the MD!
Summers have lots of choices with their soft navy, Airforce, and all the blue/greys. But consider also your smoked grape and sea green. If you’re a dark Summer, then taking your Rose Brown deeper may also work.
I’ve left the Springs until last because we’re a tricky bunch. We really need our colours to be light and bright so business dressing can be a challenge. The obvious advice is to get a job in a creative environment and move to California, but failing that, in addition to the obvious chocolate, then teaming the aforementioned bright navy with dove grey works and remember that we’re the girls who make beige look sophisticated, not bland.
If you’re a man with Spring colouring, then the “move to a warmer climate” is serious advice as all your greys are summer suiting colours and even the navy is a bit light. Sometimes, you know, we just have to compromise. Try to keep the colour bright and clear if it can’t be light and really make sure you get the shirt and tie to work powerfully for you.
I know what you’re saying: “Yes, it’s all very well for you to talk, but just you try finding those colours in the shops” and yes, I hear you, I really do. But if you’re not looking then you’ll never see them. If they are on your radar (even sub-consciously) then you’ll notice when they do turn up. All the above jackets are from a cursory look at the John Lewis Website. What might you find if you were really looking?
This post was all about authority and corporate colours. Next week I’ll be discussing power colours, how they’re different and when the power becomes sexual! Sounds like fun, doesn’t it!
*The counterpoint to this rule is that men tend to become more conservative as they get older. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise on this, but have yet to see the evidence.