Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Bluing of America

Color psychology is used routinely to manipulate tastes

The eight stylishly dressed jurists huddled around a stark, white, rectangular table were sifting through endless snippets of yarn and swatch upon swatch of silk, rayon and linen. "We need to soften the yellow to almost a blond yellow," one mulled aloud, squinting at several fabric squares. A green swatch was rejected by one woman with a disapproving, "That's too much of a bathroom tile shade." Another tan square drew the comment, "Good. It doesn't have any shine, like a brown paper bag." It seemed for a time that no decisions would be reached, but after 2½ hours of gentle tussling, the group last month in the Manhattan town house offices of the Color Association of the United States (CAUS) finally accomplished its goal: predicting the color of women's apparel for the spring/summer season of 1985.

Psychologists have long declared that color conveys emotional messages and exerts a profound effect on behavior. Accordingly, advertisers and manufacturers, who receive information from CAUS, routinely use color psychology to manipulate consumer tastes. Thus, detergent boxes tend to have pure white backgrounds or designs in bold, primary colors to foster an image of cleanliness and strength. Vacuum cleaners for the home are light colored, indicating subtly to women that the machines are light in weight and easily maneuverable; a similar model may appear in a bold, primary color when its intended buyer is a man who wants the machine for heavy garage duty. Brands of low-tar and -nicotine cigarettes sport labels with large white areas and light-colored letters to convey a feeling of purity. White on cans of light beer and diet soda connotes low calories.

Outside the world of commerce, color is employed in therapeutic settings. At Aid for the Retarded, a shelter and workshop in Stamford, Conn., the walls are painted peach, blue and yellow to promote relaxation. Colored yarns are used in occupational therapy to compensate for the monotony of the tasks. Says Faber Birren, 82, the dean of American color researchers: "Color distracts you from yourself and relieves you of inner anxieties, melancholies and fears."

The Color Association, a major force in guiding U.S. color tastes, has been issuing projections for clothing for more than 60 years and a forecast covering home furnishings and appliances for nearly 30 years. About 700 companies, ranging from textile houses to car manufacturers to bathroom-fixture makers, receive each year the color forecast cards. Membership annually: $320. According to the current women's apparel color selectors, all of them from fashion and textile firms, stores will be stocked 18 to 24 months from now with clothing in mint green, lemon yellow, orange-red and many shades of blue. Says Art Historian Margaret Walch, associate director of CAUS: "The palette is bright, pretty, feminine."

The color prophesies of CAUS and other organizations have a demonstrable effect. After studying the 1983-84 forecast, which predicted the increased popularity of soft, muted greens, Fieldcrest has introduced new shades of green in its line of towels. The auto companies, working with CAUS charts, are hoping that buyers in 1985 will flock to silver cars.,9171,950987,00.html