By: Anila Yoganathan
Colors aren’t normally the first thing someone thinks about when it comes to professionalism, but when it comes to grooming in the workplace, colors hold a stronger weight. Whether it is hair color, nail color, clothes or makeup, colors are severely scrutinized in the workplace. There is an idea that the more subdued the color, the more professional a person, even if this only indicates a person’s preferred colors and tastes.
Beginning with clothes, sites like Business Insider recommend that employees should focus on colors that “portray authority” for the workplace; colors that are dark yet subdued. They also recommend avoiding colors that draw attention, such as neon colors, stating that it is distracting. However, these recommendations do not translate or represent a person’s work ethic, they simply express a part of a person’s personality, which may have nothing to do with their professionalism. In a study on clothing perceptions, a visual experiment and a 41-question survey were conducted on 150 students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in their General Liberal Arts Courses. The study revealed that models were perceived differently based on their clothing, but more needs to be researched on the subject.
A person’s perceived professionalism is not just indicated by his or her clothes, but also by their nails. While there are days when a person’s nail polish matches their outfit, there are also days that it does not. Huffington Post emphasizes neutral colors for nails. Pinterest reinforces this statement by providing viewers with images of neutral colored nails when searching for professional nail polish colors. Though a person’s nails can indicate how hygienic they are, the color of said nails does not necessarily mean a person works or acts a specific way. It could simply mean they admire the color, or want to try something new.
Clothes and nails aside, a heavily regulated and discussed topic in the workplace is a woman’s makeup. There are many sites including, but not limited to, Huffington Post, Glamour and Cosmopolitan that discuss and push makeup trends for the workplace. Most of these trends involve eliminating bright colors, glitter or trends such as smokey eyes and red lipstick. The idea that a person’s preference of blue eyeliner over black, or non-glitter bronzer or eyeshadow is regulated or suppressed suggests that this person isn’t necessarily being valued for their work, but more so for their appearance.
Lastly, hair color expectations are undergoing a change. According to the New York Times, there are many women who are stepping outside society’s comfort zone and wearing colorfully dyed hair. More women are beginning to dye their hair and style it in ways that were once seen as unprofessional or juvenile. However, the color stigma is still there as acknowledged by a LinkedIn writer, Lauren Hug, who points out that though people should be able to dye their hair to their taste, their decision may make it difficult for them to find work or be taken seriously in the workplace. Even though the workplace is beginning to evolve and accept that colors aren’t necessarily unprofessional in terms of hair, the stigma is still prevalent and needs to be addressed.
Colors are a natural part of the world and not all of them are nudes, pale pinks or matte reds. From playing with crayons and markers as a kid, to picking out colorful clothes, painting our nails, applying makeup or dyeing our hair, colors are an integral part of our lives and our choices. A person’s choice to wear blue eyeliner, or red pants with purple hair says little about their work ethic and more about their fashion preferences. Professionalism should not be focused so closely on colors and limiting a person’s choices on how they present and express themselves. Not everyone cares to express themselves in demure, pastel colors that are socially branded as professional.
As shown with the growing hair trends, workplaces are capable of changing their policies and adapting to the social acceptance of a person’s right to express themselves through color. This can be extended to other expressive elements such as clothing, nail polish colors and makeup.