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Fashion: Matching colours

A study suggests when it comes to colour, the closer the better for consumers.

The 1980s is widely considered a fashion disaster, with its colour riot of parachute pants, leg warmers and shoulder pads. According to a new study, that judgment might be more than just historical embarrassment: when it comes to choosing colours for a new article of clothing, most people are quite conservative in their tastes.

The study involved 142 participants who were asked to use a website to create a customized shoe design. They could choose colours for seven elements of the shoe, and for each element, they could choose between six to 12 colours. While this theoretically provides for millions of potential designs, when researchers analyzed the choices made by the participants and measured the similarity of chosen colours, they found that there was a strong tendency to use identical or closely related colours in all seven elements.

Does this mean, then, that black is always the new black, and that companies can stop trying to predict consumer taste and simply offer a narrow range of colour choices? Not quite, says Xiaoyan Deng, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University. “Each consumer may have a different idea of what colour they want to emphasize. But once they make that choice, their palette tends to be restricted.”