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The Colour of Uniform: What to Choose and Why

Colour choice is integral to our lives, whether it’s picking the red sticky notes over the yellow ones or deciding which colour to dye your hair, every day you make choices to curate the rainbow around you. However, it is a spectrum. Some people purposefully pursue their colours to match their skin tone, hair colour etc while others just happen to pick certain ones off the shelves time and time again without realising. The importance and role of colour is

When it comes to your staff uniform, the colour choices are perhaps even more important. The correct colour combination can become integral to your brand and will help people identify your company before they see a sign. And a signature colour in the staff uniform can help bring all pieces together and make them instantly recognisable to potential customers. 

To give an example of how it can work in uniform think of Asda, one of the UK’s most popular supermarkets. They incorporate the iconic green from their logo into all elements of their uniform. Whether it’s a pop of colour in a polo shirt or through the piping of a fleece, it instantly tells you that uniform is part of their brand. Our customers TGI Fridays have carefully selected their colour scheme to match their branding. Read our Case Study on their uniform here.

But if you’re in that initial stage of deciding which colour or colours to incorporate into your uniform, you might want to look into colour marketing. You want your customers to get the right impression from your staff, and colour marketing is a facet of marketing psychology, which looks at the way our behaviour effects buying.

We have innate reactions to different colours, and sometimes it can even make us work differently. A study that took place during the 2004 Olympics randomly assigned blue and red uniforms to persons engaging in one-on-one combat activities such as boxing and wrestling, and statistically more people won wearing red. The study suggests this is because we associate red with dominance and stimulation. Perhaps this is why Virgin Atlantic chose a bright, vivid red into their cabin crew uniforms.

If you’re after hospitality uniforms, this information might not be particularly useful to you. However, it does lead to the Ketchup and Mustard Theory.

The Ketchup and Mustard Theory stems from popular American fast food brands Burger King and McDonald's, both brands with strong red and yellow visual identifiers. Although there’s no science to back it up, it supposedly stems from the positive associations American’s have with ketchup and mustard on hotdogs. However, it does go more in-depth, the colour yellow is shown to be associated with happiness, and the warm red colour attracts your attention and acts as a stimulant.  

Alternatively, an international study centred on the use of blue street lights to prevent anti-social behaviour. They believed that the blue would calm people and there’s actually some anecdotal proof it works. Furthermore blue is most people’s favourite colour, meaning we commonly react better to people wearing it. Blue projects stability, responsibility and loyalty. This could be the reason why so many retail uniforms are blue and also why itis regularly incorporated into medical and care uniforms. 

There are plenty of other ways the human brain register colour and it does depend on a number of geographical and social factors to how we feel about certain colours. Below is a table taken from the Office of National Statistics with their key associations for each colour in the United Kingdom.

 Colour

 Connotations

 Red

 anger, caution, attention, heat, debt

 Orange

 warm, autumn

 Yellow

 happy, fun, young

 Green

 nature, calm, good luck

 Blue

 stability, professional, cold (temperature), trust

 Purple

 wealth, mystical, decadent

 Brown

 rustic, practical, warm, vintage

 White

 sterile, innocence, peace, truth, hygiene

 Black

 sophistication, night, death, contemporary

 Multicolour

 international, inclusive, multicultural

 

However, social and psychological associations are one aspect of the role of colour in uniforms. Practicality must also be taken into account. For instance, white is often worn by formal front of house staff. However, if food or drink is spilled on a white garment versus a darker colour it is more obvious and may even stain more aggressively due to the fabric not being purposefully dyed. It is always good practice to keep a spare product in case of such eventually, but purchasing a darker colour for front of house uniforms may save you money in the long run.

In contrast, chef uniforms have are purposefully white so as to revel stains. Although we have seen this change slightly in recent years, the reason behind this is because of food contamination. For instance, uncooked meat is not like red wine, with a visible dark blemish, but rather translucent. On any other colour this may not be visible to the wearer and thus risk dangerous bacteria and viruses contaminating other dishes. White would be noticeably stained by raw meat, and therefore, the chef would know to decontaminate or change jackets. After all, they are called chef whites!

The most obvious example of colour being used in a practical sense is high visibility clothing. The clue to this one really is in the name. Ignoring reflective stripes, which can be found on duller garments such as work or cargo trousers, the only unique aspect to a high visibility jacket, vest or trouser is its colour.

When deciding on the right colour uniform for your restaurant or business it’s important it comes from an authentic place. Picking colours to replicate a more popular brand might work in the short term but your success will always be overshadowed. Decide what’s important to your brand research which colours reflect those principals. It is also paramount that you understand your décor of your site. If you have gone for the dimly lit, relaxed environment look than a bright coloured uniform with be visually jarring and look out of place.