Annalisa Barbieri: Dress your kids in blue or pink for a calm life

A primary school on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, decided earlier this week to change its pupils' uniforms from red to blue and yellow.
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The Independent Online

A primary school on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, decided earlier this week to change its pupils' uniforms from red to blue and yellow. The school had discovered, after conducting a research project, that red was too aggressive a colour to have as a school uniform, and that blue and yellow would provide a calmer and more creative environment.

What took them so long? Just the thought of being dressed in head-to-toe red, let alone having to walk around a building picked out in red (which this school is ­ even the skirting-boards are red) makes me agitated.

It might, just, have been all right for the boys ­ red is the rutting-stag of colours and therefore male. But it could set the girls up for a lifelong aversion to anything red, which would be rather unfortunate. Blue ­ the most popular colour in the world ­ however, is associated with the intellect, and particular shades of blue are, indeed, mentally calming.

As a fashion editor, I spent half a decade desperately trying to run away from image consultants wanting to drape me in bits of coloured chiffon and tell me whether I was a "winter" or a "summer" person ­ any person aside from the one I really was: the one who wears black. This, they argued, is because black ­ according to these colour fairies ­ is supposed to suit no one.

Yet black is the only colour that my entire generation feels comfortable in. Not surprisingly, this treatment by the fashion gurus made the best of us equate colour with mere fashion; but nothing could be further from the truth: there's a lot more to colour than meets the eye.

Faber Birren, an authority on colour, came to believe that as we grow older, we go for colours with a longer wavelength (ie blues and greens). And that liking short-wavelength colours, such as red, was a sign of immaturity. (Has anyone told Tony Blair?)

Certainly, this is borne out by the Fisher Price Activity Map and the colour of Opal Fruits (Starbursts, if you must) that a young hand will instinctively reach for.

Birren was also the canny chap called in to a 1950s factory after the workers had complained that the black boxes that they had to lift were too heavy. His advice? Paint the boxes a light green. It worked.

The colour psychologist Angela Wright argues that assessing a situation by colour ­ is that berry ripe, is that field fertile? ­ is a primal instinct. So primal that we have no idea we're doing it. Many a truth, she says, is inadvertently spoken by the colours we choose (and yes, she has found this knowledge helpful in her personal life).

Black is the preferred colour of evening dress not because it is chic or slimming (although no one will convince me otherwise) but because we view it as a security-blanket colour. We wear black like camouflage, when we're not sure what we're going to encounter. (Interestingly, during this election, all the party leaders have darkened their ties considerably, eschewing their normal reds, blues and golds to very dark blue, sometimes even black, when faced with "questions from the public" encounters.)

Pink however, being "female", can be intensely calming and soothing if it's the right shade, but it can repress masculinity. A few years ago, a San José prison painted some of its cells a soft pink and it did indeed calm the inmates right down. Sadly, one of the police forces here tried to do the same, but reported that it had the opposite effect; they had not, however, quite grasped that pink comåes in many shades, and had used a bright pink gloss that had quite the opposite effect.

It is a coincidence, of course, that Labour have chosen soft pink and lavender as the background for their party press-conference stage. But in their case, the effects of pink have worked rather too well. They have lulled us right off to sleep.

Annalisa.Barbieri@btinternet.com

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