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  • Jessica Perez for POLYCHROME

How does COLOR affect Performance?

With the 2020 Olympics just next year, many designers have already been working on how it will impact their fashion lines. One of the things that we are very interested in is what colors will be trending, but we don't often consider how color may actually impact athletic performance. If we take into consideration the colors that athletes will choose to dominate in Tokyo next summer, we may have some insight into what we as designers should be planning to include in our own color assortments for Spring/Summer 2020.

2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan

From the everyday gym rat to professional athletes, or even Olympic contenders, attire can be of great concern when it comes to performance. Whether it's high tech gear that monitors vital stats or garments that are designed for less friction and ease movement, your outfit can make a difference in how one performs. In addition to a multitude of advancements in activewear, we should also be considering the impact of color on the playing field. Could the color of an Olympic uniform be the difference between winning the gold or silver? Although the latest tech in activewear is top of mind for many athletes, a number of studies throughout the years have determined that color can make a difference, too.

While it might be inaccurate to say that color adds a physical enhancement to athletic performance, we can't deny its psychological affect. The same way that music can enhance or change a mood, color can as well, and that can affect behavior - not only yours, but also that of your opponent.

So how does this tie into athletics? The way that color can affect athletic performance is by the psychological associations that are being made between the athlete and the mood they connect with a specific color. With those psychological connection being made, the athlete may unconsciously exhibit and reflect the behavior dictated by what they visually see. However small these unconscious correlations may be, athletes and teams worldwide have leveraged this tactic to try and boost their chances at victory. Here's how they do it:

Seeing Red

2004 Olympics red color dominates

Andre Ward winning an Olympic gold Medal in 2004 Athens

Sports teams and athletes have used the color red for their attire as a way to unconsciously improve their performance in a more aggressive manner and ensure victory. Countless studies have shown that the color red has aided performance with its dominating aspect. Symbolic of increased physical energy, stamina, passion, and boosted testosterone, the color red has given an advantage to those wearing this color in events. In the 2004 Olympics held in Athens, research conducted on the sports of taekwondo, boxing, and wrestling showed that athletes who wore red clothing had a higher chance of winning against their competitors who wore blue clothing.

Although all three of these are already viewed as aggressive sports, the statistics behind wearing red have proven that the added benefit of wearing red enhances performance of the wearer. Despite the possible boost that red may provide, there are also some negative associations with this color. Red is also a color that is used to signal danger, and this could promote worry and distraction, which can be a negative for those looking to perform at their very best - unless it is of course your opponent who is distracted to see you in red!


True Blue

In comparison to the action-boosting color of red, blue has also become quite popular with athletes. As one of the most common colors in athletic apparel, athletes have gravitated toward wearing blue in order to promote strategic thinking, creative thinking, teamwork, calmness, and consistency.

In 2017, speed-skating athletes showed up to the first World Cup event of the season having changed from their respective countries traditional colors to suits of blue. Changing from a long history of red, Norway’s new color change came as a huge surprise given that the country has had a long triumphant reign with 80 speed skating medals won at the Olympics over the years. For Germany’s long-standing green suit, change also came in the form of an ombré blue. Why blue? Speed-skating teams deemed that blue was the 'fastest color'.

Despite this assertion made by several teams, Renzo Shamey, a professor of color science and technology at North Carolina State University had said differently: “I cannot possibly imagine how dyeing the same fabric with two dyes that have the same properties to different hues would generate differing aerodynamic responses.” Although it may be hard to believe that a color alone can have an effect on performance, it is undeniable that color can alter the mood and therefore the performance of athletes. Although this color supposedly promotes such benefits as tranquility, creativity, and strategic thinking, downsides can be that blue is not typically a dominating hue and can at times be associated with sadness and lack of motivation. Perhaps this is why studies comparing blue Judo uniforms to traditional white uniforms show that blue ones that do not have performative advantage in competition.


Mellow Yellow

LA RAms revert back to their traditional uniforms for Superbowl LIII

the Los Angeles Rams wearing their blue-and-yellow jerseys

When people think of the color yellow, more often than not, the first words that come to mind are sunshine, warmth, and happiness. As a very positive color that can promote an uplifted mood, the color yellow has represented a sense of optimism that many people subconsciously gravitate toward. Take for example the uniform of the Los Angeles Rams worn in this year's Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams had been looking to transition and phase out the color gold from their uniform, so they switched back to their traditional blue and yellow uniform colors. Reverting back to yellow for the crucial Superbowl event, they hoped to channel the optimism that this color represents as well as nostalgia for their heritage uniforms. This not only inspired the athletes themselves, but also longstanding fans of the team. Although the event ended in favor of the opposing team (the Patriots), this color tapped into a positive state of mind that athletes most definitely need for a good outcome. In caution, although bright yellows promote a sunny mentality, the variation of this hue is critical to psychological perception. While yellow usually reflects warmth, vitality, and happiness, dull muted yellows can foster subconscious feelings of caution, decay, and sickness, which most definitely do not support a winning mindset.


Paint It Black

LA Kings hockey team sport dominating black uniforms

Keith Ballard of the Vancouver Canucks (right) and Colin Fraser of the Los Angeles Kings (left)

In the fashion community, the color black reins supreme for anyone looking to evoke power, sophistication, and a sleek silhouette. Although red is associated with power and a masculine energy, the color black can subconsciously channel aggression as well. The color black can lend positive associations of being strong and sophisticated while also giving the perception of mystery and the unknown.

In studies dating back from 1988 and more recently, 2012, researchers have documented how the color black on uniforms in comparison those of other colors impacts performance in sports like hockey. Here is a downside, though: looking at game winnings dating as far back as the 1970’s, an overwhelming amount of data has proven that the team wearing a black uniform was perceived as the more aggressive and as a result, were averaging more penalties than the opposing team. This aligns with the age old paradigm where black indicates "bad guy" and white is for the "hero". Although the color does have a sophisticated and sleek appearance, the context in which the color is used is a crucial when it comes to how it is perceived, not only on the part of the athletes, but also on the part of the referees.


Perception is Key

With the list of emotional and behavior affects color has on performance may be complex, the context in which the performer views color is also extremely important. The whole premise of color psychology is to determine the subconscious connections being made by what you visually see. While the color red may be positively associated with increased energy, in certain environments and instances, it can also signify danger and hostility. As we have observed, most colors can have different, sometimes opposing implications depending on the circumstances.

Click below to listen as our founder, Thea talks about color tied to athletic performance in an interview with NYU's Roni Li:

soundcloud interview about color and performance

In addition to visual impact, performative effects are also based on the individual and their own reflections and experiences. Cultural background is a factor that must be considered when weighing psychological impacts of color. For example, in China, the color red symbolizes luck, prosperity, and joy. That symbolic connection is much different than that of other cultures.

While certain colors are viewed negatively in performance, those same colors can be viewed positively in a different contextual setting. In addition, with events like the Olympics, it is extremely common and even expected for Olympians to compete in garments reflective of their national flag's colors. There can be a sense of fan support and energy as well as national pride that comes from associating their outfit in such a literal way to their homeland.

There is no doubt that the psychological impact of color can be a vital component in how well an athlete is going to perform. Which colors may be the best choice to boost an athlete's chance to bring home the gold, though, is most likely up to the personal perspective of the individual and their cultural background.


Here at Polychrome, we are eagerly anticipating how the Olympics will influence Summer 2020 trends and prints! We are prepared with a great selection of prints that are perfect for activewear; to see the whole collection check out our print shop!

For a little extra inspo, check out some prints below that are great choices for activewear!

prints from top left: Dashed Lines | Bauhaus | Abstract Texture \ Wrapped Dots | Glowing Target \ Overlap Circles | Graphic Lines | Bamboo | Tricolor Stripes

Do you think color plays an important role in performance? We'd love to hear how the Summer Olympics may have impacted your decisions in building your seasonal palettes for this year. Drop a comment below and let us know!


Sources: Daily Mail UK | BBC | NYTimes | Samford | Moneyball Sportswear | Business Insider | Psychology Today

* We intend no copyright infringement by displaying images from other sources on our site. Unless otherwise noted, all images are the property of their respective owners.

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