• 07.21.14

Science Says Matching Isn’t Fashionable

Color-coordinated outfits aren’t fetch, a new study says. But neither is power clashing.

Science Says Matching Isn’t Fashionable
[Image: Matching Outfits and Snoopy Doll, 1973 via Flickr / Chris Warren]

Put down the color-coordinated pantsuit. Scientific research has ruled on what’s fashionable, and wearing matching colors is officially out. The verdict, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina, Duke, and Carnegie Mellon: “maximum fashionableness is attained when outfits are neither too coordinated nor too different.”


In a new study, psychologists asked 239 subjects from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to rate drawings of men and women’s clothing based on how fashionable they were. The subjects saw 30 different color combinations of outfits that were either “matchy-matchy,” “clashing,” or somewhere in between. The researchers found that the Goldilocks Principle, which says people prefer to strike a balance between too extremes, applies to matching our clothes, too.

Based on their findings, they advise:

Select a color combination that is neither completely uniform, nor completely different. Certainly, moderate matching is not the only key to fashion, which varies across time and culture and depends upon many factors including cut, design, and trendiness. However, these studies reveal that, with all other factors held constant, the Goldilocks principle predicted judgments across four different color palettes in both men’s and women’s clothing.

Of course, before you throw out all your perfectly color-coordinated sweatsuits and vow to never power clash again, bear in mind that the opinions of 239 random people looking at digital drawings of clothing do not make a hard-and-fast rule. This is only a preliminary foray into finding what the researchers call “an empirical approach to fashionableness.” Science: savior of the fashion-blind.

[H/T Amber Williams]

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.