Here’s a hint: it’s not colour by numbers
Coco Chanel once said, “The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” So how do corporate uniform designers find one colour that looks good on everyone?
Well, the colours used for corporate wear and uniforms are often already pre-defined by brand guidelines. If you think that means one less thing to consider, think again. To create a classic uniform that looks good on staff and is distinctive and lasting, you need to get the shade, proportion and mix of colour just right. Here are some expert design tips to consider:
Just like the tone you use when you speak can change the meaning of a sentence, colour tone can change how an outfit looks and feels. Uniforms need to suit a wide spectrum of employees of all ethnicities and ages – and some tones don’t flatter everyone. Picking the right colour tone for your uniform can make it instantly more wearable.
A good example of this is Great Western Railways. Their core brand colour is British racing green. However, while the colour looked great on paper, it looked a little too vivid on people. So JSD designers, in consultation with GWR, came up with suggestions for tone variations to make it more wearable. Just small tweaks were enough to keep it consistent with the branding and make it more appealing.
2. Print vs. cloth Pantone
Did you know that there are different Pantone colour systems for graphic design and for fashion design? For print, there are 1,100 unique, numbered colours while their textile colour system has over 1,900 colours. So when you specify a Pantone colour from your brand guidelines, you probably won’t get exactly the same shade on your fabric. Ask your uniform supplier to help you identify which cloth colours will be the closest match to the colour you’re after.
3. Colour as a brand building tool
Creative and innovative use of uniform colour can help differentiate your brand from your competitors – to stand out boldly or in more subtle ways. Some brands are closely associated with a single colour, like Virgin with red or EasyJet with orange. If colour is important to your brand recognition, then it needs to play a central role in your uniform too. A key consideration when designing the Eurostar uniform was to ensure that staff would stand out from their customers on busy platforms. The JSD design team used flashes of Eurostar’s acid yellow brand colour against their more classic navy to create the distinctive and elegant look.
4. Staying power
When designing a uniform, you also need to check that the fabrics you use are colourfast. Items of clothing worn closer to the body tend to get washed more frequently and after a few wash cycles, the colour in some fabrics can fade if not treated properly. Make sure your supplier has selected fit-for-purpose fabrics and tested for colour fastness to corporate wear standard.
5. Matching colour in fabrics
Similarly, fibres dye differently across fabrics. The same dye on wool or acrylic knitwear versus cotton shirting may not be exactly alike so you need to be prepared for that. If you’re looking to colour match a shirt and a jacket, you might not get the desired result. When Gucci Beauty launched their first ever uniform, they specified the exact shade of black in all their uniform fabrics including knitwear and jersey. While sounding relatively simple, this provided an interesting challenge for the JSD designers – one that required rigorous colour testing and matching.
6. Patterns and textures
While there are colour trends in fashion, in corporate uniform design, the mantra is ‘classic and timeless’. Most companies aim to keep the same look for a good few years for brand recognition and budgetary considerations. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: will this uniform still look good in 10 years?
Avoid strong patterns in your uniform like paisley or floral motifs that can date easily, although they can still work well as detailing on accessories like ties and scarves. Adding textures like stripes, checks or pin dots to your shirt design can be a stylish and subtle way of making your uniforms more relevant to the brand.
7. Light and other special effects
One thing that’s often overlooked when choosing a uniform colour is the effect light will have on it. Experienced designers will always check their samples against a lightbox first to see how the colour comes up under different lighting. So retailers should check uniform colours under ‘shop light’ while companies whose staff will be largely outdoors, should match the colour to how it looks under ‘street light’. It’s also important to remember that colour can be reflected in glass and this can cause confusion in certain jobs. For instance, a large block of red reflected in glass could be confused with a stop sign and be a potential hazard for a train driver.
8. Would you wear it?
The proof of a successful uniform is whether the wearer likes it and feels happy in it – be that down to fit, comfort or colour. Too intense a shade or too much colour might make staff feel conspicuous and awkward. So why not ask the ones who’ll be wearing the uniform day in, day out what they think? While you can approach your employees directly, they may not always feel able to give their honest opinion for fear of offending you. With this in mind, more and more companies are now seeing the value in asking their uniform supplier to conduct focus groups to test reactions to new designs.
The devil is in the detail. Experienced corporate wear designers often instinctively know which tones will work and which tones won’t. They will have come across all sorts of issues before and will know what to look out for and what questions to ask you. When you embark on your new uniform design project, remember these top tips!