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Fashion in a good balance

Audrey Cabahug (The Freeman) - October 18, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Every day, most people get stressed out deciding what to wear. They don't necessarily want outfits that are outstandingly fashionable. They just want to look 'right'.

The fretfulness about clothes is normal. Clothing influences others' perception of one's social identity, employability, romantic prospects, and even signals a person's cognitive ability. The fashion industry would not be worth $1.7 trillion if it did not serve a practical purpose with people.

Curiously, there has been little empirical psychological research on what makes something fashionable. But there has been discovered - from findings of a study - a 'system' that provides practical and realistic approach to being fashionable. It's called the Goldilocks Principle.

The Goldilocks Principle mainly entails judgments of color combinations. To put it simply, it's a serious jab into color coordination. It's nothing new, though; the Principle has been there all along - only that it's been a matter with very profound connotation, no one thought it could apply to something so mundane, like fashion, as well.

It treads along a tradition of philosophical thought stretching back millennia: Aristotle's "Golden Mean," Buddha's "Middle Way" and Confucius' "Doctrine of the Mean." All these represent a balance between two extremes. Infants prefer looking at visual sequences that are neither too complex, nor too simple, and optimum psychological wellbeing is achieved when one's experiences balance simplicity and complexity. In developing sense of self, a person tries to strike a harmonious balance between similarity with others and individual distinctiveness.

In terms of personal appearance, people across cultures are more attracted to average looks - suggesting that the aesthetic ideal is found not at the extremes, but rather in balance. Applied to fashion, the best color combinations are those that are neither too similar ("matchy-matchy") nor too different ("clashing"). But there is always the temptation to go to extremes, since fashion is often about being noticed, and so some people go for color combinations that grab attention and, okay, they do attract attention at times - but not adulation.

In the study that gave birth to the Goldilocks Principle, the research participants were presented with clothes paired in various color combinations. Men's and women's sets were presented. As the color coordination judgments of the participants were analyzed, it was found that the general preference was for moderately coordinated combinations.

Such finding can help people deal with the "What to wear?" question. One only needs to 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, with all other factors held constant, the Goldilocks Principle predicted judgments across four different color palettes in both men's and women's clothing.

The Goldilocks Principle may also explain aesthetic judgments beyond fashion, reflecting a basic principle of human preference that seeks to balance simplicity and complexity, order and disorder. Indeed, people prefer music that balances melodic simplicity and complexity. This quantitative analysis of fashion is only a first step in empirical aesthetics, but it highlights the utility of bringing science to art–in this case, fashion art.

Put simply, the Goldilocks Principle is about not being 'loud'. In the choice of colors, in particular, the ideal choices are shades that are soft or bit muted. And if the urge is to go for different colors in one set - please, they all should be complementary and work together well.

Some people just have it in them - good taste. Others may just have to try harder to have it. Or those who find it hard to achieve it may just try to copy those that have it. (FREEMAN)

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