On Monday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated for the first time. They stuck with their signature styles — Clinton wore a bright pantsuit; Trump donned a colorful tie, crisp white shirt, and, of course, a spray tan — but one detail stood out: The candidates wore colors generally associated with the other’s political party.
Clinton selected a warm, crimson ensemble in traditional Republican red, whereas Trump opted for a tie in royal blue — a rallying hue for the Democratic Party.
This surprising switcheroo was immediately noted on social media:
Political cross-dressing? Blue tie for Trump, red suit for Clinton.
— Roll Call (@rollcall) September 27, 2016
Maddow: Hillary Clinton in red, Trump in blue—already they’re messing with us!
— Sarah Larson (@asarahlarson) September 27, 2016
Markets already wrong — they predicted Trump would wear red tie and Clinton a blue pants suit.
— Steven Rattner (@SteveRattner) September 27, 2016
Also, why is Trump wearing a blue tie, and Clinton wearing red?
A weird symbol given his Dem past and her Repub ways #debatenight
— Zach Haller (@zachhaller) September 27, 2016
So is there a deeper meaning behind this unexpected shade swap? According to the field of color psychology, the answer is yes, sort of — and its researchers have turned up a handful of interesting insights.
Red can help you win
Generally associated with warmth, courage, willpower, speed, and assertiveness, red has been found to tip the winner scales at sporting events because it’s touted to increase players’ aggression and dominance.
In an experiment at the 2004 Olympic Games, psychologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton found that boxers who wore red shorts in combat sports such as boxing were about 5 percent more likely to win their match than opponents in blue shorts. In their paper, Hill and Barton call the color red a “sexually selected, testosterone-dependent signal of male quality in a variety of animals.”
They also noted that “wearing red presumably tips the balance between losing and winning only when other factors are fairly equal.” Like, say, in a neck-and-neck presidential race.
Red also increases attraction
A 2008 study found that “red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable.” The hypothesis: Humans may be conditioned to associate the color with fertility. The same researchers found a few years later that human reactions become both faster and more forceful to the color because “it is seen as a danger cue. Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack. People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and its implications.”
Blue helps along our creative thinking
Scientists from the University of British Columbia found in 2009 that blue is the best color for boosting creative thinking. “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace, and tranquility,” author Juliet Zhu said. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory.”
Blue’s also the most popular color
In 2012, University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen asked nearly 2,000 men and women what their favorite color was, and found that blue scored highest across sexes, with 42 percent of men preferring blue and 29 percent of women touting it as their preferred shade — and this basically held true across age, race, and education level.
Color might not have played a major part in the debate, but during an election in which appearance and looks are integral, every outfit counts.