The other day, I wore black slacks, a black-checkered shirt, and a red sweater to work. Later that evening, I went to a farewell cocktail party for one of the lobbyists who is leaving PharmaCo. and going on to some K Street law firm to work as an even higher paid lobbyist and consultant. A couple of the women in our group commented on my red sweater and complimented its colorfulness in comparison to their muted, earth tones.
Having worked in Washington for a bit now, I accepted the compliment verbally, but then also made a mental note. Were they being sincere in their compliments or was this yet another classic, Washington, passive-aggressive way of telling me my sweater was too bright for their conservative tastes and perhaps it wasn’t appropriate for a federal affairs office? (See, this is what D.C. does to you. It messes with your mind and makes you doubt every little thing you say, do, or wear. It’s silly.) I shoved that thought aside, though, and decided I was just going to take it as a compliment—nothing more, nothing less.
The red sweater reminded me of a study that was done several years ago. I don’t remember where I read this, but one day, a professor of psychology decided to engage in an experiment and enlisted his students to help. Each time a student saw a woman on campus wearing red, he asked them to record the appearance and then go up and compliment the woman, telling them how nice they looked. His theory had something to do with power of suggestion and he ventured that within days of this Operation Red, there would be an increase in the number of women who would wear red. Sure enough, about a week into the experiment, he and his students noticed that the number of women wearing red had doubled.
So, what made me think of that study and what does it have to do with my red sweater?
Well… I wore my red sweater on Tuesday and I was one woman who was paid a compliment. Since Tuesday, three more women have shown up in the office wearing red, including one of the women who complimented me. Coincidence? Or a sign that I have good taste and others are following my lead?
Whatever it is, I’m keeping my red sweater, as well as my red Eisenhower-style jacket I bought many years ago at the Pendleton outlet in Oregon. Oh, and just so you know, red is a good color for me; it makes my blue eyes stand out, which then results in a second compliment. All in all, a good color for compliments!
Photo copyright: Declan McCallaugh Photography, 2005.