Fashion is an essential part of human experience and an industry worth over $1.7 trillion. Important choices such as hiring or dating someone are often based on the clothing people wear, and yet we understand almost nothing about the objective features that make an outfit fashionable. In this study, we provide an empirical approach to this key aesthetic domain, examining the link between color coordination and fashionableness. Studies reveal a robust quadratic effect, such that that maximum fashionableness is attained when outfits are neither too coordinated nor too different. In other words, fashionable outfits are those that are moderately matched, not those that are ultra-matched (“matchy-matchy”) or zero-matched (“clashing”). This balance of extremes supports a broader hypothesis regarding aesthetic preferences–the Goldilocks principle–that seeks to balance simplicity and complexity.
Analyses revealed a significant linear trend, R2 = .18, F (1, 58) = 13.04, p = .001, such that more coordination was linked to more fashionableness, consistent with the general importance of matching. Importantly, however, this linear trend was qualified by the predicted quadratic effect, R2 = .44, F (2, 57) = 22.23, p<.001, such that peak fashionableness was achieved by moderately coordinated combinations. This quadratic effect accounted for twice as much variance as the linear effect.
Analyses did not reveal a significant linear trend, F<1, but did reveal the predicted quadratic trend, R2 = .28, F (2, 57) = 11.18, p<.001, such that peak fashionableness was again achieved by moderately coordinated combinations.