Intuitive Colour Awareness

By looking for images of particular coloured people wearing particular coloured clothing for an article on human colour harmony, I found myself scrolling through thousands of images.

I became a little obsessed with finding natural-looking images of people wearing tribal, religious or cultural clothing.

Eastern Himalayas, India

As a result, I began to understand why some people and cultures possess the innate ability to wear clothing, accessories, face paint or tattoos which look right on them, while other people don’t.

Ainu man – northern Japan

Intuitive colour awareness

I have called this ability ‘intuitive colour awareness’. While there are many reasons why some people find it easier than others, intuitive colour awareness can be taught, and embedded in personality and culture.

Sadhu holy man – Kathamandu, Nepal

Human colour characteristics indicate what external colours, contrasts and combinations from the environment, clothing, accessories, tattoos, make-up and face paint provide physical and psychological harmony.

Tribal man – Montmartre, Vanuatu

As humans evolved and migrated across the globe, they adapted to the local environment and climate in which they settled.

Nomadic bush people - Kalahari Desert, Botswana  

They wore animal skins and furs from the local area and used flora and fauna to adorn and decorate themselves.

Buryat man – Atsagat, Siberia     ©Alexander Khimushin

The colours and tones from the environment naturally harmonised with their colour characteristics.

The neutral tones produced a look of camouflage and natural colour harmony – an extension of themselves – providing an identity and a feeling of being at one with the surroundings.

Brazilian Guarani Tribe - Brazil

Over time, people consciously decided to use natural resources to create clothing, adornments, face and body paint or tattoos which balanced and harmonised with their colour characteristics.

Asmat man – New Guinea, Indonesia

Clothing and adornment

Clothing and adornments which added natural colour harmony helped to create an extension of the body, and produced a feeling of comfort, pride and positive energy.

Wearing what felt like a second skin, with a similar look to others in the local area, also created a tribal mentality; a cultural connection to family, society and place.

Over generations of using harmonising natural resources which produced positive social interaction and state of mind, a subconscious sense of ‘intuitive colour awareness’ evolved around the harmonising colours and tones.

Tribal Hamar woman – Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Human interaction

Human interaction impacts on what people wear and how they adorn themselves.

Dani warrior – western New Guinea

People react confidently and progressively when they recognise and receive positive feedback from others about the colour of their clothing or adornments.

Polynesian tribal man – Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Intuitive colour awareness grows stronger as a person ages and they experience different colours and continue to receive positive and negative verbal and physical responses.

Semiahmoo First Nations  - White Rock, British Columbia, Canada

As people learn to recognise positive reactions from others because their interactions were more enjoyable and memorable, they choose to wear colours which provide a feeling of personal comfort and positive energy.

People also learn to recognise adverse reactions, and the associated feeling of mental and physical discord and negative energy when wearing unsuitable colour, tone, texture or contrast.

Ifugao man – Banaue, Philippines

And as people age, if they have a choice of what colours to wear and how to wear them, they will remember positive reactions.

They will choose colours and contrast that harmonise with their natural colour characteristics and will provide the appropriate advice and direction to their peers and the next generation.

Sufi man - Hamed Al-Nil Tomb, Omdurman, Sudan      ©Redonion1515

They will naturally avoid colours which create discord and ill feeling for themselves and their community.

Water seller – Marrakesh, Morocco


As tribal and community culture and religion evolved, more colour was introduced for personal and tribal identity, cultural and religious ceremonies, and for hunting and warfare.

Piaya village tribe – Papua New Guinea     ©John Crux

Tattoos were used for decoration and cultural symbolism, with dark lines, dots or blocks.

Konyak Tribesman - Nagaland District, North East India     ©Mattia Passarini

The tattoo design and placement, and the optical effect created by the contrast, determined if the tattoos created balance and harmony, or discord, with an individual’s colour characteristics, face, body shape and clothing.

Maori – North Island, New Zealand     ©Jimmy Nelson

Not all the colour and contrast worn in clothing, adornments, face paint and tattoos harmonise with a wearer’s colour characteristics.

Colour discord

Some cultures and traditional ceremonies display a conscious effort to create an adverse contrast between colour characteristics and clothing, adornments and pigment – creating discord with the wearer’s colour characteristics and environment.

Tsachila man - Santo Domingo de los Colorados, Ecuador

This form of decoration is meant to look unnatural and dramatic. It can be unbalanced and, in many cases, is a forced display of aggression.

Wodaabe men - Agadez, Niger

The perception of colour discord during a cultural or religious act is most often seen as an exciting and positive necessity. The act creates its own energy and inspires pride and patriotism within a group of people.

Yugambeh Aboriginal warrior - Queensland, Australia     ©Chameleonseye

Positive cultural energy overpowers the awkward feeling of discord which naturally occurs when wearing colours and contrasts that do not balance or harmonise with an individual’s colour characteristics.

Indian Mexican men - Mexico

In cases where people choose to wear tribal, cultural or religious outfits or paint or tattoos in colours or on areas of their face or body which create discord, they unbalance the natural colour and contrast harmony of their skin, hair and eyes.

Karo Tribe – Omo Valley, Ethiopia      ©Adam Koziol

When people learn to live with negative energy created by colour and contrast discord, they are suppressing and/or destroying intuitive colour awareness.

This goes some way to explain why some cultures and races have a greater sense of intuitive colour awareness than others.

Traditional Chinese costume - Year of the Sheep

Fabrics and dyes

The first material used for clothing is thought to be linen, in natural tones of white and cream.

Senior Indian man - Salapura - India

The material’s neutrality found harmony with the wide variety of neutral tones which naturally occur in human colour characteristics.

Nomadic Rautes – Accham, Western Nepal     ©Jan Moeller Hansen

As these raw fibres soil and stain, they add further natural colour harmony and develop the same second skin-type sensitivity and feeling of comfort as animal skins and furs.

Over time, vegetable, mineral and animal dyes were produced, adding pale neutral greys, beige and browns.

Tribesman - Himachai Pradesh, Northern India

The natural dyes were not overly bright to start with, and their unsaturated, muted depth faded and soiled, which added further natural balance and harmony with human characteristics.

Tuareg Man – Timbuktu, Mali

Most people who have lived in a local environment for many generations have the same or similar skin pigmentation, hair and eye colouring.

Intuitive colour awareness provides the direction for people to develop dye colours which best harmonise with the colour characteristics of their local population.

Sadhu man – Jaipur Rajasthan, India     ©Robert Harding

Humans have diverse natural underlying warm colour qualities, the result of characteristic colour adaptations over generations of living in various climates and environments.

Most Indigenous people and local communities across the globe, demonstrate intuitive colour awareness to wear warm-based clothing, which also provides psychological advantages and produces positive interactive responses.

Maritime Republics regatta – Amalfi, Italy

Current tribal, religious and community ceremonies, cultural patriotism and uniforms continue to display intuitive colour awareness, and both purposeful and ignorant colour discord, with face and body paint, tattoos, clothing, accessories and make-up.

Mask worn by devotees of Virgin Guadalupe de Ayquina – Calama, Chile

Intuitive colour awareness for most people is a learned ability and continues to develop with age and experience.

How to develop intuitive colour awareness is a topic for another day.

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