Do guys ever think about this stuff?

This morning as I reached into my closet, I suddenly realized that the shirt I’d been planning on wearing would clash with the background on my power point slides for this morning’s lecture. Having made that discovery, I couldn’t subject my students to visual assault, so I had to pick out a different shirt.

If you are looking for me today, I’m the one not wearing a blue-striped shirt.


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    November 13, 2007

    My wife (and coblogger) Greta has been known to do that. I’ve never done it.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    November 13, 2007

    I am never going to forget again, after reading this. Frankly, it never crossed my mind before although I tend not to wear standard dull men’s clothing….

  3. #3 Chris Rowan
    November 13, 2007

    I’m having to suppress an involuntary shudder at the sort of powerpoint background which would clash with any clothing..

  4. #4 Dunc
    November 13, 2007

    Personally, no. I tend towards the Einstein approach to clothing selection, and if I were to use PP, I suspect my slides would have black text on a white background.

    However, on the rare occasions I have to wear a suit, I do occasionally ponder the question of whether to opt for a complimentary or contrasting tie…

  5. #5 Ken Shabby
    November 13, 2007

    Why put a background on a slide? It’s only one more thing the viewer has to learn to ignore.

  6. #6 ecogeofemme
    November 13, 2007

    I haven’t ever considered clashing with slides, but I definately think about what I’m wearing when in front of an audience. When I’m in an audience and my mind starts to stray, the first thing I think about is the speaker’s attire. Not because I’m super interested in fashion but because the speaker (not necesarrily what she is saying) is the most interesting thing in the room.

  7. #7 ScienceWoman
    November 13, 2007

    Wow. This must be a first on this blog. The first five commenters are all guys. Apparently, they do think about this stuff…at least when prompted.

    As to why I put a background on the slide, I’ve been using white backgrounds all semester, so that if my students print the slides out, they won’t be using wasted ink. But this lecture was on oceans, and there was such a nice blue wave background that I wanted to break out of my rut. (It’s really not that bad, Chris. But blue waves and blue stripes just won’t work.)

    I do remember reading/hearing somewhere, that blue backgrounds with white text are easier for people’s eyes that white backgrounds with black text. (Can anyone back me up on this?) But I never thought about it being “more thing the viewer has to learn to ignore.”

  8. #8 HB
    November 13, 2007

    I agree – PPT backgrounds with patterns are annoying, but I disagree with Dunc about the plain and simple alternative.

    I prefer dark backgrounds with light text – much easier on the eyes than staring into a bright white background for an extended period of time.

    What did your PPT background look like, that a striped shirt would have clashed?

  9. #9 G Barnett
    November 13, 2007

    I think it depends on generation. My father is an Organic Prof who not only doesn’t care about whether or not something might clash but has been known to go out of his way to do so.

    Most memorably was back in the 80s — on quiz days, he’d wear a vintage 1970-ish shirt of…. let’s say appalling colors (imagine horses gamboling across a shirt, the background of which is a mix of vivid unearthly green and a bright navy blue, whilst the horses are yellow and reddish orange), with a bright red sports coat and lemon yellow slacks. He said it woke them up for the early quizzes.

    Thankfully, he no longer wears the shirt — because I claimed it, and now torment my coworkers.

    (adding to the list of ensemble-challenged males here….)

  10. #10 TrekJunkie
    November 13, 2007

    Gore-tex and polarmax never clash with anything 😉

  11. #11 Ole
    November 13, 2007

    In 2003 a study was actually carried out on this topic (OK, the study was concerned with posters and not PP, but anyways):
    David A. Keegan, Susan L. Bannister: Effect of colour coordination of attire with poster presentation on poster popularity. CMAJ 169 (12): 1291-1292. Pdf here.

  12. #12 makita
    November 13, 2007

    I have to say, the thought never did occur to me. But if and when I give my exit seminar I now want to coordinate my outfit with my ppt. This might be a stretch, because I normally consider myself lucky if I’m done with my presentation 5 minutes ahead of time. Maybe this will encourage me to finish ahead of time. How about a purple outfit and an orange background on the ppt, perhaps with yellow polka dots?

  13. #13 Colst
    November 13, 2007

    “I do remember reading/hearing somewhere, that blue backgrounds with white text are easier for people’s eyes that white backgrounds with black text.”

    I’ve heard the same, and my feeling from my own experience is that it is correct, but I haven’t seen a study on it.

  14. #14 ScienceWoman
    November 13, 2007

    Here’s a link to the powerpoint template in question. Unfortunately, there will be no link to the relevant shirt, but it is a bit bolder than my usual attire.

    Ole – I *love* that there’s a paper on attire vs. poster popularity. I am definitely going to read it.

  15. #15 Leszek Pawlowicz
    November 13, 2007

    “Guys” plural? Possibly. But most of the guys I know, no.

  16. #16 physics*chick
    November 13, 2007

    Of course! I’ve actually planned outfits to MATCH my slides (and colour schemes to match my favourite outfits).

  17. #17 agnostic
    November 13, 2007

    Even guys who dress “well” tend to use a sober color palette, so I don’t think it would tend to clash in the first place. Is the same true for PP slides — do guys tend to use sober colors and backgrounds? I don’t know, I rarely use them and give handouts whenever I give a presentation, but my instinct for PP slides would be light gray background and black text.

    If I were in your place today, though, and felt something was off, of course I’d change my shirt — men today can be such crybabies, as if having to look presentable and taking another minute or two to change shirts were an insufferable chore.

    The purple and orange thing would work, btw, as long as they weren’t really bright, I think. If I saw a presenter wearing a plum sweater next to a pumpkin PP slide, I’d definitely know that they knew the score on color.

  18. #18 agnostic
    November 13, 2007

    (And no, I’m not gay — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Ha. Just to preempt the objection that only gay guys would bother to look more put-together than a sixth-grade boy.)

  19. #19 Alun
    November 13, 2007

    This is why I tend to wear black. It goes with all slides. 🙂

  20. #20 Dave Munger
    November 13, 2007

    Here’s our inconclusive nonscientific study about whether backgrounds matter:

    Which PowerPoint tips really work?

  21. #21 Jennie
    November 13, 2007

    Re: CMAJ 169 (12): 1291-1292.

    Although the authors tried their best I’d have to say that the study poster (i.e. not the control) is a horrible poster. The font is way to small and where are the figures!
    The control poster had lots of pictures that would draw me to their poster, even though their text was small as well.

  22. #22 Ole
    November 13, 2007

    Jennie, I agree. What I find most interesting is that somebody actually studied this. The study does say, however, that ‘…5 people were overheard by the observer during the clashing-attire phase to say that the presenter’s blouse did not match her poster, and none visited the poster.

    So it seems that the jury is out on this issue – we may have to do a larger study on this. Anybody up for co-writing a proposal…?

  23. #23 Mr. Gunn
    November 13, 2007

    put me in the “why would you use a background that would clash with anything” category. Also, this.

  24. #24 decrepitoldfool
    November 13, 2007

    Absolutely I think about it. Generally I wear dark solid-color shirts when presenting. I use light text on black background so only content and not frame reaches the viewer. But most of my slides are in fact technical photographs, so the image with a light-text caption appears on screen.

  25. #25 Shaun
    November 13, 2007

    I am a firm beliver in the blue background with white text approach. I picked that up from a Visual Neuroscience course some years back. As I remember, the blue/white provides a strong contrast for the photreceptors allowing people to read the text more easily, especially at a distance. In addition, white background with black text is actually a terrible contrast, making it difficult to read at a distance unless the text is very bold.

  26. #26 SimulationBrain
    November 13, 2007

    I never thought about it, that I can remember- I was wearing relatively bright clothes, and using relatively bright backgrounds, the first time I lectured. Rather than thinking it’s something they’ve got to learn to ignore, I hoped it would give them a memory tag to come back to a particular set of slides, and coordinated bg colors with topics. I coordinated outfits – but I never coordinated clothes to slides! Oh dear, no wonder my students mocked me… I’ve since moved to a more sober looking black on white for everything, don’t know about eyestrain issues.

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?
    November 13, 2007

    Here’s a link to the powerpoint template in question.

    Ah. I understand how blue stripes would clash with that. But, as far as I can remember, I don’t possess any clothing with blue stripes or anything comparable… so…

    A white background is usually too bright. But worst of all is when people use Times New Roman (which was the default in all PowerPoint versions up to 2002). That looks great on a screen, but is nigh impossible to read when projected, no matter what the colors are. Even Comic Sans is better in that respect.

  28. #28 Mark Hackler
    November 13, 2007

    I do instructional system design, and although I don’t have the references in front of me, if you research technical communications/document design you’ll find studies indicating that a dark(ish) background with white letters makes it easier for an audience to read projected information.

  29. #29 Field Notes
    November 13, 2007

    Oh my! One of my professors in grad school matched his shirt to his PPT. In fact the match was so exact it was a little scary! When I do PPTs I give some thought to it but not a ton.

  30. #30 ScienceGirl
    November 13, 2007

    I new coworker of mine sets his computer to have all-black background, and all text to white. Additionally, he never turns on the lights in his office (which has no windows!) If I ever see him give a presentation, I bet the color scheme won’t be a big surprise 🙂

    P.S. Most of the presentations I’ve been to have had the lights dimmed, so the attire color has not been all that important.

  31. #31 Physicalist
    November 13, 2007

    No. . . . At least, I never did before, . . . but now . . .
    Gee, *thanks* ScienceWoman [/sarcasm]

  32. #32 David Harmon
    November 13, 2007

    You might try to submit this to whoever’s publishing Dress For Success! (I think it’s still being updated….) Certainly a new sartorial hazard for the information age!

  33. #33 The Ridger
    November 13, 2007

    I’d just say it depends on how your slides are being projected. On a screen like a Smart System, dark bacground, light text; on an overhead or a computer screen, light (not white!) background, dark text. You don’t need pictures or background, but it’s much easier to read light text on a dark background in the Smart system or things like it. Light backgrounds are too glaring.

  34. #34 Freiddie
    November 17, 2007

    I’m a boy and I wouldn’t have thought about this. But you do raise point there about presentation.

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