How something as simple as color is not so simple

They both wore white: Melania Trump in a beautiful sheath, and Hillary Clinton in a chic pantsuit.

For both, it was a great choice. The color is trendy, and it symbolizes clarity, honesty, purity, and fresh starts, all important to the public images and brands of Trump and Clinton.

Yet I couldn't help but see them differently. I wrote that white gave the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party a soft, strong, and most important, presidential look. Could it be she also was trying to send us a message about integrity and trustworthiness, her glaring weakness no matter what poll?

For my column on Trump, I was immediately struck by the irony of white against the backdrop of a candidate whose platform is anti-immigrant and whose success, as we've heard over and over again, is dependent on the blue-collar white male vote.

The feedback that followed those columns, especially my observations on Melania Trump, was like sharp scythes lobbed between my eyebrows.

I was eviscerated, called bigoted and biased, and many other things that could never be printed in this paper.

But I also was called smart and insightful.

So how could some people see one thing and others see another? How could there be such divisive feelings over something as simple as color?

I turned to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of New Jersey's Pantone Color Institute, to help me make sense of these reactions. Eiseman is among the experts who declare the color of the year, a spot-on prediction of what will be the most sought-after hue in fashion and home decor - so she knows how color speaks to us.

Whether it's for our living-room walls or the central part of a discussion on race relations, color elicits an emotional reaction, Eiseman said. It's why you might wear a bright-green shirt at the start of spring or a somber, dark dress at a funeral.

At this year's highly divisive political conventions, a hue's shade and vibrancy sent strong partisan messages. Politicians, after all, are pretty smart when it comes to crafting their images.

Was it a coincidence that President Obama decided on a deep-blue, Democratic-hue tie for his passionate pro-Clinton speech? Or that Ted Cruz, who was mercilessly criticized for not endorsing the Republican nominee, went with a not-quite GOP red, not-quite blue, mauve tie?

But it wasn't just partisan politics that fueled the fashion choices of this year's convention participants.

Chelsea Clinton went with a red sheath to introduce her mom, and that speech was all about love.

Pink, a typically feminine hue, was Ivanka Trump's color when she delivered the message that her dad is pro-women's rights.

Did you think otherwise? Maybe you don't like Chelsea, so red came across as brash or even overly sentimental? With Ivanka, does pink really shout "powerful woman" to you, or is it more "vulnerable babe"? That's because our personal experiences can color our take just as much as those universal meanings do, Eiseman said. This gets sticky when we assume certain messages - intentional or not.

Take, for instance, how two men - one black and one white - can wear the same black hoodie and elicit very different reactions. Depending on who's observing, the black man is a menace to society, someone to be feared, but the white guy is just a kid in a sweatshirt.

"It's about context, context, context," Eiseman said. "How is the color being used? Who is wearing it? What do we bring to the table?"

ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl