Clothing Your Character: All Things Red

Article Written By Maggie McCarthy. Media by Bri Phillips

Red. This color has come to symbolize passion, romance, power, and life. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, it is especially prevalent in commercials and stores everywhere. Red has a rich history, dating all the way to ancient times. Neolithic hunters believed the color to possess life-giving powers and placed red ochre in the graves of their dead. Many passages in Scripture reference the color, for example: in Exodus, God instructs Moses to have the Israelites make him offerings of blue, purple, and scarlet cloth. The ancient Egyptians associated red with life, health, and victory, often coloring themselves with red dye during celebrations. Even then, the women used red pigments for cosmetic purposes. In ancient Rome, red held an important status of religious symbolism. The Romans wore togas bearing red stripes on special occasions and used red dyes to color the skin of gladiators and works of art.

The color of red has many faces and has come to symbolize many different emotions and institutions. It represents the seemingly contradictory concepts of love and evil, the Roman Catholic Church and Satan. According to Rebecca Stevens, the curator of Red, the current exhibit at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., “A textile is not dyed red by chance. No, you use red for a specific reason whether it’s for love, fertility, for happiness – you make it red on purpose.”

Even now in the 21st century, the color red carries with it deep symbolism. Today it represents feelings of romance and passion. The exchange of a red rose represents love and fidelity. This association stems all the way from an ancient Greek tradition stating that the red rose stemmed from the blood of the warrior Adonis. They dedicated the rose to their goddess of love, Aphrodite.

King Louis XIV wearing red heels

Not only does red remind us of love and passion, it has also been a popular fashion statement for centuries. In 17th century France, Louis XIV wore red heels to draw attention to his legs. The trend exploded and soon after, nobles across Europe began painting their heels red. The color was chic, attention grabbing, and a sign of affluence.

400 years later, the color red still makes a statement. It complements most skin tones and garners the strongest reaction of all colors. Stimulating enough to physically raise blood pressure and increase respiration, it is vibrant, intense, and the strongest of the “warm” colors. Red is most often used to grab the attention, whether indicating VIP status on the red carpet or signaling drivers to stop, our brains instinctually pay attention to all things red.

Let’s not forget about cosmetics! Red on the face and lips accentuates the features and always looks bright and vibrant. The iconic red lip has made an especially strong comeback recently and automatically prompts nostalgic memories of Old Hollywood glamour. This timeless look universally embodies classic, sophisticated style, femininity, and good health. Always classy and bright, red items should be a staple in any woman’s wardrobe. A red shoe, dress, or lip can brighten your mood on the gloomiest of days and invigorate your senses.

This Valentine’s Day, no matter what your plans, embrace the color red and incorporate it into your celebration. Remember the fascinating history behind its symbolism and revel in the tradition it carries with it. Whether you’re planning an extravagant date night or watching sappy Nicholas Sparks movies with friends, put on some red lipstick, get dressed up, and embrace the contagious beauty inside you!


For further reading:
NPR – The Color Red: A History In Textiles
Wikipedia – Red
Pigments through the Ages
NY Fashion Center – The Color Red
Red Lipstick





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