Red – Romance, Danger and Power

By Dale Peers

While Panetone’s colour of 2020 is Classic Blue (let’s leave that for another day) I thought another popular fashion colour, Red, might be a suitable topic to explore.  One of the colours associated with two celebrations – Christmas (red + green) and Valentine’s Day (red, as well as all tints, shades and tones of this primary colour) the psychological meanings of red make for an interesting fashion exploration.

Red is a popular colour in the field of fashion.  It has been found in ballrooms, bedrooms and boardrooms due to the impact it can create.  No one is going to fade into the background while wearing this colour.  Adjectives used to describe the colour attest to that fact.  Red is described as dangerous and dynamic, passionate and powerful, sexy and stimulating.

It is the colour of romantic hearts (e.g. boxes of Valentine candy) as well as real (anatomical) hearts.  And since there is this relationship with the heart we leap to love and sex. The Scarlet woman was an adulteress  (sometimes a prostitute), she engaged in sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage, was considered wicked and therefore dangerous.  Sexy lingerie is not green or blue or even pink – it’s red.  So any woman wanting to appear alluring or seductive may choose to wear this colour.

While this gown (left) from the 1930s is not lingerie it skims over the wearer’s body thanks to the bias cut and the satin fabric and is a perfectly “love-ly” red.

“Dior Red” is a colour that came to be associated with this important Parisienne fashion designer and in the 1950s it became popular in everything from day dresses to ball gowns.  The 1950s also saw the introduction of strapless gowns or what came to be nicknamed “The Nude Look.” This strapless evening gown provides allure with its red colour juxtaposed against the wearer’s bared shoulders. To the right of it is an example of a Dior dress in this cherry red colour.

The danger of red may be seen in its use on the top of a stoplight, stop signs and fire engines.  It you don’t stop at the intersection it is dangerous and if you see fire engines they are possibly on their way to a dangerous situation and you need to get out of the way.  So, there is also dynamism, power and authority in the colour red.   This made it a popular colour for men in high powered positions (think, red power tie) and for women who were attempting to break through the glass ceilings of corporations in the 1980s.  With their T-shaped jackets and red suits women announced to the world that they too could “shoulder” the problems and responsibilities of organizations.

Another colour of power and authority is black and, interestingly the two are often paired.  In this example  (right) of a woman’s suit thin, black banker or pinstripes contribute to the business-like quality the wearer likely wanted to create.

The second example seems to produce a punk rock tone which evokes that more aggressive look of the 1980s. The colours and strapless neckline suggest the wearer may be a bit  dangerous as well as sexy.

As Canadians we might see the juxtaposition of red and white as patriotic.   Linda Lundstrom’s La Parka coat came about to be the quintessential coat for our Canadian weather and her choice of colours in this first design seems to proclaim its nationality.  Rain, sleet, subzero winter weather – could all be dealt with while in this outerwear.  In this example of her first “La Parka” the red nylon water-resistant outer coat rests upon a white wool blanket hooded coat.  Both the hood and cuffs are trimmed in red faux fur which can be removed.  The nylon shell can be removed and folds conveniently into itself and zips into a handy “pocket.”

The colour red is also seen as a warm colour.  So powerful was that symbolism that in the 19th century women’s winter undergarments sometimes used red wool, believed to be warmer. There is also a physiological reaction to red – our heart rate and respiration increase, appetite is stimulated and we may imagine an increase in temperature.

Perhaps we might also infer this red version of the La Parka coat is a powerful symbol of our battle against Canadian weather.

Whether red is in fashion or “out” it remains a colour that gets our attention, seems to warrant a second glance and to proclaim power.   And, if you can get all eyes to look toward you, don’t you really have the most power in any room?










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