Colour watch: Seeing red
February 10, 2009
A splash of colour to brighten up your screen this dreary grey February day.
As I write that sentence it occurs to me that there are places in the world where February is not dreary, or particularly grey either. Places where February is a month of hot sunny days and beach barbecues. But that’s OK. From spring St. Valentine’s hearts through summer red red roses, deckchair stripes and strawberries, via autumn berries and turning maple leaves to the bright holly and Santa’s scarlet coat of winter, red is such a versatile cross-seasonal colour.
A bold classic, red is a colour to get noticed in, a powerful, motivating, happy colour; a colour to turn heads in. It’s the colour of contrariness: of conservatism in U.S. politics and radical/socialism in European politics. The colour of fire and blood, of energy, danger, strength and power, passion, desire and love. In India it represents marriage, while in China it represents luck and happiness. Studies show that red can also have a physical effect, increasing the rate of respiration and raising blood pressure. McDonald’s chose it as the original colour of their restaurant decor, as it is said to make people hungry.
Incidentally, I don’t subscribe to the view that not everyone can wear red. I was told once that a good way to find a shade of red that suits you is to go to a department store make up counter and ask them to help pick out a lipstick for you, then apply that advice to your clothes shopping. (I haven’t tried that one out- my experience of trusting myself to the ministrations of make up counter asistants ends with me leaving looking like a clown.) I’m sure there’s a shade for everyone, whatever your skin tone and hair colour, whether it’s a blue red or a more yellow tomato hue:
I’ve chosen some images from late 1950s copies of Vogue for this post, because, if there’s an era in fashion history I associate with red, it’s the 1950s. Perhaps because of the fashion for red lipstick? Or maybe because before this decade red was considered too flagrant a colour and only worn by the daring scarlet woman? It was in the optimistic post-war 1950s that red became simply a bright, cheerful option rather than a predatory one.
Here, a demurely cut dress is saved from twee-ness by its non-girly colour. When black or grey or blue can seem too “safe”, red turns a dress from a basic piece into a statement piece:
A judicious splash of red also seems like a good way to segue the darkness of winter wear into spring. But possibly best to avoid the “Big Bird plays Santa” look: