A Shade of Red for Every Woman*

I used to hate the color red. I thought it was tacky, flashy and gaudy. People who wore more than just a splash of it—say a whole red shirt as opposed to a shirt with red stripes—were attention seekers and conceited.

As a teenager, the only hint of red you’d find on me was my nail polish. Even then it was hidden. Red was reserved for my toes, while my fingers were decorated with hues of brown. Only when the bottles were lined up beside each other could you tell the slight variations in color. Lip balms and lip gloss were the extent of my make-up. They were nude, clear or slightly tinted a pinkish color, another color I avoided in my wardrobe.

My wardrobe in my teens and early twenties was very drab color-wise. I dressed nicely, conservatively and coordinated from hair accessories and costume jewelry down to my socks. I wasn’t goth, dressed in all black, but everything was dark. Dark blue. Dark green. Dark brown. Dark orange. This was the era of colored jeans and those were dark too. I was taught to do laundry by separating clothes into piles of lights, whites and darks. My mountainous darks was always the largest pile.

I blame the adults in my family for my aversion to red and for looking like I was in permanent mourning. After my mother died, to observe proper Haitian mourning practices, I was to wear dark clothes, but more importantly, was not to wear any red for at least two years. I remember my aunt—my father’s sister—went through my wardrobe and made a pile of clothing that contained red. I was especially heartbroken that a dark turquoise shirt with faux suspenders made of buttons was added to the pile.

I mustered the courage to request that the suspender-shirt be spared. Seeing the desperation on my face, my aunt acquiesced, but removed the single offending red button. I didn’t care about the gap where the button once was. Being a seamstress my aunt could’ve replaced the button, but I was satisfied with my victory of saving one of my favorite shirts.

Up until now, I hadn’t realized that I associated red with my mother’s death. I was only eight years old. I barely understood mourning, never mind what red had to do with it, but I guess the association subconsciously stuck. Dark clothes were what I was accustomed to wearing, so every new school year while shopping for clothes, that’s what I selected. My father’s only objection was that I didn’t choose dresses and skirts. If I did, I was sure to buy thick leggings, most often black, to wear underneath.

Sometime in my early twenties I performed a wardrobe audit to get rid of no longer worn or ill-fitting items in an attempt to declutter my closet and drawers. (I’ve been called a hoarder.) Looking in my closet, it looked like a wall of dark clothes. It was depressing. I decided to start following the advice of all the fashion magazines I subscribed to. Countless times I’d read the phrases “add pizazz,” “spice up an outfit” or “make an outfit less boring” by adding a statement piece with…color. That color was often red.

I made concerted efforts to buy brighter colors, and (gasp!) patterns. I’ve always loved plaid, but I had to ease into wearing red. I still feel like it’s such a bold and rich color, announcing “Look at me!”

I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum, mostly because I grew up a shy loner and not one of the boisterous popular kids. As I’ve matured, I’ve gotten less shy, but it’s still there. I’m not sure when it happened, but I started gravitating towards red. Something clicked and I no longer desired or tried to blend in or hide. When I shopped, I actually preferred, instead of having to remind myself to seek something colorful or red, especially if it wasn’t the norm.

A stranger might think my favorite color is red. For over five years, every time I’ve upgraded my Motorola Droid cell phone to another model, I’ve chosen the red in lieu of the white, black or metal gray. My Dell laptop came with two color options. I went with the red, even though it was slightly more expensive, and bought a mousepad to match. To this day, a favorite purse—one I get complimented on—is an over ten-year-old red leather BCBG handbag. I have a red umbrella. I wear red nail polish on my fingers, and dark, not bright, lip gloss and matte lip stains. I don red lingerie.

About three years ago, I bought two form-fitting red dresses. One a mock-turtleneck sweater dress from Victoria’s Secret; the other a cocktail dress I bought at TJ Maxx. I’ve worn the sweater dress exactly three times. I haven’t dared to wear the cocktail dress yet.

This morning I walked to work wearing red Isotoner gloves that match my red knit hat bought from a New York street vendor. They’re the pop of color to my dark purple wool winter coat. As I adjusted my gloves I wondered how much longer I’d have to wear gloves before warm weather arrived. I also wondered if this would be the year I’d finally wear that red dress.

 

*Audrey Hepburn


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