Ladies in (the) Red.

Today I’m wearing…red – for those ‘in the red’.

Yesterday was ‘Equal Pay Day’ in the States – the day that symbolises how far into 2011 women have to work to earn what men earned by the end of 2010. Here in the UK it is in November, highlighting the fact that, because of the pay gap, women are in effect not paid for the last two months of the year. And people claim there is no longer a need for feminism…



It’s common on both sides of the pond to ‘wear red for those in the red’, as well as in other parts of the world (see New Zealand, above). Of course, red has also been used to raise awareness of heart disease, AIDS, and more recently the events in Japan, but personally, I’m quite pleased that a colour so significant for women – and one so sexually loaded – is worn to highlight the pay gap.

The media happily tells us that ‘men prefer women in red‘ because of its associations with sex, even a signal of some basic biological impulse. On Valentine’s Day shops are awash with red, from cute cards to raunchy underwear. That aside, red has always been one of my favourite colours to wear. As a child, many people told me I couldn’t wear it because of my red hair, an rule I happily ignored. I love its associations with glamour and power, boldness and dynamism.


Red as liberation?
A few months ago I read an article called Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth. In it Dr Elaine Webster (aka ‘Dr Frock’) interviewed numerous people, discovering that many linked red shoes with sin, prostitution and illicit sex, as you’d expect. Some also associated red shoes with dance, perhaps symbolising freedom …or even just as a means of injecting a ‘bit of colour’, which she suggests, is a “metaphor for an enriched life”. Appealing, no? Red in this sense is a vital colour, suggesting choice, sexuality and a strong identity. And let’s not forget the Ruby Slippers, shoes that enable the wearer to both escape and return home…


Red as a restriction…

By contrast, in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, women are denied their sexuality and an escape route. Women who have been chosen for childbearing are dressed entirely in red, with a white headdress which literally and metaphorically limits their vision. In one section, Offred, the main character contrasts the old and new connotations of the red clothing that form part of her imposed ‘uniform’ – once associated with dancing, red clothing has been easily transformed into symbols of women’s function:


Gilda pulls the gloves off, Offred pulls em on.

Red has many other interpretations, of course: it’s a warning, a sign of courage, virility, vitality and anger. But in this case, it signifies debt. It ain’t all about the clothes! If you’re a UK citizen, go to the Fawcett Society website to find out how you can do your bit to help close the pay gap. US citizens, try the Pay Equity site. We need to keep fighting this.

What does red mean to you?

Did you wear red for those in the red?


Atwood, Margaret, (1996) The Handmaid’s Tale, Vintage Classics: London

Webster, Elaine. “Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth.” Textile 7.2 (2009): 164-77. Art Full Text. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.

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This post is one of a series of monthly posts by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers.

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45 thoughts on “Ladies in (the) Red.

  1. Fascinating facts! I didn’t know about all of these associations with red. And of course it’s a great idea to combine a fashion post with an alert to this feminist topic. I couldn’t figure out how to, but this is a splendid way of doing it!

  2. Brilliant post. We definitely have a very long way to go. It’s not quite the same, but my (female) bandmate and I experience a LOT of sexism when it comes to gigging/recording etc. The amount of gigs we haven’t been paid for (when other, male bands have) and times we’ve been spoken to like we’re stupid is just depressing… and, unfortunately, incredibly commonplace in the music industry.

    You look stunning in red, by the way!

    • Thank you!

      What you describe is depressing – everyone seems to think it’s something happening elsewhere in the world. The music world is quite sexist, in my experience…

  3. Oh, a fully referenced blog post! I really enjoyed that. I think its really interesting that red has such a wide variety of meanings (as opposed to pink for example) and still manages to be so strong and recognisable for all of these meanings.

    And of course you can never have enough mention’s of the Handmaid’s Tale. Incidentally, according to klout the handmaid’s tale is one of the topics I am influential on. which must be a blip in the system.

    • Really?! I’ve missed those references then! Then again, I am supposed to be influential on shellsuits…

      I’m fascinated by the sheer amount of meanings of red too – some of them conflicting!

  4. Wearing red for those in red isn’t something I see in life around here, so I wouldn’t have known about it except through blogs like yours. I wear red (choosing it over the pinks, greens, and yellows of a few years ago) because it’s both “adult” and most people do not wear it around my area. It also goes with my twenty-odd red lipsticks!

    It’s fierce, it’s bold, and yes, it connotes a responsiveness to one’s own sexuality–awareness of it, responsibility for it, indulgence in it. Love it.

    • Agreed – beautifully put! I am obsessed with red lipsticks and nail varnish – I keep buying them yet rarely wear them! Maybe that should be a new resolution…

  5. What a wonderful post! Red is one of my favorite colors to wear. You look great in it! I also have a nearly lifetime obsession with the Ruby Slippers which has translated into lots and lots or red shoes over the years.
    To me the color red symbolizes boldness and individuality. A person who wears red is confident. She or he is not afraid to stand up, stand out and be outspoken. Red says I’m here and I’m not going to get out of the way. Red says look at me, I want to be heard. That’s why it’s a great color for Equal Pay Day and Wear Red For Union Members, which was last week.
    For pure fashion, red also has utility. You can wear it in any season. Pair red shoes, a red purse, or red lipstick with anything and your outfit is saved from being boring. It instantly has some kick and personality.

    • It most certainly does! It does have connotations of boldness, but is an easy way for more timid people to inject some of that into their outfits. I too am pleased that such a bold colour is used for both glamour and power, be it political or sexual. It’s very intriguing…

  6. My love for your blog has increased tenfold with the Handmaid’s Tale reference. The red acted as both a denial of sexual agency and an advertisement of sexual function, which I thought was an especially interesting twist of Atwood’s.

    While I didn’t wear red today (woke up late, dressed in the dark and opted for the safety net of greys and beige), red has always been one of my favorite colors to wear. Perhaps because I grew up with the movie, but red shoes will always remind me of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I own a pair of shimmery red flats and I’m currently hunting for red heels/wedges for precisely that reason.

    I never understood the rule about red hair and red clothing. I always thought it looked awesome.

    Now off to write my own FFB post (if I ever come up with an idea, that is).

    • I loved your idea – I nominated it for Link Love.

      I think it was a stroke of genius on Margaret Atwood’s part – hiding and expressing women’s role in equal measure. The mention of red shoes in this extract made me particularly sad…!

      And I don’t get the red hair thing either – best thing I ever did, ignoring that!!!

  7. I am an old leftie at heart so red has political connotations for me, but mostly I wear it because it TOTALLY goes with red hair! For years I thought it wouldn’t work, but it does.

    I find it a useful colour for standing out and looking bold in ‘work appropriate’ clothing, too.

  8. Red hair, red wine, red lips, red dress, red nails… very red. You looked fab in those pictures by the way. I’ve always been a fan of the colour read just as it’s such a striking colour and like you said it has all those connotations linked to it; passion, power etc

  9. You look gorgeous in that dress! I often wore red as a child, I remember a red velvet number with petticoat that I loved!

  10. How wonderful that you’re supporting women in this way.

    Little red riding hood is another one. If I recall correctly a professor of mine once mentioned that the red cloak represents (in Freudian terms) sexual maturity. It can be interpreted many ways, of course…

    • I’m fascinated by that interpretation – have you seen A Company of Wolves? Or read it? Red Riding Hood’s story is an allegory for a young girl discovering her sexuality. I recommend it!

  11. What a great post! I think it’s so interesting that in the West, red has come to represent things like danger, sex, and as a form of protest or solidarity as with Equal Pay Day or the recent crisis in Japan. In China, red means happiness and good fortune and in many cultures, red is worn by the bride on her wedding day.

    As for equal pay, it bums me out so much that (at least in the US) more women are earning bachelor’s degrees but are being paid less for the same work.

    • There are quite a few FFB members who tell that same tale. It just shows that it’s worthwhile raising the profile again.

      I wasn’t aware of ‘bridal red’ – how interesting! I’ll look into that…

  12. You’re so photogenic! What a good post..I learned a lot here. I knew about the men liking red thing; it’s so hilarious the anthropological reason why! Red is a powerful colour and never ceases to evoke passion. I happened to wear red today by chance and it is one of my best colours. It never goes out of style, does it?

  13. Lady in red sounds so much better than dame in debt! But that’s me! Thanks for doin the do and creating blogger community! I have given you a stylish blogger award on my blog, just to make it official!!!

  14. I like the associations with red. And you, btw, look great in it!

    I also thought (like Simone) about the association of red in East vs West. For Chinese New Year, people give gifts of money in a red envelope – and it’s for good luck.

    Red shoes are excellent – maybe it’s the Dorothy association, but I’ve always liked them. It’s a great bold color, suitable for bold women!

    Let’s make 2011 the year when we all get out of the red, financially!

  15. What a brilliant post Mrs B, I really enjoyed reading it and will be off to read Dr Frock (How much do I love that nickname), I wish I had a cool Dr name! I am tring to recall the symbolysm of red and the geishas but I have come down with the flu and my head is all fuzzy LOL will come back after Ive had a think about it but it is really interesting, something to do with making a red sash in the hair look like a vagina (now I feel like the manreppeller using that word), damn germs!

    • Ha, I know, you’re getting just as bad!! I didn’t know about the geishas…I’ll look into it, thanks!

      ps – I’m cooking up a cool Dr name for you…

  16. Oooh, one of my all time fave colors. Did not know about the wearing red for those in red. That’s an awesome cause:)

  17. Of course my dissertation was on the red dress and its use in Hollywood narrative! My short film uses the red dress as a pivotal point to to the moral of the story!

    Red on women can express much but in its essence it does mean change – whether circumstances, attitude or more money!

  18. Liked the tidbits you gave us here on the connotations of the colour red! And yes – very apt for it to be reclaimed for Equal Pay Day!
    By the way – so glad you ignored the redheads don’t wear red rule as you look fabulous in it!

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