It is officially autumn in the northern hemisphere. Lately, running or walking with my dogs through the neighbors’ fields and woods, I find my eyes most drawn to the red leaves of the maple trees.
Orange leaves are nice; yellow leaves are okay with the promise of becoming orange, maybe even red. The apple and cherry tree leaves tend to go straight from green to yellow/brown. The birch and beech tree leaves tend toward bright yellow, with hints of orange and red. But maple red? Sugar maple red? Its vibrancy catches my eye and makes me smile, every time. Confident. Vital. Bold.
What is it about red?
Red is the color of heightened emotion, strength, and power. It’s invigorating, intimidating, and it’s never boring. Red stands for many things, all of them potent. Red is romantic love, and its physical passion. Red is violence, anger, and aggression, and it frequently indicates danger. Paradoxically–for a color associated with action and energy–red is universally used as the color that means “stop.” Red is used professionally to capture attention, elicit emotion, and convey confidence. Red has the longest wavelength of any color. It’s the first color babies can see, and it’s the very first color to vanish as the sun sets. The color “madder red” was used in tapestries of French royalty. The recipe for the dye included ox blood, rancid castor oil, and sheep or cow dung. Red is sexy! Studies show that both men and women perceive potential partners dressed in red as more attractive than others.Sensational Color
As a child, I hated the color red. I complained if my mother tried to dress me in anything red. Even just hints of red in a plaid pattern would set me off.
“Blue. I want to wear blue!” I would whine.
I don’t remember why I hated red so much.
My aversion to red lasted all the way through law school. Eventually, I realized red was a color that worked well with my skin tone so, by age 30, I slowly allowed it to seep into my wardrobe.
I started practicing law in 1983. The dress code then, for women attorneys, was skirt suits. I hated them. I started wearing pant suits a year or two later. I remember a female colleague, seeing me in a pantsuit at the courthouse, asking me if any of the judges had objected. The literal dress code for female attorneys at the time was dress/skirt and nylons. I loathed nylons. (The men had to wear suit jackets and ties, but in summer they could forego the jacket.) None of the judges said anything, at least not within my hearing. Not long after, I moved to the other side of Washington state where the politics were more liberal and the dress code less strict.
Through the 1990s I continued to wear mostly business-style pantsuits. No nylons! I still had a few skirt suits, though. All of my work clothes were black, gray, navy blue, or burgundy. Nothing showy, nothing to draw too much attention. In one case, I had a pantsuit that was deep purple. That seemed… adventurous. Out there.
Around 1993 I acquired a business dress that I loved: a bright red wool “shirt dress” with a wide, matching red, fake-leather belt. The hem hit right at the top of my knees. The top half had buttoned-flap breast pockets (fake), almost a military look. The bottom half skimmed my hips without being too snug. Conservative yet classy. I even bought red pumps to match. I felt confident when I wore that dress. It brought more compliments than all my other work attire combined. I reserved it for important court appearances.
This was when time Gloria Allred was gaining notoriety as a powerful feminist attorney in California. Her signature color was red. I knew red was considered a provocative choice in the workplace, a power color, but I didn’t think I would be viewed negatively wearing my red dress in court. That is, until I saw the disapproving scowl on one older judge’s face as he passed me in a courthouse hallway. There was no mistaking what irritated him: my appearance, and it wasn’t because I was showing too much leg. Never had I received such a look, from him or any other judge in that county where I’d been practicing for years.
Oddly, that sour old judge’s scowl emboldened me. It was true, then: red attire was perceived as powerful, and confident, maybe even aggressive, at least by those easily threatened. Since I was a quiet, respectful, wait-her-turn speaker in court settings, knowing a calm and well-reasoned argument wins over bluster and bravado any day, a boost to my confidence from my red dress was always welcome.
I wear red a lot more now.
About the time I was wearing that red wool dress in court, I acquired a used, bright red, 1991 Mazda Miata. A two-seat convertible, it was sporty and fun to drive. I told family and friends it was my early mid-life crisis purchase, since I was only in my mid-thirties. I was rarely frivolous with spending, but this felt like an earned reward for years of hard work.
As with the red dress, my red Miata brought me all sorts of attention I would never otherwise have received. Men in semi-trucks, pickups, and cars honked at me as I drove down the freeway with the top down on a summer day. People approached me in store parking lots, wanting to ask about my Miata. I loved that car. I loved that it was bright red and a conversation starter. I loved how I felt when I drove it: confident, in control. But, I had a large dog named Opus, my first female Alaskan Malamute. I wanted more large dogs. Plus, I had bicycles, skis, and a kayak that needed transporting. I still had an old Subaru station wagon with over 200,000 miles. I used it to transport my dog and toys, but I knew it was nearing the end of its life. After a few years of fun, I sold the Miata and got a Honda Civic hatchback. A red one.
Eventually, after getting my Alaskan Malamutes Maia (1999) and Meadow (2001), I had to up-size my ride yet again. I sold the Honda and Subaru and bought a 2001 Mazda Tribute. Silver. They didn’t come in red. I put over 200,000 miles on it before selling it and buying another Tribute. Still driving it.
Even the morning sky sometimes brings reds and oranges to briefly enjoy, if one’s up early enough.
It took me a few decades, but I learned to love the color red.