The blood red dress


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Evening dress, Valentino, 1987. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Evening dress, McCardell (American), 1950. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Happy Valentine’s Day if you’re into that sort of thing. Happy Friday and THANK GOD it’s the weekend, if not.

Being a bit of a goth, I love a bit of romance and drama, and for me few things exemplify this so much the classic red as the blood gushing from your crushed but still beating heart dress, after all, what could be more passionate than a dress in flame red silk or velvet? Oh yes. I think I’ve had a love affair with red dresses ever since watching Bette Davis’ 1938 film Jezebel as a little girl. There’s a really famous scene in the film where Davis’ dashing Southern Belle character declares that ‘This is 1852 dumpling, not the Dark Ages. Girls don’t have to simper around in white just because they’re not married‘ and daringly decides to attend a ball in a crimson gown, which both underlines her rebellious spirit and also makes her stand starkly out against the sea of frothy white dresses worn by the other debutante girls. What a gal. Sadly, her boring fiancé, played by Henry Fonda, isn’t quite so impressed – in fact, he’s so appalled by her sartorial boldness that he calls off their engagement.

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Scene from Jezebel. Dump the loser, Bette! If a guy can’t cope with the awesome power of the red dress then he’s CLEARLY no guy at all.

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I think that Dorothy Parker probably agreed that there was no better way to make an entrance than in a red dress, after all, as she wrote:

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I’d have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see,

To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a Summer day,
And there’d be one to see me so
And flip the world away.

And he would be a gallant one,
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies.

I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood….
I have the silly gown.

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Evening dress, 1884-6. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

There’s something truly magnetic about a really glorious red dress, isn’t there? Absolutely not for the wall flowers and shrinking violets amongst us, they draw the eye and seize attention and, I believe, make the wearer look a million times more attractive and confident than they might have done in some lesser hue. It’s impossible not to be life and soul of the party, the cynosure of all eyes and the hottest woman in the room when you’re wearing a heart pumping scarlet gown (unless of course, you’re Mary Queen of Scots or Charlotte Corday on your way to the scaffold as both ladies famously went to their doom in the bright crimson red of, respectively, martyrdom and patricide). The only caution is that YOU have to wear the red dress, not let the red dress wear you.

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Evening dress, Halston, 1970. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Ball gown, attributed to the House of Worth, 1898-1900. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Here’s ten more of the best from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York…

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Dress, 1869. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Afternoon dress, c1865. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Evening ensemble, Worth, 1893-5. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Dress, 1845-9. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Evening dress, Doucet, 1905-8. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Ball gown, House of Worth, c1896. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Ball gown, Elise (London), c1875. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Cocktail dress, Scaasi (American), c1958. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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Evening dress, House of Worth, 1898-1900. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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‘Robe Sabat’, Poiret, 1921. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hope you all have a wonderful day and a most excellent weekend.

******
‘Frothy, light hearted, gorgeous. The perfect summer read.’ Minette, my young adult novel of 17th century posh doom and intrigue is now £2.02 from Amazon UK and $2.99 from Amazon US.

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