Send for me some Scarlet Ribbons…

As a child I was obsessed with the colour red. My first pair of shoes, that I can remember, were red Mary Janes from Clarks. I even refused to take them off to go to bed! I had red trousers, red anorak, red jumper and the trademark of my youth, a red ribbon for my ponytail. I was a whizz at the local gymkhana and then later I took part in show-jumping competitions on my horse, Red River. I made a red velvet brow-band for him with matching velvet for my ponytail. He was already named after the river in the southern states of America, so that was pure coincidence.

This memory of red ribbons was triggered by a book I’ve just finished, 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. In the book he describes how the slave women instead of spending their Christmas cents on tobacco – as the men did – almost universally spent it on ribbons for personal adornment. Without exception they chose the colour red. Red is traditionally the colour of passion, lust and love. With Valentine’s Day approaching splashes of scarlet can be seen in many shop windows, selling love in the form of chocolates, cards, flowers and other racier items!

But red can also be sinister and dangerous, suggesting violence and death. Would ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ have had the same underbelly of menace if it had been called ‘Little Green Riding Hood?’ Anyone who has seen the red-hooded dwarf in ‘Don’t Look Now’ will never look at a child’s red rain or duffle coat in the same way again. Hunting pink, worn by hunt staff, is an echo of Britain’s colonial past, and perhaps hints at the blood to be shed during pre-ban foxhunts.

So, what’s your favourite colour? Does any other colour have as many emotional connotations as red?

About susancarey

Writer, teacher and occasional belly dancer living in Amsterdam.
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4 Responses to Send for me some Scarlet Ribbons…

  1. Sherri says:

    My daughter had those exact same pair of Clark’s shoes…come to think of it, so did I :-)

  2. susancarey says:

    I think a lot of little girls did in those days! Perhaps they’ll be reintroduced again now everything retro is so popular.

  3. pfornari says:

    I always think of red as an aggressive colour…I often buy red clothes, and wear them, if I am angry! I love the way so many days in Bangladesh are colour-coded: yesterday was the first day of the Bengali spring and all the women turned out in their best orange and yellow saris. Today it’s red for Valentine’s day (and OK, I’m not angry but I put on a red T-shirt for the occasion!). 21 February will be black and white for Martyrs’ Day; 14 April red and white for Bengali New Year. I got that ‘colour me beautiful’ think done once and came out as some sort of autumn, and yes, I wear a lot of greens and browns…Our younger daughter was obsessed with pink when she was five…she insisted on wearing pink shoes and socks, a pink bow on her hat, and a pink apron over her black dress when she was playing the witch in Hansel and Gretel (or Handsome and Grettam, as she called it)

  4. susancarey says:

    Thanks for your comment, Paola and I will look out if I see you in red! The street scenes must be very vibrant on those special colour days in Bangladesh. When I was giving belly dance workshops I noticed that pregnant women were always drawn to pink. I got my nails painted pink for Valentine’s day today, will fish out something red from my wardrobe for a lovely clash!

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