Do you wear Red? Or does it wear you?

Tinie Tempah can wear a red suit, but he is famous, and black. The rest of us, probably not. Red can be powerful, dynamic, assertive and successful. It is the colour of blood, fire, danger and passion.

Once I was given a red nylon (“sexy”) nightdress that I found so embarrassing that I pushed it back into its box for fear it might escape to torment suburban housewives everywhere. I hope the Oxfam shopper and his wife enjoyed it. And in a similar vein I  once mistakenly bought red, knee-length boots in a sale. (I know. I took them back). As well as being associated with tarts, those that wear red can be seen as aggressive and demanding. Red with black is the ultimate drama look for adolescents, vampires, and assorted circus performers. Single-handedly it uniquely stands apart in a sea of ordinariness, and shouts out loud.

Red was the colour I struggled with most – there seem to be so many versions of red – cherry, scarlet, tomato, pillar box, wine, raspberry, watermelon, ruby and blood.  I could never quite make up my mind about it. I knew I suited clearer, brighter (non-muted) shades. But I didn’t really understand the difference between warm (orangey reds) and cool (bluer reds), especially in terms of lipstick. It’s hardly surprising that many people steer clear of red as if you get it wrong it is quite uncomfortable. But actually everyone can wear red.  It is worth persisting as it is a colour that brings life and energy in its wake.

I made up Style 4666 in a lovely piece of red linen, in just the right shade of cool, bright red, that I got in Goldhawk Road. I made version 2 with short sleeves and went with the white collar and cuffs. For the button I tried white, and I tried red. But both looked wrong. In my button box I found a solitary fabric button in “greige”. When I tried it I thought it did the trick.

View 2, short sleeves, white trim
View 2, short sleeves, white trim

In this photograph I have found  a narrow greyish  belt to go with it. By using white and a neutrals (brown shoes, clear tights, silver jewellery) rather than accessorising with red I think I created a look that was  smart rather than overpowering.

Kate Davies wearing Style 4666 in red linen with white collar and cuffs
Style 4666 in red linen with white collar and cuffs

Red clearly works well with neutrals. You can put it with white and navy for the traditional nautical look, although it is a bit predictable. Red with white and yellow, or navy and pink is more fun. In fact red with pink can be wonderful. I like to wear a red skirt, say, with a purple, yellow or green top – these combinations seem youthful and fun to me. But it can look a bit too strident. This is when I would use a navy or grey jacket or another tone of the same colour to calm it down. Alternatively use red as an accent colour – maybe a jacket over a dark outfit, or a handbag. Red trainers or Converse type shoes with jeans look nice on longer legged people. Men sometimes need a red tie, or scarf to make a suit or coat come alive.

Let’s consider the six versions of red that help us to choose which shades best complement our colouring.

Deep or Light?

Deep or Light
Deep or Light Red?

Cool or Warm?

Warm red compared to cool red
Cool or Warm Red?

Bright or Muted?

Comparison of bright with muted red
Bright or Muted Red?


Margaret Barlow and Kate Davies in green and red with white trim
Coincidentally with white accents – Mother and me



4 Responses

  1. Kristy

    Lovely dress, I really like the simple lines of Style patterns and it’s great to see one of them made up. I wear a lot of red – a red suit, a dress, several skirts, a coat, shoes & other accessories, which I never thought I would being a redhead but I stick with the cool dark reds and pair with a neutral like beige or camel and it seems to work. I haven’t got the confidence for red lipstick yet though!

  2. Stephanie

    Love the dress on you and the photo of you and your mum! Two beautiful and stylish women! The fit of the dress is enviable. I never would have thought of the greige button and belt, or to match red with some of the colours you mention. With this encouragement, I must experiment with my reds more, as I find red very appealing. I think I need to veer more towards the muted raspberry shade that you have in the post. I have a couple of hand-knitted sweaters in that colour but no clothing for work. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Joyce

    ditto comments above, you two look Fantastic!!
    My daughter can wear strong red lipstick… it looks great on her and she seems to pick the right tone.
    Red is a hard colour to photograph (bridesmaids be forewarned)
    It is a fun colour to really add a pop of life, and will remember to add a neutral to tone it down if need be.
    This post has brought such sweet feeling to me this morning Kate, a great way to start my day. You and your mother are wonderful examples of style and grace.
    I love love love the pattern you have chosen. The red is divine and I remember my mother wearing a similar dress design when I was young.
    Thanks again , I usually stay clear of red (minus the cashmere long red with black detail coat, that has too much orange in it for me! wahaw!!)…but somehow I feel more comfortable with red all of a sudden , thanks to your post.

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