I Wore All-Red For a Day—And Everything Changed

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Kelsey MillerContributing Editor

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Confession: I pay zero attention to fashion shows. I know what I like in terms of style trends, and I’m well aware that “what I like” is heavily influenced by what happens on the runways (which gets reported in fashion publications, then gets picked up by celebrities and style-conscious influencers, and eventually lands in my closet). I am the pre-makeover version of Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, except that I’m completely conscious of my place at the end of the fashion food chain, and I am a-okay with it.

But this year, for the first time, a runway look caught my eye: Power red. This, according to the arbiters of style, is the color trend of Fall 2017. We’re not talking muted, autumnal tones, but bright, punchy, unmissable red—and it’s meant to be worn head-to-toe. While I may make no effort to keep up with current fads, this particular look seemed more like a dare—and one I’d like to take. No other color is quite so bold, nor so imbued with history and cultural connotations. Wearing red makes a statement, it makes people look and listen. It felt almost risky, choosing an all-red outfit. But after I actually put it on, everything changed.

1. People reacted. For my all-red outfit, I chose a pair of crisp crimson pants, and a simple t-shirt in a bright, tomato-esque hue. I typically associate all-red outfits with things like formalwear or 1980s power suits. I purposefully went for something super basic, if only to balance out the bold vibe of the color itself. It was the right move. Before I even stepped out the door, people started to pay attention. And by “people,” I mean my boyfriend. “Ooooh, look at you!” he said. “Too much?” I asked, nervous. He shook his head, grinning. “No, it’s just...wowee!”

Wowee. That’s been the general consensus on red for all of recorded history. It is recognized as the first and oldest color, appearing even in neolithic cave paintings. It’s been found to increase competitive and dominant behavior, and can even raise a person’s heart rate. Some researchers believe we react strongly to this color because it was the first recognized in the brains of early humans, who would naturally have come to respect this vital color of fire and blood. Thus, it has long been used as an emblem of power in many cultures and eras, representing royalty, good fortune, revolution, health, joy, and of course, sensuality.

2. And the reaction was 100% positive. That last part was certainly on my mind as I stepped out into a busy New York City morning. Did I look like a walking scarlet letter? And even if I did, why should I worry about that? This was 2017 Manhattan, not The Handmaid’s Tale. Still, I was intentionally wearing the most attention-grabbing color known to humankind. I had to wonder what kind of attention I might grab.

“Good morning!” I got my answer almost immediately with this cheery greeting from a passerby as I walked to the subway. It happened so fast that I honestly don’t recall if it was a man, woman, or child. I was just so taken aback by the unadulterated friendliness coming from a stranger during morning rush hour. People don’t say “good morning” to you in New York—not unless they’re carrying a clipboard. Catcalling I might have expected. Instead I was greeted with a series of respectful nods and—gasp!—even smiles, on every block.

3. Red = confidence. While I was clearly a little self-conscious in my new look, other people seemed to have immediate confidence in me. That sounds odd, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Exhibit A: When I got to the subway station, a train pulled in which was almost entirely full. The doors opened and no one on the platform even tried to get on, myself included. Then, the woman standing next to me pointed to a few spare inches of standing room inside the train and, rather than try to grab them herself, turned to me, saying:  “You can probably squeeze in there.” AND I DID.

The same thing happened when I got to my workspace. “Big meeting?” someone asked. “Nope,” I answered (wishing, by now, that I did have a big meeting). “Oh, well, you’re killing it anyway,” she replied gesturing to my look. Again: pants and a t-shirt. That’s it.

All day long, the verbal high-fives kept coming—though curiously, nobody mentioned the color scheme. Red seems to hit people on an unconscious level; I even pointed it out a few times in response to the compliments. “I don’t know if that’s it,” my friend Marianna answered. “You’re just killing it today.”

4. And I did. I totally killed it. I don’t know if it was the outfit, the accolades, or a total coincidence, but I got stuff done. In one afternoon I wrote a story that would normally have taken me two days. I cleared my inbox. I checked off a bunch of annoying tasks I’d been avoiding on my to-do list. Procrastination who?

If this was the placebo effect, I didn’t care. Others noticed something different about me, and by midday, I noticed something different too. It may have been a subtle shift, but it was enough. I was a little more alert and focused. T-shirt or not, I felt like a woman in a power suit.

5. Red didn’t fire me up. It kept me cool. We all know that certain colors can affect our moods. I like to keep my apartment full of warm lights and cool-colored textiles, making it a cozy, relaxing haven. Perhaps this is obvious, but I thought that wearing red would make me feel, well, fiery. I reminded myself to watch my temper and not make any rash decisions. But I was no hot-head that day. If anything, I was the opposite.

Things that would normally irritate me (a text interrupting my workflow, my lunch spot running out of my usual salad) seemed to roll off my back much more easily. I felt relaxed and a little more willing to go with the flow. It occurred to me then that this is what it means to feel powerful. Power isn’t shrieking and shaking one’s fists. Power is ease. Power is the ability to let the little things go, to sit back and take your time.

I had the perfect opportunity when, at the end of the day, I ran into my old boss on my way home. She and I are friends as well, but still—a surprise encounter with a former superior is enough to throw anyone off balance (right?). Normally, in a situation like this, I would remind myself to just take a deep, slow breath and relax. This time, I did so instinctively. By then, I wasn’t just used to my new look, but reveling in it. I was present and calm. We had a nice little chat and then hugged goodbye. “You’re doing so great!” she said. I knew she was speaking generally, but in my head, I replied: I know, right?!

Wearing all red didn’t make me a brand new person. It’s a powerful color, but not actual magic. But I do think the outfit nudged what would have been a pretty good day into a great one. I was the version of myself I’d always like to be: A little more productive, relaxed, friendly, and confident. I was entirely myself—with the brightness turned up.