If you were to read this article, written by a man, in Medium, you would never wear red to work. While I often find some truth in what is said about color psychology, I had a hard time swallowing what this article professed. Despite being backed by science, that red is associated with excitable outcomes, it posited that men can wear red without impunity but when women wear red, the shade may attract unwanted sexual attention because men are programmed to see red in sexual terms, even subconsciously. By wearing it a woman could be sending the wrong signals. Are we seriously still doing this? Are we still asking women to do this dance?
How I interpreted this article, at least, is that women remain wholly responsible for the emotional and sexual reactions of men, the same as how women are often encouraged to dress modestly in conservative religious circles because apparently men have little self-control and it’s all the woman’s fault if he gets aroused. Yet again, the responsibility falls on the women’s shoulders to figure out how to safely navigate within a man’s world.
On the other hand, this Forbes article cited red as a power color for not just men but also for women to wear and identified women like former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s preference for red, the Amy Coney Barrett wore for her confirmation hearing, and Princess Diana’s preference for red as a confidence color. Last I checked, INancy Reagan hardly became known for being the Sophia Loren of First Ladies.
This 2023 Glamour article regarding red quoted FIT Art History professor Lorenza Smith that, “Now sporting red is a sign of emancipation from conventions; it is a color that implies intentions. It is a way to affirm ‘Yes, I want, and I can,’” and that red signifies confidence as well as passion. The article continued with color science about red, that it’s the color with the longest wavelength in the visual light spectrum meaning our brains perceive the shade first. It’s also a color that doesn’t leave our vision quickly. When I was a designer and did lab dips, which are fabric color samples from factories. When advising the factories on how to achieve the exact shade we were going for, I was told to look at white fabric after viewing red samples to “wash out my eyes.” Red lingers longer so if I didn’t wash my eyes out by looking at white, it could skew the other colors I viewed.
THE POWER OF RED FOR THE WEARER
Wearing red is usually discussed from the perspective of the viewer or how others will react when a person wears red but rarely talked about is the effect it has on the wearer. A Journal of Social Psychology article from 2017 cited that wearing red can cultivate a heightened sense of self-assurance. However, at the same time, the study also concluded that for some people red can have a negative impact because they’re not comfortable with the attention red can often bring.
What it all boils down to for me is that red does draw attention, it is a strong powerful color, it can evoke emotion in others, and I have sometimes suggested that red isn’t the color someone should wear at work when asking for things like a raise, for example, Simply, some people are red people and other people aren’t. Some people have the energy to meet the power that red exudes whereas in others red is just too strong. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong, it’s completely individual. Yet, if there is one thing I stand firmly behind is that no woman should avoid the color for fear of what men might think. That’s not their responsibility to navigate.
STYLING RED FOR WORK: ADDING THIS BOLD COLOR TO YOUR WARDROBE
As we are nearing Valentine’s Day, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss ways to wear red to work. I have put some looks together along with some additional red work-friendly pieces to shop at the end of the post. What are your thoughts on wearing red to work? I’d love to hear them.
Red is a shade that pops off a monochromatic base really well be it a black, grey, navy, or even camel or olive base. It’s hard to overpower red and often when you try all the other shades wind up vying for attention while creating a lot of distraction. In this look, I popped a red trench coat off a soft, hushed grey monochromatic look. A red trench is a great choice that doesn’t have the same level of commitment that other pieces do. The second you get to work, the coat comes off. Have an out-of-office meeting where you need to show your strength, a red trench or coat would mean business.
I styled the trench from Cole Haan Signature with grey pants from MM. Lafluer and a grey turtleneck sweater from Theory. I finished the look with grey booties from Cole Haan, a grey belt from LOFT, silver kidney-shaped earrings from Anthropologie, and a grey Demellier handbag.
I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a pair of red shoes in my closet. I don’t have any red clothes, but red shoes are always a must. I have these red loafers from M.Gemi and not only are they insanely comfortable they are stunning. I styled them for a dress-casual workday with a pair of Everlane jeans, a scoop neck 3/4 sleeve tee, a black double-breasted blazer from Reiss, and finished the look with a black belt from Rag & Bone, and a link necklace from Monica Vinader.
I created this suit outfit before I read the Medium article and now I want to call this look the “take that, Medium,” look. The suit is from Argent (link to blazer here and pants here), and this is the same company that made hot pink suits popular during the last election. Argent suits are as powerfully unapologetic as women should be in the workplace.
I love red and olive. While red and green can be a little too Christmas-y, the understated tone of olive works much better. I styled this red cardigan from Boden with a pair of olive wide-leg pants from L’Agence. Under the cardigan, I styled a striped Breton and finished the look with beige loafers from Margaux, a printed scarf from Echo, and bar stud earrings.
Like the red trench, a red handbag is less of a commitment while still making an impact. I styled this red work tote from BOSS Hugo Boss with a black sheath dress, a black and white check blazer from Veronica Beard, black boots from 27 EDIT, and a Swarovski pendant.
SHOP FOR RED
Here are some more red options for work to consider adding to your wardrobe.