Is it a bit too much?
Next week is my friend’s 30th birthday celebrations, a date which has now induced a state of never-ending wardrobe admin. Read: acute panic. From what I gather, the dress code is “more is more”. A holiday from indoor slob-wear (of which I’ve been physically and emotionally attached to since March) and embrace all things fancy dress (thankfully, not of the themed variety).
So here I am, furiously scouring rental platforms – praise be Hurr, By Rotation et al. Sharing screen shots of potential sartorial suitors to those I know will respond - and advise - quickly. People are on board the concept of a statement dress. And yet, a red one still feels…a bit…too much.
Why? Mediate on it for a moment. Red is fiery, retina-burning, attention-grabbing. It’s a colour that I’ve been advised, by friends and family, to not wear to job interviews. Though perfect for a second or third date. It’s a shade wrapped up in juxtaposition. One that signifies a flush of embarrassment and a burst of rage. It is both love and danger. Beauty and blood. Fight and flight.
Which brings us to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Last week, the New York Democrat - and youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress - delivered what shall now be known as the “speech of the decade.” (And, if you’ve yet to watch it, please watch it immediately). For the occasion, she wore a purposely non-neutral red blazer. It refuses to blend in. Like her speech, it is untameable, bold and furious.
A speech that masterfully schooled the world on sexism and misogyny in the workplace, in a retort to Republican Ted Yoho, who, she says called her a “fucking bitch” on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC. A speech that called out the "entire structure of power" that enables "violence and violent language against women", delivered so concisely it’s impossible for those watching not to pay attention to every single word.
“Many have asked me if my speech was pre-written,” she wrote on Instagram earlier this week. “The answer is no. But in some ways, yes. Yes because this speech was a recounting of thoughts that so many women and femme people have carried since the time we were children. It flowed because every single one of us has lived this silent script: stay silent (why?), keep your head down (for whom?), suck it up (to whose benefit?)”
Now, of course, clothes are hardly the most important part of this story. Nonetheless, the red blazer carries a weight of cultural influence that should not be devalued. As Behavioural Psychologist, Professor Carolyn Mair PhD and author of The Psychology of Fashion, says, red is “one of the “most well-known” and therefore, “most powerful in terms of how it can influence perception and behaviour.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a history of wearing clothes as a symbol of political resistance. In 2019, she wore an all-white suit for her congressional swearing-in ceremony, as a sign of female solidarity. (“I wore all-white today to honor the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come. From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm [the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968 who also wore white to her ceremony], I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.”)
Her red lipstick and hoop earrings were, too, emblems of change. Inspired by Sonia Sotomayor, who was advised to wear neutral-colored nail polish to her confirmation hearings to avoid scrutiny. “She kept her red,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman.”
“I used to wear black and try and blend in a bit more,” says Gina Martin, podcaster and activist who made upskirting illegal last year in England and Wales. “When I went into politics I tried to emulate how they [other politicians] dressed a little and be what I thought the archetype of 'power' looked like, but after feeling uncomfortable doing that I decided to go the other way and wear what made me feel the most 'me'. I'm a very energetic, positive person and I love colour.”
“I have evolved into wearing a lot of colour and it makes me so happy,” Martin adds. “If I walk into a room wearing colours people assume I'm confident, and I have to put my best foot forward and show up. It's often the kick I need to show up and be myself in any situation. I can't blend into the background.”