In this month’s Members Write Now, Sherring Dartiguenave shares a personal essay about finding expression through the colors in her wardrobe.
A Shade of Red for Every Woman
As a teenager, the only red you’d find on me was my nail polish. Even then it was hidden. Red was reserved for my toes, while my fingernails were coated in hues of brown. Only when the bottles were lined up could you tell the slight variations in color. Lip balms and glosses were clear or a slight tint of pink, another color I avoided.
My conservative attire in my teens and early twenties was drab and dreary, though I coordinated from my hair accessories and costume jewelry right down to my socks. I wasn’t goth dressed in all black, but everything was dark. Dark blue. Dark green. Dark brown. I was taught to do laundry by separating clothes into lights, whites and darks. My darks were always a mountainous pile.
When my mother passed away, my aunties ensured I followed Haitian culture protocol which dictated that I was to wear dark clothes, but more importantly, not to wear any red for at least two years, as a sign of grief and respect. To my dismay, my aunt—my father’s sister—sifted through my clothing and removed anything that contained red. I was especially heartbroken when a dark turquoise shirt with faux suspenders made of buttons was strewn on the pile on the carpeted floor.
I mustered the courage to request that the suspender-shirt be spared. Seeing the desperation on my face, my aunt acquiesced, but removed the single, offending, red button. I didn’t care about the gap where the button once was. I was satisfied with my victory of saving one of my favorite shirts.
Unbeknownst to me, I associated the color red with my mother’s death. After she was gone, dark clothes were what I was accustomed to wearing, so every summer while shopping for clothes for the upcoming schoolyear, that’s what I selected. My father’s only issue was that I didn’t choose enough dresses and skirts. If I did, I was sure to buy dark, thick leggings to wear underneath.
In my early twenties I audited my wardrobe to get rid of no-longer-worn and ill-fitting items in an attempt to declutter my closet and drawers. Standing before my closet, I faced a wall of dark clothes. It was depressing. I remembered the fashion tips from the many magazines I subscribed to. “Add pizazz,” or “spice up an outfit” by adding a statement piece of a bright color. That suggested color was often…red.
I grew up a shy loner, though I longed to be one of the boisterous, popular kids. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve shed some of the shyness, but it’s still a struggle. I try not to blend in or hide, starting with and including my clothes. I buy brighter colors and patterns. I’ve always loved plaid, but I had to ease into wearing red. I still feel like it’s such a bold, rich color, announcing “Look at me!” which is what I want, and don’t want, at the same time.
To be different I actually prefer, instead of having to remind myself, to seek something colorful or red, especially if it isn’t the norm. A stranger might think my favorite color is red. Several times when I upgraded my Motorola cell phone to another model, I chose the red in lieu of the black or metal-gray. My Dell laptop came in two color options. I went with the red, and bought a mousepad to match. To this day, a favorite purse—one I get complimented on—is a twenty-year-old red leather BCBG handbag. I have a red umbrella. I wear red nail polish on my fingers, and red lipstick on my lips. I don red lingerie.
A few years ago, I bought two, form-fitting, red dresses. One was a mock-turtleneck sweater dress; the other a cocktail dress. I’ve worn the sweater dress exactly three times. I haven’t dared to wear the cocktail dress yet.
Last winter, as I adjusted my red Isotoner gloves that matched my red knit hat, I wondered how much longer I’d have to wear gloves before warm weather arrived. I also wondered if I’d finally wear that red dress.
Sherring Dartiguenave is an editorial professional with over fifteen years of experience in book, magazine, and online publishing. She earned a BA in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from The New School University. She lives in Brooklyn and is the Treasurer of the NY chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Follow her blog justsherring.com and on Twitter @sher_ring.