A New Fashion Uniform Has Usurped Head-to-Toe Black

I’m nostalgic about this story (originally published October of 2017) and the shoot that accompanied it for a number of reasons, but mostly because it was one of my first big shoots as Man Repeller’s Fashion Editor. For whatever reason, requesting items for the shoot was especially tricky (which happens to me sometimes when I have super specific things in mind, but I think it was compounded by the fact that we shot right at the end of Fashion Month and a lot of stuff either wasn’t available or was out on loan). Everything came together very last-minute, much to my panic, but that ended up being precisely what made it so much fun. It pushed to be more creative about how to put all the pieces together. For the last look of the shoot, I literally took the shirt of my back (a red Man Repeller T-shirt) and put it on Tia, the model Edith and I discovered on Instagram at the time who now has over 100k followers because she’s absolutely BLOWN UP. I’d like to think it was because of our head-to-toe red shoot, but there’s a chance her Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie campaign had something to do with it. – Harling


I’ve avoided wearing red since the beginning of middle school when I acquired a sudden and uncontrollable blushing habit. I blushed when I was embarrassed, when I was pleased, when I was the recipient of too much attention, when I felt that I was talking in excess. The more I thought about how much I was blushing, the more I blushed. Blush, blush, blush, blush, blush.

I stayed away from red; my body was already supplying the pigment in spades. Pale blue was my best friend. White was always a delight. Green, sure. Anything in the orange/pink spectrum was risky territory. Red? Unthinkable. The blushing and corresponding color mandate are both souvenirs of adolescence I’ve carried with me into adulthood.

Despite what my cool-toned wardrobe would suggest, I have long admired red clothes from afar — their power, their presence, their declarative self-awareness. You want what you (tell yourself you) can’t have, I guess.

I wanted it even more during fashion month last spring, when red was ubiquitous to the point of absurdity. I counted more than 80 head-to-toe red looks across all the collections. HEAD-TO-TOE: Shoes, accessories — the whole kit and caboodle.  

Although Fendi, Roksanda and Tod’s turned out some great examples, Givenchy was by far the heaviest contributor, presenting a 27-look collection made up entirely of entirely red outfits. The collection got a lot of buzz for this distinctive design choice. What struck me, as a virtual onlooker, was how effectively it made the case for not just wearing red, but wearing only red.

I won’t say it didn’t look a bit like a costume, because it did, but in a good way — less like a gimmick, more like a modern-day suit of armor.

I managed to avoid confronting my conflict of interest and anxiety until a few months later when Amelia and I decided to timeshare a dress for a story. She suggested a fire engine-red Saloni dress, and I said yes before I could say no, even though the color terrified me.

Despite the fact that it occasionally matched my face, I loved it. I marveled at the reality that I had allowed a relatively meaningless insecurity to impact me so significantly, like an elephant backing away from a mouse. Still, I wore it conservatively — a dress here, a t-shirt there. Baby steps.

Around the same time, I read an interview with The Cut editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee in The Coveteur in which she ruminated on the phenomenon of head-to-toe red. “People just love it when you wear all red!” she said. “They act like you invented red. I wear head-to-toe red all the time, including my bag. I love it. I think in general solid color dressing is an idiot’s way to make an outfit. It just feels like you tried but it’s really that you’re not wearing all black.”

Another fashion month came and went, and with it, dozens of head-to-toe red looks across the Spring/Summer 2018 collections: Versace, Area, Proenza Schouler, Valentino, Calvin Klein — the list goes on. I kept track of all of them on a note in my iPhone, some of which I referenced in the mega roundup of trends published on Man Repeller, but there were far too many to include as just an aside. The pervasiveness of this uniform had “separate style story!” written all over it, which I was more than willing to attempt. I’ve found that styling a trend I find intimidating or uniquely challenging on someone else is a great way to test the waters before giving it a shot myself — the stretch to my sprint, if you will.

Learning to paint in entirely one color when you’re used to dabbling in the rainbow is a fascinating exercise, especially when that one color is red. I was wrong to assume the lack of variation in hue would demand more accessories; in fact, the opposite was true. Simple gold hoops did just the trick, with the occasional pair of red sunglasses sprinkled in for good measure.

Beyond experimenting with how to style the trend, I’ve also been pondering the WHY of its pervasiveness, because even if it is having “a moment,” it is by no means a new aesthetic.

“In red, Diana Ross is the first person who comes to mind,” notes stylist and consultant Shiona Turini. “She was enchanting and sensual, all-woman in a red ensemble and wore it often: The Mahaffey Theater stage in majestic tulle, the 2003 MET gala in flooding silk, and while channeling Josephine Baker in feathers and pearls. That’s probably where my affinity for it started; carried on, of course, by last season’s ubiquitous red highlights at Fendi and Givenchy.”

In addition to Diana Ross, head-to-toe red was also popular with fellow iconic performers David Bowie and Selena Quintanilla. Coincidence? Perhaps. Studies about the psychology behind the color red suggest otherwise, though. Men and women are both rated as more attractive in red. Male customers give higher tips to female servers dressed in the color. Wearing red has been shown to have a positive effect on performance in competitive sports.

As for why head-to-toe red is currently resonating? If history and science are any indication, it boils down to the desire to stand out. Thanks to the internet, there is more information at our fingertips than ever before. There’s more to see, more to consume, more to digest; the tools we use to be and feel distinctive have to sharpen in response. The fact that the kirakira app and head-to-toe red are trending in tandem doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Both are mechanisms for taking something to an extreme in a way that catches the eye, cuts through the noise and delights.

Or maybe the universe is conspiring to dig me out from underneath my personal red baggage by means of some very serious exposure therapy. It’s a work in progress. I did recently purchase these red socks, so I’m warming up for an eventual head-to-toe red debut.

If you, too, are considering a head-to-toe red look, my styling suggestions are as follows:

+ Go easy on the accessories
+ Experiment with different shades of the same color (burgundy, poppy, cerise, scarlet, vermilion)
+ Red is an inherently authoritative color; imbue it with a sense of humor by adding elements that don’t take themselves too seriously: kneecap leggings, graphic t-shirts, toothy smiles, etc.

Would you wear? Are you already? Let’s discuss.

Photos by Edith Young. Modeled by Tia Jonsson of Anti Agency, follow her on Instagram at @tiajonsson. Studio space provided by Breather.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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