Red has always had a complex relationship with women. Girlishly vibrant on one hand – think rosy cheeks and ruby slippers – and sensual and womanly on the other – think oxblood lips, cherry fingernails and the red dress effect. It is the color of harlots and witches (the Whore of Babylon is described as ‘arrayed’ in scarlet) but also of queens and martyrs (Mary Queen of Scots wore a crimson martyr’s petticoat to her own execution). Whether they opted for merely a dash of red here and there or went full scarlet from head to toe, here are some of the most rambunctious ladies of history, literature and film, in all their garnet glory:
10 The Queen of Hearts
Not to be confused with the Red Queen (who deserves at least an honorable mention here), Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts was, according to Lewis Carroll, an ‘embodiment of ungovernable passion – a blind and aimless Fury.’ A sort of rebel heart gone wrong, the Queen of Hearts was renowned for her mad croquet skills, her firm stance on capital punishment and her love of all things carmine. From her painted rose bushes to her collection of decapitated heads, Her Majesty left a long trail of red all across her kingdom.
9 Hester Prynne
Black-and-white was all the rage in gloomy, Puritan 17th century Boston – until Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne decided to add a splash of color to her dreary ensemble. She exercised a bit of joie de vivre and had an extramarital affair with the local minister, which earned her a brilliant scarlet ‘A’ for ‘Awesomeness’ that no one else was allowed to wear. At least that’s how some tell it.
8 Vianne Rocher
Daughter of Ferrero (not really), Chocolat’s troublesome, cocoa-brewing witch casts a delicious spell over the repressed little village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her lollipop-colored pumps, woolly red riding hood, and gypsy’s heart. Based on Joanne Harris’s novel, the 2000 film adaptation features the lovely Juliette Binoche, who pulls off various shades of red and coral with her usual French panache.
7 Angelica Fanshawe
If you are not yet familiar with the bold, crimson-clad heroine of the 2008 television series, The Devil’s Whore (The Devil’s Mistress in North America) then allow me the honor of introducing you. The brown-haired, alabaster-skinned beauty, portrayed by Andrea Riseborough, displays all the delightfully impudent qualities one would expect from a woman who wears red like a second skin. The wide array of vermilion and Persian red brocades and velvets on display in this sumptuous 17th century drama set during the English Civil War are reason alone to give the series a go.
6 Amélie Poulain
What would our darling oddball, Mademoiselle Poulain, be without her many red skirts and cardigans, toadstool umbrellas, cherry earrings and edible raspberry thimbles? She even lives in a red Parisian flat.
Known in English as Rose-Red, the scarlet-donning German heroine of Grimm’s fairytale, Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot (Snow-White and Rose-Red), was dark-haired, vivacious, outspoken and preferred to spend her time out of doors, in direct contrast to her blonde, white-garbed sister, who was reserved, quiet and preferred to remain inside the house.
4 Ronja Rövardotter
Astrid Lindgren’s dark-haired, black-eyed heroine, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, cavorts around the Swedish countryside in her carnelian cape in this magical 1984 film adaptation of Lindgren’s equally magical children’s novel. Red seems to be a favorite of untamable brunettes everywhere.
3 Erzsébet Bathory
If Ronja grew up and became a Hungarian serial killer, I expect she’d wear the outfit here on the left. But the real Countess Bathory was a fan of red too, as the portrait on the right will demonstrate. For a more political perspective on the legends surrounding the insubordinate Countess (and a buffet of delicious, blood-stained Bathory ensembles) see Juraj Jakubisko’s fantastical 2008 biopic, Bathory.
2 Elizabeth I
Before adopting the statuesque image of the snowy white ‘Virgin Queen,’ Elizabeth I displayed an affinity for bright kermes-dyed reds, as the lavish 1998 costume drama, Elizabeth, reaffirmed. The color was a fine compliment to both the queen’s charismatic personality and her fiery red mane. Even Pope Sixtus V had to concede: ‘She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.’ Never underestimate the power of red on red.
1 Little Red Riding Hood
After all this time, no lady has done more for red than Little Red Riding Hood. The quintessential red-robed rebel, our brave little Rotkäppchen, simply refused to remain on the path. Beware: red is not for the faint of heart.