Three Colors: Black, Red, & Pale

 (c) Pamela S. Eddy <>

I've stopped buying fashion magazines. Not because I can't possibly afford the ostrich-feathered handbag or fit into the size two Capri pants. No, it's the "style" forecasts that I can't bear. The ones that proclaim what's in, what's new, what's hot. I am, invariably, out, old and stone cold. With one tick of a box, some fashion pundit decides that polyester is the new "cashmere" or, the one that I really dread, that "white," "brown," "grey," or whatever neutral color currently adorns the walls of Ian Schrager's latest hotel, is the new "black."

To me, the new black is and will always be the same old black. I wear nothing but black. Black sweaters, black dresses, black trousers, black coats, regardless of the way the fashion wind is blowing.

But don't get me wrong. Just because all I wear is black doesn't mean that all I buy is black. Beneath this black-clad exterior beats the heart of a red personality -- bold, daring, sexy, attention-grabbing, and as I've been told countless time by the fashion magazines, "free, free, set her free!"

It's just that when I buy in color, I make mistakes -- big, red, and don't let the mantra fool you, expensive, mistakes. My otherwise monochromatic closet is littered with red items that I never wear: red suede boots (gathering dust since 1989); red jacket (pockets still stitched closed years after purchase); red leather mini skirt (need I go on?)

My biggest, reddest mistake -- one that I actually wore -- didn't cure me of this irrational craving for crimson, but at least I've stopped listening to the pundits.

The invitation arrived in early spring. To a wedding, but not just any wedding. A family wedding. The wedding of the century. Black-tie. Mansion in Newport. Champagne and caviar. In-laws.

Vowing not to buy another black dress, I went shopping. My radar drew me to a cherry-tomato dress displayed in the window of a tony shop where black is usually de riguer. I quickly shed my dark winter clothes and slipped the delicate fabric over my head.

I stepped out of the dressing room where my husband was waiting. He is usually honest but on this occasion, he would not be cruel. He said little. The store clerks murmured noncommittally about size.

Here's what no one was saying but what I could see for myself: I was pale. Extremely pale. Deathly, Procol Harem -- you get the picture. Instead of the fireworks I expected, the red dress made me look paler, like the thin unappetizing, watery color of skim milk. Not a trace of butterfat. Walking, talking White-Out.

And there was so much of me that was pale. The dress revealed body parts -- collarbone, shoulders, upper arms, back -- that in the past decade I'd allowed only my husband and the occasional medical professional bound by rules of confidentiality to see.

Ignoring my husband's pleas to try on another outfit, I convinced myself that, with just the right make-up, the right jewelry, the right stockings, and a little tan, this was the right, red dress for the real, red me.

Rationalization or delusion, I bought it.

A month later, in Newport, my black-clothed, sensible self took little comfort in my red alter ego's choice of the right makeup (ivory foundation), right jewelry (pearls), right stockings ("Palomino," thank you Donna Karen). With summer another month away, both of us had given up on the tan.

At the wedding, my in-laws were too polite to shield their eyes from the glare of my skin. They complimented me a bit too profusely and it was clear that they were wondering whether I had perhaps inadvertently left something -- my entire blood supply, for instance -- at home. The other guests enjoyed themselves, at ease in their elegant and, it goes without saying, black attire. I eventually admitted defeat and hid in my husband's jacket.

Until the family picture. Directed by a chatty, obnoxious photographer. the happy couple, aunts, uncles and assorted cousins laughed as they moved up and down the stairs. I cringed as he decided as I am short, I belonged in front and nearly at the center. I envisioned a group shot where it would be difficult to determine, but for the bouquet and my dress, where the bride's gown ends and my pale skin begins.

And then I realized that I'd been saved. The thought of a picture memorializing my predicament triggered something I'd been missing all evening -- the perfect fashion accessory to complement my dress and disguise my pallor. With the click of the camera, human nature took over. I smiled and glowed, my skin the color of beets. Crayola would call it "Embarrassed." And the pundits? The "new black," of course.

Pamela S. Eddy 2000

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