Rosemary Harris writes the Dirty Business mystery series . Her debut novel, Pushing Up Daisies, was nominated for both the Anthony and the Agatha for Best First Novel and is now available on Amazon Kindle. Visit her on Facebook at Rosemary Harris Writer or on her website at www.rosemaryharris.com. She regularly blogs at www.jungleredwriters.com
"You should buy a red dress"
by Rosemary Harris
A few years back I was in a bar, waiting for a friend. It was late afternoon, too late for the lunchtime crowd and far too early for the bar’s hipper clientele, but it was a time when I was working freelance and by 3:30 or 4pm I needed to hear the sound of another human voice even if it was only one saying “What’ll it be?”
I was two sips into my Amstel when a familiar-sounding voice came from the other end of the L-shaped bar. It was dark and the speaker’s face was in the shadows. He leaned forward in his seat, raised his glass and spoke again.
“You should buy a red dress.”
Despite the limited visibility I could see who it was. He was an actor. One I’d seen in many films, including one which had won him an Oscar. Was he hitting on me or was this serious fashion advice? I’d recently been told by a good friend that I wore too much black, so I was sensitive. Her exact words were that I was "starting to look like Johnny Cash."
The speaker went on the say most women should own one as a matter of course, but it would work particularly well with my coloring. (Maybe he was coming on to me.)
I mumbled a reply – probably the very witty “thank you.” He stayed at his end of the bar and I stayed at mine until the friend I’d been waiting for arrived and we moved to a nearby table. I did my best to be a good listener and nod at the appropriate times but I couldn’t get my mind off the man and his comment. He spoke to no one else and at some point when I looked away, he left.
Every once in a while I’d think of the incident. I never bought red dress. Until last year.
I was gearing up for the now annual round of conferences, banquets and activities that surround a new book release and I was deciding on my uniforms – the two or three outfits that will crisscross the country with me – that I feel thin in but will be forgiving if I have the occasional minibar dinner of Pringles with a cookie chaser.
And there it was. At the top of the escalator. Calling me. Red. And spandex. It was like nothing I’d ever owned before. I saw myself as Scarlett O’Hara entering Miss Melly’s. Bette Davis shocking her family going to the ‘lympus Ball. Where on earth would I wear a red spandex dress? I had no trips to Vegas planned. It didn’t matter. I had to try it on.
I took the dress – in three sizes as well as the more conservative black version - into a surprisingly large and comfortable room. There was even an upholstered chair. And the lighting was golden. It would, of course, be an exaggeration to say that my winter white skin looked like Giselle Bundchen’s but it was closer to hers than to say,..Helena Bonham Carter’s. These people knew how to make a sale.
I wriggled into the dress. Was I hallucinating? Did it really look good? Why hadn’t I listened to that man earlier? Who knows what adventures I might have had? I was married now – did I still need a red dress? Yes.
The dress hung in my closet for four months – the tags still on, mocking me every time I reached inside for some safe, boring black outfit. Then the email came. Did I want to attend the RT Booklovers Convention? If you can't wear a red spandex dress there you shouldn't own one.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” At the last moment, I grabbed a black jacket in case I got cold feet in the hall or in the elevator. Outside my room, I looked over the hotel’s railing and saw people dressed as Victorian prostitutes, pirates, vampire dominatrix. My little red dress was as shocking as an outfit from Coldwater Creek. I wore it again the following week at Malice Domestic, but since then it’s hung in the closet , not quite the wedding dress in a giant box under the bed but with almost the same mystical status.Why am I writing about a red dress? Because one features prominently in my latest book, Slugfest, where among other things, amateur sleuth Paula Holliday learns about the power of being a woman in red.