“The fashion instinct for red: It’s special . . . it’s a matter of temperament, looks, or both . . . ,” noted Vogue in 1963. A celebratory, look-at-me color, red was historically associated with passion, privilege, and power. Louis XIV, for example, famously wore scarlet heels and enacted sumptuary laws preventing those not in royal favor from following suit. Over time, the bold hue became linked to the festive holiday season via a certain cheery fellow with a beard “as white as the snow” and a suit as red as a . . . Coca-Cola label? Speaking to NPR, Arielle Eckstut, coauthor of The Secret Language of Color, explained that in 1931 the beverage company commissioned an illustrator “to create a Santa Claus” for promotional purposes. The artist drew one dressed in scarlet and with a physique that aligned with Clement Clarke Moore’s depiction of the “right jolly old elf” in his famous 1823 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, which is now better known as The Night Before Christmas.
Combine red with velvet, a fabric with snob appeal (just look at Medici portraits or Francisco de Goya’s famous “Red Boy”), and you’ve got a winning, and upscale, combination that rises to the occasion. Like the cake that borrows its name, red velvet is a tried-and-true recipe for holiday dressing. The proof is in the pages of Vogue. Here, we track the trend as it was addressed by designers as diverse as Cristóbal Balenciaga and Marc Jacobs.