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Red Dress Styles and How to Choose the Perfect Red Dress

Woman wearing red dress on the beach

Some experts believe that colors affect mood and feeling. Seeing a certain color can even bring back a memory or trigger some response. Perhaps no color is as associated with different feelings and meanings as the color red. It is used to symbolize passion, rage, love, pain, heat and many other emotions and states of being. So when you slip into a red dress, you could be creating all sorts of feelings in others and yourself.

What should you know about red dress styles? Learn how to wear the right shade of red, how to style a red dress and how to look your absolute best while you’re strutting around in one. It’s time to learn much more about red dress styles. 

History of the Color Red

The red dress carries a special meaning because the color red carries a special meaning. The color red has been used in art, clothing and decoration since at least 30,000 B.C.E. Through most of history, red was an expensive color reserved only for the elite and powerful. To this day, red is still considered to be a “power” color. 

Ancient Red

It was expensive to import hematite, iron oxide, from Spain. Ancient Egyptians used the red color sparingly and experimented with different materials in order to create the powerful shade. 

It wasn’t just the Egyptians who liked the color. Greeks and Romans used it for artwork, for clothing and for cosmetics. Many Roman inscriptions were done with the color red. The color was so important in medieval texts, it was used to denote important festivals and celebrations on the calendar. This is where the term “red letter day” comes from. 

Royal Red

It was King Louis XIV who made the color royal. The French king favored red in his wardrobe and decor. When high heels caught on in men’s fashion, he embraced the trend and had his shoes made with eye-catching red heels. Soon, red heels were used to denote royalty. This centuries-old fashion trend has been embraced by shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who makes shoes with striking red heels that have now become part of the brand. 

Even then, red was expensive. The French used bugs from Mexico to create the shade. The bugs were dried and shipped to Europe on boats, traveling across the ocean to be turned into shoe and clothing dye. 

It wasn’t until the 1800s that synthetic dyes became more widely available. Soon, everyone was able to afford the color red. But to this day, the color seems to carry a special power. 

The Meaning of Red

Red has many meanings and associations around the world today. In the Catholic and Christian churches, red is associated with the Devil and with all things satanic. In Asian cultures, red is an extremely lucky color. Indian brides wear red safaris for good luck.

The color has a huge array of meanings. Red can be a color of courage, war, good health and passion. In almost all meanings, it’s a very strong color. It’s used to represent strong and powerful feelings and emotions. It’s the color of blood and often, it’s used as the color for love itself. That is some pretty powerful stuff. So when you slip into a red dress, you’re sending a message to the world and you’re sure to turn some heads. What red dress styles should you be playing around with in your own wardrobe? 

Wearing Red Dress Styles

Woman wearing red dress

But which types of red dresses should you wear? What’s the secret to finding your own personal red dress style that will make both you and the dress look amazing? Wearing a red dress isn’t always as easy as finding one you like and putting it on. There are lots of different shades of red and lots of different ways to make an impression in a red dress, whether you’re looking for a great red prom dress or a classic red dress for a formal occasion.

Finding Your Shade

Not all reds are created equal. Rose red is often seen in Valentine’s Day goods and it certainly has a warmer, or orange, undertone. However, some reds actually have a cooler, or more blue, undertone. Think of a deep burgundy dress that almost has a bit of a purplish look to it. This is a cool red, rather than a warm one. 

Shades of red for red dresses

Are you a warm or a cool? Your skin will either have a warm, a cool or a neutral undertone. You should match the shades of color you wear to the natural undertone of your skin. In other words, warm skin tones need warm colors. Cool skin tones are best displayed in cool colors. And those with a neutral skin tone can dress in any shade they like. 

To figure out what you are, stand in natural light and look at the inside of your arm, the back of your hand or the top of your foot. Look at any part of your body where you can see veins.

If your veins are more blue or purple in color, you are a cool skin tone. If they look more green than blue, you have a warm skin tone. Now, you know which shades of red are going to look best on you. Reds that have underlying tones of orange, pink or brown are warm reds. The shades that have blue, green or purple undertones are cooler reds. 

Finding Your Style

There are dozens of different types of dresses and styles to choose from, ranging from the most casual dresses to the most formal dresses made in literally all lengths and looks. They have all sorts of different necklines and sleeves. Some are backless or made with cut-outs. 

In other words, you can get any style of dress in the color red. But which style of dresses are going to be best suited to you? The type of red dresses you wear depends on the body type you have

Athletic shape. If you have an athletic or rectangular shape, also known as a straight shape, you aren’t extremely curvy and your measurements are pretty consistent, with shoulders ad hips close to the same size. You have a straighter waist that isn’t super well-defined. 

Strapless and scoop necklines work well on this body type. This body type can also wear lots of different dress styles, though dresses that emphasize the waist or the bustline will help show off your assets the best. 

Apple shape. Also called the inverted triangle, apple body shapes have shoulders that are wider than their hips and often have a larger bustline. 

Flowing, loose styles look great on apple shapes. Anything with a V-neck works well, so look for this neckline above others. Strapless dresses also work great on this body type. Look for maxi dresses with lower necklines because this will seriously flatter your natural shape. Mini dresses also work well on this body type, along with shift and sheath styles. 

Hourglass shape. Perhaps the easiest shape to spot is the hourglass figure. This is a curvy body type with a well-defined waist. 

Hourglass shapes have several different dress options. Wrap dresses look great on this shape because they emphasize the waist and hug the curves. Structured, form-fitting dresses look great on this shape. Mermaid gowns will also show off all those curves.

If you’d rather leave more to the imagination, try a looser-fitting empire waist gown. Most loose-fitting dresses do not fit this shape well, however. If you don’t like the way a red dress looks on you, try adding a belt. This may create a vast improvement that you love. 

Pear shape. Also known as triangle shape, this body type is a little wider in the hips. The bustline is not as wide as the hips and you have more narrow shoulders. 

Look for dresses that have V-neck and plunging necklines, along with scoop necks and cowl necks. Look for bodices that are fitted and structured to help emphasize your waist. Wider and full skirt styles will help create a well-balanced shape. A line dresses look particularly good on this body type. 

Classic Red Dress Moments in Fashion History

Red dresses have played significant roles in fashion history through the ages. Meghan Markle famously stepped out in a bold, vibrant red evening gown designed by Carolina Herrera for her first gala event after she and Prince Harry stepped back from their royal duties in the UK and became U.S. residents instead. There have been several other moments when celebrities and public figures stunned crowds in red dresses.

Many people think of the red gown Julia Roberts wore in 1990’s “Pretty Woman” when they imagine a stunning red dress. Playing lady of the night Vivienne, Roberts had Richard Gere — and the men of the world — drooling over the elegant, bold red evening gown that hugged her figure just enough to stay ladylike. 

Going even further back in history is Marilyn Monroe and the red sequins stunner she donned to sing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The song and the dress are now iconic. The dazzling red of her gown is a perfect match for the sparkle of diamonds all around. 

And to go even further back in cinema history, there is none other than Scarlett O’Hara. The character whose very name is a shade of red is famous for the floor-length, the form-fitting red gown she strutted around in during a critical scene of “Gone With the Wind,” after she got caught kissing another woman’s husband. No one looked more unapologetic than Vivien Leigh as Scarlett stood wrapped in red velvet, with long gloves and an amazing gauzy wrap to match. 

Even animated sex symbols Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit wore red dresses. Little black dresses may get all the good press but it’s actually the little red dress styles that seem to make the biggest splash. If you want to turn heads, stand out from the crowd and be remembered, reach for that red dress. Maybe you’ll end up becoming a famous fashion moment, too!


There’s a lot to know about wearing different red dress styles because there are so many different looks. You might want an elegant red dress for an evening event or something fun and casual for a daytime picnic. If you still have questions about how to style a red dress and make it look great on you, no worries. We’ve got the answers to the most common questions about wearing red dresses to help you create a perfect style no matter where you’re going.

What does a red dress symbolize?

In some cultures, red is a color for sex appeal. Everyone has heard of the “red-light district,” known as a place where one can find physical companionship. Some studies have even linked the color red to sexual desire in men, showing that men found women wearing red more desirable than those in other colors. Red can certainly draw the eye and a red dress can certainly create a memorable look…but whether or not it truly increases sexual desire is still a matter for study. [Source: Psychology Today]

Red dresses are also associated with a sexy woman or a dangerous one, such as the la femme fatale trope. A red lace dress may be associated with lingerie, while short red dresses are seen often as cocktail dresses. Red dresses are often associated with sex appeal, in other words.

Where can you wear a red dress?

If you style it appropriately, you can wear a red dress anywhere. In fact, many brides wear red dresses on their wedding day. This is traditional in India and China but has also been seen in western culture. Red dresses look amazing on the red carpet or any formal event you’re attention. They look great when you’re out running errands or when you’re having cocktails in a little red dress. They can be a powerful symbol as office wear in a professional setting and they look glamorous even when you’re just hanging out at home. Play around with your own red dress outfit ideas to see what you like best.

How do you style a formal look with a red dress?

Red dresses are great for formal looks. This is why they are seen so often being worn by actresses on the red carpet. To show off the color, pair a red dress with gold jewelry. Wear high heels and carry a clutch, either in a matching shade of red or in gold to complement the jewelry. You can also play with adding some other colors to your look with the shoes and purse, rather than wearing matching red shoes. Red lipstick will really set off the formal look. 

One rule Cocoa Chanel lived by was to take off a single accessory before leaving the house. This is because she believed that less is more. So remember that it’s often just as much about what you don’t wear as what you do wear. Also remember that on prom night and during other special occasion events, you will likely get an extra accessory to wear in the form of a corsage.

How can you create a boho look with a red dress?

Red dresses are great for creating a boho look, which is a cute casual style. Pair a long red dress, such as a maxi or a long sundress, with a pair of sneakers. This is a very boho look. You can also wear sandals. Try wearing funky, colorful jewelry. Large statement pieces work well with a boho look. A large handbag also looks great with a boho style. 

What colors go well with red?

Red is a fun color to play with because it pairs well with so many other colors. Brown tones, including copper and gold, look amazing with red. The color also pairs well with gray, white and black. In fact, red looks especially vibrant when paired with white and black. You can also play with bright pops of orange, blue and yellow with red. These colors really pop against red and work well with multiple shades of red. 

You can always play around with wearing multiple shades of red, too. Try combining a deep crimson with a bright cherry red and see how the two play against each other. 

What accessories go well with red dresses?

Try adding a shrug, scarf or wrap to your red dress to add that little touch of something extra. This can be a good way to layer another color in your outfit. Belts also look great on red dresses. This allows you to add a bright pop of color to the outfit or it can be used to break up the red a little, say with a slash of black or brown. If you’d rather maintain a monochromatic look, wear a belt in the same shade of red. This will still add a little definition to the outfit. Try wearing all red accessories to create an all-over one-color design.

Any type of shoes will look great with a red dress. Boots, sandals, strappy heels, flats, even sneakers can be paired with a red dress to create a beautiful combination. 

What shades of red dresses should you try wearing?

What shades of red are going to look best on you? Choose your red based on your skin tone, not your hair color or eye color. If you have fair skin, bright red dresses like coral red or tomato red will show off that alabaster beauty and make the color really stand out. 

If you have a more medium skin tone that’s a bit darker, try vibrant and bright shades of red. You can probably pull of fire engine red, which is a difficult shade to work with. In a red dress in this color, you’re likely to stop traffic!

Darker complexions will look amazing in cool reds that have more blue or purple undertones. A deep wine red, for example, will pair beautifully with this skin tone. 


  • Bella Bridesmaids – Choose the Right Red Dress for Your Complexion
  • Forbes – Love, Blood And The Ancient History Of The Color Red
  • LiveScience – How 8 Colors Got Their Symbolic Meanings
  • NPR – The Color Red: A History in Textiles
  • Real Style – Iconic Movie Red Dresses With Emma Stone, Audrey Hepburn and More
  • Stitch Fix – The Guide: Dressing For Your Body Shape
  • StyleCraze – Colors That Go Well With Red Clothes – 11 Outfit Combinations
  • Town and Country – Meghan Markle Wears a Bold Red Dress to the Salute to Freedom Gala
  • WhoWhatWear – 10 Things French Girls Always Wear With Red Dresses
  • WikiHow – How to Accessorize a Red Dress
  • WikiHow – How to Wear a Red Dress