Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"You should buy a red dress" by Rosemary Harris

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 She regularly blogs at

"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.


Julie D said...

Rosemary, this was wonderful. I, too, will one day own a red dress, as well as one in black. It's just classic, and no woman worth her salt should be without one. But I will remember your piece when I am feeling too vulnerable to grab for the red instead of the one that's safe.

Thank you for the reminder that we are all worth a red dress.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Ro - Welcome!!!!!

I agree with - - - oh darn, I've forgotten his name - remind me, please?? (Give! Who WAS this!?!)

Anyhoooo -

I agree with him. Red is a GREAT color for you. And this is one GREAT dress!

And I believe in the power of red.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Julie - Hi! Good to see you!

I agree - we ARE all worth a red dress.

Life is too short to not have a red dress.

Rosemary said...

Yes, indeed..I was empowered. I was Wonder Woman without the ugly belt. really want o know who the actor was..?

Rosemary Harris said...

Okay...whoever can guess the actor's name will win a copy of Slugfest.

Coco Ihle said...

Rosemary, You were right on target with the red dress story! So many of us have feelings of vulnerability and even intimidation at different writer's venues, but we try putting on our bravado cloaks, hoping we're getting away with it. Thank you for freeing us to think we deserve to have the confidence to wear red and be all that we can be. You are definately a "red" gal! Bravo!

Rosemary Harris said... gals are very supportive...I may wear it to the Edgars!

Msmstry said...

Red rocks! Especially in dresses!!!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

The first time I met Molly she was wearing a red dress. GORGEOUS!

Very soon after that, I bought myself a red dress. And I feel like a million dollars whenever I put it on. But it's not as hot as your red dress, Rosemary.

O.K. - so I'm fixated on the author.
Al Pacino! Right?! Right?!

Jill said...

Great post and a most beautiful dress! I will guess Jack Nicholson.

Kaye George said...

Clint? You'd know the sound of his voice in a dark bar.

I had a fabulous red dress when I was younger and thinner. I think I'll leave it at that. I did just buy a red top the other day, though.

Jen Forbus said...

O.k., here's my wild guess...Al Pacino.

Rosemary Harris said...

Ooooh..if it had been Al Pacino I think I would have run right into a store and bought something without even trying it on. I may wait to read a few more guesses..

Kari Wainwright said...

Wonderful story. And my guess for the Oscar-winning actor is Jack Nicholson. Whether it was him or not, thinking about hearing his voice say those words sends chills down my spine.

gkw9000 at

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I'm going to guess William Hurt - but I have no clue why except he strikes me as the sort who might notice a lot about women and make an observation like that.

jenny milchman said...

Powerful indeed! That is a gorgeous dress, and I bet you looked dazzling, Rosemary. Wish you could let the man know--maybe write his publicist :)

Rosemary said...

Interestingly enough I had a William Hurt moment about 20 years ago at a book party. At the time I was wearing a pink dress - truly hideous - I must have looked like an extra from Big Love, but he didn't seem to mind. No...the red dress comment came from Christopher Walken, who won his Oscar for the Deer Hunter.
But ..honorable mention goes to Carolyn who somehow knew I had a thing for William Hurt and if you email me at I will send you a copy of my new book.

Vicki Lane said...

Great story! But where's the picture of you in the red dress?

Rhonda Lane said...

I had a feeling your Mystery Actor might have been Christopher Walken. :)

Thinking of his smooth dance moves in that music video from a few years back ...

Say - let's just watch the vid. Here's the link:

Kaye George said...

Wow! Thanks for the video, Rhonda. Fun!

Pat Marinelli said...

Sorry, I'm late to the party.

I always had a thing for red shoes. Loved them with a black suit and a red and black suit. Oh, and the winter white suit, too.

Best thing I ever wore was the midnight blue lace of silk dress I bought for my first son's wedding. Loved the dresses I got for the two kids--one was purple and the other handpainted gray silk, but that first on truly it. I wore it to the Rita awards, on a cruise, and then for a Halloween costume. Should have heard Hubby comment on that! My I was the Queen Mother of the fairies.

Still have the dress packed in a box. You never know when I might have a need for it again.