Worldbuilding Wednesday 3/27/24: Shades of Red

 I used to be disgusted
Now I try to be amused
But since their wings have got rusted
You know the angels wanna wear my red shoes

— Elvis Costello, (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes

Red is the most dominant and eye-catching color in the spectrum. To even say its name is to conjure up pools of blood, female lips, whoredom and wars and cities in flame. From the mawkish “Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” the color has no shortage of catchy tunes either. Who hasn’t sung along to UB40’s “Red Red Wine” or “99 Red Balloons?”

Red was, in fact, probably the first color ever named by humans. The brilliant scarlet of animal blood was likely the most brilliant color any of them would ever see. In hunting and war the color meant death, but in birth and nourishment, life. Red was so revered the first humans used red ochre, a clay colored by iron oxides, to paint their dead and create paintings on cave walls. The ochre was a particularly durable compound, so these ancient artworks have survived down through the centuries and attest to the artists’ skills today.

Red blood and blood-red remained entangled throughout human history. Red is associated with royalty even more than purple is, as the right to rule is passed down through one’s bloodline. It also has a destructive side, given death often entails large amounts of blood. “Streets ran red with blood” is a common phrase used throughout history when describing conflicts, and to pair it with another word not usually associated with red changes its meaning, as in the “Red Wedding” of Game of Thrones fame wherein a whole wedding party was massacred. Stars that have a red shade, like Aldebaran, and planets like Mars are considered harbingers of war and destruction. To see a red dawn brings misfortune, and red comets (likely far-ranging aurorae) are the worst of all.

A typical red devil

OF COURSE red means danger!

Red’s association with evil began with the ancient Egyptians, but it was only in the last few centuries that, in Western civilization, began to be ubiquitous. There’s that link with fire and heat  of course, but red-as-evil received a hefty lift when Satan began to be depicted as a red-colored imp in popular art with pointed ears, horns, and a mustache and goatee. In truth, this depiction came about because of the traditionally red theatrical costuming of Mephistopheles, the devil figure in the Goethe play Faust. Before that, the devil was usually black. (I’ll write a much longer post on this later because is a long and wide-ranging tale.)

Red also means danger. In traffic and industry it means STOP! and while flashing, KEEP BACK. For disasters from hurricanes to forest fires red denotes the highest rating of danger. When a submarine enters combat, its lighting systems dim to red. The communist revolutions of Russia and China, born amidst violence and high ideals, are red; to “be a red” in the 1950s was to be a degenerate and Godless. (As for China, red worked out fine for its revolution, as it already was a culturally salubrious color.)

The New York Dolls tried to revive their career by wearing eye-catching red patent leather outfits and performing in front of a Communist flag.

Yet, because humans blush and flush, and red lips and genitals are considered alluring, red has also become the color of sex, lust, and love. Valentines are red, but so is the Whore of Babylon’s gown. A bright red stiletto-heeled pump is movie shorthand indicating its female wearer is hot to trot; for males, red shoes are more of fashion statement, as the lyrics of the Elvis Costello above song say. Even red fruits have sexual significance. To “pop a cherry” means to take a partner’s virginity, pomegranates are an aphrodisiac, and Eve tempted Adam with a ripe, red apple. And though Eve is commonly depicted blonde in Western religious art, it can be also be said she was a (sexually voracious) redhead, henna being a red cosmetic meant to give allure.

Lucille Ball swore to  keep her hair dyed bright red to please her fans.

For some Asian cultures, red is considered a fortunate color, one meaning happiness. Chinese New Year decorations are traditionally red, and even in the west red can be celebratory, as “red-letter day” and “paint the town red” imply. Christmas is associated with red and so is Valentine’s Day. Red as a primary color (along with yellow and blue) red conveys the simple innocence of childhood, everything from red balloons to rubber balls, red tricycles and baseball caps and hair ribbons.

This was one of my sister’s favorite books.

In fashion and furnishings, the heady days of bright red suits and wool coats have gone out with the 1980s and have yet to make a revival, as have red-painted walls and cherrywood-stained  furniture. But red never  goes out of style completely. These days (c. 2024) it’s used more as an attention-getting accent.

Below are some shades of red to inspire you further.


Shades of Red

Ultimate Ketchup

Titian Ignition

Red-Eye Gravy

In the Red Currant

Cedar Cardinal

Smoke of Erebus

Juicing Melody

Taste of Mars

Scarlet Nomad

Jupiter’s Eye

Scarlet Furnace

Bodega Red

Redwood Resort

Devil Claw

Molten Garnet

Jellybean Red

Scarlet Adder

Summer Barbecue

Tabasco and Eggs

Crimson Cupcake

Ruby Tea

Bingo Red

Dragon Livery

Team Lucifer

Root Beer Buzz

Martian Mesa

God of Sunrise

Russian Red

Cinnamon Magma

Ruby Furnace

Fortune Teller Red


Cherry Poptart

Chestnut Cottage

Imperial Cherry

Blazing Crimson

Baked Adobe

Rajah Magic

Rust and Honey

Black Cherry Rum


Rusty Rocket

Poppy the Clown

Cherry Confetti

Dreaming of Sangria

Ballroom Cocktails

Fire Kingdom

Scarlet Ambition

Blushing Strawberry

Vermilion Skies

Rumpled Redhead

Himalayan Beetroot

Blazing Canyon

Molten Magic


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