When Colors Hold Emotional Ties and Provoke Visceral Reactions

When Colors Hold Emotional Ties and Provoke Visceral Reactions

I am a red person. For me, red is passion, energy, fun, excitement. My red blazer immediately infuses me with inner warmth and joy. “That’s a good color on you.” This accurate remark emphasizes the vitality behind the color energizing my very being. I had even planned to purchase a red car for my next auto. However, the owner of a red car parked near mine at work he was not a very good person, so I could not drive around the city with any suggestions of him. No more red cars, but otherwise, the color stays.

Colors, for me are more than just colors, as they connect me to people and places through my emotions, associations, and memories.

I have owned a red wool coat for about two decades, having left my first one on a plane never to be seen again. I have had this newer old one shortened, taken in, cleaned, and cleaned again, but wearing it still makes me feel regal. It’s strange how a color can change my outlook and well-being. It rejuvenates my tired complexion and removes ten years from my internal aging process.

My Worst Color Experience

My worst color experience was the obligatory purchase of a yellowy-light brown (along with orange, this is the worst color for my olive complexion) polyester 1980s pants suit. I was forced to buy this garb during my last four weeks of my first pregnancy, for it was the only outfit in my size that I could find to get me through my Lamaze exercises for our birthing class. My huge girth stretched the limit of the pants, but the polyester enabled me to bend and twist while beached on the floor.

I wore the dreadful attire to every class and I remember telling my husband that our classmates would think that this horrendous outfit was all I had to wear (which wasn’t far from the truth). He firmly believed that no one would even notice. About four months later, we met a couple from our class. The wife greeted me by saying, “I remember you. You were the one who wore that horrible brown pants suit!” Case closed…people remember colors, but most important, I do and the way they make me feel.

My Room, My Energy, My Colors

My first ‘grown up bedroom’ signified changing the old brown wooden furniture (hand-me-down from my brother) to white. Seemingly overnight, my room became feminine, clean and bright and suddenly I did, too. Gold paint outlined the lines of the drawers, further making me feel extraordinary. My princess phone was pink, my robe and slippers, the same, and every piece of clothing reflected a female color scheme. It was finally my room because the colors matched my love of all objects pastel.

It’s not in my DNA to wear all black or all white—not enough color. However, I own at least ten pairs of black shoes and probably about five white blouses. Growing up in San Francisco in the 60s and 70s, in my mother’s house, Labor Day signified the official end of wearing white. Mother ceremoniously put away her summer clothes for the darker wools and cashmere sweaters, all earth tones.

The forever-paradox for me will be winter white. It has taken me a while to wrap my mind around a white wool suit or a white wool coat—winter clothing with a summer color. Similarly, I used to think that a pair of black sandals was an oxymoron. How could open-toed shoes be anything but white?

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Today, my clothing colors reflect my participation in the 21st century. I have easily caught up and rarely wear white shoes since even my summer clothes are dark. I have brown shorts (another oxymoronic garb from long ago), black t-shirts (to match my black sandals!) and every other color. It was hard to let go of the no-white-after-Labor Day rule, but I have gloriously done so with wearing white shirts with my capris in December (I live in Southern California!).

A Coat of Many Colors

My all-time favorite memory of colors was what my oldest son immediately labeled as my “Joseph Coat” (and matching attire). It was the most expensive outfit I had ever purchased; I was literally sweating when I bought it. I never questioned why it was on sale. In retrospect, who else would have bought the purple pants with gold dots, matching green and gold shirt and a coat of many colors (thereby the “Joseph” connotation)? Many colors included magenta, lime green, purple, yellow, red, and three different colors of blue.

Oh, how I loved that outfit! I even bought the matching purple pleated skirt. How lucky, I believed, that all four pieces were on the sale rack (now I understand it was probably a desperate move by the store rid itself of the outfit). We have countless family photos of my wearing this amazing ensemble…sometimes with the pants, sometimes with the skirt, but always with the jacket. Sadly, I have outgrown the outfit, or perhaps it outgrew me—not in size but in color.

As much as I love colors—all colors—the days of my lighting up a room (literally) are behind me. It served me well and I imagine someone else with colorful manic tendencies probably purchased it from its new home at the Salvation Army. I hope the new owner enjoys it half as much as I did. My kids still talk about this costume-like attire today when they catch a glimpse of one of our old family photos. The outfit was fodder for many maternal jokes and jabs making me wonder today if perhaps they were embarrassed by their neon mom’s unusual “suit of many colors.”

As I get older, I have toned down my palate of colors. Now, it’s a black suit with a red and black blouse. It’s brown and gold pants with a matching jacket with a gold-stripped shirt (matching shoes, of course). I also choose my colors by the weather and not the month or the season. Yet, my reputation stands. I am walking with my dear sister-in-law in a department store, and she yells out: “Look at those shoes! They’re you!” I smile knowing I probably wouldn’t buy them anymore, but oh, I certainly would have in my younger years. They would have gone perfectly with the purple, pink, red, green, and blue jacket I once had!

Colors With Emotional Ties and Visceral Reactions

Colors also provide me with visceral reactions. In the back of my drawer where I store my cosmetics, there is a bright red Mac lipstick. It’s about two-thirds used, completely flat on the top the way my mother formed all of her lipsticks. When she passed away over eight years ago, I had to go through her drawer, and there was her signature red lipstick!

I just couldn’t throw it away, knowing that shortly before she died she had worn it, a color so vibrant and alive as she continues to be in my mind’s eye. I see her broad smile, her white teeth between the red stain, and her aging beauty enhanced by the vibrancy of bright red. I will never wear it, but I will always keep it until, I believe, someone is left with the task of going through my own drawer where they will find both my mother’s red lipstick and my own.

And so, along with reading, writing, and music, colors have continued to punctuate the memories of my life. At my funeral, I don’t want anyone to wear black. I would also like my coffin to be draped in colors—not from conservative, monochrome flowers, but from pieces of red, blue, pink, and green-patterned material that speak to the woman I was—colorful on the outside, but most of all, really colorful on the inside.

Book by this Author

When Will I Be Good Enough?: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing
by Barbara Jaffe Ed.D.

When Will I Be Good Enough?: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing by Barbara Jaffe Ed.D.Barbara was born to fill the vacancy left by her little brother, who died at the age of two. This book tells the multitude of readers who have been “replacement children” for many reasons, that they, too, can find hope and healing, as did Barbara.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.

About the Author

Barbara JaffeBarbara Jaffe, Ed.D. is an award-winning English professor at El Camino College, California and is a Fellow in UCLA’s Department of Education. She has offered countless workshops to students to help them find their writers’ voices through writing non-fiction. Her college has honored her by naming her Outstanding Woman of the Year and Distinguished Teacher of the Year. Visit her website at BarbaraAnnJaffe.com


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