I’ve been sorting out my stash. I know, I know, I said I had lots of work on and I do – I haven’t yet been reduced to cleaning out the freezers as a displacement activity, but their time will doubtless come. Once the stash is dealt with. I have two, essentially: one of wool for pop-up shops, craft fairs, etc., and one for me. The latter was surprising, when I spread it out. It’s full of green.
There are olive greens, lime greens, greens with blues,
yellows, even purples; there are the greens of pine trees, greens of ivy, greens of the bright new birch leaves in spring. There are greens in cotton (bit flat, that, it might have to move into the pop-up stash), alpaca, all sorts of wools. There’s green fluff for spinning and there’s even some green acrylic (shh, don’t tell anyone).
All this greenery got me thinking. I know where it comes from: the old thing about red hair and green, so guess what I was always put in as a child, when I couldn’t persuade my mother that black would look good too? Fair play to her, she didn’t do baby pale greens; she did emerald, and I did love my party dress which was bright emerald shot with a darker bottle green, and with long sleeves – most odd, in retrospect, in a sea of small girls in pink powder puffs. When I asked her about this many years later she just shrugged and said pink would have looked ridiculous with my red plait and she hated pastels anyway. I wasn’t brave enough to ask if any of the other mothers ever said anything about it.
I began to think about the symbolism of green, about its ambivalent nature. It’s the ‘fairy colour’ (of the dangerous Sidh and not, originally, of Leprechauns), the colour of Bridget and of course the colour of the Green Knight. But in Islam it’s been called ‘the colour of safety and permission’, representing a verdant paradise, and it’s the colour of environmental movements worldwide (Incidentally, the first recorded green party was a political faction in sixth-century Byzantium who took their name from a chariot team). It’s also the colour of the snake in the Garden of Eden and the associated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, because lots of greenery was taken into homes. And in the first illustrations to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Christmas Present wears green robes.
Greens began to leap out at me. I had a lovely time over the Christmas break, binge-watching films and eating chocolate, and there was green everywhere. I’m ignoring here the green of Eowyn’s dress in Fellowship of the Ring, or of Shrek (and of Fiona), or of the Incredible Hulk or of Loki’s costumes in the Thor films (though I might come back to the use of greens in the MCU at some point, as it’s interestingly more complex than you’d think), because I did watch some classics as well, honest I did.
In classic movies, green is often shorthand for self-confidence, and a certain disconcerting boldness. Take Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara – please take Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t stand the woman – OK, she’s of Irish origin and we all know that means red hair and green eyes and a difficult temperament: yeah right, and all clichés emphasised through the use of green. There’s the dress made out of curtains, which is ‘symbolic of her will to survive’ (Walter Plunkett). Boy, is that green:
and then there’s the dressing gown (like no dressing gown I’ve ever owned, mind) which she wears when she, essentially, tells Rhett to piss off:
It’s not just Scarlett O’Hara, either, green-clad and temperamental. There’s Cyd Charisse in ‘a tasselled green number’ seducing Gene Kelly in a dream sequence in Singing in the Rain; there’s Tippi Hedren wearing a green suit in The Birds (Hitchcock felt the artificial green colour would enhance the viewers’ sense of discomfort); Kim Novak as Judy in Vertigo. The latter is particularly interesting when it comes to symbolism: it’s ostensibly sweet, but it’s also very tight and therefore, er, ’emphasises her earthiness’, especially as Novak was quite clearly not wearing a bra (which she has spoken about).
But it’s not just the classics. Perhaps the most famous green costume in recent years has been Keira Knightly’s dress in Atonement.
It was actually voted the best film costume of all time (gods, I hate these things, they put so much stress on the recent and the blockbuster) in a poll commissioned by Sky Movies. The whole film has a green tone: the countryside, the kitchen and bathroom of the villa, even the flooded tube station. One commentator said ‘Its colour becomes the symbol of the night that affects the lives of all the main characters’.
I love it. In fact, I’m knitting in just this colour at the moment. I may be looking at my stash in a new light…
(and a heads up for the Clothes on Film website – a great resource and fantastic time-waster when you’re supposedly working.)