Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown continental artist, circa 1575. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London
There’s a painting in the National Portrait Gallery that has long been a source of fashion inspiration for me; it dates from about 1575, and is a peerless image of redheaded chic.
Elizabeth I wears a gown of white and gold satin with dashing scarlet frogging across the breast, like a hussar, and she holds a particularly wonderful feather fan – whites and sulphurous yellows, dark iridescent greens, oranges and russet reds.
That ghostly face is turned three-quarters of the way toward us; her expression reserved; her lips compressed.
The line of that nose – “rising somewhat in the midst”, as Sir John Hayward described it – is clearly shown.
My nose does the same. My hair is also red. Elizabeth I has been my pin-up girl since I was tiny.
But it was only when I began researching my book Red: A Natural History of the Redhead that I came to appreciate how revolutionary Elizabeth’s image-making truly was.
Red-haired woman circa 1927. Photograph: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Hair is being dyed red when it is not naturally that colour. The fashionable colour is quite a startling shade, and lest there be any mistake that it is dyed, it goes with a white face and lips rather redder than is strictly natural.
Indeed, to be natural in colour, as far as Paris is concerned, is not to be seen at all. The delicate complexion, with suggestions of rosé leaf or lilies, has gone with the delicate shades in colours and people who wear orange and scarlet and magenta, and perhaps all three together, would disappear behind thee insipidity of their own completion alone.
Of course it is all a great tax of time and energies.
The face and hair have to be dressed to tone in with a particular colour scheme, and, just as pictures are being painted to go with particular wallpapers, so hair and faces are being coloured to go with particular materials.
It is very amusing; it also links up humanity to-day with all the humanity that has ever taken pleasure in painting itself red or blue, or in decrying those who liked to play with colours.
Vintage illustration of a flapper sitting at a vanity applying her makeup in the mirror, 1923. Photograph: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
Where the Frenchwoman differs from the Anglo-Saxon races in dyeing her hair and painting her face is that she is very much more deliberate and very much more unconcerned about it.
She decides that these things must be and so she dyes her hair red and even after it has begun to grow and its roots show quite clearly that it did not begin life red she remains unconcerned about it.
The Anglo-Saxon is at heart always a little ashamed of “make-up.”
She shows it, either by attempting to conceal that it is make-up or by exaggerating its importance, and so with less artificiality in reality she looks more artificial than her French sister.
A poster for Clarence G. Badger’s 1928 comedy ‘Red Hair’ starring Clara Bow. Photograph: Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images
Bessie Love (1898-1986) was an American actress, born Juanita Horton in Midland, Texas.
She attended school in Midland until she was in the eighth grade, when her father moved his family to Arizona, New Mexico, and then to Hollywood.
Love achieved prominence mainly in the silent films and early talkies.
With a small frame and delicate features, she played innocent young girls, flappers, and wholesome leading ladies.Her performance in The Broadway Melody (1929) earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Her innocent beauty shines through these vintage portrait photos taken in the 1920s.