Red Lipstick, Blue Velvet: Color and the Costuming of Dorothy Vauhan

I was extraordinarily taken by the work of color in the Blue Velvet, mainly in the motif of primary colors and in the costuming of characters. While I initially wanted to dedicate this blog to discussing the presence and function of primary colors in the film, for the sake of efficiency (and my own analytical cohesion), I will focus mainly on the latter. Most specifically, I want to look at how the color red connects to Dorothy Vauhan, and how this intermingles with her role as the “Blue Woman.” – for in the end, both of these essential colors manifest themselves in her character.

Throughout almost the entire film (save for the last scene – which I shall return to), Dorothy always appears in either red or blue – and sometimes both. Where else does red appear in the film? The red roses, from the very first; the red fire-truck; the red outfits of the Beaumont Lumber employees (and the red axe in the shop); the stop sign (and the outfits of the children crossing); et cetera. With Dorothy specifically, there is her red lipstick and her casual red dress, the red of the crooner’s club she sings at, and, of course, her own pink-red apartment and curtains. By emphasizing the color red and attaching it to Dorothy—and literally making her inhabit it—Lynch also endows her with the symbolic potential of all of the associative signifiers held by the other red objects: the beauty (and/or courtly seductiveness) of the roses; the sexuality of the lipstick and crooner’s club; the danger and/or protection of the stop sign and firetruck; the innocence of the children; the familiarity and loyalty of the Beaumont employees; the destructiveness of the axe; and so on. Yet, red is not the only color Dorothy wears – she also owns the blue of the blue velvet robe, as well as (frequently) a heavy blue eyeshadow. Thus, she also shares in the entire range of implication posed by blue. Arguably, Dorothy bears most of the meaning of the film – that is to say, the meanings of the film, just like the colors, converge in (or rather center around) her.

Dorothy is a blue-red woman who inhabits red spheres: namely, the club and her apartment. Yet, after Dorothy is freed of the hold of the Frank, her character is no longer subservient to this color scheme, nor is she limited to these sexualized locales. When the drama of the film has concluded, Dorothy no longer wears red or blue – rather, she appears a simple brown shirt, sitting on a park bench.  The elements of tension pent up in these colors resolve (within the narrative, at least) along with the drama of the film; accordingly, Dorothy no longer bears the responsibility of carrying them. No longer the center of the narrative and all of its manifold meanings/psychosexual implications, she may settle into the comfortable drab clothing and simple suburban exterior of a normal mother.

(It is interesting to note that the other female lead, Sandy, is also characterized by a dominant costuming color – pink. A color in the same color family as red, but with a much different association – that of unassuming femininity, virginal innocence, quaint prettiness, etc. This cousin color stands in stark contrast with the bold, sexualized red, which, again, suits the role of Sandy’s character in the film – as well as how it is drawn in direct contrast with Dorothy.)


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Dorothy in pronounced reds

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Dorothy after the plot resolves

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Sandy costumed in pink

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