The Traveling Red Dress Project.

The Traveling Red Dress Project.

Above photo by Better in Bulk.

As I know I’ve mentioned before, my friend Jenny is always coming up with these fantastic things that make her (and others) furiously happy. You probably know about our Beyonce adventure. And the Twilight wolf costume dance off. And the time she and her readers saved Christmas.

But now, as we’re looking ahead, making resolutions and starting fresh, I’d like to talk about something more personal, related to furious happiness…happiness in your own skin. Specifically, I’d like to discuss the brilliance of the Traveling Red Dress.  I wrote about it a bit before Halloween and on Hitting Refresh on Babble, but I wanted to tell you about the red dress here too.

It started as a random idea. Jenny wanted to wear the dress but she couldn’t imagine purchasing it just for herself…she wanted to share the joy. Because there’s something a bit magical about that dress.

In Jenny’s words...

I want, just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies.  I want to be shocking, and vivid and wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be.  And the more I thought about it the more I realized how often we deny ourselves that red dress and all the other capricious, ridiculous, overindulgent and silly things that we desperately want but never let ourselves have because they are simply “not sensible”.  Things like flying lessons, and ballet shoes, and breaking into spontaneous song, and building a train set, and crawling onto the roof just to see the stars better.  Things like cartwheels and learning how to box and painting encouraging words on your body to remind yourself that you’re worth it.

So she bought the dress. And then she wore it. And then she began sending the dress around to different people who needed it for whatever reason.

All for different reasons.

All have stories attached to them.

And there are many, many stories, more all the time…You can read about some of them here.




Or here.

Or here.

Or here.


Or, you can even read about mine here.

As I said on Hitting Refresh, Jenny brought this dress over to my house on my 40th birthday and insisted that we do a shoot. I say insisted because she did insist, but also because I was uncharacteristically hesitant. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do it…I really, really wanted to do it…but I was also really scared of it. The dress is intimidating. It’s large. And it’s red. And I was uncomfortable with that much energy being focused on me and actually on me.

But, if I’m really honest, I’ll tell you I was afraid of what the photos would look like. I wasn’t sure that they’d match up to the way I felt in the dress. Or the way I felt about myself at 40. It’s complicated. But on about four levels, I would say, I didn’t want to see myself. Because even though I still feel almost exactly like I did at 16, I know that I’m not. I’m not at all. The 16-year-old me was naive, and predictable, and safe. While my current self has lived enough and seen enough to know that life is anything but safe or predictable. Sometimes it’s shocking, disappointing, thrilling, and really scary. Sometimes it’s all those things at once. And sometimes the most shocking part is how you’re able to handle it, and how you’re able to wear it.

And that’s the thing about The Red Dress. It’s pretty intense to put on something so bold and really look at yourself, where you are, how far you’ve come. And like I said before Halloween, it’s true that there’s something about putting on a costume to become something new, something uncharacteristic, something better. But there’s far more exquisite power in doing this in an non-ironic, unabashedly  “Here I am!” kind of way. It takes guts to put a spotlight on yourself and look straight into where you really are, and who you really are.

Jenny and I had a long discussion about this last month…and her words have stuck with me ever since. She finally wrote about it here. And I’ll tell you, she is one of the strongest, bravest people I know. It’s really remarkable to see someone be so candid and honest about her real struggles and her real self.

My new year’s resolution, for all of us, is to be so brave in 2012.

And to be so daring to wear our own red dress, in the clear light of day, right where we are.


After Jenny wrote her post and then this other post, people began using #silverribbons tweets to support, honor, and celebrate those battling depression. A lot of people even asked Jenny to offer them in her shop, but, as she says, “honestly, you can make them for free if you have a nickel’s worth of silver ribbon and a safety pin.  If you do want to buy one though, you can buy them here and here.  Any profits will go to donating new red dresses for The Traveling Red Dress Project.” 


1/8 Update: There’s been a red dress explosion! Jenny updated a lot of it here:

UPDATED 2012: The red dress is now years old and is a bit tattered but it’s still filled with magic and is currently on the road visiting people who need some magic in their lives. Ideally, we would have 15 red ball-gowns in various sizes all traversing the globe at the same time but I just can’t afford it. If your company is interested in donating red ball gowns, just drop me an email at advertising (at)

And then people started tweeting with #travelingreddress and offering and matching up and going crazy with it.

It’s inspiring. I’m inspired. And so, I just bought two red dresses.

I’ll send them to the next two people to leave a comment about why they need a red dress experience. And then those people will send it on, and so it goes, into the traveling red dress circulation of awesomeness.

Let’s do this.


The Details

80 Responses to The Traveling Red Dress Project.

  1. Wahinegir1 says:

    I don’t have a red dress but I do have a red sari that an ex-bf brought back from India. The moment the fabric arrived (hand-beaded 14 yds of glory) I went to a local Indian grocery store where the wife made the sari, underskirt and blouse custom-fit for me. The moment I put on the finished product, I felt like a queen!! As a Southern white girl with no familial ties to the Indian culture, it would almost seem ridiculous I guess for me to wear it (and I hope not disrespectful of the beautiful culture of India). But I love it and I love how I feel when I wear it.

  2. Helen says:

    I would LOVE to have a Red Dress party with a few close friends and then send the dresses on to others who may need a red dress…whether it’s a wedding, a party or just an “I need to be ME today” day. If someone can help me in doing this (finding out who we could send the dresses to) I would love to hear from you! I think it would be really cool to include a picture of the person who purchased and wore the dress for the first time and then each person that wears it can add their own pic. :-)

  3. Jessica says:

    Congratulations! I own a formal gown store and my absolute favorite part of my job is putting a woman in an amazing, over the top dress and watching her realize how beautiful she really is. There IS something magical in those gowns and thank you so much for sharing that with others!

  4. Grainne says:

    For a while, I’ve been dreaming of a red silk gown. I’m a seamstress and know exactly what I need… With all 36 buttons on it… And yet I find myself feeling like I don’t deserve it. I’ve messed up and hurt people. I suffer from depression and social anxiety. It makes relationships of any kind hard. Days of happiness are few and far between. I want a red dress but feel that I don’t deserve it.

  5. jen says:

    i adore you and jenny, you’ve both made my bawl(in a good way!) and realize i need to get back to my old, funny-haired, rather daring self.. i’ve dealt with depression for years, as did my mom. i think i’ve found a good doctor, and decent medication, and a program to help me pay for it as i’ve no insurance- all too common these days. and i love the idea of the red dress- my red dress? i’m on my way to becoming a blacksmith! (no horses, though. they kick!) and i have made my nostalgia-dream come true- i bought, and restored to running condition, a 1972 honda motorcycle! no knowledge of engines, not mechanically inclined.. but i did it, dammit! and you know what? she’s red. wonderful, glorious red..

  6. AlexMac says:

    That dress is so beautiful I actually got tears in my eyes. Or maybe those are from how happy everyone coming together like this makes me.

  7. OneSharpDame says:

    In a couple of weeks, I’m going to have a double mastectomy. Or a single. I don’t know yet. I can’t make up my mind. Cancer sucks. Anyway, I think I’ll do a before and after in a red ball gown. That sounds like just the ticket.

  8. Annette says:

    You and Jenny are truly amazing…I’m 46, but someday when I grow up ;).

  9. First of all you can kick really high. Women who can kick really high are extremely attractive to men for too many reasons to enumerate (“enumerate” – good word). Second of all you are beautiful. And not just beautiful for 40, but just beautiful. So wear that red fucking dress grocery shopping if you want, but just not in my neighborhood. This town’s only big enough for one woman in a red dress. xo

  10. Wow you are so beautiful in that dress. Everyone needs a special gown that will make them feel beautiful and amazing. I love this idea, it is great in so many ways!!

  11. Naomi Harris says:

    I’ve been fighting my way back to myself – last I remember me I was 17. The past year while going through a divorce I feel I’ve been fighting to be furiously happy everyday, if only faking it most days so my 3 yr. old daughter sees a strong momma. I am most thankful for finding your blog and Jenny’s. Thank you for the inspiration, oh god the laughter, a moment to breathe and feel normal when everywhere else I feel anything but. Faking it is exhausting. I find I’m scared to ask for a red dress – for all the reasons you and Jenny and all the other women I feel connected wtih share. But I’m trying to fill my life with adventures and this would definitely be one of them. I ran a marathon last year, but somehow this seems infinitely harder. size 4 please.

  12. Julie says:

    Oh my. I can’t believe I am crying about a red dress. I want to experience it also. I am 33 (34 in a week), wrapping up a divorce tomorrow, and have never worn a red dress. I am a size 20, so I am scared to put out there that I want to wear a red dress! Please send one my way…oh very pretty please.

  13. Wendy says:

    We’ve got a Facebook group of women in Chicago and Milwaukee who are plotting a Red Dress group photoshoot come spring (it’s 22 degrees here now)

    I’m a costumer and a size 22 and I’m planning to make a Red Dress styled for us bigger girls! Soooo excited

  14. Rai says:

    I love every single part of this.

  15. Thank God I found you, via Jenny and your adventures with Beyonce’! This red dress thing is a MARVELOUS idea. Of course, I’m certain it’s way too late to lobby for the dress to be sent my way, but I’m stubborn in the most Southern bitch way there is, so I’m going to ask anyway. You see, my hubby and I have had a HELL of a year. Wait…who am I kidding? It’s been a difficult FEW years. For so many reasons that I will not waste time listing here, I could really use the sheer magic of a red dress. The least of which is, that I just turned 40, nineteen days ago, and almost had a nervous breakdown. I would love it, and wear it EVERYWHERE for the time it could be with me. And I would certainly take tons of pictures, send them to you and post them on my own blog. So there it is. My plea, despite the fact I have never worn a red dress IN MY LIFE:-)

  16. Betti Rippentrop-Pridmore says:

    I would so love to wear the red dress. I have no disturbing story, fatal disease or really no major trauma. I am just a working mom who is busy with everyday life and would LOVE the opportunity to dress up in the spectacular red dress feeling oh so decadent and positively feminine. I would wear it everywhere, taking tons of pictures and for one thrilling moment concentrate on nothing but how I feel in that spectacular dress!! I can so understand why this has touched so many people – what a concept!!

  17. Pingback: Follow After The Things Which Make For Peace…Even If They Lead You to JCPenny. | Hitting Refresh with Laura Mayes

  18. Suzy Q says:

    That’s a lovely dress! Jenny will be in my neck of the woods in May, and I am hoping that I can meet her and we can be photographed together wearing red dresses on the beach! I haven’t asked her yet, though…

  19. I’m tired of feeling ugly and jowly and ohmygod I think there are 52 days left until I turn 40. And then it will be 2 years since my Mom died. And 13 days after my birthday I have to get my neck stabbed AGAIN with about a zillion needles because my thyroid is hideous and lumpy and bumpity and I think I need to lie down.

    What I’m trying to say is, what you’ve done with the red dress idea is wonderful, just wonderful because we women feel shitty about ourselves MORE than enough. So, thank you.

  20. Pingback: The Weekend Changes | Things Change

  21. Laura says:

    I’m a mom of six – yes, six – children, ages four to 14. Four girls. Two boys. No twins. All mine, every last one of them. I should know, I gave birth to each of them. I love them. I love my life. But some days the monotony of housework and laundry (oy, the laundry!) and the dreaded “D” word – dinner – weighs heavily on me and I cry and cry and cry. Add to that the fact that my husband lost his job three years ago when the economy tanked. Three years without a permanent, benefit-inclusive job. Mind you, he hasn’t not worked. He’s worked temporary and consulting jobs, often more than one at a time, to keep us going. I even went back to work for seven months before he found something. Then last night, my husband was told “no” once again. Top two, but not number one. Bridesmaid, not the bride. Third time he’s heard that. We’re about four health insurance premiums away from maxing out a credit card. As I walk around the house cleaning and doing laundry I look at each item and think about how much I can sell it for on eBay or Craigslist. Or jewelry. Certainly there are pieces I no longer wear that someone will give me cash for. I hate that it’s come to thoughts like this. I just do not know what to do any more. And then today I read about the traveling red dress and thought, “That’s just what I need.” See, red is my favorite color. Really. Truly. Red shirts? I own several of those – short sleeve, long sleeve, I wear red them as often as possible. Red raincoat? Check. I even own not one, but two pairs of red shoes, one of which is a kickass pair of red wedges. But a red dress? Nope. Never. Several black ones, even a leopard print one. But no red one. Maybe now it’s time. Even just to wear for a moment to brighten my day.

  22. Mariah Burt says:

    I am leaving this comment on my sister, Mary’s, behalf. She is 7 years younger than I am and a strong and beautiful person. We grew up in a very abusive home(s). We moved every year of our lives, transfered schools nearly every year of our lives, and were homeschooled (really locked up and hid from the world) for years on and off. When I turned 18 I went to college to escape the madness and moved out at 2o. Unfortunately, that left Mary as an only child. To endure verbal abuse, neglect, stolen education, sexual abuse, and utter despair. You may think this is a story of defeat, it is not, it is one of survival. Unfortunately, Mary turned to things that could numb the pain of what we/she endured. Cutting, drugs, self-deprication, pills, alcohol, and self-hatred. She came to live with my husband and I in a new city after several stints in hospitals and mental-institutions. She was clean 5 months and had a relapse. Willingly, she has been in rehab and will be returning this month. She is ready, not to forget, but to use her knowledge and new skills to help shape the successful beautiful person she is and step forward into the future. I want Mary to have a moment, when time stops, the past freezes, and she is just her beautiful self. To wear the Red Dress would be to declare freedom from a dark past into and make a passage into a new future. A red stepping stone, a marker, into the journey of her new life.

  23. Dorothy says:

    what a wonderful, wonderful idea this is!

    I have no “story”, really…a mom of 4 that works full time & is going to school at night; I’m a little bit sad and a little bit separated from my husband, and am just trying to do little things everyday that make me like myself a little more than I do. Right now? I would never be brave enough for the red dress, but it is now in my head as a “possible”, as a “someday”. Thank you for that.

  24. Thank you for your sharing~~

  25. Andrea Mills says:

    What a beautiful idea. I was so intrigued when I read the stories. I am 55 and stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. I am on indefinite chemo so I feel somewhat sick and very tired most of the time. It took this breast cancer journey to really open my heart and love and give my all every day I have.
    I appreciate each day I have and walk in the steps of all cancer survivors whom I know and don’t know. I remember the ones who are not here anymore too and put them in my heart.
    I no longer have breasts I had to remove them to save my life. Now I m struggling to reconstruction them in a long and painful process.
    I would like to feel like a pretty feminine woman …..just for a day.

  26. Lu Ann Lane says:

    I just the Katie Couric show about the traveling red dress..I was inspired to see what the Red Dress can do …..I think in my life I need a red dress..
    I lost my dad and my dear husband within 3 months, 2 years ago. I Have really tried to move on with my life…..I have friends and family that don’t understand how lonely it is….they cannot understand that I would like to find someone in my life again,. But I have had some, not very many dates.they have been so disappointing, the guy I was crazy about, and I that we had a connection,well on Christmas Day out of the blue he never calls me again ans dumps me. Then other one was a scam to get my personal information….for three weeks we keep emailing me, and I finally found out he was not who he said he was…….I am not that old, I am in good shape and a stable mind….but have been so hurt,I am so depressed,I have never been so alone and I put on this front in front of people that everything is okay, when inside I am crying…..thank you for letting me vent.


  27. Suzanne c wolf says:

    i think this is truly amazing. It makes me happy just to read the comments, God Bless you all!
    How can I get the RED DRESS :)?

  28. What a fabulous dress AND outstanding idea! Would love a photo with “the dress”… coming to Canada anytime soon.

  29. Amber says:

    This is an amazing project my troop 1398 is having a Red Dress Ball for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Thank you you’re saving lives.

  30. Pingback: » Traveling Red Dress

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>