Tie A Ribbon Around It

As seen before, the holiday column is not my strong suit. For my second Holiday column I attempted to explore the ribbon in fashion – innocuous, right? Except that when I researched the wearing of ribbons, it turns out they’re rather morbid for such an apparently cute accessory. The following column did NOT run exactly as written in the December 2015 Globe Style Advisor. But I have included it here in all it’s macabre glory. This season my editor cleverly diverted me from my annual descent into festive despair by assigning me to review coffee table books. Happy holidays!


When you are wrapping and opening gifts this year, give attention to the ribbon. Instead of tossing it in the trash with the wrapping paper, consider tying it on. Wearing a ribbon is a much more chic way to be festive than, say, a Santa hat. Besides being fun and frivolous it is also evocative of love and loss. Therefore, a ribbon is an ideal year end accessory. But where to wear it?

A ribbon tied in the hair, often yellow, was made famous by a popular song from WW1. It symbolizes the fidelity of a woman for a soldier who has gone away to war. The ribbon in her hair is a signal to other suitors that her affections are elsewhere.

A ribbon on the wrist traditionally serves as memory aid. More recently, emo icon Pete Wentz wrote “the ribbon on my wrist says do not open before Christmas”. The lyric references self-harm and alienation, however the paradox of emo as a subculture is that barely concealed beneath ironic posture is a yearning for connection, like a scar under a ribbon.

A red ribbon tied around the neck during the French revolution meant you had lost someone to the guillotine. A black ribbon on the neck is a long-standing part of mourning dress. But a neck ribbon can have a carnal connotation as well – it is worn by prostitutes (most famously Manet’s Olympia), and in the 1930s it was used by lesbians as a way to identify each other.

When waves of European immigrants sailed to the New World in the 1800s, they would toss ribbons from the deck of the ship to the dock. As the boat left the harbour, the ribbons would break, leaving families with tangible keepsakes of the loved ones they may never see again. Ultimately, a ribbon is about human relationships, and the act of untying a ribbon and opening a gift is about accepting affection and love. When you wear a ribbon, think of yourself as a gift. It’s a reminder to carry the spirit of generosity with you into the new year.

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