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Is red dress the new pink ribbon?

Published On: Dec 29 2011 10:10:30 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 22 2010 09:57:35 AM CST
heart pillow with bandaid

Monique Martin, Contributing writer

They say the clothes don't make the man, but some want red dresses to help save women's lives.

Advocates have made the red dress a the symbol for women and heart disease awareness. What the pink ribbon has done for breast cancer awareness, the red dress is doing for women's heart health. Celebrities and everyday men and women are showing their support for the cause by going red.

"Many people still believe that cardiovascular disease is a man's disease, when in reality, it has claimed the lives of more females than males since 1984, killing more than half a million women a year," former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

One in four women dies from heart disease. In 2006, nearly three times as many women died from heart disease than from lung cancer and breast cancer combined.

Hoping to change public perception about heart disease, the National Heart, Lung Blood Institute, launched the Heart Truth campaign in 2002. It is a national campaign dedicated to spreading awareness about women's health and heart disease.

The centerpiece of the campaign is the eye-catching red dress.

The project found a powerful partner in 2003's New York Fashion Week. Nineteen world class designers joined the cause, creating the first Red Dress Collection. Red dresses designed by such fashion luminaries as Bill Blass, Calvin Klein, Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang walked the runway and took the campaign into the national spotlight.

The collection has become a yearly feature of Fashion Week. Celebrities from film, television and music joined the cause. In 2009, 20 celebrities -- including Katie Couric, Cicely Tyson, Hillary Duff, Valerie Bertinelli and Lynda Carter -- paired with top designers to their support for the cause on the runways of Bryant Park. A charity auction followed, raising both money and awareness for the Red Dress campaign.

The Heart Truth then hit the road with gowns from the Red Dress Collection. In 2009, Diet Coke and General Mills sponsored visits to cities to spread the word. Meeting the urgent need for awareness, the Road Show offers an exhibit of gowns from the past Fashion Week and provides free risk-factor screening for blood pressure, body-mass index, blood cholesterol and blood glucose.

"Nothing draws attention like a little red dress," said First Lady Laura Bush, the Heart Truth's first national ambassador. Bush and six other first ladies have shown their support for the cause. From Lady Bird Johnson's 80th birthday party evening gown to Laura Bush's red-sequined gown at the Kennedy Center Honors reception, the wives of presidents have embraced the message.

Celebrities aren't the only ones getting into the act. Like any successful movement, it's the grass roots that make it happen. Women and men across the country are taking on the fight against heart disease. National Wear Red Day is on the first Friday of February. Participants wear the famous red dress to help spread awareness in their workplace and community. But men can join in, too. Red shirts, ties or even a red dress pin are ways everyone can show their support for the cause and spread the word.

But you don't have to wait until February to make a difference. With the help of the Heart Truth's online kit, churches, businesses, organizations and communities can hold their own events.