The tale uses opposing imagery- the natural, warm beauty of the roses versus the stark symmetry of mirrors and ice/snowflakes. The mirror in this tale is unusual in that, while mirrors usually tell the truth (such as the mirror in "Snow White" that is bold enough to bluntly tell the Queen when there is someone more beautiful than she), this mirror is deceptive- it distorts reality, causing beautiful things to seem ugly. (In fact, I sometimes thought of this mirror when I was in my first trimester-when foods I usually loved became disgusting to me and activities I enjoyed lost interest for me because of the constant nausea -I felt like I could relate to Kai).
Mirrors usually represent vanity in stories. The theme of vanity is also developed in "Snow Queen" by the reference to Gerda's red shoes. When she goes to search for Kai, she intentionally puts on her new red shoes that Kai has never seen before, but when she goes to the river she is willing to sacrifice her prized possessions to gain information about his whereabouts (but the shoes are returned to her because the river does not know where he is). Interestingly, this tale was written just four months before Andersen wrote the infamous tale "The Red Shoes" in which the desire for the colored footwear is completely and repeatedly seen as selfish.
Far left; white fur cape by J. Mendel, second to the left; not in the book, second to the right; Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 dress inspired by snowflakes, far right; Tom Ford Spring 2014 dress that imitates shards of a broken mirror
Hill interprets the red shoes as objects of pride, even for Gerda - saying that by wearing them she was initially hoping to impress Kai, but the difference between Gerda and Karen from "The Red Shoes" was that Gerda was willing to give up her shoes. This may be, especially given Andersen's feelings about red sheos, but I didn't necessarily read it that way in "The Snow Queen." It's natural for a child to be excited to show her friend a new toy or possession, without necessarily trying to impress or show off to your friend. If Gerda had taken a beautiful red rose and tucked it behind her ear with the intention of showing Kai, would that be interpreted as vanity? The rose would still be beautiful and displayed on Gerda, but fairy tale characters who request roses rather than clothes and jewelry are held up as the example of being non-materialistic, like Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." Yet roses are a symbol of her friendship with Kai -when staying with the old woman, it was seeing an image of a rose that reminded Gerda of her quest to find Kai. Could the wearing of the red shoes even have been Gerda's attempt to remind Kai of their beloved roses, since a real rose wouldn't survive a long journey? The colorful roses of Kai and Gerda's childhood playdates are a stark contrast to the colorless white of the Snow Queen's palace.
Red Morocco leather shoes, from 1800-1810
Although, it was more of a natural assumption at the time to associate red shoes with luxury, since red dye was more difficult to produce, and therefore more expensive, so red was a color only the wealthier could afford. But it seems that illustrators to tend to intentionally bring out the contrast in warm colours associated with Gerda, her friendship with Kai, and her journey to find him, as opposed to the cold realm of the Snow Queen. See Arthur Rackham's illustration of Kai and Gerda in their garden, and Edmund Dulac's image of Gerda at the old woman's house:
Compared with the Snow Queen/her palace by the same illustrators:
Although, I may be too quick to defend the wearing of red, just based on our own modern culture, where bright colours are just as easily accessed as neutrals. If anything, we tend to associate good things with characters who wear bright colours, aligning them with bright, joyful personalities. What do you see as the significance of Gerda's red shoes?