Does Wearing Red Make You Sexy?

It is well known that people stereotype others based on their skin color, but did you know that people also stereotype colors themselves? The best example of this is the long-held association that black is bad and white is good. Just watch an old Western movie and you can immediately tell who the good guys and bad guys are by the color of their cowboy hats. This example shows that colors contribute more than just aesthetics. Colors also carry specific meanings, such as good or bad, that likely have important influences on psychological functioning.

So when you think about sexiness, what color first comes to mind?

If you are like most Americans, you thought of the color red. Red means different things to different cultures-in Chinese culture it represents good luck and prosperity, which is why people often paint their front doors red-but in American culture, red often means sex. If you think about it, most of the images that represent passionate love are red: Red roses, red lipstick, red lingerie, red heart boxes of candy on Valentine’s, even the “red light district.”

If red is typically associated with sex, then does wearing red make a woman sexier? If you take a look at our movies, the answer would seem to be an unequivocal yes. Remember the scene from the first Matrix movie, where Neo is distracted during a simulation by a beautiful woman in the red dress? Or how about the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts, dressed in a sexy red dress, is given a ruby and diamond necklace? Or who can forget the scene from American Beauty where red Rose petals rain down on a naked Mena Suvari. Clearly Hollywood thinks red makes women sexy but does the empirical research support this assumption?

Daniela Niesta with study materials

To test this idea, Elliot and Niesta showed me a photograph of a moderately attractive woman and asked them to rate her attractiveness. For some, the woman in the photo was wearing a red shirt. For others, the same woman was wearing a blue shirt. The results showed that men rated the woman in red as more attractive and more sexually desirable than the same woman in blue. They were also more interested in dating the woman and indicated they would be willing to spend more money on her when she was dressed in red.

So men find women who wear red more attractive, but maybe this result is because we have a stereotype about women who choose to wear red. Perhaps these men assumed that women who wear red are more promiscuous, and that is why they were more interested in dating her. To address this possibility, these researchers conducted another study. This time, the woman in the photo wore the same outfit but stood in front of a red, white, gray or green background.