The Woman in Red Is Seen as a Threat by Other Women

New research confirms that the color red sends a signal of sexual availability.
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New research confirms that the color red sends a signal of sexual availability.
(Photo: hifashion/Shutterstock)

(Photo: hifashion/Shutterstock)

In the 1939 film classic The Women, much is made of the alluring quality of a specific color of nail polish: “Jungle Red.” It turns out that the characters’ faith in the product was not misplaced.

New research suggests the color red on a woman does indeed signal sexual availability—not only to men, but also to other women.

As we have noted previously, studies have found that men tend to view women in red as more sexually attractive. But, ladies, if you were thinking wearing that color would send a subliminal signal only males would pick up on, you’re out of luck.

"Our results suggest that women perceive and behave toward other women in red as if these other women are actively advertising" their openness to the possibility of a sexual encounter.

“Our results suggest that women perceive and behave toward other women in red as if these other women are actively advertising” their openness to the possibility of a sexual encounter, writes a research team led by University of Rochester psychologist Adam Pazda. Its study is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Pazda and his colleagues describe three experiments conducted on two different continents that provide evidence that wearing red sets off certain alarm bells. In the first, 196 women recruited online viewed a photo of “a moderately attractive women in her late 20s.”

Half saw an image of her wearing a white dress; the rest viewed an otherwise identical image of her in a red dress. Afterwards, all responded on a sliding scale to a series of statements such as “This person is interested in sex.”

As expected, the woman was seen as more sexually receptive if she was wearing red. This held true whether or not the study participants were in a committed relationship.

Another experiment featured 143 women enrolled at two Slovakian universities. They, too, looked at a photo of a woman in her 20s; she was wearing either a red or green shirt. Afterwards, they were asked to rate not only her interest in sex, but were asked “How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?”

Those who viewed her in the red shirt rated the woman as “more sexually receptive,” and “reported stronger intentions to guard their mate from the target,” the researchers report.

The researchers caution that, needless to say, “not all women displaying red are actively advertising sexual availability.” For those who are not, it’s valuable to understand the ways their wardrobe choices are being interpreted—both by men, and by their female acquaintances.

So if you’re getting unexpected smiles from male co-workers, and surprisingly hard stares from women, note the color of your outfit (and your nail polish). Not to make you red-faced, but you may be sending out a signal without even realizing it.

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