Lady in red, get away from my man: Women see red when other women wear it

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By Meghan Holohan
This is the picture used for the color manipulation in the first two experiments. (The face of the female target was intact in the experiment but is blurred here to protect privacy.) The dress color was red or white.Today

Ladies, perhaps you pulled on that red dress today because it’s the only clean one in the closet. Maybe you look awesome in red. Or red makes you feel confident. We salute you for rocking red, but other women might not. A new study finds that women think ladies in red are more interested in sex and less faithful than women wearing white or green.

“The color of a woman’s shirt [affects] how men and women think about her,” says Adam Pazda, a social psychologist at the University of Rochester and one of the authors of the study. “Women don’t want other women in red near their boyfriends.”  

Previous research has found that men believe women dressed in red are more interested in pursuing sex, regardless of whether they are. Pazda wondered if women shared the same perception about women in red. 

Women participated in three different experiments. In the first two, they looked at pictures of women in red and white and in the third they looked at women in red or green. Because white is often associated with purity and virginity, the researchers wanted to examine a color with less emotional baggage.  

In the first study, participants looked at a photo of a woman in white and the exact same photo after the color of the dress was manipulated to look red and were asked which woman appeared more receptive to sex. Overwhelmingly, the women believed that the lady in red was promiscuous.

“Women [in red] are perceived as being more interested in sex,” Pazda says.

In the second, women looked at the same photos and were asked to how they felt about the women’s fidelity and financial resources. Women were more likely to think that a woman in red would cheat on her partner, but weren’t judgmental about her finances.

“Women will derogate the sexual fidelity but not mundane things [like financial resources],” he says.

For the third study, women looked at the photos where the same woman wore a dress that had been digitally altered to be red or green. The researchers asked if they would introduce their boyfriends to or leave them alone with either woman. Again, women did not want their men around the ladies in red.

“Women are more likely to say that women in red are less faithful,” Pazda says. “They do pick up on the [sexually] receptive cue and what that leads to is some sort of defensiveness.”

The color red evokes sexy thoughts for several reasons, Pazda says. Red often represents love and lust in society. Red roses and hearts are synonymous with Valentine’s Day and amorous feelings. Men historically sought sex in red-light districts. But there’s also a biological reason why red appears sexy.

“When [women] become sexually excited, they blush,” he says.

Whether women are aware that donning red will make them seem interested in sex remains unclear. Women are more likely to wear red when ovulating or looking for a boyfriend or a hook up, Pazda says, but there’s little evidence that women intentionally dress in red for sex.

“We still don’t know if they are aware of it. So that is definitely something to look at.”