Fashion designer Bill Blass has been known to say, “Whenever in doubt, wear red.” And we’ll admit, there really is nothing like a red dress (or red shoes or a red lipstick) to make one feel just a little bit sexier.
Red has long been associated with love and passion. As Leslie Harrington, executive director of the Color Association of the United States, told HuffPost, almost everyone around the world equates red with love. Part of the reason we make that connection, Harrington explained, may have to do with the fact that red is related to blood, which is related to the heart, which has become a symbol of love.
There doesn’t appear to be a specific moment in history when people began thinking of red as the color of love. But Harrington notes that over time, red has become a signifier for various aspects of life.
“Red means fire. Red means blood. Red means heart. Red means love,” she said. “When we get passionate, we get hot, so we think of red.”
And when you wear red, the color can affect the way people perceive you. If you want to be perceived as sexy, red is “the color to wear,” Harrington said.
That seems to be especially true if you’re a woman trying to get a man’s attention.
In one study, discussed in a 2010 blog post at Psychology Today, researchers showed men an image of a woman and asked them to rate her attractiveness. Some of the men saw a photo in which the woman was wearing red, while the others saw a photo of the woman wearing blue. The men rated the woman in red as being more desirable.
In that same study, men were also shown images of a woman against different color backgrounds ― red, white, gray or green ― and asked to rate her attractiveness. Men found the woman standing against the red background to be more attractive.
In another study, Harrington said, researchers found that men prefer blue-based reds, whereas women prefer yellow-based reds.
“The study went so far as to say if a woman [wanted to get a guy], make sure your lipstick is blue-based, not yellow-based,” Harrington said. (Just a reminder: Everyone should just wear whatever lipstick shade they like best. Or no lipstick at all. You do you, always.)
There are a number of different shades in the red spectrum, many of which connote different ranges of emotions. Pink, for example, might represent the love one has for a child. It’s sweet and innocent, the “softer side of red,” Harrington said. Meanwhile, a more vibrant, traditional red may be indicative of the type of passionate love you share with a spouse or romantic partner. Red also has some X-rated associations, as with Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District, known for legal prostitution, sex shops and brothels.
Red, though, represents more than just love. As Harrington noted, many people associate it with anger. (Even the angry emoji is a red face.) “Red literally has a love/hate relationship with itself,” she said.
The fiery shade is also associated with power, Harrington said. If the president wears a red tie, for example, it is likely intended to convey power rather than sex appeal. It has “that domineering, confident, don’t-mess-with-me kind of strength to it,” she said. Historically, she added, red was worn by the wealthy and the elite, as it was one of the most expensive colors to produce.
Harrington went on to explain that, from a physiological standpoint, when people see the color red, their bodies have a physical reaction that mimics the feelings one experiences when falling in love, such as an increased heart rate.
“It’s an emotional and physiological connection that happens,” Harrington said. “The other colors aren’t quite as lucky as red to have this really strong connection to things.”
At the end of the day, the color red, like women themselves, contains multitudes. In some ways, it’s cute, but it can also be powerful, sexy, sensual and erotic. And, of course, it’s bold and beautiful.