What is the red dress effect?

The red dress effect is a psychological phenomenon where red is more likely than other colors to elicit physical attraction, sexual desire, and romantic sentiments. It is also known as the general red-attraction effect, the red-romance effect, or the romantic red effect.

Because individuals seldom ever admit to using color in their assessments of beauty, it has been hypothesized that this effect operates unconsciously. Conscious awareness has only been evaluated in one research, and the results put doubt on this earlier hypothesis. The red-attraction effect and the breadth of this relationship have been the subject of several research over the past few decades as a result of growing interest in color psychology. The scientific literature on the red-attraction effect has contradictory evidence that both confirms and denies the validity of the connection.

a woman sits on a chair

Biological explanation

It has been established that this increase in redness draws male counterparts, as seen by their heightened sex activity, self-stimulation, and interest in females. In the wild, several species of non-human primate females experience an increase in estrogen levels when they become reproductive, which causes their blood vessels to open up and cause skin redness. There are therefore reasons to think that red has historically been linked to fertility. 

Men frequently see women who are wearing red as more appealing or sexually open, which further supports this finding. So, it appears to be only about sex. Perhaps not everyone who enjoys wearing red can relate to Samantha from Sex and the City.

crop man in drag queen dress lying with disco ball

Both pro and con arguments for the red-attraction effect

The visual display of the color red in conjunction with the presentation of a subject to whom participants express their interest is the focus of a significant amount of research on the Red-interest Effect. According to a survey by Pazda [1], men find women wearing red to be more appealing. They did so by citing the biological fact that sexually responsive women are more beautiful because they are more likely to engage in sexual activity and are more likely to have male partners who would successfully reproduce. Researchers Elliot and Nesta from the University of Rochester discovered that when women were wearing red or were placed against a red background, males had higher romantic thoughts toward them [2].

When females rate guys, the same outcome appears to apply. According to a much contested [3] research by Elliott, women find men wearing red to be more appealing. Women reported rating males as more beautiful and being more attracted to them sexually when their images were displayed on a red backdrop rather than a gray one. Others have sought to repeat this particular experiment to dispel concerns about this study as a whole. Overall, the numerous replication tests contradicted the findings of the initial study, demonstrating that altering the background’s hue had no appreciable impact on the perceived allure.

Peperkoorn et al.’s extensive replication research showed no support for the red dress effect [4]. The underlying processes generally cited to explain the red-attraction effect have been called into question by a major experiment that revealed no evidence that red color signals are systematically connected with beauty evaluations.

woman in a red sleeveless dress with a Canada flag printed background

Male participants in a South Korean study [5] who judged a female model as more beautiful when she was wearing a red shirt as opposed to a gray or blue shirt further confirmed the relationship between red and appeal.

Some research assessed the red-romance connection without looking at the significance of wearing red apparel. One study challenged the idea that red is associated with attraction, demonstrating that participants associated read more with words associated with anger than with words associated with romance and that the romance-related words were associated more with the color pink. [6] Another study looked at the impact of the word “red” when spoken aloud and discovered that when men were described as wearing red shirts they were rated as more attractive when compared to men described as wearing gray shirts, and when men were described as wearing red pants they were rated as more attractive [7].

When women were told they would be speaking with an attractive man, they tended to choose a red shirt over a green one more frequently than when they were told they would be meeting with an unattractive man, according to a study that specifically examined the use of red clothing as a signal of sexual attraction. [8]

The red-attraction effect appears to extend to self-attraction, according to German research [9]. Participants were instructed to estimate their attractiveness while wearing either a red or blue shirt. Even after controlling for factors that typically affect self-attraction, such as mood or BMI, both men, and women who wore red shirts thought they were more attractive [9]. Red may have an impact by raising one’s perception of one’s attractiveness, which in turn increases self-confidence. Increased confidence is typically linked to higher levels of attraction from others [10].



[1] Sexy red: Perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman. Sciencedirect.com. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002210311100299X?via%3Dihub [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[2] Red Enhances Men’s Attraction To Women, Psychological Study Reveals. Sciencedaily.com. Available at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081028074323.htm [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[3] Publication bias in “Red, rank, and romance in women viewing men,” by Elliot et al. (2010).. psycnet.apa.org. Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0027923 [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[4] Revisiting the Red Effect on Attractiveness and Sexual Receptivity: No Effect of the Color Red on Human Mate Preferences. Dspace.stir.ac.uk. Available at: https://dspace.stir.ac.uk/bitstream/1893/24451/1/Peperkoorn_etal_EvolutionaryPsychology_2016.pdf [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[5] Red for Romance, Blue for Memory. Link.springer.com. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-22098-2_57 [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[6] Seeing red as anger or romance: an emotion categorization task. Tandfonline.com. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/20445911.2021.1936538?journalCode=pecp21 [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[7] Processing the Word Red can Enhance Women’s Perceptions of Men’s Attractiveness. Link.springer.com. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12144-016-9420-8. [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[8] Women’s use of red clothing as a sexual signal in intersexual interaction. Sciencedirect.com. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002210311200203X [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[9] The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness. Onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.2238.  [Accessed on May 10, 2023]

[10] Want to impress on Valentine’s Day? Then make sure to wear red. Theconversation.com Available at: https://theconversation.com/want-to-impress-on-valentines-day-then-make-sure-to-wear-red-176816 [Accessed on May 10, 2023]