“When in doubt, wear red,” said designer Bill Blass.
His suggestion was most likely aimed at women who like to stand out, but attracting attention is just one of the psychological aspects of red. Research shows wearing red generates all sorts of interesting responses, so tuck some of these fun facts into your image arsenal and pull them out as needed.
Red is the Color of Excitement and Danger
Red is the color of blood and fire, so it’s long been associated with energy, danger, strength, and power. It increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure, which is why when people get embarrassed they blush, or when they get really angry, they get red in the face. Sometimes angry people say they’re “seeing red.”
Because red is so visible and so easily attracts notice, it’s the international color for stop. It also symbolizes courage, which is why 77% of countries use red in their flags. “Red Light” districts are where you find adult entertainment, and redheads – who comprise just 2% of the world’s population – are often described as “fiery.”
Red can also be intimidating since it’s associated with aggression. One study showed that women were intimidated by other women who wore red, and were more likely to describe them as being promiscuous.
Historically, both the Roman and British armies expanded their empire while wearing red. An intimidating sight, to be sure.
Red is the Color of Passion
Red is often described as the color of passion and romance, which is why red hearts, red flowers, and red lingerie are Valentine’s Day staples.
Red enhances men’s attraction to women, as studies show that women who wear red clothes are seen as sexier and more desirable. Research suggests it’s biological. Many female primates display red on their face, chest, and genitals when nearing ovulation; while female humans aren’t so obvious, both primate and human males subconsciously interpret displays of red as markers of sexual availability.
Because of this, men will hit on women wearing red more often than any other color because they feel they’re less likely to be rejected. They’re also willing to spend more on a date with a woman wearing red because they believe they’ll be sexually rewarded. What color do men say they like to see women wear most? Pink – a mixture of red and white – because it’s perceived as feminine.
It doesn’t even have to be a lot of red. One study showed that women who wore red lipstick in a bar were hit on twice as much as any other color. Another study showed that waitresses who wore red lipstick received higher tips more frequently.
Perhaps all the male attention is why women describe other women wearing red as being “more promiscuous” – or because red is associated with sinful sexuality (“Red light” districts and The Scarlet Letter).
Red is Considered Lucky
In China, red symbolizes luck, good fortune, and joy. It’s also believed to ward away evil. That’s why you see so much red during the Chinese New Year and other celebrations. Red envelopes are monetary gifts given at holidays, weddings, and other occasions to symbolize luck and good fortune. Chinese brides wear red for luck, but there’s one place where red is considered completely inappropriate: a funeral.
Red is also considered lucky in sports. One study conducted during the 2004 Olympic Games showed that with skill level being equal, the person or team wearing red won more often. Another study showed that those who wore red tops, jackets, or clothing in sports scored 10% more than when wearing any other color. Research suggests it’s because those wearing red feel more confident while those competing against them feel more intimidated.
How to Wear Red in Your Wardrobe
So let’s break it down. When wearing red, you’ll be seen as:
Wear red when you want to feel powerful, confident, and sexy, but don’t wear it in meetings where you expect tempers to flare or on first dates where you don’t really know the guy.
What are some fun, easy ways to incorporate a dash of red?
Lipstick, fingernails, and shoes.
And if you’re ever in a situation when you’re not really sure what to wear?
Follow Bill Blass’s advice: “When in doubt, wear red.”
Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Signature Style Blueprint. Need some help learning which styles suit you best? Signature Style Blueprint can help.