The science of the modern scarlet lady

RED HOT: Gene Wilder was inflamed by scorching siren Kelly LeBrock in the 1984 smash romantic comedy The Woman in Red.
RED HOT: Gene Wilder was inflamed by scorching siren Kelly LeBrock in the 1984 smash romantic comedy The Woman in Red.

A belief held from biblical times through to 1980s pop has been proven by science - women in red are dangerously hot.

Although both men and women see red-wearing females as more attractive, science now shows a woman will see another woman in red as a promiscuous threat and will try to guard her partner.

It is a belief long reflected in song and on the silver screen.

In a 1984 box-office smash, Gene Wilder was obsessed with The Woman in Red. In 1986, Chris De Burgh danced cheek to cheek with the Lady in Red, and in 1990's hit Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts gets glamorous by putting on a red dress (and a $250,000 necklace).

In the New Testament, St John had a vision of the Scarlet Woman who carried "a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication".

Now, new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin puts the theory to the test.

It found women perceive and treat other women in red as letting the world know they are available sexually and are promiscuous.

Women tended to "mate-guard" their partners from them.

And wearing red could bring risks, with the study suggesting wearing the colour may see women judged negatively, seen as a rival, unapproachable, and possibly excluded socially.

In the study, participants were shown women in red and then white dresses. Those in red were seen as more "sexually receptive".

The white dress was changed from white to green, and testing done in Slovakia rather than the United States, and the findings were the same.

It was also discovered women would talk derogatorily about a woman in red, "to make them seem inferior, undesirable, or unlikeable, while making oneself seem superior and more likable by contrast", lead researcher Adam Pazda said.

Chrissie O, the famously colourful owner of Hunters and Collectors in Cuba St, Wellington, says many women do not have the confidence to wear red because it is such a powerful colour. Women who did loved red "because they know the power of it".

"I think it does have a sexual connotation. It's blood, it's fire, but I see it as a positive."

Zambesi Wellington manager Nicola Provost says the connection between red and sex is often more to do with make-up than clothes, but it could apply to both.

"It's such a striking colour, it's such an emotive colour. Red - I think it really is an emotion."

Red was popular this season: "When people try it on they love it."

The Dominion Post