Do Red Clothes Make You Sexier?

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A common piece of psychological wisdom is that if you want to appear more attractive you should wear red, at least if you’re a Westerner. Red is fiery and passionate and maybe when our ancestors roamed the savannah thousands of years ago they really liked berry bushes, so much that they would fuck them, which was fine until holly was invented, at which point, ouch. Or maybe it’s just because we have certain feelings about the color red and we make certain inferences about the person wearing it, like whether or not they’d be up for a roll in the berry bushes with us.

This is especially important information right now at this time of year, when droves and droves of horny young people are dressing as Santa Claus for events like Santacon, where frat boys dress in Santa suits and terrorize cities with loudness and vomit. They’re awful and gross and so literally the only way they might possibly get laid is 1.) if their partners are equally drunk and 2.) they gain an evolutionary advantage by wearing the color red.

Several studies in the past have shown that red makes a person more attractive, and the effect has been particularly strong for women dressing in red to attract a male mate, which is odd because the same evolutionary psychology researchers tell us that it’s women who love the color red (and pink) because of all those berry bushes our ancestors fucked. I mean “picked.” Picked, not fucked.

In recent years, though, more and more people have been pointing out a problem in psychology with a serious lack of replication. Last year, some researchers found that fewer than half of 98 published psychology studies could be replicated. Then some psychologists said that that really wasn’t that bad, which caused some other scientists to say “Um it kind of is though” and basically the only thing everyone could agree on is that replication is important, because it weeds out studies that aren’t as rigorous as they might seem at first and helps us understand if there’s really an effect and if so, how strong the effect really is.

Which brings us back to the color red and ancestors who fucked berry bushes. Some researchers recently decided to replicate the simplest and most convincing “red is sexy” experiment: show men photos of a woman. Some men see the woman in red clothes; others see her in black or white. Ask them how likely they’d be to either be in a long-term relationship with her or just have a fun roll in the berry bushes. See if there’s a difference depending on what she’s wearing.

These researchers did this three times, employing more than 800 men in total, including 433 men in just one attempt, which was more than 17 times the number of participants in the original study. And they found absolutely no difference. None at all. So the effect seems to show up when you have tiny sample sizes, which are more prone to statistical anomalies, but once you scale it up, the effect completely disappears.

Does this mean that you’re not as sexy as you thought in your puke-covered Santa suit? Not at all! This failed replication should make us all more skeptical of the previous research, but it doesn’t mean the previous research was completely without merit. Maybe when you’re face to face with a person, the color of their clothes does matter. Or maybe when you try this with 8,000 people, the effect reappears.

What this does tell us unequivocally is how important it is to replicate research. Replication doesn’t usually get the big headlines, and it often doesn’t even get published at all, because it’s not new and exciting and showing a positive effect. But it’s important because it helps us hone in on what is true and what isn’t. And what’s true is that you should never, ever fuck a berry bush.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Please. You mean to tell me that the small effect size and barely statistically significant relationship of the original study don’t warrant a complete change in my behavior?

  2. Ha! Berry bushes are for wimps!
    Do you know that 3 out of 4 of my early dates were named Roseanne or Rosemary or Rose something?
    Apparently, all my life I have had to fight this irrepressible urge to fuck a rosebush!

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