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"Were you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?"
—Morpheus, The Matrix
If a woman is sexy enough, there's a good chance that she will wear a slinky red dress at at least one point in time. If she's really, REALLY sexy, and especially if she's The Vamp or a Femme Fatale, it may become her default outfit. This trope deals with the latter.
Characteristics of the dress will include:
- It is red, usually scarlet. Some variation in color is possible, but a lady in crimson is a borderline Lady in Red. Pink doesn't count, as that's about feminine characters instead of seductive ones.
- It is very... flattering, or at least just flattering enough. Particularly if the character has been presented previously in such a way that her physical attributes have not been as much in evidence.
- It is either strapless, sleeveless, backless or all three, which isn't a problem, given the type of figure most of these women have.
- If it is long rather than short, and it usually is, expect a side-slit to allow her to show off her legs.
Most of this has to do with the slinkiness of the dress itself. However, red is also the color most commonly associated with sex and passion, so it echoes this woman's sexuality all that more, although she does not have to be an actual scarlet woman. In short, the person wearing the red dress is automatically THREE TIMES SEXIER than a person wearing a less flamboyant color. Bonus points if her hair matches with the dress.
According to Chinese mythology, a woman who dies in a red dress, or commits suicide in one, is able to come back to haunt those who wronged her. Which leads to a multitude of ladies in red dresses in Hong Kong horror movies. Additionally, in Bollywood and throughout Southeast Asia, red is more associated with marriage and love instead of raunchy sex. Thus, the symbolism of a woman in a red Sari is very different than the Western interpretation.
In terms of concept and symbolism, this trope is the polar opposite of the Woman in Black. A Lady in Red is sexy, period. She might be morally ambiguous but she mostly displays a form of sexual availability, a signal that she's ready to fulfill a guy's sexual desires. The Woman in Black may be sexy and enticing but, in sharp contrast to her crimson counterpart, she is also openly menacing and sexually unavailable, especially if her outfit covers her whole body. In any case, the Woman in Black clearly conveys that approaching her is not a good idea, whereas the Lady in Red means to arouse lust.
Anime & Manga
- Madlax wears a crimson red cocktail dress in the first episodes...into battle. And even the man she's about to kill admits she looks gorgeous.
- Kaolinite from Sailor Moon, anyone?
- Interestingly, she changes to a Woman in Black after her apparent death and resurrection.
- Every outfit we've seen Boa Hancock from One Piece in has had a lot of red in it.
- Wang Liu Mei from Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Tieria Erde, too.
- Fiery Redhead Kallen Kouzuki/Stadtfeld's Custom Uniform in Code Geass is red. As is her custom mecha. How many times does that make this trope? Rule of Three.
- Eva (but of course) gets to wear one in Monster.
- Madam Red from Black Butler.
- Yumi Komagata from Rurouni Kenshin. Notably, she used to be an oiran before joining up with Shishio.
- Panty of Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt wears a red dress as her standard attire.
- Mind the GAAP.
- Ranma ½: Played for laughs with Ranma Saotome's girl form. He's one of the most (if not the most) attractive women in the entire series. He knows it and plays it up for all the benefits he can possibly get, especially in the manga. Ranma's seductive ways are highlighted by his typical red shirt, his red hair in the anime, and, at one point, a red Qipao dress from some official art. Plus, in general, he's just seen in a lot of red clothing.
- Wildguard has the enigmatic Woman in Red who stalks Red Rover.
- P'Gell, in The Spirit. Often, but not always, seen in a slinky red dress. (Starting with her first appearance.)
- The eponymous babe from "The Babe Wore Red", a story in Sin City.
- Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, in her first apperance in the DCU series Fifty Two. She "has the kind of beauty that leaves you breathless," and she wears the hell out of that dress.
- The Scarlet Witch, although typically dressed in red, has only appeared in this kind of red dress in the Ultiverse and the X-Men Noir mini.
- The titular Woman in Red, a character who debuted in 1940, called by some the first female superhero.
- In Invincible Iron Man's "Stark Resilient" storyline, Tony Stark hosts a party where he arrives in a red suit...and Pepper Potts, Justine Hammer, and Sasha Hammer all arrive in red dresses.
- The covers for Millie the Model often have her wearing a red dress.
- Smurfette wore a red dress in The Smurfs comic book story "The Great Smurfette", though it was more the feminine version of Papa Smurf's outfit, and it was mostly to show that she was in charge of the Smurf Village.
Films -- Animated
- Mother Gothel from Tangled wears a red dress.
- Slave Jasmine from Aladdin.
- Esmeralda's poledancing outfit from the "Topsy Turvy" number from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Ironically, in real life, red is actually considered bad luck for Gypsies, and since Judge Frollo was actually watching her dance in public...
- In Beauty and the Beast, the Bimbettes (well, one of the three, at least) wore a red dress and was pretty busty anyways... Although she and her sisters were stupid.
- In The Swan Princess, the imposter Odette's dress was slinky red and black, as opposed to Odette's usual virginal white.
- Mulan's wedding dress at the end of Mulan II.
- Belle's "Happy Holidays" Dress at the end of Beauty and The Beast The Enchanted Christmas.
Films -- Live-Action
- Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- Were you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
- And The Woman In Red from the movie of the same name.
- Violet from Bound spends a good chunk of the film in a sexy red dress.
- Subverted in Requiem for a Dream, in which an elderly woman destroys herself trying to fit into her old red dress.
- In the film adaptation of the Stephen King short story Umney's Last Case, the wife of the author who created the 1930's Private Eye protagonist dresses up in a slinky red dress in order to seduce him, acting like The Vamp character from one of her husband's books.
- The Devil (Liz Hurley) in Bedazzled starts off in a red dress.
- In The Sixth Sense, the mother of the dead child at the funeral/wake is wearing a red dress. She ends up being exposed as the killer.
- However, this might just be a more generic instance of Colour-Coded for Your Convenience since, in the commentary, M.N.S. states that the color red was used throughout the movie to indicate any times the ghosts were "influencing" the real world - basically, any scene that had ghosts involved had some red.
- Ginger from Swordfish was in a red dress when she made her intro.
- Shoshana in the end of Inglourious Basterds is a heroic red lady.
- Satine from Moulin Rouge.
- In Caliente built a Busby Berkeley Number around the song "The Lady In Red." This song is perhaps more famous as a Standard Snippet in Carl Stalling's cartoon music.
- Cristabella in the climatic scene of Devil's Advocate.
- Actually, the red dress is her work attire at the firm. In the climactic scene, however, she goes from a slinky dark purple dress to full nudity.
- The Thin Blue Line references the famous woman in red who shot notorious gangster John Dillinger. The movie then goes on to note that the woman was actually wearing orange at the time, it just seemed red because of the lighting. This ties into the theme of inaccurate memory.
- In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett shows up at Ashley's birthday (amid rumors of them having been caught in an embrace) in a red dress, which her husband Rhett has demanded that she wear--"I want you to look your part tonight".
- Early in The Mask, Tina shows up at the bank wearing a clingy red dress, distracting Stanley while innocently inquiring about opening an account and surreptitiously casing the joint.
- After being called a "priss" and presumed to be uptight for the earlier part of the movie Swing Kids, Evey shows up at a swing party in a bright red dress. The look on Peter's face when he sees her is priceless.
- Frantic. Emmanuelle Singer changes from her black leather look to a tight red dress when they go to an expensive nightclub; it's probably not a coincidence she dances uncomfortably close to Harrison Ford in this scene.
- One of Padme Amidala's dresses seen in The Phantom Menace that is most used to show her outside the movie is a magnificent crimson dress, a color which is a traditional symbol of royal authority, as a 14 year old queen isn't trying to be sexy.
- In Deep Rising, this is Trillian's outfit for the first half of the film.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Peggy Carter (Steve Rogers' ally and love interest) wears a rather impressive red dress in one scene.
- Valerie from Red Riding Hood because she's...well, Teenaged Red Riding Hood.
- In Jezebel, Julie Marsden (Bette Davis) scandalizes polite society when she shows up to her debutante ball wearing a red dress instead of virginal white.
- The woman in the bar who tries (and comically fails) to seduce One in The City of Lost Children. At the time, he is devastated over the death of Miette, the film's real Lady in Red (except she's like, 12 years old, and One is like her big, dumb, insanely strong brother.)
- In ~Robin McKinley~'s Sunshine, the vampires who kidnapped Sunshine dressed her in a red gown before staking her out before another prisoner vampire.
- In Declarations of War by Len Deighton, a woman traveling with the protagonist has two dresses, black and red. She declines to wear the red one in a small Latin American town, as it is pointed out that only one type of woman wears red in those types of towns.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Evil Redhead Melisandre of Asshai always appears in a red dress or robes that mark her as a priestess of R'hllor. Thoros of Myr, a follower of the same god, wears much the same thing - except that, by the time of his most recent appearance, his robes have become very faded.
- The Whore of Babylon in the Revelation of John is described as a woman wearing scarlet, making this trope at least Older Than Feudalism.
- Ysanne Isard wears a red version of the white Grand Admiral uniform. She's not a sexualized villain.
- In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator's mother only dresses in black and white, except for a single red dress she wears to special, mysterious occasions.
- In Lord of Light, Kali wears a blood-red sari. (And necklaces of skulls, but that's beside the point.)
- When Rita Skeeter writes stories about Hermione's "taste for famous wizards" in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Ron comments that the articles make Hermione out to be a "scarlet woman". When Hermione laughs at his word usage, Ron admits that's what his mom calls them.
- The Queen of the Elves takes this form in Lords and Ladies.
- In Death: a number of female characters put on red outfits in the series. Eve put on a red outfit to seduce Roarke in Witness In Death and Magdalana wore a red dress early on in Innocence In Death.
- White as Snow: At the height of her beauty, power, and sexuality, Arpazia is seen wearing a particular red gown.
- Imabelle, the Femme Fatale in A Rage in Harlem, wears red throughout the story.
- Zoey in Zoey 101.
- ICarly: Miss Ackerman. Carly calls her hot (!), Freddie goes "Woah" 5 times (and this is the Season 1 Freddie who hasn't really hit puberty yet).
- Number Six from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica Reimagined.
- Miss Hartigan in Doctor Who's "The Next Doctor".
- The opening theme of The Nanny implies this -- "She's the lady in red while everybody else is wearing tan".
- The pilot goes beyond implies. She comes down the stairs to a party wearing a red dress while the piano player sings "The Lady in Red".
- In the first episode of Ashes to Ashes, Alex Drake arrives in 1981 in a short red dress. She later comments that she wants to get out of the dress before Chris De Burgh writes a song about her.
- Somewhat subverted with Inara in Firefly, particularly the episode "The Train Job". As a Companion, she's beautiful, sexy...and completely respected as a member of legitimate society whose word is (almost) above reproach.
- She wears lots of different colours, though, and usually chooses fancier styles (more "gown" than "dress"). I don't think I can recall her ever wearing a bright red slinky dress.
- Sarah on Chuck sometimes wears these, during the extremely high number of missions calling for formal wear.
- In The Golden Girls, Blanche's wedding gown was a dress like this, which should tell you everything you need to know about her.
- Isabella from Robin Hood often wore red dresses.
- In the series 2 episode 'The Booby and the Beast', Marian wears one to attract Count Friedrich at the insistence of the Sheriff.
- The X-Files. Agent Scully wears a red cocktail dress in "Triangle", where she's an OSS spy in 1939. It's notable that this is the first time Mulder kisses Scully, and quite passionately too (though she still gives him a Megaton Punch in response).
- The Mentalist, "Russet Potatoes" features a woman in a red dress.
- Alex Cabot is only ever seen in a smart suit. Until she goes on a date with Trevor Langan (which is even odder when you remember that, in real life, he is married to, and has a son with, Olivia), for which she wears the epitome of this trope. The whole scene was a complete Mind Screw with all the conflicting UST.
- To show exactly how all grown up Liberty was by Senior Year, she wore a very nice red dress to prom in Degrassi. Season 10 has Fiona and Holly J both appear in a red cocktail dress at various points.
- In an episode of The West Wing, Donna is wearing a little red dress at the office because she's about to leave for a date. Josh, suffering one of his failure-to-appreciate-Donna attacks, needs her to work late and is insensitive to the point of cruelty about it (saying the date isn't going anywhere anyway because she's a Horrible Judge of Character with no self-esteem). At the end of the episode, he tells her she looked good in the dress and should keep it instead of returning it after wearing it once, like she planned.
- This is what the local Ms. Fanservice Santana picks for her prom dress in Glee. Kurt even lampshades it, saying it even goes wonderfully with her personality.
- Daphne wears a stunning red dress in the classic Frasier episode "Moon Dance", where she and Niles dance a passionate tango and come within a hair's breadth of a Love Confession, after their UST gets ramped up higher than it had ever been before.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Restless", Xander dreams about Joyce as a Hot Mum in a red nightie inviting him into her bed.
- In "Amends", Willow wears a tight red dress to show Oz she's Ready for Lovemaking. In the same episode, the First is trying to incite Angel into having sex with Buffy so he'll lose his soul; when Angel runs into Buffy in her bedroom wearing a blood-red dress that exposes her neck, he has to jump out the window to stop himself from jumping on her then and there.
- Once Upon a Time: main protagonist Emma is first seen in a red evening dress and after that, she is rarely shown without her signature red jacket.
- In C-drama The Holy Pearl, Mo Yin wears red throughout her Establishing Character Moment (sentencing the main character to death), marking her as a more sensual and passionate character than her Woman in White sister.
- Roxxxxxannnnnneeeee! You don't have to wear that dress tonight!
- The Chris De Burgh song "The Lady in Red" (obviously).
- "The Lady in Red, the fellas are crazy for the Lady in Red..." don't tell me that Mr. De Burgh didn't hear this gem from Allie Wrubel.
- Morrighan the Temptress from Lord of the Dance embodies this trope.
- Gord Bamford's "Blame It On The Red Dress".
- "Fancy"'s dancing dress has red velvet trim.
- The Beatles' song Yes It Is is about a man pleading with his lover not to wear red, because it would bring up painful memories of a lost love for him.
- In Edward Arlington Robinson's "Llewellyn and the Tree", the titular character escaped from a miserable marriage and excessive timidity by running off with a "scarlet" woman, who is described in terms of the roses, coral, and the rouge she wears. Since her effect on Llewellyn was positive, the connotations of red shift from the sin that neighbors impute to her to life and vibrancy instead.
- Anyone Can Whistle: "Ze Lady from Lourdes" = Nurse Fay Apple + red dress + wig + outrageous French accent.
- Ada Wong from Resident Evil.
- Bella Goth from The Sims.
- The Sims actually has a vamp character in a red or black dress.
- Mei-Fang of Arcana Heart slips into a Chinese red dress in her victory pose if she wins with most of her health.
- Saranda from Infinite Undiscovery.
- Mai Shiranui of Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and the SNK Vs. Capcom/Capcom Vs. SNK games.
- Blaz Blue's Litchi Faye Ling.
- Saving these is one of only two ways to restore your health in Spelunky. The other way is sacrificing them to Kali.
- Tekken: Femme Fatale Anna Williams wears a red dress as her default costume.
- Carmen Sandiego is a Badass in a Nice Suit in her red Badass Longcoat and fedora.
- Evelyn Gray from My Sims Agents.
- Anera in the Dreamcatcher module series for Neverwinter Nights shows up in a red dress once. This is probably an aversion, as the dress is actually quite modest and she is as far from 'slutty' as it is possible to get by this point. Her backstory, on the other hand...
- Princess Caeda from Fire Emblem wears red...and is seductive. (Of course, her seductions save lives.)
- Pauline in most of the promotional art for the arcade version of Donkey Kong wore a red one-piece dress instead of the violet old-timey style she wore in the actual game. She wore it in the actual games in the Game Boy and DS sequels.
- Marian from the Double Dragon series wears a red dress in most games (notably in most versions of the first game, as well as in the second NES one).
- Jessica from Final Fight, as well as Maki in the SNES sequel.
- Skarlet from the 2011 Mortal Kombat game, who is based on a mythical red-clad Palette Swap of Kitana who was rumored to appear in Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. This trope name was her prototype name before unveiling her real name.
- Sonya's alternate palette in the original Mortal Kombat changed the color of her uniform from green to red. And she appears wearing red in the VS screen and ending of Mortal Kombat 4.
- Princess Zelda in the The Legend of Zelda games for the NES, although mainly due to palette limitations (it's colored pink in the official illustrations).
- Double Switch: Elizabeth, the apartment manager, is very much this.
- Bushido Blade: Red Shadow. Her name could even be a reference to this trope!
- Eve from Harvest Moon, wore a red dress in her first appearance. When she was brought back for Magical Melody, she was given a new outfit.
- One enemy in Hired Guns (The 1993 Amiga game) is actually called "Lady in Red", she wears a red cloak over a green bodysuit.
- Pibgorn Dru, like here.
- While Eerie Cuties, alas, switched to B&W early on, there's this (of course, Layla is a vamp... of the literal variety, at least):
Layla: (holding a dress) Do you have this in red? Blood red?
- Halfway subverted with the aforementioned Lady in Pink in the first two-parter of The Backyardigans, "International Super Spy". Yes, she was evil and had a similar name to this trope's, but she wore pink and her outfit wasn't slinky enough. Well, at least she didn't have any undies on, and that's just flattering enough.
- Betty Boop, while she use to wear a black dress, mainly because she was around before the invention of colour, switched to a skimpy red dress.
- Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood. Rawr.
- In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episodes "Double 'O Dale" and "Mind Your Cheese & Q's", Gadget Hackwrench wore a red dress that fits this trope.
- After the Gaang infiltrates the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara dons a red skirt/top combo. Of course, red is the traditional colour for Fire Nation citizens, but it's interesting that this particular outfit is considerably more Fan Service-y than anything she has previously worn.
- Wakfu's Evangelyne appears in a red dress and dances in a dream sequence.
- Sarah Bellum from The Powerpuff Girls.
- Miss Scarlet from the Clue board game.
- Though, interestingly, in the movie, Miss Scarlet wears a form-fitting blue dress. Of course, Lesley Ann Warren was sporting reddish hair...
- Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, is represented as a woman clad in red robes.
- Madame Boss from Pokemon...does she count? It's not a dress, but, to make up for that, even her shoes are red.
- Kuchisake-Onna, a vain, murderous, and (mostly) extremely attractive Youkai, has gone in recent years from a red kimono to a slinky red dress, with a surgical mask to hide her mouth. In some modern retellings, she even drives a red sports car.
- According to legend, John Dillinger was betrayed to the FBI by a woman in red. In actuality, she (Anna Sage, a Romanian immigrant who was trying to get a visa by handing over Dillinger) was wearing orange, which she did to signal the FBI she was with Dillinger, but the light made it look red.
- The late, great baseball personality Buck O'Neill had a stated fondness for women in red dresses; he once told his biographer, "Son, in this life, you never walk by a red dress." At his funeral, all the women wore red.
- Just go to a social function at the University of Utah.
- Red is the traditional color of wedding dresses in China and India.
- Elena Udrea, Romanian MP and Minister of Tourism. She wears rather flashy red outfits sometimes, including at the second inauguration of President Traian Basescu, although the yellow light made it appear orange on TV. And she doesn't shun pink, either.
- Scarlet red in Kimonese stands for sexuality and vigour of youth, being a suitable background colour for a young girl's furisode or the wedding costume's overcoat uchikake, as well as accessories -- however, red underkimono has been downright scandalous for many a decade, and the only people who get away with wearing such are geisha and such.
- If you didn't happen to catch Winter's Bone, then you certainly knew who Jennifer Lawrence was after she appeared at the 2011 Oscars in a form-fitting red gown.
- Wearing red dresses in funerals is the ultimate insult to the deceased and means the lady in red is happy the deceased has died...It is akin to saying out loud "good riddance, schmuck!".
- Referenced in the movie Moonstruck where Cher's character threatens to wear such a dress to Johnny (the man who jilted her)'s funeral once he dies.
- According to Gypsy culture, women are actually not allowed to wear red in public, since Gypsies find the color red unlucky. Especially if said Gypsy woman is a pole dancer...
- or "Babylon the Great Harlot" as it is called