Photo: "nycuk" on Flickr.
A study published on Tuesday claims to prove that women wearing red are more likely to drive men crazy than if clad in any other colour. We tested the theory on our Observers from Iran to Japan, and found it not far from the truth.
There are few things that have a profound effect on each and every of the world's cultural pockets. The prohibition of incest, noted by Lévi-Strauss, is considered the only truly universal code. The colour red likewise strangely unites people across the world - by causing controversy wherever it's found.
The study released on Tuesday claims to prove that a woman wearing red is found far more attractive than in other colours, with men admitting to spending more money, and being more interested in sex with, a woman donned in rouge. The study, released by the University of Rochester, New York, seems to offer evidence on the long term relationship between human psychology and the colour red. A colour that appears in varying forms in almost every culture around the world; and with an equally provocative effect in each.
"For a long time it was the only colour that took to cloth"
Annie Mollard is specialised in the study of colours. She's the author of "The Dictionary of Words and Expressions of Colour", which includes a volume devoted to the colour red.
"Red is the colour that the eye notices most. It attracts your vision. It also has a very ambiguous symbolism. It instinctively makes you think of blood, that's to say both life and death at the same time; and also fire - both creative and destructive.
Red goes back a long way. For a long time it was the only colour that took to cloth, the only colour that dyed. So it become the colour of the powerful, reserved for emperors and banned for the public. It's a sign of pride.
It also represents the original sin and provocation since Eve gave the red apple to Adam and led man to his downfall. Subconsciously, red is the colour of sexuality. For a long time prostitutes have worn a red item of clothing or accessory as a code - and there's the red light in brothels. Fairytales like Little Red Riding Hood, a metaphor for the tempted child who discovers her sexuality too early, have perpetuated this association.
Some cultures are still against wearing red. And yet in Spain it's a common colour and associated with flamenco and tradition. Then in the north of France, and particularly Paris, it goes quite unnoticed."
"You can't go to a governmental office with a red scarf"
Farnaz Seifi is an Iranian feminist who now lives in Europe."Firstly, Imam Hussein, the third imam, who was killed by his cousin, is a very important figure for Shia Muslims. There are many religious plays put on in the ten-day run up to the anniversary of his death, and the person who plays the killer always wears red. So it's not a very respectable colour in Iran. When you talk about something red it's something offensive.
It's also considered provocative because it's so related to sex. Personally I remember until around ten years ago wearing red was something you rarely saw; if someone was wearing red everyone turned back and stared at them. Then when [Mohammad] Khatami [a liberal reformist] became president ten years ago and hijabs became more of a fashion statement than a religious symbol, bright colours became more wearable. Junior schools changed their uniforms to bright shiny colours: purple; green; yellow, but still, never red.
You can't go to a governmental office with a red scarf; they'll give you a black one to wear. Some people see it as civil disobedience - those who are against the hijab are saying 'if you force us to wear it then we'll wear a colour you don't like'. Especially with teens - it's important for them to feel attractive, and wearing red shoes is considered the sexiest thing in Iran."
"[Red monkeys] are considered patrons of fertility, safe childbirth, and harmonious marriage"
Mark Schumacher writes an online dictionary about Buddhism and Shintoism in Japanese Art. He studies the use of the colours in Japanese iconography; he's currently working on white. He lives in Kamakura, Japan."In Japan, the colour red is associated closely with a few deities in Shinto and Buddhist traditions, and statues of these deities are often decked in red clothing or painted red. (...) At Shinto shrines, red-coloured monkey charms are used in Japan, even today, to ward off demons, evil spirits, and sickness. Moreover, the monkeys worshipped at many Hie Jinja shrines in modern Japan are considered patrons of fertility, safe childbirth, and harmonious marriage. At these shrines, the monkey statues are often decked in red clothing, the colour meant to symbolise fertility and childbirth. Women can even buy red underpants called Saru-mata (lit. monkey underwear), which equates to the red buttocks of female monkeys in heat, and thus symbolises fertility."
"[Wearing red is] a symbol of having a man in your life"
Renuka Singh is a sociologist from New Delhi, India.Red is the colour your wear when you get married in India, because it symbolises change, transformation, overcoming suffering, and above all, arouses passion. When you wear the red bangles and colour your hair parting, it's a symbol of having a man in your life. In India spirituality puts importance on trying to turn negative into positive, and you can see this with the colour red. Even though it's considered an angry colour and associated with blood, for us it's very auspicious."