When I was student at a university in Perugia, I took a brief stroll one day between classes and got lost in the enchantment of the extraordinarily creative window displays of the mom-and-pop shops that were dotted along the central piazza. I remember being mesmerized by the freshly glazed fruit tarts behind the glass at the Pasticceria, when out from the accessories shop next store comes a merchant motioning me into his store with his hand.
I was at the time dressed like any other college student– denim jeans, a plain white tee-shirt and platform sandals that made every step atop cobblestone roads an adventure in survival. My hair was long, parted in the middle and uneventful, probably like the rest of my appearance.
The shopkeeper’s wife greeted me as if I were a cousin she hadn’t seen in years, then came gliding toward me with a red silk hat in her hand. “Provi, Signorina”, she said, placing it on my head before I could explain this was definitely not going to go with my normal “style”. She positioned the turban-like headgear on me, adjusting the bow to face the nape of my neck, and then tweaked the direction of my hair a bit so that it seemed to cascade from under the turban and flow like a waterfall over my shoulders.
“Che bellezza! Guardi, Signorina”, the shopkeeper’s wife said, directing me to look in the mirror.
My first thought was that this couple’s sales technique was definitely original. My second thought was that the only women I had ever known to wear hats were my mother and grandmother, and that I wasn’t really that “hat type”.
Looking in the mirror I felt ridiculous, but I had to admit the hat itself was pretty nice. It was a lipstick red, made of beautiful silk, and sat about 6 inches high from the top of my head.
Grazie, ma non e’ per me, I said to the owners who were expecting me to say “I’ll take it”. But as I began to remove the hat, the Signora put her hand up, in a gesture for me to leave it there, while her husband began punching keys at cash register and telling me I looked so beautiful in it that I was to get a deep discount on the red hat.
What could I say? They insisted I leave the hat on my head, so they could admire me as I left the store and walked back out into the main piazza, where I noted I was drawing stares from passersby, making the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes come to mind. I felt like the target of jest and ridicule. I looked back to see the shop owners waving and clasping their hands proudly to their chest, like a mamma and papa bird nudging their young from the nest to fly for the first time.
So I kept walking, with the intention of pulling off that hat as soon as I could turn the corner and disappear from their line of vision. But then I caught a glimpse of my reflection in another store window. Not so bad. People began giving me compliments and greeting me with a smile. Maybe they weren’t laughing? I straightened my shoulders, held my head a little higher and began to think I could conquer the world.
What was going on? In hindsight, I doubt it was the hat at all that boosted my confidence and made me feel more attractive. It was more likely due to the “red effect”, which is a real thing according to research findings of how both men and women are perceived as more attractive by others, when they are either wearing something red or even when photographs of individuals are framed in red. Moreover, one intriguing study showed that not only are other people’s perception of our physical attractiveness increased when we wear red, but we ourselves, when wearing Cupid’s favorite color, feel more attractive and more confident. Who would have thought? It’s not such a far-fetched idea. We know from the psychology research that one’s appearance affects how others see and relate to us. That positive feedback often influences our own self-perception, and so it goes.
As the holidays draw near, at the end of a long and challenging 2021, you have a perfect excuse to pull out the red dress or shirt from your closet, the red sneakers or shoes from the shoe rack, or the ruby red lipstick from your makeup drawer—and if you are really daring, you might want to order yourself a beautiful red hat and watch the magic happen.
Berthold, A.; Reese, G., & Martin, J.(2017) The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness. European Journal of Social Psychology 47 (20) 645–65.
©Raeleen Mautner Ph.D., LLC