Created By: blueranger on September 21, 2012 Last Edited By: Antigone3 on February 20, 2013
Troped

Mistaken For Prostitute

A girl is mistaken for a prostitute

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Sometimes, a good-looking person (most often a woman) in the "wrong" part of town will be accosted by someone who's looking for a prostitute and thinks he's found one. This is often Played for Laughs in fiction, but can be a real danger in Real Life. Police departments that are cracking down on the sex trade have been known to arrest women based on appearance profiling.

When treated as comedy, whether the mistaken-for person decks the accoster or flees there will always be a followup scene where that person asks if she really dresses like a sex worker. The answer is always Yes. Don't be surprised to find some Values Dissonance or Unfortunate Implications here, in the form of "nice girls don't wear _____". And it doesn't necessarily have to be clothing items; this is one area where Make Up Is Evil isn't a Forgotten Trope.

A variation is when a woman is nice to a nerdy male, who assumes she must be a prostitute looking for work because why else would any woman be nice to a nerdy male?

Compare Mistaken for Gay, Mistaken for Pregnant and pretty much every other trope in the Mistaken for Index. A female subject is often wearing Stripperiffic fashions, males have some more flexibility on the trope dress code.

Examples:

Comedy
  • Mentioned by Dave Barry, in an anecdote where the husband complains about the wife's driving, and she snaps Lets See You Do Better. She is about to get in the back, when it occurs to her she should be in front and slams the door, at which point the husband thinks she's in and drives off. Being dressed lightly in a bad neighborhood, she gets several price offers from passing men (It all worked out in the end though).
  • In an old joke, a guy at a restaurant asks the girl sitting at the next table if she could pass the salt. She screams "EXCUSE ME?! WHAT KIND OF WHORE DO YOU THINK I AM?!", mortifying him in front of the whole restaurant. A few minutes later she hands him the saltshaker, saying her previous outburst was part of a psychological experiment in social stress. He responds "250 BUCKS AND THE ROOM? WHAT KIND OF WHORE ARE YOU?"

Comic Books
  • This ends up being Supergirl's first encounter with humanity. Then again with that skirt...

Fan Fiction
  • In the Ranma fanfic "Sauce", this happens to Shampoo, who is for plot-related reasons on a "date" with an ugly nerd, a passerby offers her "double" to go with him instead.
  • ''Ah! My Goddess - Tabula Rasa. In this reboot Keichi assumes the exotically dressed woman offering him any wish he desires must be an escort.

Film
  • A variation happens in Bridget Jones's Diary where Bridget goes to a "Prostitutes and Priests" themed costume party and isn't told that the costume part is off. Bridget's mother introduces her to another guest called Penny dressed in an elaborate pink number saying that she wasn't told the theme had been called off either. There is a magnificent moment of awkwardness after Penny replies that she was told.
  • Inverted in Once Upon A Crime, where a jaded housewife thinks a guy is paying her for sex, and to spite her gambling-addicted husband, she says she would sleep with the guy for free. It turns out he was just giving her the share of the roulette winnings for calling the right number.
  • In God Bless America, a pedophile mistakes Roxy for a child prostitute and Frank, for her pimp.
  • L.A. Confidential, when the detective mistakes the actual Lana Turner for a lookalike prostitute.
  • A variant in Phone Booth, where several strippers react very badly indeed to the protagonist describing them as hookers.
  • This would have happened to Giselle upon arriving to New York in the original R-rated script of Enchanted. Thankfully, it was cut out.

Literature
  • In the first book of The Sword of Truth, Richard and Kahlan enter an inn in a Wretched Hive. Kahlan is immediately mistaken for a whore. Not wanting to cause bloodshed, she merely pretends to have a day off with Richard being hired by her.
  • In the novel Neverwhere, Richard initially thinks that the master bodyguard Hunter is a prostitute based on a combination of how she dresses and the fact that she advertises that she supplies "personal physical services" (which is actually a non-sexual Unusual Euphemism).
  • Happens in 1634 The Galileo Affair with Giovanna at a fancy dress party. Made awkward by how everyone wants to make clear that there's nothing wrong with prostitution per se. Then we learn that this is a recurring problem for Venetian Jews, who are required by law to wear yellow hats or veils in public -- the same colour as prostitutes.
  • In Stand on Zanzibar, Bronwen is almost denied entry to Yatakang because of her microsari and the fact that her passport says she's a widow. In Yatakangi, the word "widow" is a common euphemism for "prostitute".
  • In the Discworld novel Men at Arms, Angua finds a notebook in Captain Vimes's quarters with a list of women's names and dollar amounts. Having spent most of the book with a rather low opinion of Vimes, she naturally assumes they're prostitutes. They're widows and orphans of Watchmen.
  • In the Esther Diamond novel Unsympathetic Magic, actress Esther is playing a prostitute while filming on location in Harlem. After witnessing some terrifying magic late at night, she runs out into traffic screaming about zombies and men with swords. Unsurprisingly, the drivers who stop for her assume she's on drugs and either tell her to get out of the way or try to hire her.
  • Rachel Morgan, the heroine of The Hollows series, is noted for having unfortunate dress sense. Because of the way she is dressed, she is mistaken for a hooker in the first scene of the first novel.

Live Action TV
  • Lois in Malcolm in the Middle gets a rather trashy makeover that she has to wear for her job. When a man asks if she's a hooker she is outraged...then she thanks him and drags him into her boss's office to convince him to let her go back to her old look.
  • Happens twice to Robin in How I Met Your Mother. She goes on a date with a nerd to prove something to Barney and he assumes she is a hooker. The next time happens when she sneaks into a prom by pretending to be another nerd's date.
    • Earlier there is the episode "Mary The Paralegal" where Barney tells Ted he's getting him an escort for the night but he reveals to the others that she isn't. The trope is played straight at the end of the episode because Ted doesn't know.
  • In Angel Cordelia is handing out business cards for their business with the ambiguous slogan "We help the helpless". One of the guys she hands them to assumes she is a hooker and Doyle is her pimp.
  • In Ashes to Ashes DI Alex Drake arrives in 1981 dressed as a prostitute, and the entire station thinks she actually is one until she produces her warrant card.
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Dee is mistaken for a prostitute in the "Mac Is A Serial Killer" episode.
  • In Prime Suspect 1, as soon as DCI Jane Tennison sits to have a drink in a pub with two prostitutes she's questioning, a man asks her for 15 minutes in his van parked outside.
  • In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, Dick is convinced that he's about to be recalled to the home planet and is worried about what will happen to Mary without him. When they're at a bar, he tries to find a man to set her up with. They're thrown out after being mistaken for a pimp and hooker.
  • There's an episode of Happy Endings where Alex is mistaken for a prostitute.
  • In a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus a Dirty Old Man mistakes several posted advertisements as stealth prostitution ads ("small white pussycat for sale" etc.) but none of them are - except one.
    Dirty Old Man: Which one is it? shopkeeper surreptitiously hands him a card. Reads "Blonde prostitute will indulge in any sexual activities, only 4 quid a week." What does that mean?
  • Combined with Comically Missing the Point in the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "General Hospital" after Blackadder and Nurse Mary start sleeping together.
    Blackadder: What happened to [your boyfriend]?
    Mary: He bought it.
    Blackadder: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that was the arrangement, um... (starts digging for his wallet)
  • Michelle constantly gets this in the sleepy small town of Paradise in Bunheads. She may have been a Las Vegas dancer, but it was always above board and she gets offended when she gets accused of doing worse.
  • In an episode of Barney Miller Fish is dressed as a woman while out on purse-snatching detail and gets hit on by an old man who offers "her" money.
  • Inversion on The Bob Newhart Show: Bob is outside a Bulls game trying to sell an extra ticket and gets mistaken for a john by an undercover lady cop.
  • Inverted in an episode of Seinfeld, where Kramer, dressed in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, wearing a large fuzzy hat, and walking with a cane, tries to remove a prostitute from doing business in his car. A cop mistakes him for a pimp.

Manga and Anime
  • Done in Chibi Vampire, where Usui Kenta spots Karin in the park who, from behind, appears to be embracing a much-older man. He assumes her to be a child sex worker of some kind, when in fact she was just a vampire biting into the man's neck.

Tabletop Games
Storm shrugged. "I was acting the part of a very moral noble lady of Cormyr then."
"Are there any very moral noble ladies of Cormyr?" the Simbul asked the ceiling, but any answer Storm might have made was lost in Qilue's query, "So what did you tell the officer?"
Storm grinned, drew herself up, and said in an elderly, imperious, and outraged voice, "Excuse me, but you want me to do what?!?!?" [...] "He quickly protested that I must have misunderstood him, and that his smile was mere welcoming politeness and not a leer at all, and his question: 'So, how much, sweethips?' was an official inquiry as to the amount of rose petal scent, commonly known as 'sweethips' in Marsember -- an assertion that was and remains news to me, but gods' luck to him for swift thinking -- I was importing with me into the Forest Kingdom."

Video Games
  • Done subtly in Endless Frontier, when Haken introduces Kaguya to his father, John Moses:
    John: Who's this? I don't think I asked for one today, but I won't say no!
  • Happens quite a lot to The Princess in A Dance with Rogues.

Webcomics
  • Order Of The Stick has a joke where Roy finds his sister, Julia after her kidnapping, and assumes from her dress sense that she had been subjected to Go-Go Enslavement.
  • In this and the next few strips of Schlock Mercenary, the fancy evening dress Dr. Bunnigus puts on for the evening is mentioned by Captain Tagon and Lt Shodan to look like she's dressing as a prostitute.

Community Feedback Replies: 53
  • September 21, 2012
    Jordan
    • In the novel Neverwhere, Richard initially thinks that the master bodyguard Hunter is a prostitute based on a combination of how she dresses and the fact that she advertises that she supplies "personal physical services" (which is actually a non-sexual Unusual Euphemism).
  • September 21, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    LA Confidential, when the detective mistakes the actual Lana Turner for a lookalike prostitute.

  • September 21, 2012
    RUSirius
    This troper has seen an ad where a father drops his scantily-clad teenage daughter and her friends off at a movie theater, then calls her back and offers her some extra money just before she runs off. A cop pulls up behind him just as he offers the money, making it look like a john offering a hooker payment.
  • September 21, 2012
    blueranger
    Not sure if it counts, but Order Of The Stick has a joke where Roy finds his sister, Julia after her kidnapping, and assumes from her dress sense that she had been subjected to Go Go Enslavement.
  • September 21, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    • Inverted in Once Upon A Crime, where a jaded housewife thinks a guy is paying her for sex, and to spite her gambling-addicted husband, she says she would sleep with the guy for free. It turns out he was just giving her the share of the roulette winnings for calling the right number.
  • September 21, 2012
    blueranger
    Storm shrugged. "I was acting the part of a very moral noble lady of Cormyr then."
    "Are there any very moral noble ladies of Cormyr?" the Simbul asked the ceiling, but any answer Storm might have made was lost in Qilue's query, "So what did you tell the officer?"
    Storm grinned, drew herself up, and said in an elderly, imperious, and outraged voice, "Excuse me, but you want me to do what?!?!?" [...] "He quickly protested that I must have misunderstood him, and that his smile was mere welcoming politeness and not a leer at all, and his question: 'So, how much, sweethips?' was an official inquiry as to the amount of rose petal scent, commonly known as 'sweethips' in Marsember -- an assertion that was and remains news to me, but gods' luck to him for swift thinking -- I was importing with me into the Forest Kingdom."
  • September 22, 2012
    blueranger
    • In God Bless America, a pedophile mistakes Roxy for a child prostitute and Frank, for her pimp.
  • September 22, 2012
    blueranger
    • In the Ranma One Half fanfic "Sauce", this happens to Shampoo, who is for plot-related reasons on a "date" with an ugly nerd, a passerby offers her "double" to go with him instead.
  • September 22, 2012
    Chabal2
    Mentioned by Dave Barry, in an anecdote where the husband complains about the wife's driving, and she snaps Lets See You Do Better. She is about to get in the back, when it occurs to her she should be in front and slams the door, at which point the husband thinks she's in and drives off. Being dressed lightly in a bad neighborhood, she gets several price offers from passing men (It all worked out in the end though).
  • September 22, 2012
    Omeganian
    In the first book of The Sword Of Truth, Richard and Kahlan enter an inn in a Wretched Hive. Kahlan is immediately mistaken for a whore. Not wanting to cause bloodshed, she merely pretends to have a day off with Richard being hired by her.
  • September 25, 2012
    Kiereth
    Done in Chibi Vampire, where Usui Kenta spots Karin in the park who, from behind, appears to be embracing a much-older man. He assumes her to be a child sex worker of some kind, when in fact she was just a vampire biting into the man's neck.
  • September 25, 2012
    Folamh3
    • A variant in Phone Booth, where several strippers react very badly indeed to the protagonist describing them as hookers.
  • September 25, 2012
    Omeganian
    • This ends up being Supergirl's first encounter with humanity. Then again with that skirt...
  • September 25, 2012
    TrollBrutal
    See Also Dirty Harriet
    • In Ashes To Ashes DI Alex Drake arrives in 1981 dressed as a prostitute, and the entire station thinks she actually is one until she produces her warrant card.
  • September 25, 2012
    Rognik
    Edited the title. Some people have the last name "Hooker", and get offended when used as a slang term. "Prostitute" is a perfectly good term which no one has as a name, so let's call a spade a spade.
  • September 25, 2012
    NimmerStill
    • In Jackie Mason's act, he says that while Gentile women get offended by being told they look like prostitutes, Jewish women take it as a compliment, since prostitutes have to look good.
      "Really? I look like a hooker?"
  • September 25, 2012
    dotchan
  • September 25, 2012
    dotchan
  • September 28, 2012
    CapFox
  • September 28, 2012
    SAMAS
    • Done subtly in Endless Frontier, when Haken introduces Kaguya to his father, John Moses:
      John: Who's this? I don't think I asked for one today, but I won't say no!
  • September 28, 2012
    Rasalas
    • In Prime Suspect 1, as soon as DCI Jane Tennison sits to have a drink in a pub with two prostitutes she's questioning, a man asks her for 15 minutes in his van parked outside.
  • September 29, 2012
    Random888
    • In a Third Rock From The Sun episode, Dick is convinced that he's about to be recalled to the home planet and is worried about what will happen to Mary without him. When they're at a bar, he tries to find a man to set her up with. They're thrown out after being mistaken for a pimp and hooker.
  • September 29, 2012
    Goldfritha
    • In Dorothy L Sayers's Murder Must Advertise, two women think they see a co-worker, Death Bredon, on the street. It's him, but in his Lord Peter Wimsey guise, so he shakes his head as if he had been approached by a streetwalker, and the next day, as Bredon, talks about how he has a cousin who strongly resembles him.
  • September 29, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    There's an episode of Happy Endings where Alex is mistaken for a prostitute.
  • January 31, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In a sketch on Monty Pythons Flying Circus a Dirty Old Man mistakes several posted advertisements as stealth prostitution ads ("small white pussycat for sale" etc.) but none of them are - except one.
    Dirty Old Man: Which one is it? shopkeeper surrepeitiously hands him a card. Reads "Blonde prostitute will indulge in any sexual activities, only 4 quid a week." What does that mean?
  • January 31, 2013
    CapFox
  • January 31, 2013
    StarSword
    TV:
    • Combined with Comically Missing The Point in the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "General Hospital" after Blackadder and Nurse Mary start sleeping together.
      Blackadder: What happened to [your boyfriend]?
      Mary: He bought it.
      Blackadder: Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that was the arrangement, um... (starts digging for his wallet)
  • January 31, 2013
    dspeyer
    Happens in 1634 The Gallileo Affair with Giovanna at a fancy dress party. Made awkward by how everyone wants to make clear that there's nothing wrong with prostitution per se. Then we learn that this is a recurring problem for Venetian Jews, who are required by law to wear yellow hats or veils in public -- the same colour as prostitutes.
  • January 31, 2013
    KTera
    • In Stand On Zanzibar, Bronwen is almost denied entry to Yatakang because of her microsari and the fact that her passport says she's a widow. In Yatakangi, the word "widow" is a common euphemism for "prostitute".
  • January 31, 2013
    Sackett
    Fanfiction: Oh My Goddess - Tabula Rasa. In this reboot Keichi assumes the exotically dressed woman offering him any wish he desires must be an escort.
  • January 31, 2013
    Desertopa
    I'm confused by why so many examples which seem entirely legitimate haven't been added to the writeup.
  • February 1, 2013
    StarSword
    ^'Cause the sponsor apparently hasn't been here since September.
  • February 1, 2013
    Rognik
    • Michelle constantly gets this in the sleepy small town of Paradise in Bunheads. She may have been a Las Vegas dancer, but it was always above board and she gets offended when she gets accused of doing worse.
  • February 6, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of Barney Miller Fish is dressed as a woman while out on purse-snatching detail and gets hit on by an old man who offers "her" money.
    • Inversion on The Bob Newhart Show: Bob is outside a Bulls game trying to sell an extra ticket and gets mistaken for a john by an undercover lady cop.
  • February 6, 2013
    Antigone3
    I updated the examples, and we've already got five hats -- ready to launch?
  • February 6, 2013
    Folamh3
  • February 6, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    Could we broaden this to include the possibility of males being mistaken for prostitutes? Obviously this is a primarily female trope, but considering that the only person I know IRL who had this happen to them is a guy...

    Speaking of which, if we're taking RL examples, some anti-prostitution efforts (like laws that criminalize women who carry too many condoms or the tendency of police to take women in for "solicitation" if they're dressed too sexy in the wrong place and the wrong time) are often criticized over this possibility.
  • February 7, 2013
    Chabal2
    An old joke where a guy at a restaurant asks the girl sitting at the next table if she could pass the salt, and she screams "EXCUSE ME?! WHAT KIND OF WHORE DO YOU THINK I AM?!", mortifying him in front of the whole restaurant. A few minutes later she hands him the saltshaker, saying her previous outburst was part of a psychological experiment in social stress. He responds "250 BUCKS AND THE ROOM? WHAT KIND OF WHORE ARE YOU?"
  • February 7, 2013
    nitrokitty
    • In the Discworld novel Men At Arms, Angua finds a notebook in Captain Vimes's quarters with a list of women's names and dollar amounts. Having spent most of the book with a rather low opinion of Vimes, she naturally assumes they're prostitutes. They're widows and orphans of Watchmen.
  • February 7, 2013
    Antigone3
    @Isaac Sapphire -- I don't see any reason why this couldn't be expanded to include men, with a rewrite of the description. But are there any fictional examples?

    We should note anti-prostitution efforts that turn into this trope, but I'm not sure if we want any more real life entries. That section could easily turn into a snark pit.
  • February 7, 2013
    justanotherrandomlurker
    Live Action TV
    • Inverted in an episode of Seinfeld, where Kramer, dressed in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, wearing a large fuzzy hat, and walking with a cane, tries to remove a prostitute from doing business in his car; a cop nabs him, mistaking him for a pimp.
  • February 8, 2013
    SylviaSybil
    I agree that this trope is not always women. The description should be rewritten to be gender neutral, perhaps with a note that it's usually but not always female characters.

    Literature
    • In the Esther Diamond novel Unsympathetic Magic, actress Esther is playing a prostitute while filming on location in Harlem. After witnessing some terrifying magic late at night, she runs out into traffic screaming about zombies and men with swords. Unsurprisingly, the drivers who stop for her assume she's on drugs and either tell her to get out of the way or try to hire her.
  • February 10, 2013
    foxley
    Rachel Morgan, the heroine of The Hollows series, is noted for having unfortunate dress sense. Because of the way she is dressed, she is mistaken for a hooker in the first scene of the first novel.
  • February 10, 2013
    Nohbody
    Another webcomic example comes to mind, though not a young girl:

    • In this and the next few strips of Schlock Mercenary, the fancy evening dress Dr. Bunnigus puts on for the evening is mentioned by Captain Tagon and Lt Shodan to look like she's dressing as a prostitute.

    [Now if the OP would get to actually launching this... :P ]
  • February 11, 2013
    TrustBen
    Terry Phillips in Jumping Jack Flash is arrested on suspicion of prostitution for wandering the piers in the middle of the night, even though they're pretty much deserted.
    Terry: What, do you think there's a lot of work down on the pier for hookers? Do you think I'm giving blow jobs down there to goldfish?

  • February 13, 2013
    Antigone3
    Suggested rewrite of the trope description:

    Sometimes, a good-looking person (most often a woman) in the "wrong" part of town will be accosted by someone who's looking for a prostitute and thinks he's found one. This is often Played For Laughs in fiction, but can be a real danger in Real Life. Police departments that are cracking down on the sex trade have been known to arrest women based on appearance profiling.

    When treated as comedy, whether the mistaken-for person decks the accoster or flees there will always be a followup scene where that person asks if she really dresses like a sex worker. The answer is always Yes. Don't be surprised to find some Values Dissonance or Unfortunate Implications here, in the form of "nice girls don't wear _____". And it doesn't necessarily have to be clothing items; this is one area where Make Up Is Evil isn't a Forgotten Trope.

    A variation is when a woman is nice to a nerdy male, who assumes she must be a prostitute looking for work because why else would any woman be nice to a nerdy male?

    Compare Mistaken For Gay, Mistaken For Pregnant and pretty much every other trope in the Mistaken For Index. A female subject is often wearing Stripperiffic fashions, males have some more flexibility on the trope dress code.
  • February 13, 2013
    NESBoy
    Okay, which version of Supergirl was Omeganian talking about? Matrix, Post-Crisis Kara, or New 52 Kara? It can't be Pre-Crisis Kara, since her first encounter with humanity is in an orphanage as Linda Lee, and it can't be Post-Crisis Linda Danvers since she's human to begin with.
  • February 13, 2013
    finalsymphony
    I suggest a snappier name, for example, Whore-A-Like. Prostitutes look like you. etc
  • February 14, 2013
    Nohbody
    First thing "Whore-a-like" made me think was for euphemisms for prostitutes (don't think the concept is really tropable, but a) not sure, and b) not relevant for this YKTTW). "Prostitutes look like you" sounds too much like dialog for comfort, even if not a Stock Phrase. It seems to me that dialog titles seem to come up in TRS for misuse a good bit of the time, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement as "good title".

    "Mistaken for Prostitute" may not be snappy, but it is clear and concise, both of which rate higher than "witty" in the trope hierarchy (To borrow from Fast Eddie's forum sig: "Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty ")
  • February 14, 2013
    IsaacSapphire
    I'm pretty sure I've seen this happening to a guy in yaoi manga or fanfiction. I'll try to find a specific example.
  • February 19, 2013
    MokonaZero
    In Endless Frontier Kaguya is mistaken for one by Haken's father.
  • February 19, 2013
    Antigone3
    Launching by the weekend unless someone objects.
  • February 19, 2013
    Tuckerscreator
    • This would have happened to Giselle upon arriving to New York in the original R-rated script of Enchanted. Thankfully, it was cut out.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=dla6obi1rv47r90n6l4nbxsy&trope=MistakenForProstitute