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
fashions, males have some more flexibility on the trope dress code.
- 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?"
- This ends up being Supergirl's first encounter with humanity. Then again with that skirt...
- In the Ranma ½ 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.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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.
Manga and Anime
- 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.
- 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.
Storm shrugged. "I was acting the part of a very moral noble lady of Cormyr then."
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."
- The 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.