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 a shade of red, but usually scarlet or in that range. 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 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.
The Glamorous Wartime Singer is often a Lady In Red, as is The Chanteuse.
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.
Sometimes, the dress will be a Happy Holidays Dress or Sexy Santa Dress.
Unlike Woman in White, this trope is grown women only; for little girls, see Little Dead Riding Hood and compare Princesses Prefer Pink.
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.
Compare The Little Black Dress, Pink Means Feminine.
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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.
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.
In Honoo No Alpenrose, the teenaged Jeudi is dolled up in a red Pimped-Out Dress that isn't super revealing (she is extremely young after all), but is still far prettier than the simple clothes she had worn until then. Not to mention, the guy who ordered to have her dolled up wants to force her into a Dance of Romance and into becoming his mistress.
A more innocent version is Ran, who once wears a very cute red gown to a high-class party. And then Kaito Kid knocks her out, hides her away and takes her place. He even teases Conan when his cover is blown, saying that he stole Ran's dress and she must be naked! (He didn't, he just made a similar dress.)
Jill Konia of Jewelpet Sunshine is a very voluptuous woman who's nearly always seen wearing quite revealing red clothes.
Miss Scarlet from the Clue board game has a red dress. In the movie, Miss Scarlet wears a form-fitting blue dress.
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 babe from "The Babe Wore Red", a story in Sin City.
Kate Kane, aka Batwoman, in her first appearance in the DCU series 52. 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.
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
Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. She's gorgeous and wears a very revealing long slinky shiny dress, showing some legs and lots of cleavage.
Esmeralda wore red poledancing outfit in the "Topsy Turvy" number in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Ironically, in real life, red is considered bad luck for Gypsies, and Judge Frollo was watching her dance in public... Bad luck indeed.
In Beauty and the Beast, one of the three the Bimbettes wore a red revealing dress and was pretty well-endowed in her cleavage area.
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 was red.
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. 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 as any scene that had ghosts involved had some red. However, it's considered rude and insulting to wear bright colours to funerals, which makes her choice of outfit even more horrifying.
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. She wore gorgeous tight long dress for a fancy première, introducing a Nazi film.
Cristabella of Devil's Advocate: Her 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 Linereferences 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.
Swing Kids: After being called a "priss" and presumed to be uptight for the earlier part of the movie, Evey shows up at a swing party in a bright red dress. The look on Peter's face when he sees her is priceless.
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 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, Melisandre of Asshai always appears in a red dress or robes that mark her as a priestess of R'hllor. She's a particularly interesting example, as she first appears to be very morally ambiguous, but later proves to be ''ruthlessly'' determined to fight off the Others, who very possibly trying to end humanity. Her itinerary includes introducing a fanatical new religion to the Seven Kingdoms, seducing Stannis after he declared himself king, being fond of making sacrifices of the unfaithful, and proving to be something of a slight temptress to the men around her, not always deliberately.
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 or "Babylon the Great Harlot" in the Revelation of John is described as a woman wearing scarlet.
X-Wing Series: Ysanne Isard wears a red version of the white Grand Admiral uniform. She's not a sexualized villain. See it here.◊
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.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: When Rita Skeeter writes stories about Hermione's "taste for famous wizards", 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.
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.
Hadith Sarim, the first time Rayojini meets her in Burying the Shadow. Incidentally, Rayo is also wearing red at the time, but this mostly serves to highlight the differences between them as sexually experienced woman and virginal girl.
Delia of Eldorne in Song of the Lioness is wearing a green dress, but it's a deliberate contrast to all the pale colors the other women wear, low-cut, and draws a great deal of attention to her and her sexual allure. Basically, a Tortallan edition of TV Tropes would call this trope Lady in Green.
Rose Cross in the League Of Magi stories wears exclusively red and is even known as the "Red Lady."
Jilly Kitsinger from Torchwood: Miracle Day, playing the temptress role for a convicted paedophile and murderer, no less.
The Nanny: The opening theme lampshades that Fran is Lady in Red: "She's the lady in red while everybody else is wearing tan". In the pilot episode, 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.
Sarah on Chuck sometimes wears these kind of red dresses, during the extremely high number of missions calling for formal wear.
The Mentalist, "Russet Potatoes" features a woman in a red dress.
Law & Order: SVU: Alex Cabot is only seen in a smart suit. Until she goes on a date with Trevor Langan for which she wears the epitome of this trope, an awesome red dress. 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.
Fiona appears in a red cocktail dress at various points in season 10.
Holly J wear a red cocktail dress many times.
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.
Glee: This is what the local Ms. Fanservice Santana picks for her prom dress. 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.
In "Restless", Xander dreams about Joyce 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.
Glory in season 5 is shown in red dresses.
Once Upon a Time: The main protagonist Emma is first seen in a red evening dress and after that, she is rarely shown without her signature red jacket.
Once Guinevere became Queen in Merlin, she often wore an elaborate velvet red dress.
Firefly: Inara Serra is a classy companion, which is something between a therapist, geisha and courtesan. Captain Mal Reynolds would describe her profession as whoring. She wore such a dress at the beginning of "Shindig". They are bright red and have two parts, conveniently showing Inara's midriff. The skirt part is very long and rather slinky and tight.
Murdoch Mysteries: In "Twentieth Century Murdoch" note season 5's last episode and originally intended as the finale of the whole series, Detective Murdoch's on-again-off-again Love Interest Dr. Julia Ogden wears an off-the-shoulder red dress to the New Year's ball in 1899. They look very modern and sexy, especially compared to other ladies' outfits.
In season 7, Kochanski's default outfit is a tight red shiny uniform which screams "sexy lady". In one episode, Lister gives Kochanski a beautiful red sparkly dress as a present, but she wears it only in Kryten's Imagine Spot.
Princess Bonjella, rescued by Ace Rimmer from Space Nazis in "Stoke Me a Clipper", wears a long tight red dress. There'll be time for explanations later. And hopefully, some sex...
"Trouble ahead, a lady in red!/Take my advice, you'd be better off dead..."
"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.
"Red Dress" by Lovehatehero.
A few of Lana Del Rey's songs:
"Off to the Races"
Myth and Legend
Mazu, the Chinese goddess of the sea, is represented as a woman clad in red robes.
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.
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.
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...
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).
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.
Red is the traditional color of wedding dresses in China and India.
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.
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's (the man who jilted her) 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.