Lady in Red is something of a old fashion trope, where The Vamp or the Femme Fatale was designated by having her wear bright red formal wear. The Lady in Red wasn't necessarily a slut, but she was strongly sexual, and often had a strong personality. In more prudish times the Lady in Red was considered almost dangerous. Red clothing is also associated with prostitutes, chorus girls and other dancers, and other women attempting to be sexy.
This trope is about the character type, not the dress itself. A character wearing a red outfit does not always make her a Lady In Red.
The Glamorous Wartime Singer is often a Lady In Red, as is The Chanteuse; 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. 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.
Please note, that 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. These ladies are not necessarily a Lady In Red. Additionally, in Bollywood and throughout Southeast Asia, red is more associated with marriage and love instead of sex. Thus, a woman in a red sari is almost never a Lady In Red
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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.
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 titular Woman in Red, a character who debuted in 1940, called by some the first female superhero.
Films — Animated
Subverted by 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, but
Jessica: I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.
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.
Films — Live-Action
The Matrix: "Were you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?"
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.
Rhett: "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.
In Jezebel, Julie Marsden (played by Bette Davis) scandalizes polite society when she shows up to her débutante ball wearing a red dress instead of virginal white.
The City of Lost Children: The woman in the bar who tries and comically fails to seduce One wear a red dress. At the time, he is devastated over the death of Miette.
The Empress wears either red or black for most of Legend Of The Black Scorpion. Scenes emphasizing her sexual dominance over the Emperor show her in, or surrounded by, red fabric.
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.
The Whore of Babylon or "Babylon the Great Harlot" in the Revelation of John is described as a woman wearing scarlet.
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.
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.
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.
In The Golden Girls, Blanche's wedding gown was red. Considering Blanche, it suited.
Robin Hood: In the series 2 episode "The Booby and the Beast", Marian wears a red dress to attract Count Friedrich at the insistence of the Sheriff.
Glee: This is what the local Ms. Fanservice Santana picks for her prom dress. Kurt even lampshades it, saying it 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.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 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.
666 Park Avenue: Olivia buys Jane a very expensive red dress as a welcome present (and an incitement).
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". It is bright red and in two pieces, 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.
Kochanski is Dave Lister's Love Interest and, most would agree, out of his league. 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 where he imagined Lister and Kochanski as a couple who sent him away.
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..."
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.
Chris Deburgh's "Lady In Red"
I never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance Looking for a little romance Given half the chance\\
Myth and Legend
Kuchisake-Onna, a vain, murderous, and (mostly) extremely attractive youkai, has gone 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 Cactus Canyon, Rosie the saloon bargirl is wearing a low-cut red dress.
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.
Betty Boop used to wear a black dress because she was around before the invention of colour, then she switched to a skimpy red dress.
Wakfu's Evangelyne appears in a red dress and dances in a dream sequence.
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.
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!". This is 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.