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.
Anime and Manga
- In A "Not-what-it-looks-like" ad, a father is driving his daughter and her friends when they stop at a convenience store. As she gets out, he says to wait while he gives her some money for the store. Cue two cops pulling up as they see a man giving money to a teen who is leaning over to the passenger door of his car.
- Karin had a hard time explaining that it wasn't what it looked like when Usui confronted her over this (having seen her embracing an older man in the park), since she couldn't exactly tell him that she's actually a vampire.
- In a bit of Chapter 26 of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun that was animated as a part of episode 9, Out-of-Context Eavesdropping about Miyako asking Maeno on the phone to "call again at night" made her colleagues wonder if she's living "a degenerate lifestyle" that involves "transactions at night." Miyako is actually a Sequential Artist and Maeno is her editor.
- 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 Swamp Thing, when Abby skips bail after being charged with crimes against nature for her relationship with the title character, she flees to Gotham, stops to ask some prostitutes to recommend a place to stay, and gets picked up along with them in a police sting.
- Played with in Love And Rockets. This trope happens to Maggie three times as she wanders alone through Texas. The first time, just after her breakup with Hopey (Maggie still clad in the slinky party dress she was wearing at the time), a man propositions her at a bus station. Penniless and wanting to make her way home, she accepts, for three hundred dollars. The second time, in another town, everyone at the local motel assumes this about her, including an actual prostitute who assaults her for invading her turf. The thoroughly demoralized Maggie, noticing a security guard eyeing her, invites him to her room for sex. When she awakens, she finds he's left her money; she doesn't return it. Played straight the third time as, having returned to the town, patched things up with the prostitute and just about to be reunited with Hopey, one of the motel owners slaps her in the face after a regular blames her for breaking up his marriagenote , whereupon yet another man propositions her. This time, she responds by beating him up.
- This happens to Red Sonja on a semi-regular basis; largely due to her habit of hanging seedy taverns in her Chain Mail Bikini. Thus usually ends badly for the person making the mistake, although she always gives them the opportunity to apologise before kicking their ass. They seldom take it.
- 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.
- Male variation in Hivefled; trolls don't make a gender distinction in the promiscuity stigma. Eridan, when he joined the fleet, slept with anyone who looked at him in a desperate attempt to fit in, and rumours of him committing theft got mixed up with stories of him fucking everyone and got him arrested for illegal prostitution.
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. It remains a Running Gag for the first few books; Vampiric Charms, her Occult Detective agency, even gets listed under Escorts in the phone book.
- A male case occurs in Doctrine of Labyrinths— due to his unusually bright clothing and lack of directional sense, Felix gets mistaken for a prostitute by a group of opportunistic thugs. Luckily, a real prostitute smoothes things over for him.
- In the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Vanishing Point, the Doctor, in a conversation with the local equivalent of a priest and a woman who's actually a prostitute, manages to obliviously note create the impression he's a prostitute himself who recently had a very satisfying night with the aforementioned priest.
‘We were up till terribly late, yes,’ the Doctor said brightly. ‘I didn’t get a wink of sleep, you know.’
‘You’re a dark horse, Holy Man, aren’t you?’ Lanna smiled, and nodded at the Doctor. ‘I know what you mean. I had one or two. . . meetings myself last night.’
- Happens briefly in Codex Alera. Isana (who, as a powerful watercrafter, looks younger than she is,) is mistaken for a prostitute by two policemen while she's hanging around outside a building, though unlike most examples of this trope the two policemen are not only quite polite about it, they realise quite quickly that they're mistaken (Isana lowers her hood to show that her hair is coloured normally for her age, and also her calmly authoritative speech and mannerisms are clearly not those of a young prostitute,) apologise and leaver her in peace. Much to Isana's relief, since she was in fact acting as a look-out while Kitai robs the place.
Mythology and Religion
- 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. Though it was also because the man she brought in happened to be her boss' brother-in-law.
- 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.
- Inverted in Arrested Development: Michael finds a woman named Nellie, who he assumes is his sister, when she is actually a prostitute that George Sr. uses every once in a while.
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Dee is mistaken for a prostitute in the "Mac Is A Serial Killer" episode. The writers may have been trying to go farther than the more common version of the trope, since the man who talks to her is a caricatured pimp rather than a mere would-be client.
- 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. Specifically, she's wearing an oldfashioned sexy fur coat draped over a tight red dress on Valentine's day, and she waves over a car, leans into the window and asks the driver if they're looking for a party - because she was lost.
- 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.
- The Commish. A prostitution ring is uncovered when a businessman orders a blonde dressed as a police officer, and runs into a Hot Cop in the hotel lobby. She's a brunette but he's too excited to care. He asks to be arrested as part of the roleplay. She happily obliges.
- Silent Witness. In "Finding Rachel", Nikki Alexander investigates a crime in Africa, and is warned against wearing her jeans for this reason.
- There was an episode of the sitcom Mixology where a man who mistakes one of the main girls for a prostitute, proposes she allow him to take her to Paris for $1,000,000. Her disbelief causes him to think that's too cheap, so he offers her next $2,000,000. She explains she's not a prostitute and he asks if she'd still like to go to Paris. She won't go for free.
- Invoked by a Genre Savvy young woman named Tamar in the Book of Genesis. Her first husband passed away without leaving any male heirs, so she married his brother Onan in hopes of perpetuating his family lineage. But Onan didn't want kids that were not legally his, so he practiced coitus interruptus... and also died a premature death. Next in line is a the youngest brother Shelah, but Shelah's father Judah doesn't want to give up Shelah because he worries that Tamar is cursed and that he'll lose his last son. Conveniently, Shelah is not quite old enough for marriage yet, so Judah tells Tamar to move back in with her parents and wait, which she does. When Shelah comes of age, he is not given to Tamar as promised (and indeed expected by society) and is married off to someone else... so Tamar puts on the veil and garments of a shrine prostitute and waits while Judah heads up to Timnah. He promises to pay her a goat for her "services," note , and she takes his seal, cord, and staff as collateral. Three months later, her pregnancy is revealed, and Judah sentences her to be burned to death for engaging in illicit sex; but before she is brought to the stake, Tamar sends a messenger with the items to Judah, saying that they belong to the man that impregnated her. Judah owns up to his role in all this, apologizes for not keeping his promise to Tamar and spares her life, even allowing her to live under his roof and supporting her as he would an actual wife. Thw twin boys she gives birth to are aknowledged as her and Judah's children.
- Forgotten Realms "Spin a Yarn" story from 2003:
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."
- In Bells Are Ringing, Inspector Barnes suspects Susanswerphone of being a prostitution front. Some unfortunate remarks made by Ella nearly land her and the other employees in the Women's Detention Home; it doesn't help that one of their subscribers is named Madame Grimaldi.
- 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.
- In Captain SNES, Marle attempts to deal with people on the street in Nexus the same way Crono does: staring at them until they give useful information. However, she's no longer in her RPG world, and most of the people she attempts to talk to aren't NPCs, so it doesn't go well. Most people clue in to the fact that she's an RPG character, against which there is a lot of bias in Nexus, but at least a few of them mistake her for a prostitute.