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Fashion-Based Relationship Cue

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In many cultures, certain items of clothing and/or accessories are used as visual cues to indicate whether or not a person is in a relationship. If they're single, this can be done to make clear their availability, whether for a long-term relationship or a simple hookup, and can extend to indicating gender and/or sexual preferences. On the other hand, if the person is in a relationship, this can indicate the level of the relationship. In either case, what is worn and how it's worn can take on different meanings depending on what's being intended.

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Coordinated Clothes is a common way to show this. Her Boyfriend's Jacket is a specific application.

Compare:

Contrast Wedding Ring Defense, when someone who's single wears a wedding or engagement ring to fend off potential suitors.


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Examples

Comic Books

  • In the Silver Age of Hawkman, as a Thanagarian Hawkgirl wore earrings to signify her status as a married woman. Mavis Trent believed that since Hawkgirl didn't wear a wedding ring, Hawkman was single, and often flirted with him.

Fan Fiction

  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic Broken Symmetry, it's mentioned in passing that single unicorns will file their horns to a point to advertise that they're available.
  • A Changed World briefly mentions that Eleya and Gaarra have exchanged chain links from their earrings, which the later story "Alls Fair In Love And War" clarifies to be the Bajoran equivalent of wedding rings, confirming that they got married off-screen.
  • In Xenophilia, Lero makes his relationship with Rainbow Dash public by wearing one of her flight feathers in his hair.
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Film

Literature

  • In the Heralds of Valdemar novels, Hawkbrothers indicate they're in a serious relationship by wearing a feather from their partner's bondbird as a hair ornament.
  • In Kris Longknife: Defiant, Kris attends a celebration on Hikila, a Polynesian-descended colony, wearing nothing but strategically placed garlands and body paint. The Hikilans consider this appropriate formal wear for a "virgin" (she technically isn't, but in context, it refers to any young single woman, which she is).
  • In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Cmdr. Decker tries to get through to the Ilia probe by putting a headband on her that he'd given to the real Ilia when they were in a relationship. The novelization reveals that wearing this headband is a sign of being in a marriage-like relationship, a significant cue for the hypersexual Deltan race. Decker just thought it would look nice on her.
  • In Esther Friesner's The Sword of Mary (part of the Becca of Wiserways series), Becca is tricked into wearing a paper flower that indicates she's a lesbian, potentially getting her in trouble with the law. Different flower colors indicate different interests at an underground bar.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, Betans wear earrings that mark their sexual preferences and availability.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Women of Malkier paint a dot on their forehead called the ki'sain, a practice that Nynaeve adopts when she marries Lan. While the ki'sain itself signifies a familial pledge to fight the Shadow in the Malkieri's Proud Warrior Race tradition, its colour indicates whether the woman is single, married, or widowed.
    • In the city of Ebou Dar, a husband gifts his wife an ornamental "marriage knife" necklace on their wedding day, which is later ornamented with a precious stone for each of their children. Ostensibly, it also confers the right for the wife to use the knife on her husband if he displeases her, as a nod to the city's robust dueling culture.

Live-Action TV

  • Toyed with in the short-lived TV series Good Sports, when former jock Bobby Tannen tries wearing a single earring for the daily broadcast. His co-host, Gayle Roberts, cattily quips, "Ever thought of wearing that in the straight ear?" This gives Bobby pause for thought.
  • The Jeffersons: When the main characters take a group vacation to Hawaii, Florence makes a point of wearing a flower behind her right ear to indicate that she's looking for love.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the Bajorans use "pledge bracelets" to mark a relationship somewhere below engagement ("betrothal bracelets" also exist). (One of) Gul Dukat's mistresses, Tora Naprem, wore one.

Video Games

  • In Dragon Age II, three of four love interests will change their outfits if they enter a committed relationship with Hawke. While Isabela and Fenris' wardrobe changes are pretty minor, Merrill goes from the black-green rags of a Dalish outcast to a gorgeous white-and-silver piece appropriate for the significant other of the Champion of Kirkwall.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, wearing an Amulet of Mara, the goddess of marriage and romantic love, signifies that you're looking for a spouse.

Webcomics

  • In El Goonish Shive, early on, Justin wore an earring in an attempt to advertise he was gay. He stopped wearing it after a while but wore it again to gain the attention of one guy whom he's sure is gay. This attempt failed.

Web Original

  • In Tales of MU, "middling"note  elven females wear a veil over the lower half of their face to indicate that boys are off-limits. They can also gift this veil (as well as other things, such as underwear) to someone to indicate their interest in them, which is how Grace and Nicki's relationship begins.

Real Life

  • This is a custom around the world.
    • At least in Western culture, engagement and wedding rings are two of the most ubiquitous ways to show that you are in a committed relationship. However, not everyone wears their ring(s) as intended; for instance, a man who works with heavy machinery might have his ring on a necklace under his shirt as a safety precaution. Some married people don't wear their rings at all for whatever reason. Also, a divorcee, widow, or widower might not wear their ring anymore, the rubbed-smooth skin on their ring finger being a sign that they're possibly available again.
    • It's generally believed that if a Hawaiian girl wears a flower behind her right ear, it means she's single; behind the left ear means she's taken.
    • The traditional Irish Claddagh Ring can be worn 4 ways to indicate "single", "in a relationship", "engaged" or "married".
    • In Victorian England, green ties were worn as code to indicate homosexuality.
    • The "hanky code" from the 1970s gay leather bar scene was an intricate code of colored bandanas worn in the back pocket. The color/pattern and which side it was worn on would indicate specific fetish and dominant/submissive preferences.
    • The apron that goes with the Bavarian dirndl-dress. The side on which the ribbon is located indicates whether a woman is single or married, or a widow. Most commonly seen on the Oktoberfest nowadays.
    • The typical hats of some regions of the Black Forest: Black means married, red means unmarried. At the time when the custom originated, unmarried women would have been looking for a husband by default.
    • Orthodox Jewish law requires women to wear head coverings after they get married.
  • Nuns originally wore a veil to signal that they were symbolically married to Christ, thus not looking for a spouse.
  • In the mid- to late 2000s, colored gel bracelets were a fad among schoolgirls. This led to a scare about the possibility that the bracelets were a code to what they'd be willing to do with guys, which was debunked by Snopes.
  • Snopes also debunked the modern fashion of sagging pants supposedly originating in prison via inmates using it to display their sexual availability.
  • Bewitched actress Elizabeth Montgomery wore a heart-shaped locket (both in Real Life, and on-screen as Samantha) as a symbol of her marriage with her third husband, William Asher. After they divorced, she no longer wore the locket.
  • Jane Austen allegedly took to wearing a bonnet, the mark of a married woman, once she decided to remain a spinster.
  • The notoriously louche Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg was notorious for holding parties at which any woman who was willing to have sex with him could signal it by wearing blue shoes.
  • In feudal times in Japan (and even today in some traditional towns and in the Geisha culture), the sleeves of women's kimono indicates the single/married status. Larger sleeves indicate a single woman, while shorter sleeves (only a bit larger than men's haori) indicate a married woman. The in-between sizes are referred also to an older single woman, dating a man and engaged, in order to large-to-short.


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