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Fashion-Based Relationship Cue

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"Ah, to be a young woman with enormous sleeves."
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.

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


  • Diamonds in the Buff, when nothing is worn except strategically-placed jewelry.
  • Ready for Lovemaking, when a character dresses provocatively to make clear that they are feeling amorous.
  • Ring on a Necklace, which is often (but not always) used to indicate the wearer being (a) secretly engaged or married, or (b) bereaved.
  • Virgin in a White Dress, where a girl or a woman wears white to show that she is a virgin, or where people make that assumption about her.
  • Visual Development, when appearance changes are used to indicate inner changes in a character.
  • Widow's Weeds, when someone wears black clothes or a black accessory to show mourning.
  • Wedding Ring Removal, in which a married character tries to hide their relationship status.

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


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    Comic Books 
  • Hawkman: In the Silver Age, 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 Works 
  • 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.
  • Xenophilia: Lero makes his relationship with Rainbow Dash public by wearing one of her flight feathers in his hair.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender novel The Dawn of Yangchen, Kavik notices that Tayagum and Akuudan, who are both men, are wearing armbands with carved stone pendants attached and deduces that it's their interpretation of the betrothal necklace of the Northern Water Tribe, which is traditionally given by a man to a woman. Akuudan's armband has several pendants, which is not traditional either; apparently, Tayagum wasn't very good at carving at first and kept trying to make better ones, and Akuudan insisted on keeping all of his attempts.
  • The Bridge Kingdom Archives: A woman from Maridrina gets a pair of marriage knives on the day of her wedding ceremony. They are supposed to be used by her husband to defend her honor and they are more often than not very decorative (jewel-studded hilts and sheaths and so on) but not very practical (or even sharp).
  • Esther Friesner: In 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.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: Hawkbrothers indicate they're in a serious relationship by wearing a feather from their partner's bondbird as a hair ornament.
  • In the Landish/Winters series Highest Bidder, a BDSM club provides coloured armbands to its entrants. The colour symbolizes whether its wearer is interested in sex, where their limits are, what fetishes they have, etc. There is also a tradition of giving one's submissive a personalized collar (or more subtle collar-like necklace), which, if accepted, indicates the submissive is in a committed relationship.
  • 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).
  • Kushiel's Legacy: A courtesan's marque is a full-length back tattoo, the completion of which symbolizes the end of their indenture. A courtesan who bares their mark publicly is signifying that they're looking for business offers.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha: After losing her virginity, a geisha who wears her hair in the split-peach style uses a red fabric wrap rather than a patterned one as the base.
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • Charmed (2018): In one episode, a fraternity throws a party where guests indicate their interest in a hookup via color of shirt: red for "not interested," green for "come at me." Maggie has recently broken up with Parker and is still bitter about it, so she resolves to wear the absolute greenest thing she can find. She sees Parker there wearing red, indicating that he's still interested in getting back together with her, and he's not happy that she's wearing green.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation: Jay has special bracelets that he gives to any girl who comes with him to the ravine and gives him a blow-job. Emma gets one even though she initially refuses (though she comes around eventually). Later Jay's girlfriend Alex realizes what the bracelets Emma and various other girls are wearing refer to, which in turn helps the student body trace who's been exposed to Jay's gonorrhea.
  • Good Sports: Toyed with 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.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ravenloft: Two bordering provinces use headscarves as indicators of women's marital status. Unfortunately, they use them to indicate exact opposites (married in one, unmarried in the other), which causes no end of diplomatic incidents when people from across the border visit.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: Snow and Serah exchange special necklaces when they get engaged.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: In Hubert's paired ending with Bernadetta, they signify their marriage by wearing matching embroidered flowers.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: In Zora culture, it's tradition for the princess of the royal family to present the person she wants to marry with a suit of custom-made armor. Mipha crafted a set of the armor to give to Link for that purpose, but sadly, she was killed in battle before she was able to tell him how she really felt.

  • 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 
  • Looming Gaia:
    • Married Evangelite women wear headscarves. Married Evangelite men are expected to grow moustaches, but it's not as much of a hard rule.
    • Male gnomes wear green hats when they're single, red hats when they're married, and blue hats if they're widowed.
    • Some centaurs, and sometimes non-centaurs marrying them (such as the ogre divine Okatogg), traditionally get matching facial tattoos when they marry.
    • Roach has a fish hook on his nose because it's a symbol of marriage in Ekkos.
  • Tales of MU: "Middling" elven femalesnote  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.
  • hololive: When Kiara Takanashi (who is Austrian) got a new character model wearing a dirndl, she tried to explain to the Japanese artists that the side the dress is tied on indicates the woman's marital status. However, something got miscommunicated and her model's dirndl has the tie on the wrong side, leaving Kiara to joke "I guess I'm married now".

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Northern Water Tribe has betrothal necklaces made by the prospective groom for engaged women. It doesn't seem to be the tradition in the Southern Water Tribe, because Gran Gran brought her betrothal necklace from up north and passed it on to her daughter and then onto Katara as a family heirloom without ever mentioning the man who had given it to her. Katara only learns the significance of the necklace when she visits the Northern Water Tribe herself and is surprised to be asked who her fiance is.
    • The Legend of Korra: Sharp-eyed viewers have noticed that Katara now wears a slightly different necklace - one that's a bit wonkier and less precisely made, leading to a fan theory that Aang struggled to carve it himself when he asked her to marry him.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Word of God is that rather than exchanging rings or anything like that, married couples exchange their favorite pieces of clothing. It's never stated outright, but Adora's Imagine Spot shows Catra wearing some of her clothes, while Glitter is wearing some of Bow's clothes. Likewise, the audience can spot married couples because they have a piece of clothing that doesn't match their style and color scheme. Unfortunately, the animators forgot about this detail with Bow's dads; the creators joked afterwards that the pair exchanged socks.

    Real Life 
  • In Western culture, engagement and wedding rings worn on the third finger of the left hand are the most ubiquitous way to show that one is in a committed relationship. However, not everyone wears their ring(s) as intended. For instance, someone who works with heavy machinery might have their ring on a necklace under their shirt as a safety precaution. Also, someone widowed may continue wearing their ring(s), at least until they're ready to date again.
  • In traditional Hawaiian culture, if a woman wears a flower behind her right ear, it means she's single; behind the left ear means she's taken.
    Host at a tourist luau: And if she's wearing flowers behind both ears? Run.
  • The traditional Irish Claddagh Ring can be worn in four different ways, with four different meanings: if it's worn as a traditional wedding ring, it'll be on the left hand with the crown pointing towards the wearer. If the crown points away, it means the wearer is engaged. Likewise, if worn on the right hand, it means "in a relationship" if the crown points towards the wearer, and "single" if the crown points away.
  • In Victorian England, green ties were worn as code to indicate homosexuality.
  • The "hanky code" from the 1970s Gay Cruising scene (and most prominently used by the leather subculture) 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 at 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.
  • Christian nuns traditionally wear veils and, in older times, other head coverings associated with married women like wimples and bonnets, to signal that they are symbolically married to Christ thus not looking for a spouse.
  • In the '80s and '90s, a man wearing a single earring in the right ear was often a coded signal of being gay, and people talked seriously about making sure you didn't accidentally pierce the wrong ear.
  • 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 sexually, 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.
  • A plain black ring is often worn by swingers as a subtle signal to others in the lifestyle that they are available. Ironically, a plain black ring is also used as a signal of asexuality, which may cause some confusion between these two subcultures.
  • 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 indicate 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.
  • In Amish culture, the distinctive beards worn by the men indicate marriage status, under the belief that it's more permanent than a piece of jewelry that can be conveniently removed.
    • Married Amish women wear white bonnets to cover their hair while unmarried women wear black, but this only applies for when they go to church, as otherwise both married and unmarried women wear white.
  • Female members of Moravian communities would wear ribbons on their caps where the colors would indicate their choir, or age and marital status. Girls wore bright red, single women of marrying age wore pink, married women wore blue, and widows wore white. The custom is long gone in modern times, but re-enactors in historical communities can still be seen with them.