The Collector: Sorry, the brothel's full.
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 _____". It doesn't necessarily have to be clothing items either; this is one area where Makeup 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 Stripperiffic fashions, males have some more flexibility on the trope dress code. Compare Need a Hand, or a Handjob? where an actual solicitation is mistaken for something non-sexual.
- 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.
- Kurosaki from Cocytus works at a coffee shop in the shopping district. Classmates at school spread a rumor that she's a prostitute and it's a source of bullying for her.
- In the second episode of Comic Girls, Ruki's classmates wonder if she is in a "shady profession" owing from her being chronically underslept. This is because she's a Sequential Artist, not than anything else.
- In Gate, some men think Yao Haa Dushi is a prostitute because of her good looks and Stripperific outfit and try to proposition her (2 men in the manga, several in the anime). She kicks the first few guys' asses and then makes the last one run away crying by claiming he has a Teeny Weenie.
- Ichaicha Suru to Okane ga Waichau Futari no Hanashi: Haru is heading to lunch with her friend Natsuki, but realizes she's forgotten her wallet. She sees Hojo, and runs into an alley with him, then emerges with money.note It's not hard to see how Natsuki gets the wrong idea.
- 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 Monthly Girls' 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.
- In Private Actress, Shiho meets Mariko Soriarno when she's being accosted by Japanese guys who think she's a prospect hooker after catching her in Shinjuku. Mariko angrily tries to brush them off and then Shiho comes to her aid.
- In the Slayers Special OVA, Lina and Naga the Serpent are hired by a woman who wants to make her son Jeffrey into a man... which the two interpret as the woman trying to hire Naga to sleep with him. Lina has to explain to the woman that even though Naga's outfit is Stripperiffic, the two of them don't do that sort of thing. Turns out she just wants to hire them as bodyguards.
- Inverted (sort of) in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?. Haruhime, the prostitute, is the one who mistakes Bell for a customer when he accidentally enters her room (he was actually there against his will and trying to escape), and she quickly starts offering her "service" before he can clear up the misunderstanding.
- Mentioned by Dave Barry, in an anecdote where the husband complains about the wife's driving, and she snaps Let's 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?"
- In Aztek, while waiting for Curt Falconer for their date, nurse Joy Page gets bothered by a guy thinking she's "hustling".
- Batgirl (2000): A supporting character sees Cassandra Cain meeting with Alfred, and interprets it the wrong way, despite Cass's attempts to correct her.
- Played intentionally in Copperhead by Bronson, who strips down to infiltrate a brothel and take one of the clients hostage.
- In Demon Knights a young girl sees Exoristos and says she "dresses like a tart" and Exoristos not only thanks her but asks if it's some sort of pastry.
- The Logan Legacy: While trying to wind down at a goth club following the death of Wolverine, X-23 is approached and propositioned by a man at the club. It's subverted a bit in that at one time in her life, Laura was a prostitute, however she has long since retired. She explains the situation and otherwise lets him down gently (as well as saving the John's life when the club is attacked by a pack of nihilistic idiots with too much time on their hands).
- During the Songs of the Orphan Child arc of her solo series, Laura encounters a young girl named Alice who approaches her in a diner. After a brief Sherlock Scan Laura deduces the girl is an abused prostitute, causing her to flee and get into a car with her pimp. Laura follows, and when she finds that the man has murdered her, she kills him in retaliation. Later, she and Gambit are captured by Ms. Sinister with the aid of Alice's Body Backup Drive clone, who reveals that her other self was not a prostitute at all: She was one of several clones Claudine Renko gave to Malcolm Colcord in his attempts to grant a Healing Factor to another subject, and the injuries Laura assumed were inflicted by her pimp were actually the result of testing to see if her healing factor was working. It wasn't, Alice was deemed defective, and she was instead purposed in an attempt to kidnap Laura. The man who killed her was her handler, not her pimp.
- 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 marriage,note whereupon yet another man propositions her. This time, she responds by beating him up.
- Persepolis: This happened to Marjane when she recounts her only meeting with a Kuwaiti refugee from The Gulf War where he is driving a nice car and accosts her while she is walking the street drinking soda. He harasses her asking "How much? How much" before she splashes her drink in his face in anger.
- Power Girl was suspected of being a prostitute by an alien magistrate who thought her attire was too indecent, having "unacceptable levels of cleavage". He got his brains blown out by Harley Quinn, who was accompanying her at the time.
- This happens to Red Sonja on a semi-regular basis; largely due to her habit of hanging around 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 Supergirl from Krypton (2004), a naked Supergirl wanders confused into an alley, having just woken up from her rocket, and is spotted by three workers. One of them mistakes her for a prostitute and decides to play Lothario only to have his hand crushed and be slammed through a wall. The second tries to help his friend. The third wisely proclaims he's not with the other two and offers her his coat.
- 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.
- The first issue of Vampirella Lives combines this trope with Mugging the Monster. The eponymous character and her guide are accosted by a group of ravenous vampires who assume she is a prostitute because of her attire. She proceeds to slaughter them all with the help of her ally.
- A Brighter Dark: Corrin assumes Kagero is a prostitute in their first encounter (though knowing this version of Corrin, she could have been joking).
- Discussed in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Smurfed Behind: The Passion Of The Smurfs", where Smurfette through time travel meets with the real Mary Magdalene and assumes that she was a prostitute, only to learn that Mary was mistaken for one.
- Naruto in For My Brother mistakes Anko for a hooker due to her clothing. When she complains about someone thinking she's a prostitute because of her clothes, he confusedly responds that he's on a first name basis with a hooker who wears the exact same outfit (Except she has a higher quality top).
- 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.
- A Knight and the Scouts: When Sailor Venus confronts the villain Vauquelin, an evil sorcerer pulled from the Middle Ages, he thinks she is a harlot because of her short-skirted outfit and won't stop insulting her about this.
- The Mountain and the Wolf: One of the Norscans tries to buy Melisandre, despite not speaking the language. The Wolf thinks it's hilarious, but it turns out he's wearing a torc that cancels magic, meaning he saw through Melisandre's glamour and thus saw only his henchman trying pay a hideous old crone for sex.
- 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.
- A short story within the Triptych Continuum series centers on this. Twilight, upon noting how bad Ponyville winters are, decides to make some extra bits teleporting others so they need not deal with the weather. Unfortunately, her familiarity with academic and technical terminology leaves her putting up flyers for Twilight's Escort Service.
- In Blessed with a Hero's Heart, a group of thugs who run into Kyouya's party mistakes Aqua and Clemea the Thief for prostitutes, due to the way they're dressed.
- In 12 Monkeys, when Dr. Railly takes Cole into a rundown hotel, the desk clerk, who would get a cut from the local pimp, calls the pimp to report a prostitute not giving him the kick-back.
- At the end of 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns, Holmes is settling into Amy's house and proceeds to describe the young woman waiting across the street whom he is certain is his next client. He deduces that she is a prostitute because no decent young woman would be wearing such a revealing outfit which he then describes. Amy gently corrects him, telling him that what he just described is the uniform of a 49ers cheerleader.
- A variation happens in Bridget Jones' Diary where Bridget goes to a "Prostitutes and Priests" themed costume party and isn't told that the costume part is off. Bridget's aunt introduces her to another guest called Penny dressed in an elaborate pink number saying that she wasn't told the theme had been called off either. There is a magnificent moment of awkwardness after Penny replies that she was told.
- Carry On Henry has Henry VIII picking up a farmer's daughter, who demands to be paid for sex. She is obviously not a prostitute, but she probably wants him to leave her alone.
- In God Bless America, a pedophile mistakes Roxy for a child prostitute and Frank, for her pimp.
- A Good Woman Is Hard To Find: Sarah gets hit on repeatedly by an older man who works in the market and believes she's working as a prostitute-he hints that he's interested, to her dismay.
- Hers: A mother and two daughters are rendered homeless when the tiny kiosk they have been living in is hauled away for demolition. At one point, when Mom is standing vigil outside the mayor's office demanding help, daughters Ariunaa and Barchimeg get a room in a flophouse hotel. They are promptly swept up in an anti-prostitution raid of the flophouse, and are arrested. They spend a traumatic night in jail before a friend shows up and gets them out.
- Jack Reacher: Jack meets a woman named Sandy at a bar, but doesn't tell her his name to remain undercover. When she invites him to drive with her, he tells her "I'm sorry I can't afford you." She gets offended and defends herself by saying that she isn't a hooker and that she works at the Auto Parts Store. When Jack says that that means he really can't afford her she gets even more offended, and Jack laments that an actual hooker would have gotten the joke.
- L.A. Confidential, while investigating a ring of movie-star lookalike call girls, the detective mistakes the actual Lana Turner for a hooker. While she's hanging out with her mafia boyfriend.
- This happens to Maudie Triplett (Mae West), in Night After Night (1932) starring George Raft as ex-boxer and current high-society speakeasy owner Joe Anton. West basically channels the amazing actress/entrepreneur/producer/saloon owner Texas Guinan (yes, the one you're familiar with was named for her) in her film debut.note Maudie makes friends with Mabel Jelliman, a Grande Dame who's giving Anton a catch-up course in higher education. Maudie offers Mabel a job, to which she responds politely that The Oldest Profession has made many important historical contributions to culture and society, but that she is too old. Maudie explains she runs a chain of elegant beauty parlors, not brothels, and she wants Mabel to be a hostess, which Mabel accepts happily.
- Inverted in Once Upon a Crime, where a jaded housewife meets a man in a casino who gives her a valuable chip. She assumes he thinks she's a prostitute and becomes deeply offended... because she was willing to sleep with him anyway to spite her husband. He explains that the chip was simply her share of his winnings for calling the right roulette number.
- In the 1992 comedy film Passed Away, a young woman by the name of Cassie shows up for the funeral of Jack Scanlon. Jack's eldest son Johnny assumes that Cassie is Jack's secret mistress, but when they get alone together, Johnny finds out that Cassie merely received financial help from Jack and was not in any way romantically involved with him.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Carina Smyth introduces herself as a horologist (someone who studies time), but the others think it means whore.
- Biggie Shorty in Pootie Tang dresses skimpily and likes to stand on the street (usually listening and dancing to Pootie's music). However, when two guys roll up in car and ask how how much she would charge to do them both, she starts physically assaulting them, pointing out that she's not a hooker. When one of them weakly tries to tell her that anyone would get the wrong idea based on how she looks, she increases the beating.
- The Quick and the Dead: When Lady first arrives at the saloon, the bartender tells her "Whores next door" without turning around. She quickly corrects his misapprehension by kicking the chair he is standing on out from underneath him.
- In The Scorpion King: Rise of a Warrior, a couple of guards think Layla is a wayward concubine when she attempts to distract them.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home: With Peter Parker's constant appearances and disappearances, odd explanations when asked where he's been, and worthwhile physique, at least one of his classmates thinks he's a male escort. It doesn't help that at one point, Peter is caught changing his clothes in front of a beautiful woman.
- In Strictly Sexual, two friends go to a bar known for having escorts and pick up two guys who claim to be construction workers, assuming they're actually prostitutes, only to find out they're actually construction workers.
- Inverted in Spring Break Lawyer. The protagonist's friend goes for a walk while at Spring Break and sees a girl on a street corner. It's blatantly obviously to anyone but him that she's a hooker, but he assumes that all her talk is just foreplay, even when she asks if he has cash. Except she's not a hooker but a cop, and he gets busted for soliciting a prostitute.
- Water (1985). The governor and his wife go to meet the famous movie star filming a Spenco advertisement at the well. The actor, assuming she's the hooker he demanded, slings her over his shoulder and proceeds to carry her off to his trailer.
Governor: I told you not to wear those shoes.
- Viper gets hit with this trope in The Wolverine. Being who she is, this goes badly for the potential John.
- Wonder Woman (2017): Discussed when Steve is concerned that Diana walking around London with him in her very revealing getup is going to get him arrested for solicitation.
- A staple of cheap romance novels of the "Rake meets Virgin" kind of course, the hero would never rape a decent woman, but he's hardly to blame if he mistakes her for a prostitute... as raping prostitutes is okay if he can pay. Or so we're told. Lots and lots of Unfortunate Implications.
- 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 A Brother's Price, Jerin manages to be mistaken for a whore (a female whore, that is; male prostitutes are never out on the streets unguarded) for a short period of time, but the disguise, consisting of makeup and a feather boa, doesn't fool the villains.
- Codex Alera: Happens briefly in Captain's Fury. Isana (who, as a powerful watercrafter, looks younger than she is) is mistaken for a prostitute by two policemen while she is hanging around outside a building in the upper-middle-class Craft Lane. Apparently it is not uncommon for wealthy students at the Academy to pay a prostitute to meet them closer to the school, then to not show up for various reasons. Unlike most examples of this trope the two policemen are relatively polite about the matter given the social norms, especially since Isana quickly realizes their mistake and manages to convince them that it would be unwise of them to make an issue of the situation (though not explicitly stated, the implication is that they believe she is a Lady incognito for some reason). They quickly leave her in peace, much to Isana's relief since she was in fact acting as a look-out while Kitai robbed the place. At least it provided a built-in excuse for her to hang around in the street...
- In the Discworld novel Men at Arms, Angua finds a notebook in Captain Vimes' 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 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 obliviouslynote 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 didnt get a wink of sleep, you know.
Youre a dark horse, Holy Man, arent you? Lanna smiled, and nodded at the Doctor. I know what you mean. I had one or two... meetings myself last night.
- 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 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.
- Friday picks up a guy for casual sex, then finds out afterwards that he's an Artificial Human like herself. She rushes to the transit station, and after futile hours of waiting and searching, she's politely asked to leave by a security official who assumes this trope. Friday realises the guy has long gone, so doesn't bother arguing and just leaves.
- 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.
- Masquerade of the Red Death: At one point, Dire McCann returns to his hotel room with both of his vampiric bodyguards ...both of whom are female and wearing tight clothing. The hotel security guard immediately makes this assumption, and has to be hit with vampiric Domination to avoid problems.
- 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).
- Rats, Bats and Vats: When Fitzhugh strands General Cartup-Kruetzler and his secretary/mistress Daisy outside of the command center as they engage in some horse-themed sexual exploits, Daisy is mistaken for a prostitute and propositioned by the military police when they try to get back in.
- In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Ford makes the logical assumption when he meets a woman on the streets of a Wretched Hive who tells him she has a special service she performs for rich people. It turns out she's a social economist who is paid to tell them it's okay to be rich.
- 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 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.
- On 2 Broke Girls, Max and Caroline thought Sophie was a prostitute when they first met her.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun:
- In an 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.
- In another episode, Nina thinks that she's been mistaken for being a prostitute, but actually Harry was just trying to play the role of the tooth fairy. It Makes Sense in Context.
- This cropped up with an amusing case of intentional Values Dissonance in Adam Adamant Lives! when after Adam (from the turn of the 20th century) passed out from a mixture of exhaustion and disorientation in the apartment of Georgina (from the, then current, 1960s). He couldn't apologies enough about how inappropriate it was for him to have spent the night on her sofa. Her trying to explain it wasn't a big deal, and that he wasn't the first man to spend the night on her sofa, lead him to assume she'd been driven to prostitution and to immediately offer to find her some menial work.
- Taken to horrific levels in All My Children. After being scarred in an accident, Julia Santos runs away from home and takes refuge in a seedy part of town with a local hoodlum. In a cruel irony, he treats her perfectly decently, but one of his associates assumes that she's a hooker and shows up at the apartment one night looking to make use of her supposed services. Despite her repeatedly telling him "no" and that she's not a prostitute, he ignores her protests and rapes her.
- Altered Carbon. Takeshi Kovacs' first instinct upon seeing that Poe brought a well-dressed woman to his room is to think she's a hooker (in fairness, he did ask Poe to arrange such services in the previous episode). She's actually his employer's attorney, who is unimpressed at this demonstration of an Envoy's legendary observational skills.
- 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.
- 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 Ashes to Ashes (2008) 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.
- Similarly, on As the World Turns, Emily sleeps with a man she meets in a bar. Only after he leaves her money does she realize that he assumed she was a hooker. She decides that she enjoys this and promptly begins a secret life as an escort. Not until she gets beaten up by a client does she realize how dangerous her behavior is.
- 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.
- 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]
- 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.
- Bones: The team assumed a victim was a prostitute due to the combination of what she was wearing, the fact that she could unhinge her jaw, and having been killed in an apartment she kept separate from her husband for "work purposes." It didn't help that her husband mentioned watching her "make a footlong disappear" during the interview. When Sweets outright calls her a prostitute, the husband takes offense and corrects them. She competed in eating contests, and she kept a private apartment for training because she needed complete concentration and her husband found it gross watching her practice scarfing down food so quickly.
- 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.
- 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.
- Inverted in Corner Gas, Davis mistakes a policewoman undercover as a prostitute for a ticket scalper. His ambiguous wording when trying to buy "merchandise" causes her to arrest him for soliciting.
Davis: Honestly, I didn't know you were a prostitute.
Policewoman: I'm not a prostitute, I'm a police officer pretending to be a prostitute.
Davis: I know, I get that. I just didn't think you were a prostitute. The outfit? Really didn't sell it for me.
Policewoman: Are you saying I don't know my job?!
Davis: No, I didn't— I mean— You look very... trashy.
Policewoman: Thank you.
- One episode of CSI: Miami had a living victim who had been drugged at a hotel. She was a prostitute at the time, but explains that it started due to this trope. She was having a drink at the hotel's bar, started flirting with a man, and wound up booking a room to sleep with him. After they finished up, he said "I know we didn't discuss price, but this should cover it," dropped $500 on the bed, and left. She was stunned, but rather than get offended, she went "Hey, money is money," and decided to make a career out of it.
- Doctor Who: In "The End of the World", after the Doctor tells Plant Alien Jabe that he and Rose aren't married, she assumes that Rose is a prostitute. Rose is not amused.
- Phoebe, who is a legitimate massage therapist, gets called into work while her half-brother is visiting and invites him to come along and get a massage from one of the other masseuses. Thanks to Frank being a horny idiot he assumes Phoebe works at the Happy-Ending Massage kind of "parlor" and hits on his masseuse. Jasmine corrects him by throwing him in a wristlock and marching him back to Phoebe.
- In season four Rachel's boyfriend is housesitting for his parents who come home early and find Rachel in the living room wearing her lingerie. Joshua's mother stammers out that the money they left him was to buy groceries and not anything else, implying that she thinks Rachel is a prostitute he hired.
- General Hospital:
- As Tiffany waits for her friend Laura outside the strip joint The Paradise Lounge (Laura has gone inside to speak with the owner), a beat cop assumes she's a hooker waiting for a client simply because she's wearing a fur coat. The idiot fails to recognize her either as a local celebrity (she's a TV reporter), or as the police commissioner's (his BOSS) wife.
- After remembering that she'd been sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend, Karen Wexler donned a provocative dress and wandered through a seedy part of town, possibly deliberately trying to invoke this. Indeed, an actual hooker orders her to get off her turf, and two creepy guys follow her until she manages to ditch them.
- There's an episode of Happy Endings where Alex is mistaken for a prostitute. Specifically, she's wearing an old-fashioned 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.
- How I Met Your Mother:
- Happens twice to Robin. 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.
- Zoe, Teds season 6 girlfriend, first met him when he mistook her for a drag queen prostitute, to be fair he was propositioned by one a few moments before meeting her.
- Impractical Jokers: Played for Comedy in the episode "Scarytales". Q is punished by beimg forced to portray a children's book author with a story the other guys wrote for him, entitled "The Remarkable Misadventures of Q the Dung Beetle", which he shows to a group of children and parents. The book itself features a fight between Q the Dung Beetle and his wife, who storms out. The next page is just her walking by a car which features another male dung beetle who asks "How much?" Q's response?
Q: Even dung beetles need companionship.
- 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 another episode, Dennis is mistaken for a gigolo while lounging around a country club. Subverted since his father Frank had set it all up.
- The Golden Girls: In "Ladies of the Evening", the trio goes on a vacation in Miami but end up being arrested under the assumption they're prostitutes. Blanche (who is the one who got them in the mess in the first place) makes it worse with her flirty attitude.
- Las Vegas: A meta-example in the pilot. Danny McCoy, the main character and Character Narrator for the first few episodes, is going through his work day and introducing the various supporting characters. After talking with his buxom colleague Mary, she walks off with one of her (older, male) clients, and Danny turns to the audience with "No, I know what you're thinking, and don't go there. Mary's not a hooker, she's our Special Events Director".
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
- The cops assume this about their Victim of the Week, given how she's dressed and the part of town she's in. They're confused when her autopsy shows her to be in perfect health and with good hygiene, something highly unlikely for a working girl and soon realize that she was just a typical college girl out for a night of partying. And her killer didn't mistake her for a hooker either—it was her boyfriend whose sex games got too rough.
- Happens again in another episode with another girl who is assumed to be a hooker—but who is actually a Teen Genius whose killer is a jealous classmate.
- In Life in Pieces, Matt and Colleen try to have sex in his car by the side of a road because they can't find any other place to be alone. They're stopped by a cop who angrily mutters that prostitutes never learn that it's not a good idea to do so.
- 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.
- 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.
- Modern Family: In "Written In The Stars", Jay and Gloria go to a restaurant for Valentine's Day, where they roleplay as a client and a prostitute. Unfortunately, their act is too convincing and the manager asks them to leave.
- 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?
- This is how D'Artagnan and Constance meet in The Musketeers.
- The Nanny: In "Where's The Pearls?", Fran gets amnesia and mistakenly thinks she's Maxwell's wife, until he tries to set things straight.
Maxwell: Look, I'm not your husband.
Fran: Oh, my God! We're not married?!Maxwell: The truth is I hired you.Fran: I'm a hooker?! Well, that explains my shoes.
- In the very first episode, Black Jack and the Highlanders all think Claire might be a prostitute because her (quite modest) 1940s white dress looks like underwear to them-and because she's brash and unafraid to swear.
- Claire is later mistaken for a prostitute by other prostitutes in a brothel, though its understandable as she came down from the upstairs room which Jamie rents after having had sex with him.
- When Brianna first approaches him, Jamie mistakes her intentions as a proposition, telling her that he's married.
- 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.
- 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, and he's arrested.
- Sex and the City: Carrie is at a cheap motel, waiting for her married lover to secure a room for their liaison. Another man talks to her, mentioning that he's seen her at the motel before, and asks her "How much?", having assumed she's an escort.
- Silent Witness. In "Finding Rachel", Nikki Alexander investigates a crime in Africa, and is warned against wearing her jeans for this reason.
- Sisters. Daughter Reed starts an escort service. When a man asks her mother Alex out on a date, she's shocked and horrified at the lewd advances the man makes, and even more shocked when he tells her that he assumed she was one of Reed's call girls, having seen the two together.
- In Skins, Alex gets mistaken for a prostitute.
- A rare gender inverted example in The Two Ronnies serial "The Worm That Turned", but then it does take place in a female supremacist dictatorship where all gender roles are inverted.
- This frequently happens to Kimmy on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
- The White Lotus: The hotel's lounge singer mistakes Mia for a prostitute and straight up asks her how much she charges. In his defense, Mia herself had commented earlier that her outfit and makeup did made her look like a prostitute. It's somewhat understandable as she came with her friend Lucia, who is a prostitute.
- Wynonna Earp: When Doc Holliday first meets Wynonna in Shorty's, he assumes she is a prostitute. It is only when she mentions her name that he realises that she is a descendant of his old partner.
- Invoked by a 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. The twin boys she gives birth to are acknowledged as her and Judah's children.
- In the Song of Songs, the Shulamite worries that her Beloved is going to see her as "one who veils herself", which in Biblical times is usually the sign of a prostitute.
- Forgotten Realms "Spin a Yarn" story from 2003:
Storm shrugged. "I was acting the part of a very moral noble lady of Cormyr then.""Are there any very moral noble ladies of Cormyr?" the Simbul asked the ceiling, but any answer Storm might have made was lost in Qilue's query, "So what did you tell the officer?"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, and Ella gets highly offended when she suddenly realizes that Barnes was assuming that kind of Madam.
- Happens to Princess Solange in Code of Princess because of her Stripperific outfit. An enemy soldier thinks she looks familiar, like "that girl on the street corner," Jade or Jasmine or whatever. His comrade eventually points out that she's the princess they're after and had encountered earlier.
- Happens quite a lot to The Princess in A Dance with Rogues.
- Done subtly in Endless Frontier, when Haken introduces Kaguya to his father, John Moses:
John: Who's this? I don't think I asked for one today, but I won't say no!
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has Kendl wearing nothing but shorts and a tied up shirt, making herself quite revealing. Her brother, Sweet, scolds her for how she dresses and tells her that she looks like a hooker, but she brushes it off as her brother being paranoid and overprotective. Later on, Kendl runs to CJ complaining about how a bunch of construction workers were hitting on her and trying to show her "a good time". CJ gives payback by killing all the workers and pushing the port-a-potty with the foreman inside down a pit and filling it with cement.
- Grand Theft Auto V has Tonya (an actual prostitute) believing that her childhood friend Franklin has become a rentboy due to vaguely sourced gossip. It's true in that Franklin has been hanging out with a rich white guy, but only as his protégé as a professional criminal, nothing more.
- In Mass Effect 2 a female Shepard has this exchange with a Batarian recruiter on Omega, who uses the trope as an insult.
Recruiter: Well, aren't you sweet. You're in the wrong place, honey. Stripper's quarters are that way.(Shepard pulls out her gun.)Shepard: Show me yours, tough guy. I bet mine's bigger.
- Also subtly done in Under Night In-Birth, when Akatsuki meets Hilda:
"Okay... Going by your appearance only, I thought you were one of these professionals who ply their trade at night..."
- In ATOM GRRRL!!, Big E does not take kindly to a police officer trying to bribe sexual favors out of her.
- Reigning Passions: Inverted in Xenia's first episode. When she tells the heroine that she needs her to "play a role for [her]" (posing as a princess, as she is soon to clarify), the heroine thinks she's being solicited.
Heroine: (Turning red) I don't know who you think I am, but this is not a brothel, and you can't just—
- In Captain SNES: The Game Masta, 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.
- Latchkey Kingdom: In the side-story "The Toy", the titular Living Toy advertises himself as a "plaything for hire", drawing the ire of the local prostitution guild which doesn't like competition. After some explanations, he's hired into the guild's daycare to entertain the kids of guild personnel.
- 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 Pandora's Tale, Pandora is assumed to be sex worker by a visitor to the club, based solely on the fact that she's a Helper.
- 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. (Shodan, at least, figures there is a wrong way to bring it up. Tagon just goes full bore, however. "Fire in the hole!")
- American Dad!: In "Adventures In Hayleysitting", Steve and his friends sneak off to a party while Hayley is supposed to be watching them. Hayley catches them, but gets drunk at the party. Steve is forced to drive home, since they just learned that their parents will be home early. Steve gets pulled over by a cop, who assumes Hayley is a prostitute that the boys have hired. Hayley doesn't take offense to this and instead seemed flattered.
- In The Cleveland Show Halloween Episode "Escape from Goochland", Donna confiscates Roberta's hooker costume. Cleveland convinced Donna to wear it. Later, she got arrested for being mistaken for a real one. As she was thrown into the police van with actual hookers, she tries to tell the cops she's just wearing a costume, even the hookers believe she's one too and mock her denial.
- In The Simpsons episode "Mobile Homer", a Turkish sea captain said Marge "dressed like a Lebanese Prostitute".
Marge: (covering her chest) Well if he thinks he's getting a corner piece, forget it.