The way to a man's heart is not through his stomach, suggestive undergarments or a hefty dowry.
It's the color red.
A pair of researchers say they have scientific proof that the color red - "female red" they call it - is the real key to the attraction between men and women, and could ultimately affect our standards of beauty.
University of Rochester psychologists Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta conducted five controlled experiments to determine what Hallmark and Victoria's Secret already know, perhaps. The ripe, warm hue of Valentine's Day and bad-girl lipstick attracts menfolk for reasons even the men can't fathom.
"Red, relative to other achromatic and chromatic colors, leads men to view women as attractive and more sexually desirable. Men seem unaware of this red effect," said Mr. Elliot.
The shade also does not have much effect on whether a man thinks a woman is likable, kind or smart, he said. And there is no cross-gender red effect, either.
"Red does not influence women's perceptions of the attractiveness of other women," he added.
The research presents a singular cultural moment, and perhaps the demise of the proverbial little black dress.
"The findings have clear practical implications for men and women in the mating game, and perhaps for fashion consultants, product designers and marketers," the study stated.
The power of "female red" hinges on societal conditioning and deeper biological roots - like blushing and ovulation - the authors said. Red could also shake up our perceptions of beauty.
"Research on women's attractiveness tends to focus on physical characteristics such as facial symmetry or waist-to-hip ratio. But in our work we have shown that red can serve as a nonphysical factor influencing women's appeal to men," Mr. Elliot said.
This is the first research to quantify such subtle reactions, he added.
The studies of 149 men and 32 women presented test subjects with a simple series of photographs featuring women with red versus white backgrounds, or wearing white or red blouses. Across the board, the men ascribed attractive qualities to women showcased with some red element - and were even more willing to spend more money on a date with the "red" female.
The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Other researchers are also pro-red. An analysis released in August by German psychologists at the University of Munster, for example, found that referees were more inclined to favor teams clad in crimson.
Not everyone thinks that red is the new black, however.
The 2009 Pantone Fashion Color Report for home and closet released in mid-September lists fuchsia, rose, soft turquoise, lemon yellow, citron, slate gray, vibrant green, sea green and lavender among the must-have colors du jour.
Red is not the best choice in troubled times, apparently.
"Encourage hopeful attitudes with lively colors. Sophisticated, grounded hues address the need for stability in times of economic uncertainty," said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.