Walking to the store the other day, I found myself bored and unable to brain. Then a woman passed me wearing sandals (it’s summer up here, after all) and bright red toenail polish. That gave me something to do: I decided to count the colors on the feet of all the women who passed me until I got to the store and then to my place. The only criteria were that I had to pass the women on the sidewalk, going either way, and that their toes were exposed so I could see if they were wearing pollish and, if so, what color. Here’s the total out of 28 women surveyed:
- 19 red
- 3 no polish or colorless polish
- 6 other colors: 1 white, 1 green, 2 purple, 2 blue
This is exactly the kind of experiment the great Victorian polymath Francis Galton, Darwin’s half cousin, would have done. Besides his huge contributions to statistics, he was always conducting crazy little studies to satisfy his curiosity, including surveying the women from various cities of Britain to see which city’s women were the most beautiful (as I recall, he had a card that he’d secretly punch when he saw a woman). You can see the winning and losing cities here.
My conclusion: women favor red toenail polish over other colors—by a large margin. I’m sure that one would get the same result if one surveyed fingernail polish, which I didn’t do. And, of course, it hasn’t escaped my notice that red lipstick is by far the favorite among colors. One might be able to get similar results simply by tallying the various colors on sale at drugstores or the beauty counters of department stores.
When I told one of my women friends this result, she said that she herself would never bare her toes without colored polish, and it was invariably red. When I said, “Why red?”, she answered “Because I like it.”
Well, that’s the proximate explanation, but I want to know why they like it. There has to be some reason why red is the most popular color. One explanation, of course, is simply that it’s the most visible or striking color, and thus calls attention to the toes, fingers, and lips. But then, why red rather than orange or bright yellow?
Now I’m sure that evolutionary psychologists have dealt with this question, and I’m almost as sure that the answers are varied. I would bet, knowing nothing about this question, that the answers involve either invoking the colors of berries gleaned by our ancestors, or the resemblance between the red color of the polish and the color of a woman’s excited nether parts (well, they’re not really red). Support for the latter hypothesis comes from the notion that the redder a woman’s lips are, the more sexual she is.
As for me, I’m content to have done my little survey, confident that the results are pretty general, and I’ll leave it to the evolutionary psychologists to provide hypotheses. Maybe some of them would even be testable. Can we color the nails of female chimpanzees or baboons and see what happens?
I would, of course, particularly like to hear from women readers, either adding to the tally or explaining their choice of colors (or why they don’t use color).