Research-Backed Tips on What to Wear on a First Date

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When it comes to first dates, you want to be sure you get it right.

Though first impressions are not only about looks, appearance does play a key role in how others perceive us. As many single people can attest, deciding what to wear on a first date can easily feel as daunting as the actual date itself. By understanding what to wear on a first date, you can increase your chances of hitting it off and, hopefully, scoring a second date— especially when your outfit is backed by science.

Using research from behavioral scientists and psychological studies on attraction, we are breaking down what to wear and— just as importantly— what not to wear on a first date. Though the best outfit for a first date depends largely on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, these tips should help you put your best-dressed foot forward.

According to Experts, Here’s What to Wear on a First Date to Increase Your Chances of Success.

Wear Something That Makes You Feel Confident

The best outfit to wear on a first date is one that makes you feel like your best self. Though it sounds cliché, behavioral research proves that when you look good, you feel good. This link between what we wear and how we feel is known as the theory of enclothed cognition.  

In a 2012 study, researchers at Northwestern University found that clothing can alter a wearer’s psychological state and improve performance. One test group was instructed to wear white lab coats worn by doctors (a garment associated with intelligence and carefulness), while the other group wore plain clothes while performing a series of attention-related tasks. Those who wore lab coats performed better on the tests, making fewer errors and exhibiting an improved attention span.

By applying this theory to your date night outfits, you could potentially influence both your date’s subconscious and your own. Wearing items symbolically associated with success and sex appeal— such as a little black dress or a well-tailored suit jacket— may help you feel more confident while you flirt.

When in Doubt, Wear Red or Black

According to color psychologists, the best colors to wear on a first date are red and black. Wearing the two romantic colors, especially if you’re a woman, can make you appear more attractive and more desirable to your date. While there are obvious subconscious ties to red roses, lacy lingerie, and romantic occasions like Valentine’s Day, scientists found the connection rubs deeper than these cultural contexts.

In 2008, two University of Rochester psychologists stated, “the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women. And men are unaware of the role the color plays in their attraction.” An even more fascinating discovery was that men are willing to spend more on a date if the woman is wearing red.

Similarly, a 2018 study of over 600 participants of a British reality dating show called, “First Dates” found that black is the most popular color for a first date regardless of gender or sexual preference. Though perceived as a “safer” color choice than red, it still helped wearers appear more fashionable and attractive.

Avoid Wearing Orange and Brown

Understanding what to wear on a first date is certainly helpful but knowing what not to wear on a first date is equally as important—if not more. According to color psychologists, it’s best to steer clear of orange and brown for first date outfits and interviews.  

In a survey of 1000 people conducted by the British wholesale company Buy T-Shirts Online, participants were asked to match colors with corresponding personality traits of the wearer. Orange and brown received the least associations with confidence, intelligence, and sexiness— three of the highly sought-after qualities in a first date. Unsurprisingly, black and red received the highest number of associations with these positive traits.  

In the same color association study, only 2% of women and 8% of men said they would wear brown on a first date, and only 2% of women and 6% of men thought orange was an okay color to wear on a first date. So why were orange and brown the most unpopular for first date outfits? 

Once again, it comes down to color psychology. Orange is a color used to get people’s attention. It’s used for caution signs, construction cones, and safety gear, so wearing orange on a first date can send subconscious signals that you’re superficial, attention-seeking, and even arrogant. Brown has the opposite effect. While it’s totally okay to sport brown accessories (preferably a pair of sleek leather oxfords or your favorite handbag), wearing too much brown can make you appear boring and overly serious.

Wear Something Comfortable and Practical

Body language is another key part of making a good first impression on a date. Small cues like subtly leaning in or making prolonged eye contact communicate your attraction without needing to say a word. Similarly, negative body language sends nonverbal cues to your date that you aren’t interested.  

According to body language research, one of the biggest turn-offs on a date is appearing physically closed-off. Crossing your arms, clutching an object to your chest or stomach, or keeping your hands tucked in your pockets make you appear closed off and unavailable.

Wearing an uncomfortable outfit is a surefire way to send nonverbal signals that you aren’t having a good time. While you may be crossing your arms to keep warm because you didn’t bring a coat or holding your purse over your stomach because your dress feels too tight, it’s easy for your date to interpret your body language to mean something else.

Plus, wearing a first date outfit that’s comfortable and practical allows you to stay fully engaged in the conversation. Instead of thinking about how your shoes are rubbing or your shirt keeps riding up, you can focus on creating a deeper connection with the person across the table.


Show Off Your Neck Instead of Your Chest

Showing a bit of cleavage on a first date may help catch your partner’s attention, but showing too much may actually hurt your chances of finding love. Women who wear overly revealing outfits on a first date are often perceived as being superficial and promiscuous instead of demure and seductively sexy. Avoid wearing super low-cut tops and dresses that make you appear less like wife material and more like a one-night stand.

Instead of drawing attention to your chest, focus on your neck and shoulder area instead. The neck is one of the most vital areas of the body, both when it comes to survival and romantic attraction. This is especially important if your first date is virtual, as you’ll only be seen from the chest up on camera. Try sweeping your hair to one side or wearing a top with an open neckline.

Think of yourself as a turtle in its shell: Exposing your neck sends signals that you’re relaxed and comfortable in your surroundings, while hiding your neck shows you’re nervous, threatened, and on alert. Plus, your neck contains a large collection of pheromones that can increase your partner’s attraction towards you.

Avoid Looking Overly Trendy or Unapproachable

When it comes to first dates, it’s best to stick to simple outfits using classic styles. Clothing that’s super trendy or fashion-forward can make you appear materialistic and unapproachable. The goal is for your first date outfit to seem effortless— even if it took hours of careful planning and multiple group FaceTime calls with your friends to create.

For men, try a basic t-shirt or button-up with jeans or chinos styled with a belt, dressy shoes, and a nice watch. For women, go with a little black dress or a casual blouse and jeans finished with feminine accessories and a natural makeup look. Stick to solid colors or small-scale prints and avoid anything with loud patterns and obnoxious colors that may distract your date.

Opt for a Natural Makeup Look

Wearing makeup on a date is a great way to boost your confidence, but a 2011 study funded by Procter & Gamble found that a full face of heavy makeup may negatively impact how you’re perceived. It’s best to stick with a moderate amount of makeup and steer clear from looks with heavy contrast, such as a berry red lip or smoky eye.

In the cosmetics study, participants were shown photos of women wearing four makeup looks ranging from barefaced to full beat and asked to rate things like likeability, trust, attractiveness, and competence. The results found that viewers gave more attention to women wearing makeup and perceived them as more competent. 

“If you wear a glam look, you should know you look very attractive,” at least at first, said Harvard psychology professor Nancy Etcoff, one of the lead researchers on the study. But as time passes, “there may be a lowering of trust, so if you are in a situation where you need to be a trusted source, perhaps you should choose a different look.”

Be Yourself

Our final piece of advice on what to wear on a first date is simple. Be yourself. Cheesy as it sounds, the most important thing you can do on a date is to look and act like your authentic self. And what you wear can be a big part of that.

Clothes don’t have much meaning by themselves, but they take on a whole new significance once they’re put into context. Your outfit should reflect your personal style and provide your date with a snapshot of your personality. Wear something that makes you feel like you, whether that be your favorite color, your go-to cologne, or your lucky pair of shoes.