Ah, winter. The season of pasty, dry skin, holiday weight gain, and chapped noses. It's also the season where men find women most attractive. Well, our bodies, at least.
Men in a Polish study were shown pictures of women's faces, their bodies in bikinis or their breasts, for each season throughout the year (this study was conducted in Europe, where exposed breasts are commonplace in advertising and on beaches).
The women were rated most attractive during the winter and least attractive during the summer. The reason? Scarcity versus surplus.
Researchers explain that men see so much female skin during the summer months that they become more selective and critical of what qualifies as attractive. But during the winter, with skin hidden under layers of clothing, a bare shoulder or chest is more of a rarity and therefore more appealing.
In most societies, our faces are on view year-round, and the participants attraction ratings to the female head shots remained unchanged from season to season.
This "contrast effect" must explain why, in decades past or in cultures where clothing is expected to cover most of our bodies, catching a glimpse of an ankle or wrist can be erotic.
I also think this applies to the "makeup effect" — if you wear a lot every day, people get used to your done-up look. Go without it one day and your coworkers start asking if you're feeling alright. Likewise, if you're generally barefaced, a touch of mascara or lipstick can go a long way.