It has been proposed that levels of fluctuating asymmetry (FA) may be used in establishing and maintaining dominance hierarchies, as asymmetry reflects aspects of individual quality. However, previous manipulations of FA have failed to reveal that the level or outcome of agonistic intra-sexual interactions are affected by levels of FA. In female European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), correlational data suggest that FA of the speckled chest plumage may be related to dominance status. These data are confounded, however, by total number of spots on the chest and the proportion of the chest that is white, both of which positively covary with chest asymmetry. Thus, we deconfounded the effects of these plumage traits on dominance by experimentally manipulating the number of spots and spot number asymmetry in a factorial design. The results indicated that dominance is influenced by the number of spots on the chest, but not by spot asymmetry. Birds with spottier chests were dominant over birds with experimentally decreased spot number. We suggest that female starlings' chests are exposed to extensive abrasion throughout the breeding season and so are susceptible to damage asymmetries that may mask the `true' fluctuating asymmetry of the trait. This may devalue the use of chest asymmetry as a quality indicator. Spottier chests may be costly to maintain, in part because of increased susceptibility to abrasion, and so may be a better indicator of quality than asymmetry.