Female ornaments in animals with conventional sex roles have traditionally been considered non–functional, being merely a genetically correlated response to selection for male ornamentation. Alternatively, female ornaments may be influenced by selection acting directly on the females, either through female–female competition or male choice. We tested the latter hypothesis in mate choice experiments with bluethroats (Luscinia s. svecica), a passerine bird in which females vary considerably in coloration of an ornamental throat patch. In outdoor aviaries placed in prime breeding habitat, males were allowed to choose between a colourful and a drab female. We found that males associated more with, and performed more sexual behaviours towards, colourful females. Female coloration was not age–related, but correlated significantly with body mass and tarsus length. Thus, we have demonstrated both a male preference for female ornamentation, and a relationship between ornament expression and female body size, which may be indicative of quality. Our results refute the correlated response hypothesis and support the hypothesis that female ornamentation is sexually selected.