Butterflies are among nature's most colorful animals, and provide a living showcase for how extremely bright, chromatic and iridescent coloration can be generated by complex optical mechanisms. The gross characteristics of male butterfly colour patterns are understood to function for species and/or sex recognition, but it is not known whether female mate choice promotes visual exaggeration of this coloration. Here I show that females of the sexually dichromatic species Hypolimnas bolina prefer conspecific males that possess bright iridescent blue/ultraviolet dorsal ornamentation. In separate field and enclosure experiments, using both dramatic and graded wing colour manipulations, I demonstrate that a moderate qualitative reduction in signal brightness and chromaticity has the same consequences as removing the signal entirely. These findings validate a long-held hypothesis, and argue for the importance of intra- versus interspecific selection as the driving force behind the exaggeration of bright, iridescent butterfly colour patterns.