As fierce as your red lipstick- the beauty you know, the history you don’t

history of red lipstick

There hardly would be any elegance on earth that a single stroke of red lipstick cannot endow you with. While all lipsticks indeed are as pivotal as can be in altering looks or even rendering them dramatic, there’s no end to the repertoire of power that a pick in red will paint you with. From edgy and bold to pretty and feminine, from sensuously hot to a glamorous pout, surrendering yourselves to the infinite lure of red lipsticks opens up a world of possibilities galore.

Even as businesswomen and fashionistas, purists and critics, ladies and lasses douse their lips in fiery shades of red or soothing tones of it everyday as they set about work- doing, preaching, professing or even as they set about to stun- relaxing and ravishing, these scores and tons and millions of women are in fact embracing a power they rarely recognise they have. This very influential name that spans the world of makeup in a shade as elementary as red and yet as fierce as it to emerge as one of the harbingers of revolution in recent and some not so recent times should not come as much of a surprise. And yet it does, for seldom have we gone beyond the innate beauty and intense sexuality of the red to dwell instead in its power and prestige. In its very, very surprising history, red lipsticks however are more than just makeup- in fact they ‘make up’ at least part of the privilege of the present influential stature of women.

There’s of course no denying the sensuality that working any shade of red lipstick instantly prepares you for. From deep lipstick shades to rule your everyday look to stand out hues to do up your prime time fashion essentials, there’s indeed a pick of red for every occasion. You want to go glam and confident, make a luscious red your choice. If secret, sinister is more your kind of mood, opt for some red in darker tones. If however you want to do fun and pretty this time around, bright picks will set the look for you. In its panoply of tinges and bevy of mix and matches, red will forever do the trick for you. What however it has been doing in much pronounced a fashion yet less appreciated a fad over the years is the incredible reward of free existence it has empowered more and more women with over the years.

While the influence of red lipstick on much of what shapes up present day universal liberation for women traces to such events and happenings taking place at the turn of the 20th century, the history of red lipstick in all its aberrations and ‘aspirations’ find root way behind in ancient times. Even in its history, the red lipstick remains rooted in revolutionary ideals. Stemming back to the times of the 3000 BC in the Mesopotamia and Rome of those days, the red lipstick has seen confounded prevalence, albeit in contradictory measures. Whether that be as pick by the elites of Egypt or the prostitutes of Greece, one thing however is apparent- the red lipstick has held its sheen in asserting dominance through the ages. Even as ordinary women were prevented from wearing lipstick in ancient Greece, the prevailing laws of the land however granted greater power to the prostitutes by which account they could wear red lip paint, that however was made with such ingredients as obnoxious as red dye, sheep sweat and crocodile excrement. But this upper hand that the prostitutes gained in terms of the red privilege also faulted them if they ever appeared in public without wearing the same! All in all, this indeed was a clash of powers- even in rendering them powerful, these women were actually being stripped of even their basic rights.

But even as ancient Romans fared better than their Greek counterparts when it came to painting their lips, it however was always the church that had condemned the red lipstick, rather of any color, for it seemingly challenged the workmanship of God. This religious bias continued, even as social standings once again came to dictate color preferences for lipstick fanciers- pink tones for the Italian society ladies and earthy red notes for the lower class. But perhaps the most remarkable adage that has cemented the position of red lipstick as a symbol of impactful beginnings was what is popular in history as the Kiss of Death. Whether we attribute it to the legendary beauty of Cleopatra or the almost stoic image of a ‘painted’ Queen Elizabeth, red lips have been immortalised in history. This, despite the fact that the red dye continued to encompass such elements that were invariably toxic even in the face of gradual evolution and the red lipstick soon embarked on a path to script history on its own.

But even in barging forward as a status element that invited all the more attention perhaps because of the many aversions registered against it, the lipstick continued to be the basis for some of the weirdest laws in civilised history. A British law condemned lipstick on the basis that “women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by cosmetic means could be tried for witchcraft.” The American equivalent went a step further ahead, allowing for marriages to be annulled if the woman had painted their lips during the period of courting as it amounted to ‘trickery’! In even the most ridiculous of assertions the red lipstick persisted and thankfully that it did. For the most significant era that would come to define the stature of the red lipstick as a symbol of power had only begin to dawn by then.

During the 18th century and in the lead up to the era that would radically redefine the red prowess of the lipstick, the fad of the shade somewhat died out during the Victorian era. However it was revived, attributable mainly to stage actress Sarah Bernhardt who created quite of a stir by applying her lipstick publicly during the later part of the century. That only set the tone for what was to follow in the new century, as the 1900s proved to be the epoch that would most significantly herald a world of new identity for the forever coveted red lipstick.

The red lipstick in the 1900s came to be associated with a number of notions, glamour and style however NOT being the first many of them. Indeed throughout its history, whether it be in its modest beginnings or in its gradually exalted stature, red lipsticks, or any lipstick for that matter was a take on beauty. The assertion might have been subtler but in essence, painting the lips red was a definite route to prominent appearances and also in catering to the established class divide. Whatever that might be, the 1900s or the early 1910s to be precise, brought along with it such manifestation of the power of red lipsticks that have stayed put now for more than a century. In being the color code of the universal adult suffrage movement of 1912 in New York, red lipsticks came to embody a pride few would have considered it sufficiently esteemed of.

Beginning with Elizabeth Arden, the lady behind the eponymous beauty brand, and encompassing the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman who considered it a unique power yielded by the reds of the lips that rendered men in shock and thereby represented the women of rebellion, red lipstick saw a major upheaval in stature. As it marched to be a cultural icon like it always has been, albeit in less apparent manifestations, the red lipstick set about in doing something very revolutionary in spirit which however should have encompassed something quite basic in nature- as basic as the right to vote for women. And why just in its rebelious spirit, in earmarking a whole nation of women marching out in favour of their rights, the red lipstick ended up spurring the wave of modern feminism itself.

And why just the Suffragettes movement, even beyond the sphere of being a feministic leaning, the red lipstick had also eked out its own place of pride during the Second World War. In what can be devised as quite a peculiar personal attack on the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler who hated the red shade, women during the times of the war took to wearing this particular shade in all their rage. Beyond even the nationalist connotations, this particular shade of lipstick was also a harbourer of resilient hope even in the face of debacle. As made to invoke by the cultural icon Rosie the Riveter, the red lipstick went on to be even an assertion of just how crucial a role women can play in restructuring the cultural and economic fabric of an entire nation.

As a marker of confidence and in easing more the feel good vibes even in the present times, it would perhaps be safe to conclude that the red lipstick has very much succeeded in achieving at least some part of what it set out to. Ironically therefore, it indeed is quite appalling a thought that most of us have rarely cared to venture behind the allure streamlining from this radiant shade of beautifier to unearth its rich history, rich at least yet as much as its many luxuriant shades and tones. Even in its definite glamour and undeniable mass appeal, that which has been manifested further by its widespread adherence to as a beauty standard by celebrities and fashionistas alike, the red lipstick has manged to hold on to its defiant attitude of being the classic and will continue to do so for years to come. After all, what else do you make out of a lipstick that’s bold and brazen and red?