Dita Von Teese herself ascertained that "Heels and red lipstick will put the fear of God into people." While legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel stated, "If you're sad, add more lipstick and attack." The transformative nature of a slick of red lipstick cannot be underestimated: it can create a feeling of power and kindle a confident fire, allowing people to create a whole different version of themselves.
It all started in ancient Egypt, when Ancient Sumerian men and women created lipstick by making it out of crushed gemstones and white lead, painting their lips and eyes with it and not realising that they were slowly poisoning themselves with the lead! Gives a whole new meaning to suffering for beauty…even the famous beauty Cleopatra was known to paint on a slick of red lipstick, which she made by crushing bugs! In fact, to make her own signature red, she had her slaves crush fish scales, beeswax and flowers – Mac eat your heart out! Those of importance, such as royalty and the upper class wore red on their lips as a display of social status, meaning that it wasn’t just women who experimented with pots and paints, men also liked to indulge in some beautification too.
Yet over the sea in ancient Greece, the red lips had much fewer regal associations as they were a symbol of prostitution. The powers that be even ruled that any prostitute that wasn’t wearing their trademark scarlet lip would be punished for deceitfully posing as ladies. This stigma against makeup continued during the Middle Ages, when the church told their congregation in sermons that to wear makeup was a challenge to God as it changed the way we looked when we had been made by Him. This led to women sometimes confessing to their priests when they had been wearing makeup and receiving penance for daring to try a glow up. This religious propaganda was even more widespread when images of devils painting women with lipstick were circulated around villages.
Luckily, in the 16th century, lipstick lover, Queen Elizabeth I made red lipstick fashionable again with her devotion to a crimson lip. But she didn’t only enjoy smearing it on, she truly believed it had magical powers, and could even ward off death and illness! But after her death, when the more puritanical James I ascended to the throne, his obsession with witches meant that women who wore red lipstick could find themselves being accused of black magic.
With the dawn of the Victorian age and all of its progress and inventions in the Industrial Revolution, bizarrely, the views on red lipstick had not really progressed; it was still seen as scandalous and shocking. But with the rise of women’s rights towards the end of the century, bohemian actresses and performers such as Sarah Bernhardt, challenged convention and regularly horrified the more prudish Victorian, by lasciviously layering her lippy on at cafes and on street corners. This really was a turning point in the fortunes of red lipstick and the progress marched on as lipstick was given out to protesters at a 1912 suffragette march in New York. It seemed the message was finally beginning to filter through to the mainstream: women should be free to choose what they wanted to look like and who they wanted to be. Red lipstick proudly came out of the shadows as a symbol of proud femininity and rebellion.
But if 1912 was the start of a red lipstick revolution in society, the other defining moment came just a few years later when Maurice Levy invented the first sliding lipstick tube. Prior to this, lipstick had been kept in paper and had to be applied with a brush – both impractical and messy. Due to this new ease of transportation and application, the popularity of red lipstick soared.
Lipstick became the most important cosmetic item for a woman and with the start of World War II, red lipstick took on a new patriotic spin, mimicking the red colour in both the British and American flags. At the height of rationing, it may have been difficult for women to assert their femininity, so continuing to don their lipstick was not only a sign of resistance to Hitler, but it also kept their own morale up.
Of course, this was due in no small part to the rise of the Hollywood icon. With the creation of the silent movie, Tinseltown’s finest, such as Clara Bow became the beauty standard women aspired to and if she wore red lipstick, thousands of women across the globe would try to emulate her and follow suit. Lipstick became the most important cosmetic item for a woman and with the start of World War II, red lipstick took on a new patriotic spin, mimicking the red colour in both the British and American flags. At the height of rationing, it may have been difficult for women to assert their femininity, so continuing to don their lipstick was not only a sign of resistance to Hitler, but it also kept their own morale up.
Today, red lipstick is synonymous with the retro glamour of the 1950s, which was where it became really iconic. It’s difficult to find many pictures where the great and good of glamorous Hollywood are not sporting a crimson lip and of course Marilyn Monroe has become a poster girl for the era, resplendent in a white halter neck dress and perfectly painted red pout.Nowadays, red lips are a fashion go to when you want to make a bold statement or give a nod to vintage style. To make a really bold statement, why not pair your vermillion vintage smile with a pair of our spectacles in a range of red hues. For a pillar-box red, why not try our Anglo American Optical '400' Round Glasses (£115.00), which are a gorgeous colour but simple design, so they won’t retract from your perfect pout. Amelie is the same price and is a gorgeous cat-eye and a personal favourite. She's fabulously French, a handmade design that is delicate but still a statement frame. Alternatively, if you want to go all out for vintage glamour, why not opt for the Betty Cat Eye Glasses in Rockabilly Red at £16.00.
With a red lip and glasses combo, you’ll look irresistible this Valentines.
Photo credits: Photos by Dave Walker Photography, MUA is Vicky GlamoRama, Headpiece by Magnificently Macabre by Madamezara, Clothes by Clare Lola Cherry, Jewellery by Rachels Wonders Jewellery, Plugs by Sick Plugs