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The history of red lipstick

Women have come a long way in their quest for the perfect crimson pout.

Here's how women (and their men) have made it so popular.

One of the first accounts of wearing red lipstick came from the Mesopotamian women (and often men) who used to adorn their lips with crushed semi-precious stones. Later, Cleopatra was known for crushing beetles and ants to get the right shade of scarlet for her lips.

The phrase ‘Kiss Of Death’ was coined because of the harmful mixture of fucus-algin, iodine, and bromine mannite that Egyptian women used to create lipstick. Highly toxic, the concoction often led to serious illness and sometimes death.

Frost lipstick even had its first incarnation - fish scales were ground up to loan lipstick its pearlescent sheen.

By the sixteenth century, the process of making lipstick was a little safer. Queen Elizabeth 1, who made cosmetics popular, donned a pale white face of makeup and bright crimson lips that she got from a mix of beeswax and plants.

Medieval European's were said to believe that lipstick and cosmetics warded off death - a possible reason why the Queen's ladies-in-waiting applied makeup to her even post-mortem.

1700s

The popularity of lipstick in the sixteenth century soon took a turn. The 1700s ushered in a strict anti-cosmetics reign in England where British Parliament passed a law in 1770 stating that marriages could be annulled if a woman wore cosmetics before her wedding. Cosmetics were to be worn only by prostitutes.

However, France had an opposite feeling about cosmetics. Upper class women were encouraged to wear cosmetics in the 1780’s, as the ‘natural look’ was to be reserved for prostitutes and working women.

1800s

By the late 1800s, Queen Victoria pronounced makeup to be impolite and it became unfashionable during her reign. However, some still pushed the envelope. French actress and early film star, Sarah Bernhardt, was known to wear red lipstick and even apply it in public - a major taboo during that time.

In the U.S., lipstick was first advertised in the 1890s in the Sears Roebuck Catalog. By that time, lipstick was coloured with carmine dye extracted from cochineal insect scales.

1900-1920s

In the early twentieth century, lipstick became popular again. In 1915, Maurice Levy invented the first metal lipstick tube (before this, lipstick was made of deer tallow, castor oil, and beeswax and came wrapped in silk paper - almost impossible to carry in one’s purse). By 1923, the modern swivel lipstick tube was patented and soon, leading fashion companies started to create lipsticks.

Early film stars (such as Clara Bow, who made the Cupid's Bow popular by creating it with deep red lipstick) used to wear the darkest lipstick they could find to mimic red (traditional red's didn't show up on black and white film).

In the 1930s, marketing and advertising played a huge role in lipstick sales. Helena Rubenstein, founder and eponym of Helena Rubenstein makeup, was the first to advertise lipstick as having sun protection (before SPF was considered important). Also during this time, manufacturers deemed lipstick ‘an import part of the war effort’, urging women to do their part and buy lipstick.

Lipstick was becoming scarce because of the war, so chemist Hazel Bishop developed a ‘No-Smear Lipstick.’ The first of its kind, her revolutionary lipstick was said to stay put all day.The decade also saw a surge in propaganda trying to convince young girls that wearing lipstick was undesirable to men. But, companies relied on marketing campaigns targeted to their core audiences (girls aged 16 and up) and by the late 1940s, 90 percent of American women wore lipstick.

By the 1950s, lipstick was deemed acceptable again for all, and even sexy. Starlets like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and Elizabeth Taylor helped rocket lipstick wear to 98 percent of women in the U.S.

It was also during this time that Estée Lauder introduced her gift with purchase program, a sign of the popularity of cosmetic sales.

By the 1960s and 1970s, new colors of lipstick emerged, pushing red lipstick out of the spotlight once again. In its place, beige and white lipsticks became popular during the Mod era of the 1960s and during the 1970s, the punk movement saw a surge in black- and purple-hued lipstick.

1980s

By the 1980s, bold reds made a comeback. During this time, the first line of lipsticks were introduced and Madonna made the Russian Red colour popular by wearing it throughout her Like a Virgin World Tour.

1990s

The grunge movement of the early ‘90s ushered in brown and plum shade, popularised by actresses such as Drew Barrymore. Red lipstick was still a go-to shade for starlets, supermodels, and just about every woman looking to stand out.

2003

The So-Cal rocker/mother/designer has been rocking her signature bleached hair and red lipstick for over two decades now. She told Harper’s Bazaar in 2012: “I remember sitting in my ghetto, beat-up Honda Prelude and putting on that lipstick in the rear-view mirror and being like, ‘Uh-huh, I like that. That's it right there.’ I never stopped after that.”

2009

She may be best known for wearing prosthetics on her face, dresses made out of meat, or rainbow coloured tresses, but the one thing Gaga kept going back to was her signature red lipstick.

2012

After the release of her album, Red in 2012, the pop star started showing up on the red carpet with crimson lacquered lips. Later that year, she told Redbook: “I’m always wearing red lipstick!”

- Elle

 

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