Lip Liners: Writers on the Power of Red Lipstick
April 19, 2019 7:38 AM   Subscribe

"I have worn lipstick since long before he was born; every day, for many years. I can’t remember, though, when habit became ritual. I feel as though if I could, if I could pin down the moment that commenced a daily ceremony, I might demarcate between girl and woman with clear, metaphoric ease. But when and how do you become a woman? It is a long, raw process that doesn’t seem to end." That's Jessica Friedmann, one of a dozen writers included in this round-up from Longreads: When Lips Speak for Themselves: A Reading List on Red Lipstick.

The list:

* The History of Red Lipstick, From Ancient Egypt to Taylor Swift & Everything In Between (Marlen Komar, November 2016, Bustle)

* Someone Called Mother (Marcia Aldrich and Jill Talbot, March 2019, Longreads)

* On Blood, Birth, and The Talismanic Power of Red Lipstick (Jessica Friedmann, April 2018, Literary Hub)

* Incarnadine, the Bloody Red of Fashionable Cosmetics and Shakespearean Poetics (Katy Kelleher, March 2018, The Paris Review)

* Why Wearing Lipstick Is a Small Act of Joyful Resistance (Erika Thorkelson, October 2018, The Walrus)

* The Undeniable Power of Red Lipstick (Danielle Decker, March 2018, Medium)

* Five Writers Unpack the Power of Red Lipstick (January 2019, Elle)
posted by MonkeyToes (43 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
I finally gave up trying to find my lost, beloved tube of Lipstick Queen Sinner Red and ordered one of MAC Retro Matte in Ruby Woo, which seems to be highly recommended all over the internets. They're both a little pricier than what I normally spend on makeup (I got a deep, deep discount on the MAC, without which I couldn't have gotten it on my current budget) but they're both long-wearing and a little goes a long way.

I don't wear makeup every day, but when I do I love a great big, bright, cheerful red lipstick. It really is a mood-booster for me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:30 AM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


I managed to pick up two Ruby Woos for the price of one by accidentally walking into a duty free sale in Schiphol 5 years ago. They go everywhere with me, though I've been enjoying the extensions of Chili, D for Danger, Absolutely Powerful (limited edition), and Dangerous as well. Retro mattes by MAC are the only things I'll wear, though a couple of the colours are matte or semi by accident ;p
posted by hugbucket at 8:46 AM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remember buying a tube of red lipstick from Target back in 2006 or so. It was an exclusive shade, sold only in their stores, and I was entranced. I never wore it much, because it wasn't quite the right shade of red for me, and I wasn't confident enough to wear it that often, but I loved looking at that little red tube. It was bold and brazen and I was devastated when it finally got lost forever during a move.

I should go find a new tube of red lipstick and wear it this time.
posted by PearlRose at 9:51 AM on April 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


My favorite red lipstick was always Chanel (natch). But I’m on a budget, so

L’Oréal Infallible Pro Last In Continual Crimson
posted by thivaia at 9:59 AM on April 19, 2019


Ruby Woo is great but my current favorite MAC red is the limited edition Miley Cyrus red... it's great.
posted by Aubergine at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I made it an accidental habit to buy red lipstick for my friends. My red is a "you're paying this much for the name" red that comes in the most fantastic tube, spiked and hefty, which is really the appeal for me, that it's a flattering color is just a bonus.
posted by Ruki at 10:18 AM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I went to MAC last month and asked for help finding a good red. Ended up with Russian Red and a lipliner and am still feeling weird about wearing about it.

But I like the idea of thinking of it as my Superman Cape, especially as I start to age into invisibility at work and other places.
posted by kimberussell at 10:39 AM on April 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


After years of barely-tinted balms, I've developed an affection for Bésame's schtick and lipstick. (E.L.F.'s brown sugar lip exfoliator works well pre-lipstick application; using this, in its tube, makes for a marked improvement over a gloppy DIY mix.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:16 AM on April 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Is this where we talk about our favorite reds? Mine is Mac Viva Glam by Sia.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:22 AM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


The only reason I would ever whiten my teeth would be to finally wear red lipstick, but as it is, boy howdy do they all look terrible on me.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:17 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


i currently have black glasses with pink glitter embedded in them, so i cannot wear red lipstick which is annoying because i have a brand new tube of urban decay's f-bomb which is nearly the perfect red for me. and none of my pinks are doing it for me. and i don't wear makeup anymore anyway. but i think you can wear lipstick without foundation and all the other stuff, right? performing female is hard y'all.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:29 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


NARS Heat Wave for me! I never wear lipstick (I'm a tinted gloss gal) but I have this in my closet as my one tube of bright lipstick. Wondering... where should I wear this to next?
posted by rogerroger at 12:40 PM on April 19, 2019


i currently have black glasses with pink glitter embedded in them, so i cannot wear red lipstick

I, personally, do not accept the fashion "rule" that states you cannot wear red with pink, which is just watered down red anyway. This lack of acceptance was fostered by Kid Ruki, who is an actual artist in art school, and her philosophy of deliberately wearing mismatched clothes, down to socks. Her outfits are fantastic and have inspired me to make bolder fashion choices.

Also, your glasses sound fab!
posted by Ruki at 12:53 PM on April 19, 2019 [21 favorites]


boy howdy do they all look terrible on me

Me too. I always end up looking like a five-year-old who's been playing with their mother's makeup.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:06 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I always end up looking like a five-year-old who's been playing with their mother's makeup.

For me, part of it was not being used to seeing myself in makeup, and another part was lack of practice in application.

And the only way out was through. I.e., buy delightful lipstick in EVERY SINGLE CRIMSON COLOR that delighted me, and HEY I LOVE THAT BLUE GLITTER TOO and just wear it around the house while I washed dishes until I got used to the idea and application.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:31 PM on April 19, 2019 [11 favorites]


I'm fond of MAC's Russian Red, Victory Red by Besame, and a shade by Teeez Oasis called Heat Wave Ruby which arrived in a subscription box. Once upon a time, there was a red called It's Karma by BeneFit that I loved, but it's long since discontinued. These are just a few of my favorite reds. I will try just about any red once!

For anyone on a budget, I've found that NYX is a drugstore makeup line that usually offers good quality (and it's cruelty-free too!).

Beauty subscription boxes are my crack and there's almost always a lipstick in each one!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:40 PM on April 19, 2019


Nowadays when I think of red lipstick I think of AOC, and that is A-OK.
posted by michaelhoney at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


i currently have black glasses with pink glitter embedded in them, so i cannot wear red lipstick...

I mean, I've never actually seen your particular glasses, but nothing about the way you describe them sounds like they'd clash with red lipstick. I've always been taught to choose shades that went with my coloring rather than ones that matched what I was wearing. I say give it a try and see how it looks to you!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:31 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I love this post. But I cannot find an affordable red lipstick that isn’t blue-toned, which looks terrible on me. Why is it so hard to find a decent drug store red that has an orange base? Is there something extra snazzy about that colour formulation that is only viable for very high-end brands?
posted by freya_lamb at 3:51 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I’m with freya_lamb. I have orangey hair and skin undertones, and every alleged red turns magenta the moment I apply it. Rimmel had some options for a while but they never seem to be in stock, at least around here.

(Wearing one of them now, matter of fact. The tube is down to a thin little nub.)
posted by armeowda at 4:15 PM on April 19, 2019


Why is it so hard to find a decent drug store red that has an orange base?

Rosie M. Banks mentioned Nyx above - they describe their "Pure Red" shade as "A bright red-orange." So that might could be something to check out, if it's available where you are and in your price range.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:18 PM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Huh. I struggle to find a drug-store red lipstick that’s blue enough (without being too dark). Rimmel’s Moisture Renew lipstick in Rouge is the only one I’ve found that works, and it seems to have been discontinued, so I guess I better hang on to the tube I’ve got. Most “true” reds look way too bright on me, even the ones that claim to be cool-toned.
posted by snowmentality at 5:15 PM on April 19, 2019


freya_lamb and armeowda, check out Maybelline's Superstay Matte Ink lipstick in Heroine, and L'oreal's Colour Riche lipstick in Matte-ly in Love 102 or its Infallible Pro-Last lip color in Cerise 209 (or possibly even Red 211).
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:21 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not sure if the essence brand is easily available where you are, but their lipstick kiss me if you can (matt matt matt 6) is among my favorite red lipsticks. Comparable in color payoff to MAC Ruby Woo, but goes on smoother and it's less drying. The fact that it costs less than $5 in Canada is a bonus.
posted by peppermind at 5:39 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I also need an orange-red (or just straight up orange) and the only "universal" red I've found that looks good on me is the Fenty Stunna. Hourglass's I Live For is a perfect orange-red. My new favorite is the Glossier Play lipgloss in Casino, it's straight-up orange.

(every time I clean out my purse it's just my wallet and about 8 different lipsticks, I wear lipstick every day)
posted by jeweled accumulation at 5:42 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Amazing post, thank you! From the Erica Thorkelson article (the fifth piece listed in the main link):
Then, in ancient Greece, where women weren’t allowed to own property or take part in public life, sex workers were legally required to wear lip colour to signify their lower class. If caught without it, they would face punishment for impersonating higher-class women who weren’t allowed to wear it at all. This seems to be where the relationship between bright lip colour and subversive female sexuality became formalized.

I was shy when I started stripping. My clothes and make-up reflected that. I didn’t wear red clothing outside the club. And even inside the club, I didn’t wear lipstick, never mind red lipstick. Red seems like the opposite of shy.

One of the make-up artists (now a close friend) hassled me nonstop to wear color on my lips. I would have one foot out of the door to the dressing room, and he would hiss my (stage) name: “[Peppermint!] Put some lipstick on!” His tone would always have this vibe of “for SHAME,” like a grandparent scolding a child for an outfit that showed an inappropriate amount of skin. (The irony, I know.) He would have settled for any shade, I think, but I know he really wanted the bright red lipstick. And eventually he won out.

I searched far and wide for the perfect long-lasting red lipstick. (Gotta be long-lasting because I sometimes kiss customers on their necks. They don't want to leave with lipstick on their necks and inadvertently on their shirts. And I don't want to leave the lap dance area with hella-smudged lipstick that might suggest I—*ahem*—engaged in activities that I do not do.) For my job, nothing lasts quite as long as I would like it to. But my favorite is Stila's "Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick" in Beso (endorsed by AOC, though for the record, I was wearing it long before she caught fire). Cheaper but also excellent is Sephora's "Cream Lip Stain Liquid Lipstick" in 01 Always Red.

I began wearing red lipstick around the time I became comfortable with myself as a stripper. Because of that, for me personally, red lipstick is inherently linked to my confidence in my own sexuality.

And because I keep my stripping life entirely separate from my “regular” life, I still sometimes feel this ridiculous paranoia: Will I give myself away by wearing a red lip to this “regular” work situation? Will they sense my confidence in my own sexuality—the kind of confidence that only a sex worker has?

I wish I could tell you that this story ends with me exporting my red-lip confidence from the strip club to my "regular" work, but it doesn't. I hardly ever wear red lipstick for situations related to my "regular" work. I wrote recently here about my fear of being "too much" in the "regular" world. Maybe this fear will change over the years—I hope it does, I do love my red lipstick—but that's where I'm at now.

Yes, it may be bizarre that I project this fear onto red lipstick, since these articles and this thread make clear that many women are rocking the red lip in work situations—and I love it, I'm so excited about it, I'm so excited for them. But how many of those women lead a double life as a stripper? Probably not many. So it can feel like they can afford to be that confident in their sexuality, because they have less to lose by being seen as confident in their sexuality—less, at least, than a stripper like me.

In that regard, I suppose, little has changed since ancient Greece.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 5:59 PM on April 19, 2019 [23 favorites]


Glamour is not power. It’s a visual cop out. I like the idea of red lips. But as the way it’s used as pseudo power here is sad. How you look is not the power you wield.
posted by MountainDaisy at 6:38 PM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


How you look is not the power you wield.

Hmmm. I was going to agree with you but then I thought about how people treated me when I worked in the bookshop and how different it was when I dressed up or down, and now I really have to disagree with you, at least partially. How I look is not ALL the power I wield, at least in regard to other peoples behaviour, but it's a chunk of it.

Another big chunk of it is how I feel. If I'm feeling particularly confident (for whatever reason) I can sail through a meeting or a confrontation so much more easily. And perhaps it's a cop out that my clothing or my makeup is an armour against the gaze and judgement of others, but armour is a tool, and I am all about using the correct tool for the job.

So if wearing your lucky bra, your vamp shoes, your comfy ripped jeans, your men's blazer, or your red lip makes you feel confident - then that is not a pseudo power. Respectfully, I think that the only sad part of it is that we feel the need to use it in the first place, but that is not the fault of the lipstick.
posted by ninazer0 at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2019 [34 favorites]


For those looking for a cheap orangey red lipstick, I highly recommend Almay Lip Vibes in Smile. I have warm undertones and I love the way it looks on me.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 8:07 PM on April 19, 2019


Seconding Stila's Liquid Lipstick in Beso. I picked a tube up years ago when I was looking for a long-lasting red that wouldn’t come off on my partner’s face or need touching up after eating. (I’m a hard lipstick sell.) This is the only lip color I’ve tried that delivered on both.
posted by Snacks at 10:16 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


How you look is not the power you wield.

I'm a dude and I don't wear lipstick, but I'll say that how you look, as part of the anonymous public, is a great deal of the power you wield.

For decades, I had long hair/short beard. It started when I was 18 (I haven't seen my face since I was 18), and I wore that look up until maybe 5 years ago. For some reason (actually, I know the exact reason) I decided to go with long beard/short hair. I have a barber I've been going to for maybe a decade and he and I have been sort of working together on refining this look on me and we've settled on something which seems to work. Like, really work.

Like, so, before (long hair/short beard time), people would have this one reaction to me. I kind of blended into the background and people would interact with me but in general in public settings I'd be mostly left alone and allowed to merely exist.

But now (long beard/short hair), things are entirely different. I am a habitual concert goer, and I had a run of about 5 concerts a couple of years ago where people that obviously I had interacted with in the entrance line or the concession or schwag line were coming up to me and acting excited to see me again, pulling me into conversations, seemingly feeling they were somehow involved with my life on some level. For the most part, I didn't remember any of these people at all, but they were all so enthusiastic! This had never happened in my life earlier.

The only thing that changed about me before and later was how I looked.

It's not a power I wield, but how one looks definitely affects how people respond to you and how they regard their interactions with you. Certainly probably most of all when you're out and about as a member of the anonymous crowd.

I have one friend who lives in LA and who constant plays with her makeup styles and hair color, and there are definitely times when I see photos of her on twitter where there is a WOW factor that has to do with how well her hair, makeup, and the shape of her features are working together.

So, it's not power... but it is something, and isn't something to be ignored.
posted by hippybear at 1:56 AM on April 20, 2019 [7 favorites]


I've spent twenty years questing for a good red because all the "foolproof" colder colours like Ruby Woo still make my face look zombie-bruised. The one thing that works is Aromaleigh Dragon's Kiss which is formulated to be exactly the colour of venal blood (considering it's inspired by a Hannibal villain who bites people's lips off...) and layerable from a barely there light sheen, through a medium neutral red to full dark bloody lips.

(Funnily enough, I look my best in mauve lipstick that makes my skin look human by comparison...)
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:53 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


My kid spent some time as a "professional patient" for certifying foreign doctors, and came to the conclusion that it was necessary to wear makeup or the doctors tended to diagnose them as abused, rather than diagnosing the neurological state they were supposed to be acting out.

And I wear red lipstick during the month of December when my winter wearies are at their worst. It makes people pay attention to me and look for it.

And when I was an elementary teacher, I learned that my students would look at me more if I wore makeup and/or a bright pin.

So as a person of increasing invisibility due to age, I wear makeup every day. Just a little.
posted by Peach at 5:59 AM on April 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't wear lipstick, and I love seeing all of the recommendations here.

And perhaps it's a cop out that my clothing or my makeup is an armour against the gaze and judgement of others, but armour is a tool, and I am all about using the correct tool for the job.


Yes, exactly, and I wish I could favorite this harder. It took me years to be confident enough to own cowboy boots, and a prerequisite to that was to spend time doing farm work, because (in my suburban-formed mind) boots are the correct tool for protecting feet and standing up to all sorts of mud and hard use. And even though I know that a city-dweller is free to wear them, just as a farmer can wear stilettos, I still default to matching the tool to the job, and to some strange sense of wearing something as if I've earned it. My first pair of cowboy boots? Awkward for the first few outings and then they became magic, the footwear I reach for when I want to walk a little taller, when I want to feel stronger and more capable, when I want to convey (if only to myself) a sense of easy, down-to-earth confidence.

I can give that gift to myself in what I wear, and yet...I don't wear makeup, because the task of finding suitable materials just seems so overwhelming, and because I'm afraid that it will be costume and not my intimate armor. So thanks, all of you, for talking about the details of that transformation, and about the tools that work for you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:00 AM on April 20, 2019 [11 favorites]


Do you know hard it is for me not to go drop major coin on red lippy at CVS later

PS Burts Bees Russet River is my go-to everyday red.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:11 AM on April 20, 2019 [4 favorites]


Glamour is not power. It’s a visual cop out.

I wear makeup to overcome the parts of my face that were “made more masculine looking” by the wrong puberty. For myself it’s a way to avoid soul crushing dysphoria. That I look fabulous as hell is a super lucky bonus but at the root of it I’m working on something a much deeper level.

here’s the receipt
posted by nikaspark at 7:29 AM on April 20, 2019 [30 favorites]


My kid spent some time as a "professional patient" for certifying foreign doctors, and came to the conclusion that it was necessary to wear makeup or the doctors tended to diagnose them as abused, rather than diagnosing the neurological state they were supposed to be acting out.

I'm a genderqueer adult whose style leans punkish and since coming out and dressing more masculine, I find doctors take me much, much less seriously (I think because I read more "queer" than "male" and they assume that means I want drugs. Which is very, very fucked up). In the past few months for doctor's visits I essentially dress in respectable mom drag of subtle but definitely present make-up, lipstick, femme and boring clothing. And I'm taken much more seriously.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:40 AM on April 20, 2019 [6 favorites]


My kid spent some time as a "professional patient" for certifying foreign doctors, and came to the conclusion that it was necessary to wear makeup or the doctors tended to diagnose them as abused, rather than diagnosing the neurological state they were supposed to be acting out.

Wow my last two doctors appointments make so much sense now. It definitely felt like I got a lot more "is there anything you want to tell us about your home? does your partner know you're here and is he ok with it" etc kind of questioning than I am used to. But those appointments dovetail with the time span in which I sort of dropped off the makeup train after finally getting some traction with my skincare.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:00 AM on April 21, 2019 [3 favorites]



(Wearing one of them now, matter of fact. The tube is down to a thin little nub.)

Use a lip brush to get it all -- there's practically a half of a visible lipstick down there.
posted by jgirl at 10:24 AM on April 21, 2019 [5 favorites]


I never have felt confident enough to wear red lipstick. It feels too dramatic, and I'm always conscious that I'm not the neatest makeup applier. I stick to shades of pink, and spend a while ensuring it's not too subtle that no one can see it, and not too noticeable.
posted by daybeforetheday at 4:23 AM on April 22, 2019


I usually opt for tinted lip balm, but on the days when my anxiety is ramped up, or I feel small, or I'm just not feeling that strong, I wear lipstick. The redder it is, the more like armor it feels.
posted by sarcasticah at 8:51 AM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love how Man Ray put it: “Lipstick is the red badge of courage.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:02 AM on April 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I do wear green nail polish from time to time. It's not nearly as, um... obvious? as red lipstick, but it still ends up being a bit of a surprise on a 50 year old dude with a long grey beard.
posted by hippybear at 7:23 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


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