Pucker Up: The History of Red Lipstick

From risqué to romantic, a bold lip has been marked by plenty of drama over its long history.

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1. All Natural, 3000 BC:
Ancient Mesopotamian women are often credited as the first women to invent and wear lipstick, using crushed gemstones to decorate their lips. Ancient Romans, especially the upper class, also used homemade lip color. The Egyptians followed suit, including Cleopatra VII, who would crush ants and carmine in a base of beeswax to color her lips a red shade.

2. Fit for a Queen, Mid-1500s:
Lipstick’s popularity eventually died out among the upper class, as people considered it only fit for prostitutes and lower-class women. Queen Elizabeth I, however, revived the look as she often opted to don a pale white face with bright crimson lips.

3. Yield to the Court, 1770:
Red lips were met with controversy yet again when the British Parliament passed a law stating that made-up women were witches who attempt to lure men into marriage. The attitude that makeup was a form of deception was common at the time.

4. On the Big Screen, Late 1800s:
The tide turned once more when the Sears Roebuck catalog offered rouge for lips and cheeks. Now, lipstick was colored with carmine dye taken from cochineal insect scales (which must have tasted interesting). Actresses were especially keen to red lipstick since they needed to darken their natural lip color in order to stand out on black-and-white film.

5. Going Mainstream, Early 1900s:
In 1915, Maurice Levy invented the first metal lipstick tube — before this, lipstick was wrapped in silk paper, which made it difficult to carry around and apply on-the-go. Within years, major beauty companies including Chanel, Guerlain, Elizabeth Arden, and Estée Lauder, started selling lipstick.

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6. The In Crowd, 1940s:
Elizabeth Taylor was notorious for her bright red lips and is often remembered for saying, “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” Companies like Maybelline, Revlon, and CoverGirl targeted women 16 years and up as customers to their product.

7. The Hollywood Effect, 1950s:
By the ’50s, red lipstick was worn by most and embraced as a sexy addition to any outfit. Stars propelled the cosmetic even further, with Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Ava Gardner known for wearing the bold shade. By then, 98% of U.S. women were wearing lipstick.

8. Out with the Old, 1960s and 1970s:
New colours of lipsticks started to emerge, making the classic red just one of many choices. Pastel and nude shades become popular in the mod era, whereas the punk movement brought in black and purple hues.

9. Still a Classic, 1980s and 1990s:
No worries here — red made a comeback, with beauty giant M.A.C. introducing their first line of lipsticks and Madonna rocking her perfect pout. Other colors of lipstick continued to be unveiled, but red was always the original — a revolutionary of the makeup world.

10. The Power of Red, 2014:
Women of all ages and careers continue to rock the red lip, with many celebrities adopting it as their signature look. From Gwen Stefani to Taylor Swift to Emma Stone, the red lip — and its powerful effects — are clearly here to stay.

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