A retrospective of red lipstick and why it should be your go-to shade

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By Wei Yeen Loh

A retrospective of red lipstick and why it should be your go-to shade

You might have heard this before, even more so as of late with the return of this beauty trend—there’s nothing as sexy or as confidence-boosting as a bold slick of red across your lips. Think of celebrity red lip icons and the usual faces come to mind: Hollywood’s favourite sex siren Marilyn Monroe, popstars Gwen Stefani, Rita Ora and the like. One thing that all these women have in common? We all want to replicate their lipstick shades so much so that “how-to” guides to nailing their exact beauty look are rife on beauty blogs and mags.  

While red lipstick is and has been trending recently, it didn’t come without plenty of controversy. Red lipstick’s turbulent history dates back to the ancient civilization of Sumer (35th century BC), where it first began with Queen Schub-ad of ancient Ur’s concoction of white lead and crushed red rocks to create a lip colourant. When the trend spreaded to Egypt and was made popular by Cleopatra, red lipstick along with cosmetics in general was used to indicate social status instead of heightening one’s facial features. 

Later on, the scarlet hue had scandalous and even Satanic associations in the 19th century, and it was deemed socially unacceptable for women to wear red lipstick, with the exception of prostitutes and actresses. But in the early 20th century, the trend amassed a suffragette following as a symbol of women’s freedom and femininity, one that is synonymous with today’s social standing. In 1912, leaders of the suffragette parade marched down the streets of New York to fight for their rights to vote—all sporting vivid red lips.

It wasn’t only until the 1950s that the red lip’s status was revived and championed as the lipstick colour that every woman should have. It helped that glamorous Hollywood stars of then such as Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner were never seen without their bold red lips. After all, it was Taylor who famously quoted: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” 

Another reason for you to wear this shade loud and proud? A study has shown that women wearing red lipstick are seen as younger, and this shade does help to boost your self-esteem. If you shy away from this bright hue because you think it’s too ostentatious, fret not as there are always ways to nail this timeless trend. Be it a pick-me-upper for days that you’re looking (and feeling) down in the dumps, or a classic way to make a statement with your beauty look, a tube of red lipstick is always a lifesaver. “On one hand lipstick is always being portrayed as about sexuality,” says Madeleine Marsh, author of Compacts and Cosmetics. “But that strong vain and the power of women and the power of presenting yourself in a strong way is always there, too.”

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