By Geeta Rao
The history of red lipstick comes from the West. Over 100 years ago in British society dictated by puritanical Victorian norms, lipstick came to have strong associations with actresses and chorus girls and was frowned upon for daily use. That was enough reason for suffragettes working for women’s liberation to wear red lipstick as a form of protest, a way to subvert the patriarchal belief that it was unacceptable for ‘genteel’ women to wear red lipstick. It became an identity marker as women fought for the vote and equal opportunity. The two World Wars further put women in the frontline and red lipstick continued to define this new identity.
So did the movies. In the forties, red lipstick defined the Golden Age of glamour in Hollywood. Actors like Hedy Lamarr (who also invented radio frequency jamming), Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis and Veronica Lake defined the iconic red lipstick, impeccable hair and flawless makeup look.
Some of the most beautiful actors made their cinematic debut in Indian cinema in the forties as well. Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis and Nimmi became huge stars with beautiful lips enhanced with the power of red even in the age of black and white.
At a time when it was considered acceptable to sit at dinner and touch up your lips, it was important that lipstick cases looked like they came out of a jewellery box. the story of glamour–Mirror compacts came in golden art deco cases and lipstick in fashionable gold swivel tubes.
Why crimson peaks
Red is a colour that suits all Indian skin tones and culturally, the colour red has auspicious and positive connotations for us. Yet I meet many young women today who tell me that they own several shades of red lipstick but don’t ever wear it in public because they’re not sure they can carry it off. Being a confirmed red lipstick user let me assure you everyone can ‘carry it off.’ Try out several reds to find the one that works best for you. You will find the one.
Nude lips may have been trending for a long time now, pink pops had a moment and coral has had several good but red lips continue to be a beauty classic. When it comes to lipstick shades there are cult classics like Elizabeth Arden’s Montezuma Red, MAC’s must-have Ruby Woo and Russian Red. Chanel has Pirate. Bobbi Brown has Red Carpet. L’Oreal also launched designer Sabyasachi’s version of red for the Indian bride.
Your weapon of choice
How should you wear your red? If you want to go retro glam like the Golden era of Hollywood wear your red lipstick as a full flawless lip with a cat eye liner and a black outfit. Team your red lipstick with a pink outfit to make it contemporary and look as if you stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Colour block with an electric blue or shirt and you will turn heads over cocktails or just elevate it to Riviera chic with a full red lip balancing a champagne-hued or old ivory gown. And know that whichever way you wear it, the red lip has been the tool of choice for glamorous, powerful women the world over.