From being a symbol of promiscuity, sensuality, glamour and even duty, today a red lipstick rests easy in our handbags. It’s just another gorgeous shade to get creative with…an expression of self-love and good taste.

For the last decade, season after season, red lips have continued to make statements on the ramp whether it is Spring or Winter. Not without reason. No colour complements all skin tones as much as red does. Just a hint of red on the face magically brightens the complexion. It is a flattering optical illusion, which can even take years off your face, as the beholder’s gaze focuses on your vivid pout rather than dark circles or fine lines. 

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You don’t need confidence to wear a red lipstick, the truth is that the colour itself gives you confidence. Cat Cantrill, an Iowa-based entrepreneur and performer has started Kick Ass Red Lipstick, a foundation with a mission to empower and transform women. It starts with a simple step, of urging participants to post a picture of themselves wearing the shade, not lip balm. The idea is to embrace yourself as the most important being in your life. ‘We encourage that using lipstick. Many women initially refuse to wear it, and slowly transition from lip balm to crimson lipstick,’ writes Cantrill in her blog.

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Just as a woman no longer needs a man to buy her diamonds, she doesn’t need a romantic date or a power meeting to don red on her lips. Red lipstick is a beauty pick-me-up anywhere and everywhere. So many women have confessed that they feel ‘ready’ for a festive occasion by simply wearing red on the lips.

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And the feel-good factor of the colour comes handy even in science. Laboratories always test any new texture meant for the lips in red as the formulation is best represented in this colour.

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Elizabeth Taylor, ‘Cleopatra’ (1963)

In ancient civilisations, women celebrated their bodies and used crushed gemstones to decorate their mouths. Egyptian queen Cleopatra probably invented the first lipstick when she crushed ants and carmine in a base of beeswax to colour her mouth red. ‘In life, it became a social mandate to apply lip paint using wet sticks of wood and in death, each well-to-do Egyptian woman took at least two pots of the paint to her tomb,’ writes Sarah Schaffer, in her Harvard paper Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power.

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England, which grew increasingly powerful throughout the 16th century, embraced lipstick during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A rouge fan, she made it popular among the ladies of the court who wanted to imitate her pale face and bright lips.

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Did you know that women had to sometimes address their lipstick use at confession? In the 18th century, the British parliament declared that women who seduced men into matrimony with the help of lip and cheek paints could have their marriages annulled as well as face witchcraft charges. There was a belief that the shade had magical powers, and could possibly even ward off death. This invited the wrath of the church, which saw a woman in crimson lips as an incarnation of the devil, and regarded such modification of her face as a challenge to god and his workmanship. 

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Adolf Hitler had voiced his distaste for the bright shade, effectively making wearing it during World War II a political statement. It became a tool to promote patriotism and encourage women to become more active in the war effort. It was the first time that middle- and upper-class women entered the workforce. Even though many of these jobs required them to get dirty, taking care of their appearances was mandatory. Women depicted in propaganda posters and advertisements had impeccable hair and vivid pouts, even when they were shown as soldiers and factory workers.

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Another famous manifestation was in New York when the suffragettes took to the streets and, as part of their fight for the right to vote, wore bright red on their lips. In fact Elizabeth Arden herself handed out lipsticks to the marching ladies. She even created a bold shade to coordinate with the uniforms of the women serving in the armed forces during World War II.

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At the turn of the 20th century, lipsticks were produced with beeswax and castor oil, ingredients that were far less dangerous than lead. The production of the modern swivel lipstick (it came wrapped rather impractically in silk paper before this) by Chanel, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, Guerlain and others made it accessible.

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 The 1960s and ’70s saw beiges and browns stealing the thunder. History was created when Madonna requested MAC Cosmetics to develop a lipstick that would last through an entire performance — and so Russian Red was formulated. The intense matt shade was specifically made for her VirginTour, and it was an instant success. Red staged a comeback and has stayed strong since. It’s been a red carpet staple, standing for carefree glamour.

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Actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo made glossy crimson lips sexy. Red and red-carpet remain synonymous! Even today, think Emma Stone, Rihanna, Dita Von Teese and Scarlett Johansson. Closer home, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone are known for their signature reds.

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The spectrum of the colour has also widened over the years, to include pinks, browns, oranges and even black. Whether it is a seductive glossy pout or an elegant matt, there are myriads of textures to complement complexions and moods.

There’s a red for every woman! How to find one? The one that makes you happy and brings a smile to your face is the best one for you! But if you are looking for aesthetic direction, Lisa Eldridge, international make-up artist, shares a fool proof guide: Warm orangey reds and pinkish reds work great on olive skin tones. Deep dark reds look wonderful against darker skins.

If you feel you can’t commit to red lips and they look quite bold, opt for a sheer option, it’s easier to wear, lightweight and much less maintenance.



  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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