Rose McGown once said “I came out of the womb waving red lipstick”
Never mind that women in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and those across the Indus had to grind gemstones, or bugs (cochineal), or the (uck) idea of pulverized fish scales to provide iridescence to adore their lips some 2000 years ago or that if I were a British woman in the 18th century and throughout the 19th century I would have been considered in the ‘very least’ marginal in my morality for wearing red lipstick; I don’t care! I probably have the infamous 19th century curly haired beauty Sarah Bernhardt (actress and eventually courtesan) to thank – as a child my maternal great grandfather likened my ‘flair for the dramatic’ to her. I love that for someplace between $13 and $40 or rather, (obscene) $62,000 I am transformed to a sensual, seductive, glamorous goddess of lip perfection (even as I might be modestly critical of my other assets). My current favorite is a hybrid I concoct by wearing a Face Cosmetics based in Stockholm matte finish red called ‘Secret’ over Nars Cruella lip crayon – just Snow White red enough!
I can understand why some women (and men) might prefer Bert’s Bees to a sultry shade of vermilion or carmine or cherry – it’s just not me. I have had sufficient conversations with girlfriends over the 40 years I have worn some version of red on my lips (at 12 it was Bonnie Bell lip gloss that had a red tint) to understand that red lips are not for everyone, but nothing makes me feel more immediately and divinely feminine (even if I am working in the garden and covered with mud, or sitting here at my computer writing) than putting on red lipstick.
Some months ago a journalist posted an enquiry on HARO asking how to choose the right shade of red lipstick. I am convinced every woman can wear red lipstick but you must be mindful of the tint matching skin tone (I absolutely cannot wear any with an orange-y /tomato or too salmon under-tone) and, yes, I think wearing red lipstick requires a certain level of confidence to ‘pull it off’ – a daring attitude bordering on la femme fatale, though if I am honest, wearing such has never felt contrived to me; actually, I feel quite naked without it.
A recent study at the University of Manchester confirms that men, even totally clueless ones, are fixated on lips wearing red an average of 7.3 seconds! It’s ancient and primal, in our earliest human state our health was gauged by the ‘blossom’ on lips and cheeks – thus a deeply held attraction to red tied to virility.
I have been known to leave my lip prints alongside terms of endearments to my niece and nephew in cards and books (if it was missing from something given to my niece she would ask me to put it there, for my nephew – yet unschooled in the mysteries of a woman’s lips – he would smear the cochineal colour from the end page) – I hope the men receiving my rather infrequent love letters didn’t feel as my nephew did!
I grew up watching ‘old movies’ on Sunday afternoons – with actresses such Gene Tierney, Cyd Charisse, Maureen O’Hara and Rita Hayworth, brilliant, fiery, glamorous women whose cupid’s bow mouths were ALWAYS adorned in some shade of ‘1940’s Screen Siren Red’ (as I refer to it) and their leading men always swept them back into their arms heedless of the lipstick. Maybe that is the point – as I see it the sweeping romantic leading man of my dreams will want to ravage my mouth heedless of the consequences!
Soul meets soul on lovers’ lips ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley
Who are you? Where are you? I am waiting darling!
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