What we think of when we think of red lipstick.

Red Lipstick And Its Discontents

What we think of when we think of red lipstick.

Image from Erzsebet, reused under Creative Commons with appreciation.

The strong red lip that came back around 2010 isn’t going anywhere, so let’s discuss red lipstick and its discontents.

When red lipstick works, it WORKS. Teeth look whiter, mouths are more succulent, black garments and strong colors become flattering, submitting to the superior red mouth. And when it fails, the fail is traumatically monumental. Often I hear, “I’d like to wear red lipstick but it makes me look like The Joker.” Or Wallis Simpson. Or a strangely older, raddled version of yourself. The Man Repeller has a post on the pros and cons of red lipstick, and how many find it unexpectedly unattractive.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Tilda Swinton are two vaunted beauties with fine, narrow lips.  Tilda goes lipstickless a lot of the time. When she does go red, a translucent berry red suits her better than a heavy, defined red. Gwyneth sticks to pinks most of the time.

Oh, Gary, we miss you...

An immortal Far Side cartoon by Gary Larsen.

The inspirational red lip of our time belongs to beauty icon Dita Von Teese. And when she doesn’t have her makeup on, you can see how some extra lip seems to get added in there with her makeup. My hypothesis is that she is engaging in some tactical deployment of red lipliner.

  • You don’t have to wear red lipstick, even if you are doing a “retro” look.
  • To be pretty, or to knock a few years off your look, try pink and tawny tones one to three shades lighter than your lip.
  • To be alternative or dramatic, try purple and gold tones.
  • To look sexually depraved, do a heavy, smoky eye with false lashes and a pale lined-and-glossed lip. This is Jenna Marbles’ look in the video “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.”
  • Go matte or glossy if in any lipstick doubt. Frosted tones and sparkle enhance lips’ natural wrinkles.
  • If you want to go red, and you’re new to the look, try a translucent or sheer lip color to get started.
  • If you want an opaque red “retro” mouth, use lip liner first to give your mouth more fullness and to define your cupid’s bow.
  • If you are an Antipodean lipstick novice, I recommend the brand Lipstick Queen. Three reasons: the whole range comes in both newbie-friendly sheer tones (Saint) and full coverage tones (Sinner). The high-quality lipsticks are at independent stands, so you can experiment yourself, without an attendant hovering. And they have a sheer red called “Medieval” that was inspired by the clear blood-red, yet lipstickless, mouths in medieval times, how cool is that?
  • I repeat – red lipstick is optional.

You know what I’m about to be into? Purple lipstick! I was asked to wear some purple lipstick at a photo session and that look is fresh – see the image from the session below. Grape Ape is my new beauty icon.

This is my mouth on purple, courtesy of photographer Andy

Purple lipstick, for a change. This was VERY purple in the tube, I'm amazed at how wearable it is.