Red Lipstick and How It Has Empowered Generations of Women

Red lipstick is often associated with being an integral part of a woman’s makeup bag, it’s an instant confidence booster, and gives any outfit just a little something extra. And come on, you have to admit you feel tres chic when you leave a little red lipstick on the brim of your wine glass. Now red lipstick has been a symbol for as long as we’ve been around, but where did it come from? And why wasn’t this just another passing beauty fad? Let’s dig in. 

Historians have been able to trace red lipstick back to 3500 BC, meaning the Mesopotamians were the first to don red-tinted lips; though some would argue that Cleopatra was actually the first to wear a red lip after crushing insects and creating a red paste. (Insert woozy emoji here.) So what we’re getting at is that a red lip has been the thing for quite some time. 

(image via: red cosmetica)

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Over time wearing red lipstick has signified a number of things from social status and wealth to vanity and elegance. The symbolism wasn’t the only component that changed, the chemistry of the product changed vastly over time as well going from oils and waxes (and you know, potentially crushed bugs) to the more moisturizing formulas we’re familiar with today. And of course, we saw a change in packaging. To be frank, we started from the bottom (clay pots), now we’re here (bullet with cap and twist-up mechanism) thanks to James Bruce Mason Jr. in 1923 who invented the packaging we’re most familiar with. 

Now we didn’t come here today just to talk about crushed bugs and clay pots, no, we were simply setting the scene for our favorite use of women wearing the red lip: as a feminist statement. For instance, during the course of WWII, it was widely known that Adolf Hitler despised women wearing red lipstick. So what did women do? They wore a red lip brighter and prouder than they ever had before. In fact, the red lip became almost intimidating to some. But long before WWII, women suffragettes would wear red lipstick to public events to gain attention. Because of this, red lipstick was THE mark of a free woman. When suffragette marches took place in New York City, Elizabeth Arden would pass out free tubes to the marchers along Fifth Avenue. The act of putting on red lipstick as well as its symbolism, quickly spread across the globe as women all around the world began fighting for their rights. 

(image via: livingly)

We continue to see similar symbolism today from women in power, still fighting the good fight. So the next time you need a little confidence booster, or to feel a little extra empowered, just reach for your almighty tube of bright red lipstick.

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