Sophisticated or saucy? The red lip has been around for over 5,000 years and through the ages has shared a very mixed reputation. One thing that hasn’t changed is it’s dramatic impact, we have delved into the history of red lip and how it has evolved though time.
The Sumerians (in 3500BC) are believed to be the first to have realised the effect red lips had and would crush red rocks into a powder to use as a lip tint.
In Ancient Egypt a coloured lip was seen as a status symbol and worn by both men and women. The glamorous Queen Cleopatra used a concoction of insects and fish scales to colour and brighten her lips but red lips took on a very different meaning during Ancient Greek times. The law decreed that prostitutes were required to wear their lips red in public so they were not confused with high society women. Meanwhile in Asia, China created the first lip balms with a brilliant red being the most popular colour.
By Medieval times, Europe had turned against red lipstick when it was seen as something worn only by wicked women. However, Elizabeth 1 loved red lips and made them popular in her reign, she even believed that they had protective and healing properties whereas in fact they were often quite harmful and made from toxic substances.
The sexually repressed Victorians had very different views. Queen Victoria reportedly said she thought rouged lips were most ‘impolite’ and to be frowned upon, although many women still applied it in secret. At the same time French women of good standing believed a full face of makeup with bright red lips were ‘de rigueur ‘.
Interestingly, the suffragette movement chose bright red lips as one of their symbols of rebellion and wore it defiantly on their famous marches. During world war 2 women again chose it as a sign of their strength and resilience and was especially popular as Hitler was said to have hated it.
Post war, red lips found fame once more and became the signature of many alluring Hollywood stars such as Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Since the golden days of Hollywood bright red lips have gone in and out of fashion. Today make up trends being more varied than ever, red lipstick is a woman’s choice but remains charged with meaning and a statement open to interpretation.
To be continued………