A brief history of red lipstick

Because no look is quite as iconic as a statement red lip

When you think of iconic beauty, red lipstick immediately jumps to mind. Marilyn Monroe wore it religiously, Dita von Teese refuses to leave the house without it and when Gwen Stefani recently sported a nude lip, people legitimately didn’t recognise her. Such is the power of this colour. When you’re feeling dull, a slick of Lancôme’s Rouge In Love Lipstick in Saint-Honoré, £22, can instantly pick you up. And if need to feel powerful, there’s nothing quite like painting your pout with Lipstick Queen’s Velvet Rope Lipstick in Black tie, £35.

Want to know where it all began? Let us take you on a journey…

Ancient Egypt

It’s thought that women (and men) have been colouring their lips as far back as Mesopotamian times, using crushes gems to create a variety of lip colours. Soon after, in Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra was well-known for crushing insects and using their blood to get her lips the perfect shade of scarlet.

Sixteenth century England

Lipstick had died out until the 1500s, as people considered it only suitable for low-class women and prostitutes. However, Queen Elizabeth I brought back the look, teaming it with her her signature look of an ivory white face.

Elizabeth I

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I

The lipstick ban of the eighteenth century

Lipstick was once again fraught with controversy after a law was passed stating that women who wore make-up were witches. The claim was that they were attempting to entice men into marrying them. This was based on the idea that make-up was a form of deception. Ok, then.

Lipstick on the big screen

After cinema gained popularity in the late 1800s, many actresses wore red on a regular basis because it darkened their lips on a black and white screen, adding definition.

Lucy Doraine

Lucy Doraine

A mainstream cosmetic

The first portable tube of lipstick was invented by Maurice Levy in 1915, revolutionising the way lipstick was sold and making it more accessible to women everywhere. Until now, lipstick had been wrapped in paper, making it hard to apply on the go. Within just a few years, major beauty names, such as Estée Lauder, Elizabeth Arden and Chanel were also selling tubes of lipstick. Try Estée Lauder’s Pure Colour Envy Sculpting Lipstick in Red Ego, £22 in Red Ego for a seriously rich, sultry red.

The Hollywood effect

Nothing quite says Hollywood like a red lip, does it? During the 50s, red lipstick was worn by most women, with its popularity only fuelled by the stars who wore it – Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth in particular favoured bold reds.

Marilyn Monroe

The introduction of new shades in the 60s and 70s

With the popularity of red lipstick continuing to rise, cosmetic companies started to get a bit more creative. Bright, punchy orangey-reds were soon a favourite of women everywhere, as were darker reds with purple undertones. If it’s a more orange red you’re after, try Bobbi Brown’s Creamy Matte Lip Colour in Valencia Orange, £21, for a bold, fruity lip that packs a punch. Or if you prefer something darker with purple hues, try Nars Audacious Lipstick in Charlotte, £24 for a rich berry shade.

And the power of red is here to stay…

Many stars still opt for a red lip in 2016, with the likes of Olivia Palermo, Emma Stone, Taylor Swift and Scarlett Johansson all working it on a regular basis. Many women now favour a liquid lipstick to a classic stick – Yves Saint Laurent’s Rouge Pur Couture Vernis a Levres Glossy Stain in Red, £26, is one of our favourite red liquid lipsticks.

Olivia Palermo red lipstick

Whether it’s a bold orange-red or one with purple undertones, a red lipstick is an absolute must for your beauty arsenal.


Ever wondered what your perfect shade of red lipstick is? This quiz matches you with the best one for you!



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