The origins of red lipstick can be traced back as far as 3,000BC when the women of Mesopotamia began using crushed red gemstones to decorate their lips. They were closely followed by Egyptian women such as Cleopatra who would add red ochre, flowers, fish scales and crushed Cochineal (an insect from which carmine dye is derived) to a base of beeswax to colour her lips. Egyptian men were also big red lipstick fans.
In ancient Greece, it was illegal for Prostitutes not to wear red lipstick! They were required to wear a red lip and bright makeup in public, or face the cold hand of the law as it implied that they were unlawfully posing as a lady.
Not surprisingly things didn’t go well for red lipstick after that as red lipstick couldn’t shake the Prostitute image. By the Middle Ages if you were a woman living in England you were outright banned from wearing red lipstick and the Church decreed that painting your lips was an affront to God. In fact, women often had to admit their clandestine lipstick use at confession!
By the 1770’s English women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by wearing alluring cosmetics such as red lipstick could be tried for witchcraft. Meanwhile across the North Atlantic, some American states gave men an easy out from the ‘deception’ of red lipstick and allowed their marriage to be annulled if the wife coloured her lips during the couple’s courtship.
Actresses in the early 1900’s began wearing red lipstick to darken their lips in order to stand out in black and white film. And so began the gradual rise of red lipstick to global cult status.
During the Great Depression of 1929 – 1939 an economic indicator called the Lipstick effect was coined and remains in use today. The theory is that when facing an economic crisis, consumers are more willing to buy less expensive luxury goods. For example, instead of buying a new Chanel handbag they’ll buy an expensive new lipstick.
During the Second World War, despite all other cosmetics being rationed, red lipstick continued to be produced because Winston Churchill believed it boosted morale.
In 2007 Guerlian launched the most expensive lipstick in the world with a price tag of … wait for it … $USD62,000! Admittedly the tube is made from 110 grams of 18-karat gold, encrusted with 199 diamonds, is refillable and comes with its own lip brush and black suede pouch.
According to a study conducted by the University of Manchester in 2010, a woman’s lips are the most attractive part of her body. Especially if she’s wearing red lipstick. The study found men stare longer at red lips than bare lips, lingering on red lips for an average of 7.3 seconds and barely a glance at bare lips for an average of 2.2 seconds.