Pucker Up: Red Lips

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This post comes to you direct from Old Hollywood Glamour.

Here’s a fact that’ll make you feel like a slob: in the 1950s, 98% of American women wore lipstick. But don’t worry too muchfor centuries before that, lipstick and rouge were considered the exclusive domain of stage actresses and prostitutes (the two were often not far apart, morally, in the eyes of the public). Classy women didn’t “paint” themselves. They’d tighten their waists to within an inch of their lives in corsets, but God forbid they use some blush! And then Hollywood stepped in.

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Bringing lipstick back, since 1533.

Okay, a lot of other things happened first. The origins of lipstick are lost in the annals of time (fancy library talk), but its recorded use goes back to 3,000 B.C. Queen Elizabeth I made red lipstick classy; but her influence didn’t extend to the 1770s, when British Parliament passed a law that stated any woman wearing lipstick could be tried as a witch. However, 300 years after Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria declared that any makeup at all was “impolite.” This was way harsher than it sounds, back in the day. It was basically calling make-up wearers whores.

Luckily, this didn’t last long. In the late 18th century, esteemed stage actress Sarah Bernhardt loved her lipstick and took it everywhere with her, even (gasp!) putting it on in public. But it wasn’t until the 1920s invention of the twist-tube that we know today that women could start carrying it around in their pockets.

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“Please, God, won’t somebody make this newfangled lip color portable?”

And that was great, because Hollywood was already pushing us to wear more lipstick. Black-and-white films needed their actresses (and their actors) heavily made-up to show their expressions, near and far. Had films been in full color then, pinks and nudes might have worked just fine: but in the early days of the flickers, they wanted to make the mouth stand out, not blend in. And so the deepest reds were used to highlight the silent mouths. With the popularity of flappers, more and more women began to wear lipstick, and the sight of a dark mouth on-screen was no longer as provocative as it once was.

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Norma Shearer is nonplussed that you do not find her lipstick provocative.

The movies were still filmed in black and white, though, and throughout the 1930s, red (or its grey approximation) remained a popular choice for Hollywood makeup artists. During the Depression and the Second World War, lipstick was a luxury; but the women on-screen always had those glossy red lips, that sign of glamour. Soon, with more and more films being made in Technicolor in the 1940s and 1950s, the popularity of the color exploded. It was an instant marker of beauty, glamour, everything that made stars different from the average woman (though by this time, of course, the average woman was also wearing red lipstick).

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The average world-jumping girl from Kansas was also wearing it. 

For actresses with cool exteriors, like Hitchcock blonde Grace Kelly, the red lip hinted at something sexier and hotter beneath the surface (Kelly stopped wearing red lipstick almost altogether after leaving Hollywood).

And it didn’t cost a fortune to look like Grace Kelly, either. In fact, studies exist that show when the economy takes a turn for the worse, lipstick sales go up because it’s an inexpensive pick-me-up. The scientific term for this? The Lipstick Effect. Today, hardly a season goes by without magazines proclaiming a resurgence of the red lip (although it never went away).

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Liz Taylor’s proving a scientific theorem while posing for this portrait. No biggie. 

Scarlett Johanssen, Taylor Swift, Alexa Chung, and Emma Stone have all, at one point or another, worn lipstick that could be classified as red. But the truth is, despite its high-maintenance look (try keeping your lips that color for more than half a martini), the red lip will never truly go out of style. Red lips are an inexpensive and easy way to say: Yes! I am glamorous, whether I’m wearing ripped jeans or a ballroom gown, whether my hair is messy or pulled back in a French twist.

My advice? Always check to make sure your teeth are lip stain-free and you’re good to go.

Ready to hear about the craziest beauty tips from Classic Hollywood? Grace, Audrey, Marilyn and more star in Old Hollywood Glamour!


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