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Why a red lip is more than just makeup | History of red lipstick

By Posted on 17 0 m read 4.6K views

I’m excited about this one, as it’s a collaboration with the gorgeous Siyana! This is our red lipstick collab, so make sure you check out her post here!

Red lipstick is more than makeup; it’s a fashion statement

Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth I, Sarah Bernhardt, Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Dita Von Teese: all iconic women who are recognised for two things in common. One is their ruby lips and, second, being recognised as powerful and strong women, not afraid to push boundaries.

History of the red lip

Makeup is certainly not a modern trend; in fact, it dates back thousands of years.

Birth of red lipstick: Ancient Egypt, 3000 – 2700 B.C.

In Ancient Egypt, royals and nobles would crush semi-precious stones into a paste to decorate their lips. Cleopatra was known for crushing red beetles and ants to make a bright red lip stain.

A lot beauty bloggers may now exclaim in excitement at a new lip launch claiming ‘the colour’s so nice, I could die!’ or ‘this product’s worth dying for!’ Well, for many Ancient Egyptians, that would actually be the case. Wearing lipstick could be life-threatening, thanks to a toxic solution that could lead to serious illness and death!

The phrase ‘Kiss Of Death’ was coined because of the harmful mixture of fucus-algin, iodine, and bromine mannite that Egyptian women used to create lipstick.


1500s: Royal Red

Elizabeth I’s distinctive look has always been her pale powdered face and cherry lips. She would apply a mixture of crushed crimson plants with beeswax and, from then, her look was coveted by the ladies-in-waiting.

Known as the Virgin Queen, she was as independent and powerful as she was stylish – she didn’t need a husband to rule – just a swipe of lipstick. Although, it was said that she died of blood poisoning caused by her lipstick, which contained noxious mercuric sulphide.

1700s: Red lipstick threatens the government

According to Fashionista, in ‘1770, the British government finally passed a law that formally condemned lipstick on the basis that “women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by cosmetic means could be tried for witchcraft.” ‘


1800s: Coming out

Cosmetics had fallen out of fashion at this point, as Queen Victoria didn’t approve. However, the first actress to make a stand with her red lips was Sarah Bernhardt.

Before this time, women would apply makeup behind closed doors. But, the French actress famously applied her bright rouge lipstick in public. A major taboo at the time!

Why a red lip is more than just makeup | Red lipstick history. Hannah is in a cuddle H&M oversize jumper dress in cream, with classic Burberry check cashmere scarf. Wearing red lipstick in the snow.

I’m wearing a mixture of Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet in La Fascinante and Nudestix Intense Matte in Stiletto 15% off with code GIFT

1920s: Cupid’s bow

Film stars were all wearing deep, dark red lipsticks. Clara Bow, who made the ‘Cupid’s bow’ popular, would wear the darkest shade she possibly find, so that it would show up in black and white films and photos.

That’s the thing about red lipstick – it’s a beautiful case of chicken and egg. It may require confidence to wear, but confidence can actually be a result of putting on red lipstick – and no one needs to know which comes first.


1930s and 40s: Symbol of resilience

With Word War II, women would begin taking on men’s jobs in the factories and wearing their lipstick let them express their femininity while wearing typically masculine boiler-suits. At the same time, wearing it was an act of defiance.

“Hitler hated red lipstick and would not allow any women around him to wear it since he claimed it contained animal fat from sewage,” – History of red lipstick

Although, we all know the true reason Hitler didn’t like red lipstick was because it empowered women, whereas he preferred women in their traditional roles.
In 1933, Vogue declared lipstick “the most important cosmetic for women,”.

It boosted women’s morale so much that the government actually implemented a scheme for women’s dressing rooms in the factories to always be stocked with lipstick. Elizabeth Arden released their lipstick ‘Victory Red’ and all marketing for it called for the women to wear red in support of the troops and in hope for victory. A far cry from 1700s when the government banned the cosmetic.

1950s: Glamour

The colour red was popular during WWII, but in the late 40s and 50s, it really sky-rocketed globally thanks to internationally famous stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth. Once a colour of seedy-ness, now red lips were the uniform of Hollywood icons.

Marilyn has left such an impact on modern-day culture that her crimson lipstick was voted the most iconic beauty trend of all time.

1960s – 1970s: Pale and nude lipstick revolution

As new icons came in like Twiggy, the new fashion was pale, nude and pastel lipsticks and red lost its allure. But it would not be long until Madonna would revive the shade in the 80s.

My red lipstick collection

I used to be terrified of wearing red lipstick. I dipped my toes in the water with nudes, pinks and paler colours. The more I wear red lipstick now though, the more I want to wear it!

My absolute favourite red lipstick is the Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet in La Fascinante, lined with No7 Precision lip liner. From the packaging, to the formula, to the colour, everything about it is so luxurious.

It’s a little bit drying, but the lasting power is amazing. I can go out for dinner and drinks and not need to top it up. It doesn’t even come off on my glass.

Here are my red lipsticks and I would recommend all of them:

Swatches of 1. MAC Matte - Lady Danger, 2. Bourjois Rouge Velvet - Hot Pepper #03, 3. Nars Powermatte - Starwoman, 4. Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet La Fascinante #38, 5.  Lord & Berry - Maraschino #2683, 6. Nudestix Intense Matte - Stiletto, 7. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution - Glastonberry, 8. No7 Precision Lips Pencil - Red.  

Red lipstick is empowerment. Red lipstick symbolises women’s journey to present-day.

Until I started research for this post, I never truly thought about what wearing a red lipstick stood for. It’s only taken around 5,000 years for red lipstick to become fully accepted in society.

No other colour of lipstick has the same feeling or connotations that red lipstick does.

Red lipstick represents what women have gone through and what they stand for. It’s also a reflection on society. As well as looking pretty and making you feel confident in an instant!

If you’ve never had the confidence to wear it or only wear it, I’d say give it a go but starting in baby steps – maybe a subtle a gloss.

It’s great that it’s starting to be embraced again – take one look at the red carpet, the high-street, the office…

I hope you enjoyed this and let me know in the comments what you think. And if you have any recommendations, definitely let me know!

In the post

Jumper: H&M

Scarf: Burberry Cashmere scarf in classic check (Mine’s second-hand chic 😉 Purse friendly option from H&M)

Share this article

  • Siyana
    December 17, 2017

    What an article! I’ve learned so many new stuff..
    And that photo of you… I knew you were pretty, but that lipstick makes you absolutely gorgeous!!
    It was pleasure collaborating with you xx

    • Hannah | Admin
      December 17, 2017

      I’m so glad! To be honest I learnt a lot too!
      Aww bless thank you so much that is so kind! I enjoyed it too 🙂 xxx

  • incenseandmascara
    December 18, 2017

    Love this post, interesting to learn about the history of red lipstick. Makes me want to go buy a red lipstick even though I don’t wear that color 🙂

    • Hannah | Admin
      December 18, 2017

      That’s amazing 🙂 you should go for it! Give it a try and see how you feel! X

  • sundaytribeco
    December 18, 2017

    Terrific blog post! One of my fav beauty posts in fact! I had know Idea about the history of red lipstick. Fascinating really!

    • Hannah | Admin
      December 18, 2017

      What a compliment! Thank you and I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 it is very fascinating isn’t it!

  • Hannah Denton
    December 18, 2017

    Hey fellow Hannah! I totally love a red lip, especially in the winter months!

  • Charlene
    December 19, 2017

    Love reading this! It was great learning where red lipstick came from. I love a good red lip, especially in the fall and winter months.


  • mmagotra
    December 19, 2017

    Wow what an interesting topic you have chosen to write about. Who knew the mighty red lipstick had such a solid history too. Thanks for writing this. Very enjoyable.

  • Sincerely, Alice
    December 19, 2017

    This is literally the most informative and detailed history of red lipstick I’ve ever read! I appreciate your research!

  • magicalmamablog
    December 20, 2017

    I adore a good red lip! It can make, not only an outfit, but a personality statement. Your knowledge is fabulous! This needs to be all over

    • Hannah | Admin
      December 21, 2017

      I definitely agree with you! It just lets your confidence come through! Thank you so much, that’s so kind! Xxx

  • Dominique
    January 5, 2018

    stands up and starts applauding red lipstick, man wipes away a single tear
    Very interesting post which, as a red-lipped woman, speaks to my imagination!
    (and you’ve also found the right way to my heritage-loving heart: two birds in one stone!).

    Thank you for providing all this new insight which I’ll surely use as a table topic! 😉


  • Lauren
    January 6, 2018

    Such an interesting read! There’s so much about the red lipstick that I never knew about! And that’s a lovely photo, the red lipstick really suits you!
    Lauren x

  • myglammpro
    December 11, 2019

    Very interesting post which, as a red-lipped woman, speaks to my imagination! and you’ve also found the right way to my heritage-loving heart 🙂

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