While Katy Perry licks the artificial cherry from the mouth of her party acquaintance, Cliff Richards marries a woman in his hit, who consists mainly of a red mouth. From “Red lips should be kissed” to “I kissed a girl” – make-up lips are often sworn as a symbol of seduction. A study by the University of Manchester showed that those who apply red lipstick captivate their counterparts a full 7.3 seconds longer than unvarnished people. At the moment, however, the makeup is not doing well, which has always been a sign of resistance.
Although the cosmetics industry likes to conjure up the lipstick effect in the pandemic (the worse the economy is, the stronger the increase in sales of small stuff such as lipsticks), the figures tell a different truth: The sales of the cosmetics market have collapsed massively in 2020, these are hard times, also for the beauty industry. People simply spend too much time at home and when they go out, their mouth is often hidden under the mask. However, red lips will probably not become extinct so quickly. Fashion magazines are currently explaining again, as defiantly, why these never go out of fashion, trend colors for the summer are presented (classic red to orange-red), and also on the catwalks the mouths are (again or still) colored.
After all, people have been putting on their lips for more than 5000 years. At least this is indicated by excavations in the Sumerian city of Ur, where a kind of lip paste made of lead white and crushed red stones had been found in royal tombs from the year 3500 BC. The trend spilled over the Assyrs to Egypt, where men and women painted their mouths, and those who put on their lips there could afford it. In addition to red, pink, orange or blue-black colors also became popular. Around the time of Cleopatra, it was discovered that 50 grams of crimson dye could be produced from about 100,000 crushed scale insects.
A warning and signal color
In Greece, around 500 BC, only the hetarians put on their lips, one was caught without makeup, she could be punished for deception – with pale lips she pretended to be a noble woman. The red color thus became a sign of the socially outlawed, writes Sarah E. Schaffer in her essay on the regulation of lipstick. Until about 200 years later, social opinion changed: red mouths became chic. Poppaea Sabina, for example, Nero’s second wife, is said to have employed 100 slaves as stylists in ancient Rome.
A make-up woman is the embodiment of the devil because she changes her God-given face, it was then said in the Middle Ages in England. Only Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first to use a kind of pencil to make up her lips red in contrast to the white powdered face. She even awarded him life-saving powers. In 1770, the English Parliament again passed a law according to which marriages could be annulled if the man was seduced by red lips. This is witchcraft.
In the early 20th century, lipstick became a sign of female rebellion. The New York suffragettes publicly put on their lips during their protest march in 1912, explains Rachel Felder in her book “Red Lipstick”. Thanks to the fighters for women’s suffrage and fashion designers like Coco Chanel, the modern woman showed up with lipstick from now on.
Red lips also played a role in the fight against German fascism. The German woman was supposed to be as “natural” as possible in National Socialist ideology, so English and American women wore lipsticks called “Victory Red” or “Patriot Red”. This symbolism was even welcomed by the US government of the time and in 1941 commissioned Elizabeth Arden to design a lipstick that harmonized with the uniforms of the soldiers.
After the victory of the Allied lipstick front, actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor or Marylin Monroe gave the self-confident look the Hollywood glamour.
But even years later, red lips can still provoke: drag queens play with gender identities, and so-called lipstick lesbians deliberately stage their femininity, which is not based on male desire. And so red lips, mask and sales figures are back or forth, to this day much more than just an invitation to kiss.