Since today, July 29th, 2020 is National Lipstick Day, I thought it would be cool to talk about the history of lipstick!
It all began centuries ago. From ancient Greece and India to Elizabethan England, people have been playing with “make-up.” They darkened, painted and adorned their lips with dyes, pigments, plant roots, pencils and rouges. Some say that flushed lips indicate sexual arousal, and that is perhaps why lipstick remains so popular to this day.
The history of modern lipstick starts in the 19th century. Before then, men and women would sneak around and discreetly put on cosmetics at home, though they were seen as signs of effeminacy in men and debauchery in women. There were only a few who could pull it off. Only actors and actresses could get away with wearing makeup––and only on stage. It wasn’t until the 1880s that certain actresses, like Sarah Bernhardt, started wearing makeup in public.
OK, so at this time, lipstick was very messy; it was not yet in a tube. Discustingly, carmine dye, an extract of ground-up insects, was applied to the lips using a brush. Despite its unappetizing origins, carmine dye was expensive, and not practical for the average woman.
The look was also highly theatrical and unnatural, especially by 19th-century standards. This made early lipstick all the more shocking.
In the early 1900s, a synthetic form of carmine was infused into an oil and wax base, creating a colored lip ointment that looked a lot more natural than carmine dye and became more respectable.
However, lipstick was not yet a lip stick. At the turn of the last century, lip color was sold in tinted papers or paper tubes, which made it impossible to carry around in a pocket or purse. This meant that women could apply makeup at home, but could not do any touch-ups at all.
Around 1915, lipstick started to be sold in metal containers, with various push-up tubes. Then finally, the first swivel-up tube was patented in 1923, in Nashville, Tennessee. This packaging allowed manufacturers to package to sell, creating stylish and seductive packages for consumer goods. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, hundreds of lipstick tubes were patented in the United States, all with the same basic function: the container would swivel, twist or push a tube of lipstick from a hollow cylinder.
The movie industry stimulated demand for lipstick. Women wanted to look like Louise Brooks, Clara Bow and other stars of the silver screen. Early brands, such as Max Factor and Tangee, promised women they could look just like movie stars with the right application of cosmetics.
Photography also made lipstick more acceptable. Since women wanted to look good in photographs, they started to wear makeup in the photo booth, then outside of it.
The Great Depression actually increased demand for lipstick. When most people could not afford most luxuries, an inexpensive tube of Tattoo or Tangee was a good way to satisfy the desire for luxury.
It was in the 1930s that Max Factor released the first lip gloss. Originally used by movie actresses, Factor’s X-Rated lip gloss was such a success that it was sold, continuously, until 2003, when the company retired the item.
During World War II, metal lipstick cases were replaced with plastic, then with paper. However, lipstick was still manufactured, both in American and in Europe; it was believed that makeup was psychologically important to women. In America, brand rivalry ceased, and companies concentrated on making cheap lipsticks for women workers.
The Lipstick Wars began in the 1950s. Revlon and Hazel Bishop were the two biggest games in town. While Hazel Bishop brand lipstick was seen as a practical, no-nonsense American brand, Revlon lipstick appealed to a more romanticized side of female psychology. Both companies ran expensive ad campaigns, and may even have tapped each other’s phones to get more information. Revlon won.
The history of lipstick, especially in the modern era, is driven by competing brands and personalities, all looking for the right look, or formula, to advance their share and influence in the market.
For much of the 1950s and 60s, movies drove the crazes in lipstick usage. Many women imitated Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra look, as well as Marilyn Monroe’s signature red lipstick with platinum blonde hair.
The history of lipstick is still being written; I wonder what the future has in store for us.
I never leave the house without at least 4 different lipsticks in my purse. I know, it’s kind of crazy but that’s what I like. Do you wear lipstick? Do you prefer sheer, matte, metallic or cream? Do you wear lip gloss? What are your favorite colors and brands? Please leave your comments below.
Thank you for reading The Badass Writer! More on beauty, books and travel coming up!