“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”
– Elizabeth Taylor
Raise your favorite fistful of weaponry high, girls and fabulously unbothered guys, for today we celebrate our adult safety blanket, our liquid courage, the exclamation point we wear on our faces. Today is National Lipstick Day!
The Lipstick Effect
Sometimes I’m so hilariously on-type as a millennial that I have to laugh. I definitely am part of the post-2008 Great Recession generation of adults who graduated into a bit of a financial wasteland and so turned to buying smaller “luxuries” instead of bigger purchases like houses and and cars. Sorry for killing those industries, boomers! The lipstick effect is a real thing and I wonder how much my generational timing has played into my love of it as a product. Would I still love it without the perils of financial instability looming over me? Probably. Would it be a small symbol of disposable income, a measure of control over my appearance when bigger ticket items are utterly beyond my reach, a talisman of bravery against a world in which I felt small and disenfranchised and poor without that backdrop? Likely not. Lipstick as I like to say, is armor.
Scarlet red lips don’t appear in nature but they are almost uniformly agreed to be fabulous. Nude colored lipstick promise a “your lips but better” experience for the more demure. Either way you swing, lipstick is designed to make you feel like you can choose and put on a better version of yourself. Someone bolder, someone more polished, someone who doesn’t care how other people look at her, someone who insists that other people look at her and see what she wants them to see. It is a fundamentally frivolous purchase, a bit of artifice in a plastic or metal tube, but also a delightful and powerful collective fiction.
I love the stories about the importance of beauty to Britain under rationing in World War II. Apparently Hitler was anti cosmetics which was just one of may reasons for British women to eke out that tube of contraband as long as possible. Women were encouraged to keep glamorous (with the usual sexist overtones) but there was a recognition that choosing to look as you wished to, to portray yourself to the world as you wished to be seen or saw yourself at your best, was fundamental to morale. It doesn’t take a war to want to feel that way.
My Love Affair With Lipstick
I was growing into my love for it towards the end of my university years, but it was in young adulthood that the flirtation really blossomed into a love affair. We’ve been very happy together ever since. I own too much, but I wear ever single bullet and tube I buy regularly because I love the whole experience that goes with it. I love shopping for it, testing out shades, seeing how I feel in them, hoarding them like a dragon over my gold, and picking one every day that will make me feel great to wear.
You can’t accidentally fall into lipstick, it is an intentional product. Unless you are supremely gifted, you have to pay attention to apply it correctly, and you often have to “touch it up” throughout the day to keep it looking tidy and at full strength–unless you have mastered the art of not caring whilst still achieving effortless, chic status. In which case, DM me, I have a few questions. Personally, I love whipping out a small mirror in the afternoon for a quick once over. I usually find it reassuring to be reminded that I have a little extra something on my face that feels positive, pretty, and powerful.
It’s become “my thing,” part of my brand, for lack of a better word. At a previous job, a man from another company who I had only met once previously was discussing our meeting to a colleague and forgot my name. He struggled for a moment before describing me as, “The woman, the one with the lipstick.” I was not the only woman in this meeting, nor the only one with lip product on her face. Mine had stood out somehow. Good. I’d chosen it for exactly that purpose and it worked.
I don’t wear lipstick for other people and certainly not for male attention. My husband knows how lipstick makes me feel and he’s not above kissing me while in my full warpaint. He is perfectly able to wipe off any excess; it doesn’t hurt him. He is also wise enough occasionally divert a kiss to my cheek or forehead (or at his most adorable, my nose) while lovingly and teasingly saying, “I don’t want to smudge you.” He gets it. And as for anyone else, I don’t wear it for them; I wear lipstick because I feel better with it on.
Lipstick, like shoes, always fits. It makes an old T-shirt and a comfortable pair of jeans into an “outfit.” It is a pocket sized personality beacon. It is a blatant claiming of space and attention, even and perhaps especially just for yourself.
Lipstick is Armor
I made a friend several years ago who didn’t necessarily share my love of lipstick. She had a minimal beauty style that suited her to the ground and she preferred to wear things that made her complexion the star of the show. She always looked fantastic.
One day over lunch we were swapping stories and tidbits of information, and somehow we got on to the subject of beauty. We complimented one other’s taste (because women loving women is the best) and she asked me about lipstick because she noticed I always wore it. I laughed and gave her a truncated version of this post: how it makes me feel to wear it and how I know it’s just wax and pigment that it somehow, genuinely makes me happier and braver. She got it too.
“You know, I have a lipstick drawer somewhere,” she said after a moment. “I never use the stuff, but I love knowing that it’s there. Just in case. I may need it some day.”