Whether it’s danger, drama or street cred you’re after, only one lipstick shade will do for 2009: red. The most classic of lipstick colours often pops up in the Christmas collections but this year it’s making a proper comeback for autumn and, with more shades and formulations available now than ever, there’s no excuse for not finding your perfect red.
Just as fashions in clothes go in cycles, so do trends in make-up – and red lipstick is one of the oldest trends there is. In ancient times, women painted their pouts with sheep’s blood. No doubt this vogue was inspired by the erotic appeal of red lips to the opposite sex; an appeal said to stem from the resemblance of the painted mouth to another part of the female anatomy.
In the Victorian era, woman pinched their cheeks and bit their lips in order to look flushed. Early in the 20th century, red lipstick came to represent more than a state of sexual excitement; it became a symbol of liberation. Red lipsticks were first marketed in the 1920s, just after American women were granted the vote, and were dabbed on to the centre of the lips to create the “bee-stung” effect made famous by movie star Clara Bow.
By the 1940s, the red lipped look also represented power, and it’s no coincidence that the strongest, feistiest women on the big screen were the ones best known for their full, red pouts. Celebrated screen bitch Joan Crawford exaggerated her lips with lip liner and blood red lipstick – a shade which, along with her trademark shoulder pads, enjoyed a major revival in the power-mad 1980s. Both the lip colour and the shoulder pads are back in vogue again just now.
In the 1950s, red lipstick – corally reds, scarlets, tomato reds, cherry – was every Hollywood starlet’s essential make-up item but by the 1960s, it had fallen from favour; replaced by the pale, frosted lip look or no lipstick at all.
These days, anything goes and some style icons have become known for their signature scarlet: accessories designer Lulu Guinness and burlesque star Dita Von Teese are two of today’s most influential poster girls for painted red pouts. And they’ve been joined recently by such A-listers as Angelina Jolie, Sienna Miller and Cameron Diaz in sporting 1940s-inspired lips on the red carpet.
So, how to pick the right red? After all, it’s not just a case of which shade matches your favourite top/dress/coat. Choose the wrong red and you could well pass for a clown, an Elizabeth I impersonator, a drag queen or a wee girl playing with her mum’s make-up.
We’ve asked various experts and the common consensus is that the first step is to identify your skin tone – because it is the key to whittling down the range of reds to the one which suits you. If you’re pale, prone to flushing and find it difficult to get a tan, then – like red lippie-fans Diane Kruger, Gwyneth Paltrow and the afore-mentioned Dita Von Teese – you have a cool skin tone, and should stick to cherry reds which have a blue or pink undertone, and blood reds for a dramatic look, especially with dark hair and pale skin.
Women with warmer-toned complexions – honey blondes with sun-kissed skin and brunettes with Mediterranean colouring – can pull off the orangey shades better; the classic tomato reds, rusts and brick tones. Think Cameron Diaz, Catherine Zeta-Jones or Scarlett Johanssen. Girls with dark skin should opt for deep reds, berry reds and burgundies for a touch of Hollywood glamour – as Naomi Campbell often does.
But, alas, once you’ve got a fix on which shades should suit you, there is still the question of texture. Alan Pan, Estee Lauder’s make-up artist, says: “Choosing which texture of red you want is crucial. You have to choose whether you want a matte, satin or glossy finish. For smaller lips it is best to go with a glossy finish as this gives the illusion of a fuller pout.”
Matte red is notoriously tricky to wear as it can emphasise thin lips and have an ageing effect. It can also be very uncomfortable for dry lips. Generally, the drier your lips, the shinier you should go with your lipstick, and if you’re really stuck for one that’s comfortable, then follow international beauty guru Bobbi Brown’s advice.
She suggests: “Don’t feel constrained to wear red found in a lipstick tube – create your own customised lipstick by combining a red you like with a favourite neutral or brown lipstick”
Of course, there’s always the option of ditching the lipstick entirely, and opting for one of the new, richly pigmented glosses that are around this season. Just as long as it’s red.
BEST FOR PALE SKINS
* No7 Wild Volume lipstick in Forever Cherry (£9.50)
* Dior Addict Ultra Gloss Perfect in Red Stockings (£17.50)
* Estee Lauder Limited Edition Signature Lipstick in Simply Red (£16)
* Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Lipstick in Stay Scarlet (£16)
BEST FOR FAIR-MEDIUM WARM SKINS
* Chanel Rouge Allure in Enthusiast (£21.50)
* No7 Stay Perfect Lip Lacquer in Flamenco Red (£9.50)
* Bobbi Brown Rich Color Gloss in Ruby Red (£14)
* Guerlain Rouge G in Greta (£25)
BEST FOR MEDIUM & DARK SKINS
* Revlon Matte Lipstick in Really Red (£7.29)
* Dior Rouge Dior in Celebrity Red (£21)
* Bobbi Brown Rich Color Gloss in Merlot (£14)
* Chanel Rouge Allure Laque in Dragon (£23)