There is big power packed into every tiny tube of lipstick—and not as some femme fatale’s man-luring tool, either. A simple swipe of lipstick—the one essential item in any cosmetic-wearing person’s makeup bag—can contribute to an instant jolt of self-esteem and wellbeing.
Lipstick has been around in some form since about 3,000 BCE. Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Roman women applied ground-up gemstones to their lips, and Cleopatra VII found that crushing ants and carmine into beeswax provided a red shade worthy of the Queen of the Nile.
Fast-forward to the mid 1500s, and upper-class women had started to look down on the notion of wearing lipstick, which by then was worn mostly by prostitutes. Queen Elizabeth I would have none of that, however, and she painted red lips daily on her heavily white-powdered complexion.
After centuries of waffling back and forth on whether painted lips were deemed good or bad by societies all over the world, an American gentleman named Maurice Levy came up with the first metal lipstick tube in 1915, and thus mass production of the cosmetic began. Applying lipstick on-the-go seemed to part the skies for most women, who had already come to realize that a pop of colour on the lips had a way of transforming one’s entire face, and attitude, instantly.
From then and right up to the 1940s, beauty companies that are considered classic brands now, like Estée Lauder, Chanel, Revlon, and Guerlain, created their own versions of lipsticks, all in tubes and most of them in bright shades of red. Elizabeth Arden even came up with a kit for the American Marine Corps Women’s Reserve containing a shade of lipstick that perfectly matched the red in their uniforms.
By the ‘50s, red lipstick was associated with Hollywood’s most glamorous movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Ava Gardner. In 1951, Revlon created red lipsticks that matched its already existing nail polish shades. By that point, 98 per cent of American women were wearing red lipstick daily.
In the 1960s, new shades became available. Any woman with a previous life as a go-go girl can recall that pure white lipstick, or the palest, frostiest shell pink, was her go-to. The late ‘70s brought punk with pale-faced, spikey-haired women and even men, who reached for deep purples, neon brights like acid green, or jet blacks. Think Wendy O. Williams.
In 1984, Canadian cosmetic brand MAC launched, with Toronto’s Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo coming up with the world’s first matte lipstick formula. Satiny creams and frosts were also launched during the brand’s kickoff, but it was, and still is, the non-shiny, deeply colour-saturated matte formula in a black bullet tube that millions of women are deeply committed to. Madonna hit the music scene and adorned Russian Red. By the late ‘80s, goths couldn’t get enough of one particular shade; MAC makeup artist Jane McKay remembers it well. “I specifically recall shopping at the first MAC store on Carlton Street in Toronto in 1987,” she says over the phone from Toronto. “At the time, fashion was inspired by goth elements, and for my magazine editorials, I was always reaching for MAC Cosmetics lipstick in Taupe, which is a matte formula. It was the perfect shade and texture for fashion in the late ‘80s.” While the brand has since been purchased by Estée Lauder Companies, in some ways it remains a Canadian icon.
Up next? The ‘90s saw cosmetic brands offering nude lipstick shades that worked well with the minimalist, monochromatic, and often androgynous fashion of the decade. Present day? Red is back, with most brands realizing that it never ever really went out of style. Celebrities such as Gwen Stefani, Emma Watson, and Taylor Swift love red lips; Iris Apfel, well into her late nineties now, absolutely rocks it.
With today’s multitude of formulations and brands available, who really stands out? Here are five game-changing brands and a lipstick that each truly does best.
Christian Dior Diorific Lipstick
This new limited-edition collection is the ultimate in luxury (just look at that gold case); it comes in a matte finish that is still luminous, and not drying. Christian Dior himself created the now-iconic Rouge Dior 9 and 99 back in 1953 for one of his legendary couture shows, and many women would agree that Dior does classic red lipstick shades like no other. Shown above in Desirable.
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
In 2012, cult favourite Stila offered this new formula, with many copiers since but none nearly as good. The lightweight, long-wearing lipstick glides on with a sponge-tipped wand, but this is no gloss—instead, it is a highly pigmented lipstick that gets painted on wet and then quickly dries, allowing it to stay all day. Shown above in Caro.
MAC Cosmetics Powder Kiss Lipstick
McKay says that this brand-new lipstick is flying off the shelves. “It’s a moisturizing matte formula that conditions and hydrates while offering buildable colour and a cushiony, weightless feel,” she explains. “This product was created to cater to artists who work backstage, as we have been creating the softer, blurred lip edge over the past few seasons and this trend is growing wider and stronger all the time.” Shown above in Fall In Love.
Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil
Not to be confused with a skinny pencil for outlining one’s lips, this chubby all-in-one Nars stick allows appliers to draw lips on fast and easy with a semi-matte finish. Use the custom-sized sharpener to keep the pencil on point for precise drawing. Shown above in bestselling Dolce Vita.
Shiseido VisionAry Gel Lipstick
Japanese brand Shiseido opened its first beauty boutique in 1916 and has remained tireless in its innovation and breakthrough products ever since. This new modern, weightless formulation allows strong pigment to converge with water for a comfy feel that stays put for hours. To keep the lipstick fresh, each tube comes in a sealed airtight silver wrapper inside its cardboard case—so unboxing is a pleasure, too. Plus, the skinny shape is ideal for drawing in one’s cupid’s bow. Shown above in Coral Pop.
Those who love makeup know that its power is not in making a woman desirable to others—it’s in enhancing herself, in putting her best face forward in the name of personal confidence. And nothing does that quite like a perfectly coloured lip.
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