The History of Red Lipstick & Its Role in Women’s Empowerment

If you could only use one makeup item for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you answered with red lipstick, you’re not alone! Excellent choice.

Red is the ultimate shade of lipstick to wear whenever you want to feel empowered and in control. It’s equally classy and edgy, making it a cosmetic staple for most women and a go-to confidence booster.

But, who would have thought that this modern-day connection between women and red lipstick is rooted in history? How has red lipstick become a symbol of power and strength? In this article, we’re taking a step all the way back to Ancient Egypt.

The Feminist History of Red Lipstick

Many women throughout history have sported shades of red to assert their social status and power. Its first known use can be traced to Cleopatra who was regarded as the prototype of the femme fatale.

The queen of Ancient Egypt was known to create shades of red herself by crushing ants and beetles to extract a rich carmine pigment. She also used flowers and interestingly, fish scales, to give them a luminous finish. Later in the 16th century, Christian churches associated wearing red lipstick or any kind of makeup, for that matter, with Satan worship. But, Queen Elizabeth popularized bright red lips against pale white skin.

For a time, red lipstick lost its high-status symbol and was associated with women of ill repute. During her reign, Queen Victoria regarded the use of cosmetics as impolite and the use of cosmetics dramatically declined. But, what fell out of style eventually became fashionable once more, largely owing to its contribution to history and role in feminism.

Early 19th Century: Red Lipstick & The Women’s Suffrage

Early 19th Century: Red Lipstick & The Women’s Suffrage

In 1847, women in the US were not allowed to vote. A year later, a group of activists—mostly women, but some men—gathered in New York to fight for their rights to vote, among other things. In what was called the suffragette movement, red lipstick became a part of their uniform. Some women would wear bold, red lipstick to draw more attention to their cause.

The red shade was feminine, yet bold and daring. It became a symbol of strength at a time when a true woman was defined as a submissive wife and a mother who is only concerned with family and home.
It was a decades-long fight. But, all for a good cause. Starting in 1910, some states started to extend the vote to women. By 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and later that year, more than 8 million women in the US voted in elections for the first time.

The Lipstick Effect: The Psychology of Red

Throughout history, women who have faced hardships found comfort and power in a tube of red lipstick. One of the biggest roles it played in history was during WWII when wearing one was prohibited in Germany under Nazi rule. However, in America, it was already being embraced as a luxury good.

As women were called to help in the production of military artillery, they made do with what was left of common resources to create makeup, which was scarce at the time. This allowed them to exercise strength in femininity even in times of hardship.

Fast forward to the present, we see modern-day women feel empowered with red lipstick on. While it’s true that red lips boost confidence, there’s more to it than being a feminist statement.

It makes you embrace your beauty at any age.

Studies suggest that wearing red lips can make you look bright, vibrant and more attractive over time. This is what is called the facial contrast: As we mature, our eyes, brows, and lips become paler but a striking red lip can balance this out, adding a complement to your overall complexion. This has been backed up by several other studies that found that red lips can introduce a healthy tint to your lips.

It can help you feel more competent at work.

A Harvard University study also found that women who wear red lips in the workplace feel more competent at their jobs. Of the 100 people that participated in the interview, most women said that they seem more confident in comparison to those who wear minimalist makeup to fit in.

It can be a symbol of confidence and can give you a boost.

About 44% of women in the US do not like leaving their homes without makeup on primarily because it makes them feel more confident, sociable, and assertive. They also thought that they would be treated more favorably in almost every aspect of life, from dating to job interviews, and friendships.

Regardless of its origins, the concept of wearing lipstick has carried a multitude of meanings that are well-documented throughout history. It has become a signal of seduction, a display of wealth, or a symbol of confidence.

From its contribution to the suffragette movement, red lipstick steadily rose in popularity and sales continued to rise. We saw iconic Hollywood actresses like Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, and Louise Brooks sporting a red pout and starting a trend called the Cupid’s Bow. It’s achieved by lining the inside of the natural lip line to make the mouth appear smaller and create an impression of pursed lips blowing a kiss.

There was also the era of Hollywood icons like Josephine Baker, Hattie McDaniel, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor who started the trend of bold red lips. Today, we look up to the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Actress Viola Davis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, Beyonce, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Emma Stone, and Anne Hathaway whose lips are almost always crimson. These powerhouses commanded the public’s attention, exuding style and confidence.

The Ongoing Affair Between Red Lipstick & Women Empowerment

The Ongoing Affair Between Red Lipstick & Women Empowerment

If these aren’t any indication, a tube of red lipstick remains as one, if not the most powerful makeup product you can have in your bag. The next time you open your purse and see this makeup product sitting there, think of the powerful journey it has been through.

While it has come a long way from crushed insects to the advanced and most varied formulas -- like our vegan formulation -- that we have today, there’s one thing that remains constant: the ability of red lipstick to make us feel confident, beautiful and empowered.

What are your thoughts about the history of red lipstick?