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Style Makeover Tips

Why all women should have a red lipstick

As we prepare to pucker up for National Lipstick Day on Thursday, Body+Soul breaks down how to make the right shade of crimson work for you.

A bold red lip is make-up’s equivalent to the little black dress – an essential item that every woman should own, even if it hangs mostly unworn in the back of the wardrobe or sits untouched in the bathroom cabinet.

It’s been a staple for Hollywood glamazons past (Marilyn Monroe; Elizabeth Taylor) and present (Margot Robbie), and pop stars of every generation, from Debbie Harry and Madonna, to Kylie Minogue and Rihanna.

It tends to fall in and out of mainstream favour depending on an era’s prevailing beauty and fashion trends, and the preferred shade or degree of matte or gloss varies from year to year, but red lipstick is never truly out of style.

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Melissa Hoyer, an entertainment and fashion commentator – and red-lipstick aficionado – cites Gwen Stefani’s retro rouge, Katy Perry’s raspberry pink (which “verges on the theatrical”) and Cate Blanchett’s classic red as some of her favourite examples.

She warns, though, that what you pair the lip with is what ultimately makes or breaks your look.

“Think of ballet dancers, singers and performers – it’s a stage colour,” Hoyer tells Body+Soul. “So when you’re not on the stage, you have to be careful to maintain a red lip properly. That means keeping an eye on it smudging, too, otherwise you start looking a bit like a broken-down showgirl.”

To keep your pout in prime condition and ensure your lipstick doesn’t make its way south of your mouth or on to a pristine white shirt, make-up artist Kristyan Low suggests opting for “liquid, long-wearing colours that set and become smudge- and eating-proof, which is great for those who want longevity and no fuss”.

To keep your look simple and chic (read: not showgirl), Low recommends “concentrating just on the red lip. I love applying a soft, smudgey eyeliner to the top of the lash line, accompanied by a few coats of mascara, just to enhance the eye and give a little definition.”

Although a simple swipe of this colour can inject instant glam and elevate an outfit, Australian lipstick legend and cosmetics entrepreneur Poppy King tells Body+Soul it has always been more about the internal transformation that occurs.

“For me, red lipstick was always a bit like a superhero cape – the things I felt capable of doing with red lipstick on as opposed to without were very different,” she says.

“It really changes your whole psyche and the message you’re giving to the world.”

King adds that while the Bond-girl and Playboy pin-up narrative around red lips may have led many of us to believe they were simply meant to entice a potential catch, she begs to differ.

“It’s often misunderstood as something that is designed to attract,” King explains. “What really intrigues women about red lipstick is not what it does for men, but what it does for themselves.”

With the advent of Zoom meetings that necessitated a presentable shoulders-up appearance (even if coupled with pyjama pants on the bottom half), lipstick has proven to be the perfect way to “look like you’ve put in some effort, no matter what else you do”, Hoyer says.

Australia will eventually return to a more robust lifestyle that involves dates, dancing and dressing up in clothes that actually say “I’m leaving the house, and perhaps even the country…”

At that stage, the theory behind the so-called “lipstick index” is likely to prove sturdy.

Coined in 2001 by Leonard Lauder, the then-chairman of make-up giant Estée Lauder, it refers to the trend of lipstick sales increasing after periods of societal uncertainty and hardship, as consumers allow themselves to indulge in a bit of luxury.

“When the economy starts to pick up,” Hoyer explains, “people can’t necessarily afford a whole new outfit, but they will go and buy a lipstick.”

Social commentator Bernard Salt tells Body+Soul that while lipstick sales may have dropped during the past year owing to the need to cover the lower halves of our faces to avoid spreading germs, “The minute the mask mandate is removed, lipstick will walk off the shelf. The suppressed market will burst into life, so we could see a blossoming of lipstick flair, where people will want to show off their mouths.”

How to apply in 5 simple steps

  • Exfoliate: Buff your lips with a sugar scrub or a soft face cloth.
  • Moisturize: Apply a lip balm to moisturize and prime your lips.
  • Line: Line and fill your lips with a lip pencil, following along your lip line. This helps to prevent bleeding and gives tack to your lipstick.
  • Apply: Apply your lipstick – either with the bullet or a brush for precise application.
  • Define: Finish by cleaning up around the outside of your lips with concealer and a tapered brush.