The Power of the Pout.
Red lipstick has dominated beauty sales as the best-selling colour for decades. The classic colour symbolises power, affluence, glamour, sexuality and rebellion all at the same time. It’s political – check out Netflix’s seminal documentary Knock Down the House if you don’t know what I mean. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore red lipstick throughout her campaigning, and it became notoriously synonymous with her feminism and politics and her successful climb into the White House. It symbolised her refusal to comply with typical conventions that women in power should wear neutral and inoffensive colours to avoid scrutiny, and attempt to blend in to the mass of anodyne grey and black suits that inevitably surround her.
Red lipstick has been around for centuries. Cleopatra wore a red lip made from the colour of crushed beetles; it was a symbol of decadence and affluence because of the volume of beetles needed to create the tint. Her subjects wore a more rust toned, less regal colour made from the less excessive ground stones. (She also invented black cat-eye winged liner, AND was the ruler of Egypt – woman’s a badass.) Queen Elizabeth I wore red lipstick to ‘ward off evil spirits’ and was buried with her lips caked in the lead-lined rouge. Lipstick was banned in 1920s New York by men who feared that women might use it to poison them. Red lipstick was worn during times of adversity; during WWII colours like ‘Victory Red’ were manufactured and the cherry pop was even given to female survivors upon emancipation from concentration camps in an attempt to help normalise them and give women a sense of femininity back.
More recently, the vermilion shade has hit headlines again, this time for its intensely political motivations. Worn by the suffragettes in the early 20thcentury, it became tantamount to feminism, subversion, rebellion and politics. Earlier this year, more than 100 Congresswomen took to the international stage wearing all white outfits at the State of the Union address in homage to the white of their feminist mothers, and striking red lips were also hugely popular with its female patronages.
November 2018 was a historic month for women in politics. More women won seats in Congress than ever before: 92 in the House and 10 in the Senate. These included the first Native American and first Muslim woman ever elected into Congress who stood proudly alongside the two youngest Congress members to ever serve, one of whom was fierce New Yorker Ocasio-Cortez, with her suffragette inspired white suit, notorious gold hoops and bold ruby lipstick.
It is commonplace to downplay the importance of sartorial and beauty choices with women in politics, either relegating them to frivolity or unimportance. But they are still a marked and loaded choice, and one that often comes with deliberate repercussions, in an effort to stand out rather than falling by the wayside in comparison to the blander male counterparts. While, admittedly, their choice of lipstick is, as Racked journalist Cheryl Wischover dubbed, the ‘least important thing about them’, it has captured the eyes and hearts of many spectators and therefore is worth examining.
Make-up is often referred to as ‘war paint’, first coined during the Thatcherite premiership, where women, coupled with padded shoulders to create masculine silhouettes, went into the workplace to do battle with their male colleagues. We live in a society where women are expected to look ‘presentable’ which usually means some time spent in front of the mirror before heading off to work; in fact, some jobs contractually oblige women to wear make-up (and high heels) to work. Make-up has also caused some controversy as being anti-feminist, with some condoning this view, believing that capitulating to and perpetuating the patriarchal view of how a woman should look and doing so does nothing for the cause, only objectifying ourselves for the male gaze.
Women are consistently scrutinised for their appearance, much more so than men. Donald Trump has played a large role in encouraging this kind of rhetoric; let’s journey back to when he mocked fellow presidential contender Carly Fiorina. "Look at that face," Trump trumpeted. "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!" He added, "I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s’posed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"
‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’ first appeared in WWII propaganda posters under the guise of protection when really it was a tactic of censorship and hypervigilance. The sentiment urged you to ‘keep mum’ during the wartime effort but now it can be rebranded as the record-breaking, glass-ceiling smashing modern wartime effort of an equal and well-represented society where all voices are loud, brash and demanding. A red lip imbues a sense of power, without limitation, interstellar – as powerfully illustrated by Voir’s beauty editorial Rocket Girl by Jen Wilding, helping you discover your shooting star alter ego.
The first red lipstick was produced by Guerlain, named ‘Ne M’Oubliez Pas’ – don’t forget me. Be rebellious, be formidable, be sexy. Be all these things - and be unforgettable.
Your puckered pout is powerful. Paint on that red and get to work.
By Lizzy Greenwood
Artwork: Sasha Green