‘Don’t you think red is a little aunty-types?’
‘Red Lipsticks? Office kaun laagake aata hai yaar?’
‘You know red lipsticks look very…ahemm.. slutty.’
Love to wear red lipstick but can’t shake off the haters and unwanted attention? Well that’s not new.
Red lips have always attracted attention – and not just from the fashion police. From being a Suraksha- kavach, to actually killing people, the history of red lipstick is stranger than ‘Naagin’ on TV.
In Ancient Civilisations
35,000 years ago in ancient Iran and Kuwait. Sumerian queen Schub-ad cooked up the first known red lipstick using white lead and red rocks.
And then 500 years later, In saddi Indus Valley, girls were using seaweed to make a purplish-red lip colour.
In Ancient Egypt, style diva Queen Cleopatra had a swag-wala recipe for red lip paint. To make Cleopatra’s signature red you need 1 tsp of flowers, red ochre, fish scales, carmine and crushed ants, swaad anusar. The elite women of Ancient Egypt took at least two pots of lip paint to their tombs.
5th Century CE
Back in Hindustan, ladies were all about the sola sringar. Shakespeare ka bhai Kalidas used the word Alaktaka to describe his heroine’s gulaabi (no, scratch that) laal honth in the poem Kumarasambhavam.
In 16th Century England, Queen Elizabeth 1 and her ishq for laal turned out to be a bad romance. She believed her lipstick had magical powers and could prevent death.
Ironically, the toxic lead in her lipstick lead to her death. When Elizabeth fell ill, she applied more and more lipstick. When she died, she wore half an inch of red lip colour.
Mughal rulers in India at that time were smarter. They wanted to ace the beauty exam, but also didn't want to die. Mughal women decide to experiment with the sasta kifayti paan. They got the red stain but it also left them with severely decayed teeth (much like paan-chewers today!).
Unlike Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria hated red lipstick and considered it ‘impolite’. Thus, it not only became a fashion faux pas and but also something only prostitutes wore.
At the dawn of the 20th century, red lipstick found a place in the feminist arsenal. In 1912 New York, suffragettes painted the town and their lips all red! Beauty boss Elizabeth Arden herself handed out red lipsticks to the marching suffragettes.
Lipstick to Fight Hitler?
In the 1940’s, WW2 made red lipstick a political tool. Hitler hated red lipstick, so the Allies were like, colour me red baby. US Marines had a mandatory red lip shade called Montezuma Red. Churchill wouldn't even allow lipsticks to be rationed during the war because it was a morale booster for working women.
Red Lipstick in the 50s was all sexuality and desirability. Icons like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe with their signature crimson shades made red lipstick synonymous with female sexuality.
Red lipstick stood loud and proud in the 80s. Pop Queen Madonna made Mac’s Russian Red iconic by making it her signature red. All this time, in India, only vamps were allowed to wear red. After all, acche ghar ke ladkiya koi laal lipstick lagati hain?
Red lipstick notoriety has followed it into the present century too. Today, we have approximately 600 shades of red lipstick but also 600 reasons to only wear it under your burkha.
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Camera Person: Abhay Sharma, Athar Rather