The Rebellious History of Red Lipstick

The main character in my novel is an unapologetically feminine powerhouse in the male dominated field of industrial espionage. I really wanted to get her look 'right.' Since I love red lipstick and own many tubes of it, I thought I'd include it in my character building.

While doing research, I came across some fascinating facts about the history of that controversial hue. I had no idea how entangled the rebellious shade was with power, politics, and war.

In ancient Egyptian times, it was common for nobility to wear rouge on their face and lips. Cleopatra in particular was known for ruby shade made with crushed insects and beeswax. How organic!

Red lip rouge was associated with working gals in ancient Greece. They were actually required to wear makeup to announce their profession. Queen Elizabeth popularized its use by wearing it almost exclusively against her pale makeup. The Victorian era brought a downturn though, due to the idea that it was too BOLD to be 'polite.'

But America took red lipstick to another level during the the Suffrage Movement. Women fighting for their right to be heard did something shocking. They wore rebel red lipstick given to them by none other than Elizabeth Arden. Used as symbol for feminine resistance it was worn by women determined to wrestle for control of their own lives. The fact that it was bold, unmistakable, and not quietly demure was the whole point.

During World War 2, Hitler railed against the offensive color. Stating that it marred the pure faces of Aryan women. In answer to that hate-filled rant, US troops used it extensively in the war effort. With companies churning out shades of brilliant Rebel and Victory Red. There was even an official wartime shade, Montezuma Red, for the US military. In honor of the Marine Corp Hymn...OORAH!

It is still used in symbols of protest today. Women in countries like Nicaragua will don the shade on social media to protest the arrest of political prisoners. More than 10,000 women wore it in tandem with a blindfold during a protest in Chile to bring awareness to sexual violence in their nation. You can still find some original shades from companies like Bésame Cosmetics. One of my favorites is Fairest Red which is a recreation of Snow White's lip color taken from the original ink and paint hues used by the artists.

I chose this symbol for my character because it is my hope that bravery, strength, and standing up for what's right becomes as synonymous with the word feminine as beauty is. Because in the end, we are more than what we look like. We are ultimately what we fight for.

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