Deconstructing the red lip

A slick of red lipstick is considered daring, the mark of a woman who’s not afraid to make a statement

Gwen Stefani. Evan Agostini / AP photo
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Even in this day and age, a slick of red lipstick is considered daring, the mark of a woman who’s not afraid to make a statement. Burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese is never seen without it, magazine editor Isabella Blow was famous for constantly having it smeared across her teeth and pop star Gwen Stefani has made it her signature.

First recorded in the sixteenth century, when it was an unsavoury mix of beeswax and crimson plant dye, a bold red lip has since been sported by attention-seeking starlets through the ages. Equally striking on brunettes (in deeper shades) as it is on blondes (for that extra pop), the rule of thumb is that you should match the base tone to your eyes, so blue red for blue eyes and brown red for brown eyes.
With shades ranging from scarlet and pillar box to vermillion and ruby, it is hard knowing where to start when it comes to finding the ideal shade, but best-sellers include Dior Rouge in 999 by Christian Dior (bought by the bucket load since 1947), Revlon's signature fiery Love That Red and YSL's Rouge Pur Couture in 1 Le Rouge. Chanel has Rouge Allure Intense in 99 Pirate and MAC has the fabled Ruby Woo, which is meant to work on any skin tone. To be fair, with one sold every fifteen seconds, MAC might be on to something.
Be prepared to try out a few before you find your perfect hue. Such a bold colour is a statement in itself, and is striking when paired with all black, grey or even denim. Avoid combining it with pink or orange, unless you are a professional clown.
The biggest faux pas with red lipstick? Not using a lip liner and having the pigment bleed out past your lips. Take a few moments to draw a good outline, which will help your lippy stay put. And always use exactly the same shade as your lipstick. No exceptions, no excuses.