Lockdown's least-used item: How lipstick heroically emerged from being vilified and almost wiped out

Model Maria Decremps wears all vintage on February 27, 2020 in Paris, France. Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images
Model Maria Decremps wears all vintage on February 27, 2020 in Paris, France. Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Naomi Campbell wears lipstick while she exercises in self-quarantine and Dolly Parton credits it for her hard-to-miss smile - "the redder, the better", she says. 

Even Coco Chanel attested to the power of coloured lips in elevating your mood, saying: "If you are sad, if you are heartbroken, make yourself up, dress up, add more lipstick and attack."

And she is correct, as confirmed by Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder, who coined the term "lipstick effect" in 2001 to describe the beauty company's rising lipstick sales during periods of financial distress.

The rationale is, in tough economic times consumers tend to uplift their mood by buying more affordable luxury items that are still seen to guarantee some level of satisfaction. And in the cosmetics sector, one of those items happens to be lipstick. 

As quoted in Beauty Independent, Noel Lim, econometrics manager at Kline, said: "When people feel down, they buy more lipstick," alluding to the fact that as recessions worsen and living conditions deteriorate, lipstick sales rocket.

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According to Thought Co., no individual inventor can be credited with being the creator of lip colouring. The term lipstick was first used around 1880 though lip colouring had been a norm long before that.

Today, women all over the world see this one make-up item as a go-to, on and off the runways, to the office, the mall, even to the couch for an elegant day of lockdown Netflix. 

If you've ever wondered what the fuss is about lipstick, you might not have felt the empowering lift of a coat of scarlet or cerise lip colour. You should probably consider investing in a few shades, they might ease your time in lockdown.

The lipstick does a variety of things for our lips, from creating a sultry pout to elevating an outfit, one would be justified to view it as not just make-up, but a tube of attitude adjustment - for the better of course.

And it is the one item that, worn on its own or with a full face of make-up, is capable of turning an otherwise bland look into something of a creation.

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There is no better way to explain the dominance of lipstick above other make-up products than by the words of beauty maverick, Bobbi Brown, who once said: "If I had to teach someone just one thing about lip colour, it would be this: Find a lipstick that looks good on your face when you are wearing absolutely no make-up." 

The secret is in the colour - flowers are enjoyed in bloom, peacocks marvelled at when they spread their feathers and faces elevated by a few well-placed swirls and sprinkles of colour.

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As the world is facing a pandemic, cloth masks have become the go-to safety and fashion must-have of our time, setting the lipstick on the back-burner.

Global Cosmetics News suggests the "lipstick effect" will give way to mascara due to the widespread use of masks - I am not convinced, at least not without government-enforced health guidelines that require the wearing of masks. 

This is not the first time lipstick has been left out of significant events of the day.

One can convincingly argue that right now, it is a matter of convenience, where in the past, coloured lips have been intentionally vilified along with not being seen as a necessity.

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A modicum of the extensive history of lipstick includes its near-extinction, centuries ago.

Early use of lipstick as retold by Thought Co. includes "upper-class Mesopotamians [who] applied crushed semi-precious jewels to their lips. Egyptians made a red dye for their lips from a combination of fucus-algin, iodine, and bromine mannite. Cleopatra was said to have used a mixture of crushed carmine beetles and ants to color her lips red".

However, the European dark Middle Ages almost totally removed lipstick from fashion, details an article on Lipstick History

"Harsh living conditions, constant wars, poor medicine, plagues, lack of food, and many other factions led to around 1 000 years where very few or no advancements were made in arts, sciences, and many areas of knowledge."

During this time, religious doctrine dictated common law and fashion. It linked lipstick to cult culture and the devil and vilified the colouring of lips.

I cannot express my absolute admiration for the sex workers of the time - then deemed to be of a lower statue - who continued to use lipstick regularly, thus saving us from a world without it.

Actors also occasionally painted themselves in facial colours.

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Several centuries later, lipstick returned to popular fashion during the reign of English Queen Elizabeth I in the 1500 and 1600s and slowly gained traction as a staple in make-up.

The first cosmetic lipstick is said to have been manufactured commercially around 1884, with the tube versions coming out in the early 1900s.

From there on, we have all been enjoying pouts in a myriad of shades. So, post-Covid-19, I will be taking a well-deserved trip to the make-up aisle in search of an empowering shade or two.

In my eyes, a world without lipstick would be quite boring - and devoid of Dolly's incredible smile – and who would want that?

SOURCES: Beauty IndependentIntelligent EconomistGlobal Cosmetics NewsThought Co., Lipstick History

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