Classic elegance or campy chic, ubiquitous yet elusive, the one, the only: the perfect red lipstick.
If you’re like me and you spend each and every January morning making difficult dressing decisions like black dress, grey sweater, and black shoes? or grey dress, black sweater, and grey boots? and which giant black scarf should I wrap my head in today? then there has never been a better time to add red lipstick to your makeup repertoire. Red lipstick is the perfect way to add a little pop to your winter wardrobe or indulge your inner Jessica Rabbit on occasions when it may not be appropriate to bust out –or bust out of, for that matter – your sequin dress with the slit up to there.
Red lipstick has a bad reputation (It’s just drawn that way! Sorry, I’m having a Jessica Rabbit moment here.) because it can go really, truly wrong. My good friend from elementary school got married this fall, and somehow by the end of her bachelorette party all of the attendees were wearing my red lipstick. For reasons of anonymity and the code of sisterhood that dictates you don’t post bad pictures of your friends’ fashion mishaps for the enjoyment of the internet, I won’t show you. But suffice it to say that I have plenty of exuberant, drunk photographic evidence that not all red lipstick looks good on all people. “Clown prostitute” was the phrase the bride used when she looked at herself in the mirror the next morning.
So, how to choose? As with other makeup coloring decisions, the first thing to do is to determine the color of your skin’s undertones: warm or cool. A trick to figuring this out is to stand in front of a mirror in as natural light as possible holding a piece of white paper right below your face. Close your eyes for a moment. When you open them, note the thing you notice first. If it was your face, you have cool undertones; if it was the paper, you have warm undertones.
Another way to tell is by asking yourself what colors you look best in. If you’re going by the old seasonal colors chart, Winters and Summers have cool undertones and Autumns and Springs have warm undertones. Those with cool tones will look best in jewel tones, muted tones of the same type will look better on those with paler features. Warm toned skin will look best in earthy, golden hued tones–think autumn foliage–and again, those with paler features will look better in more muted versions. Choosing a red lipstick that suits your complexion simply involves following the same rules you should follow for choosing clothes.
Consequently, cool-toned ladies will look best in cool-toned reds. Seek out products with wine-related names as they are more likely to have a purplish tinge to them. I recommend Clinique “Merlot” and L’Oreal Paris “Fired Up,” or for a bright red look that won’t overpower cool skin tones, Sephora Collection “Hot Tango.” Warm-toned ladies, on the other hand, should look for names that reference spices or earth tones. Clinique “Sassy Spice” or L’Oreal Paris “Sunset Red” would be a good place to start. Anything labeled “true” red is, as a general rule of thumb, more likely to work for a warm-toned person, but the best test is, of course, to try it on.
The best way to figure out what works for you is always to experiment. Department store makeup counters will let you test their products and have removal pads on hand in case the effect isn’t what you had in mind. Places like Target and Walgreens, however, are less generous about the free use of unsold products, not to mention if your choice doesn’t work out there’s a good chance you’ll have to spend the rest of your shopping trip looking a lot more Killer Clown than Killer Queen, and we all know that the worse you look in a grocery store the more people you’ll run into who want to chat. A good way to mimic a color’s effect on your face is to smear a bit of the color on the back of your hand or underside of your arm depending on how pale your face is in comparison to the rest of your skin. This tactic also gives you the chance to compare shades side by side.
A few other helpful hints about wearing red lipstick, whatever the shade:
- Lip liner is your friend. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the physics of makeup, but by some power red lipstick seems to feather and fade in a way that looks worse than any other color.
- A matte finish, rather than a shimmery one, will keep your look appropriate for both day and night.
- A useful trick for preventing your lipstick from ending up on your teeth is to blot with a tissue as usual, then put one finger inside your mouth and pull straight out, removing excess lipstick from the edges of your lips. This looks particularly dirty when done with red. Use this power for good ““ or evil, if that’s your jam.
And if your red lipstick purchase doesn’t work out, don’t give up! There is a red out there for you, I promise. Just pass the reject shade onto someone with slightly different coloring and continue to spread the Gospel of Our Lady Jessica Rabbit.
Any other tricks, suggestions or heroines of the Red Lip Guard you feel deserve mention?