July 29th is National Lipstick Day, a day for cosmetics lovers everywhere to enjoy their favorite lipstick. Lipstick was most likely invented by ancient Mesopotamian women who crushed jewels to decorate their lips. Cleopatra’s lipstick was made from crushed carmine beetles, while shinier lipsticks were made with a substance extracted from fish scales. When lipstick first reached England and the Americas it was considered a garish cosmetic only worn by prostitutes and loose women. In fact, in Medieval Europe the church outlawed cosmetics, and in 1770 a law was proposed to the British Parliament that annulled a marriage if the bride had worn cosmetics before her wedding day! By the late 1880s a perfumer in Paris had created the first commercial lipstick. Made from deer tallow, castor oil, and beeswax, it was sold in silk paper. During that same time period, lipstick in the U.S. was being colored with dye from scaled instects from Mexico and Central America, and was still considered a vice of prostitutes and actresses. But by 1912 lipstick was finally considered acceptable for the average American woman, and a decade later flappers popularized dark red lipstick as a symbol of their independence.
In the following decades availability of lipstick and attitudes toward the cosmetic changed with American culture. During World War II it was hard to come by since some of its ingredients — petroleum and castor oil — were reserved for the war effort. In the 1950s Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor made dark red lips popular again. Ten years later white lips were all the rage and women who didn’t wear lipstick, which had become associated with feminininty, were suspected of lesbianism. The 1970s saw the advent of unusual colors, like iridescent and metallic blue, and lime green, while the 1980s ushered in “mood” lipstick, and the 1990s goth culture favored black lipstick. Today’s lipsticks are made from a mixture of wax, oils, emollients, and antioxidants, with most U.S manufactured brands adding pig fat or castor oil to give the “lip rouge” it’s signature shine.
I’ve mentioned many times that I consider myself somewhat of a grown-up tomboy. Even through high school I rarely wore makeup, and until college my favorite outfits always included blue jeans I’d stolen from my boyfriend. I didn’t really embrace my femininity until I met my freshman roommate, Val, who is definitely a “girly-girl.”