I was once afraid of the bold lip. Red lipstick called to mind bombshells and geishas, women throughout history who were meant to be visually admired, not intellectually feared or socially engaged. Not only that, but it also seemed like a difficult look to keep up with in the course of a normal day. I pictured myself chatting animatedly while fellow partygoers stared at a smear of lipstick across my front teeth. I worried that, as the day wore on, the color would creep outside the lines of my mouth, turning me into a sad clown who’d wandered away from the carnival. Plus, I didn’t know any serious older women in my profession who bothered with bright lipstick.
But a few years ago, bored and in something of a fashion rut, I finally gave it a shot. I started low-commitment, buying a cheap, cherry-red lipstick from the CVS on the corner. And soon I found myself wearing it almost every day. A bold lip, it turned out, was a perfect fit for my personality. I am bright. Outgoing. Usually, my mouth is moving. While I’ve always admired women who can pull off a smoky-mysterious look, ringing their eyes with layers of sexy liner while leaving their lips bare, it wasn’t my thing. I was never very dark or brooding. In high school, I tried to like Nine Inch Nails as much as my angsty friends. But when I was alone, I listened to Björk — the musical equivalent of a bright tube of NARS.
Since my first impulse purchase, my lipstick arsenal has gotten bigger and bolder. Mac Viva Glam or Chanel La Fascinante, the most classic of classic reds pair best with my most threadbare gray T-shirt. A NARS brick red instantly channels the early ‘90s, making me want to button the top button of a silk shirt, slide into some high-waisted denim, and get my Lara Flynn Boyle on. Revlon’s Wild Orchid, a delightfully trashy drugstore fuchsia with a pearly sheen, is the perfect pop of color for a monochrome outfit. I wear Illamasqua’s Flare, an advanced bold-lip color if there ever were such a thing, to picnics. And NARS Heat Wave is my default. It’s effortlessly upbeat and modern, the perfect complement to everything from a blindingly patterned midi skirt to a chartreuse ‘60s shift dress or a Texas tuxedo. It’s never practical and always appropriate. I get compliments every single time I wear it.
Still scared? I can offer some practical advice, too. Using a lip liner will help you color inside the lines. And after you’ve taken the plunge and left the house with a bright lip, a compact mirror is your life vest. Sneak a quick peek whenever you get a little nervous that you’ve smudged, or that your color is fading into an ugly ring on your outer lip. Don’t hesitate to fix it up — reapplying in public is sexy. If you’re worried about leaving lipstick rings on your wine glass, give the rim a quick lick before you take a sip (it sounds weird, but it helps). Not that there’s anything wrong with leaving behind a little semicircle of your signature color. The whole point of a bold lip is to make your mark.
Photo: Courtesy of Ann Friedman