How Changing My Lipstick Color Changed My Dating Life

Photographed by Tory Rust.
I consider my dating life a bit of a social experiment. I've been single for five of the eight years I've lived in New York City, and have tried a huge variety of dating apps and websites — including a very weird week on (Hey, I'd just come back from London and am a sucker for an accent. Can I live?) My mother and I deduced that I went on over 70 first dates in 2015, and my dating habits have become a running joke among my office mates. I am the female that New York Times articles will reference when they discuss the death of the monogamous relationship. So when a coworker brought up a theory that men respond more positively to red lipstick than any other shade, all five heads on the beauty team instantly turned to me. Because, you see, not only am I a serial non-monogamist, but I'm also a red-lipstick obsessive. "Is this true?" our beauty director Cat Quinn asked. "Do men like red lipstick better than other colors?" (Just so you know, I am a heterosexual, cisgender female, and what follows speaks only to that experience.) I answered truthfully — that I really didn't know. When putting together my profiles, I hadn't given much thought to the photos I'd put up. (I'm a narcissist and think I look good in 99% of snapshots taken of me.) Some of the shots on my profiles are of me wearing red lipstick. Others are not. And thus, a gauntlet was thrown down. I'd test this theory over the course of a month by changing up my dating-profile photos. For the first two weeks, across the apps Hinge, Bumble, and Raya, I'd only post photos of myself wearing red lipstick. For the third and fourth weeks, I'd post photos of myself wearing everything but crimson. How would my messaging and matching habits change? Are dudes just crimson-obsessed robots who only hone in on the lips? Weeks 1 & 2: Oh, Scarlet!
I updated my profile with snapshots of me in red lipstick and got to work on the rules. I decided that I'd only swipe right on people who I'd choose normally. (Read: no shirtless mirror shots, no photos with sedated tigers, and no snaps of guys sitting astride zebras, which is a type of photo that exists.) But I had to swipe right on at least 10 dudes a day. Which, considering I check my Bumble while waiting in line for coffee to kill time, was a cakewalk. The first few days, I was totally stoked. I matched with just about every guy I swiped right on, and about two-thirds of those matches turned into conversations. I matched with well-groomed finance bros, lanky musicians, a buff firefighter, four designers in tartan flannels, and a jiu-jitsu instructor. Most of them commented on my photos, and one of the designers actually said he liked my lipstick. I was floored — these were some high-caliber dudes filling up my inbox. But were they mostly interested in the lipstick?
Photographed by Tory Rust.
And then, something interesting happened. After three days, the matches slowed down. I'd swipe right on my 10 guys a day, and only get two hits back. I was also taking notes on the conversations I'd have with the guys I'd match with — only about half would reach out, and the topics were pretty vanilla. No pizzazz! No spark! No sexiness! Even though I wound up matching with over 50 dudes during my red period, I didn't go on a single date as a result of the apps. (One hot Australian set up a date and then flaked, proving that international fuccbois are real and terrifying.) So, it should come as no surprise that I was more than ready to retire those photos and pop some crazy shades on my profile.

Weeks 3 & 4: A Rainbow Connection

There was one photo I knew I had to put on my profile the moment I could: The one you see here, where I'm wearing Cookie Monster blue lipstick. It's the ultimate man-repeller shade — it's bright, unnatural, and looks like it will smear across your face after some late-night mackin'. I uploaded the photo along with pics of me in five other shades, ranging from pink to brown to nude, and started swiping. Instead of matching with every guy, I matched with around six out of 10 guys I swiped on. And the type of guy I matched with seemed to change. Sure, I still got the occasional banker or lawyer, but I was now mainly matching with creative types. One guy ran a super-successful coworking space in the city. Another was a chef. A third was a graphic designer by day and a DJ by night. One of them commented on my lipstick, telling me the blue was absolutely fire. (He even used the flame emojis, which, swoon.) The conversations with these dudes were interesting, and I wound up going on two real-life dates. All of this from blue lipstick. Who the hell knew? The match number and caliber stayed fairly consistent across the two weeks. I saw no insane spikes, dodged plenty of douchey bros, and split a delicious pizza with a smokeshow photographer. So...What The Fuck Does All This Mean?
What did I learn from this experiment? I'm not quite sure. Sure, it seemed like the type of guy I was matching with fluctuated with my lipstick choice. But I'm also pretty sure that guys aren't swiping based solely on your lipstick shade. One of the photos I get the most compliments on in general is one of me in a Baywatch bathing suit. (For obvious reasons. Boys will be boys.) But I'm not even wearing lipstick in that photo — and to be honest, I doubt the average guy on Bumble is paying much attention to what's on my lips. Even though I've become fairly desensitized to the entire process of online dating, it can be majorly tough for a lot of women. It's scary as fuck to put up a photo of yourself on the internet and allow rando dudes to judge whether or not they want to date you. My advice is not to worry about the lipstick color you're wearing (if you're even wearing any) in your photo. I'm all for doing whatever makes you feel best, so in reality, none of this matters. The images you put up on your profile should be the ones that make you feel like the badass rock star you are. Since I've followed my own advice, my dating profile is now populated with a variety of shots — including those with red lipstick, blue lipstick, and my Baywatch one-piece. (Mama didn't raise no fool.) I match with guys daily. My habits haven't exactly changed. But this experiment has afforded me one amazing bonus. Now, when my Italian-American family asks me why, at the ripe old age of 26, I am still clinically single, I have an answer. "Don't blame me," I'll say between sips of wine. "Blame my blue lipstick."

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