At the State of the Union last night, it was hard to ignore the sea of white. In a chamber of the Capitol that's usually bustling with black suits, navy suits, red ties, and blue ties, more than 100 congresswomen chose to wear white as a nod to 20th century suffragettes who fought for women's right to vote — and never backed down.
And while that surely made a political statement, there was also another symbolic element to many of these women's looks: red lipstick.
It was, in effect, the big beauty trend of the night, seen on the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who famously wears Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Beso) of New York, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Rep. Judy Chu of California, Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who wore a deep maroon shade of lipstick as she became the first black woman to ever give the official response to a State of the Union.
While all-white attire has long been linked to feminism in politics, with people like Hillary Clinton famously wearing a bright white suit to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, it's important to note that red lipstick has been, too.
In fact, red lipstick has a history of landing on the lips of some of the most politically-effective women of the 20th century. Famous suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman trumpeted wearing red lipstick as an emblem of women's emancipation, and even wore it to the 1912 New York City Suffragette March.
After that, suffragettes often wore a particularly bold shade of red on their lips as standard rally procedure. And makeup mogul Elizabeth Arden kept them well stocked, passing out free tubes of her lipstick along the 5th Avenue march route at the time. Soon it became a symbol of not only women's liberation, but rebellion. Both in America and England , women would publicly apply red lipstick in public with the intent to appall men.
But that also meant that, for men, it came to signify terror. In New York in the 1920’s, all lipstick was nearly banned, because of the fear that women might use it to poison men. And it wasn't just in the U.S.: Adolf Hitler reportedly hated the shade, going so far as to instruct women visiting his country estate to "avoid red lipstick."
So how fitting is it that these women, whose jobs include holding the most powerful man on earth accountable, arrived at this momentous occasion wearing it? And really, how fitting was it to see a woman wearing bold lipstick — Nancy Pelosi — sitting right above Trump's shoulder last night, sarcastically applauding after his call to reject "the politics of retribution"?
In a world where optics are everything, these congresswomen are pulling from a history in which women used their appearance to send a message to men who simply couldn't fathom their power — and even feared it. So swipe on.