“If flapper ever got a bad rap, it was black,” writes Bucky Brooks of Brooks, Carter, and Company Publishers. These girls had big lips—a little on the big side.
Dolly Parton says that, back in the ’60s, there were a few companies that made “lipstick for women.” She has her own version of lipstick: “Tango for Women,” a brown gel with a slight golden tinge. She used to wear it, she says, “to keep it moisturized and to keep the heat off of my lips.”
“It had little dots everywhere on it—you could see what your lips looked like if you took a peek,” Parton says. “But that’s it.” Parton is talking about lipstick, not makeup. “They just had to make it look like a beautiful brown lipstick if you put it on.”
I also found that the women who wore the darkest lipstick were often the most “proud of” it—they’d say it made them “feel prettier.” Parton adds, “But there was more to it than that, a real look.”
Linda Evangelista, an expert on the history of the lipstick in New York and author of The Beauty Myth (2008), takes a similar view. “You can’t look back in history without looking at these glossy, shiny, bright dresses and those pretty, shiny lips that were seen everywhere and everywhere,” she says. “And you had to be something else to wear a lipstick that said ‘I want to look like that and feel that and live that.’ ”
The history of lipstick, I learned, starts in the ’40s by advertising women who wore the color of lipstick, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly. Then it moves to the cosmetics industry, which was dominated, as it is today, by men. In the ’50s, cosmetics companies began to create lipsticks. They were often more than a touch darker than the women used to wear them. “Women loved them so much,” says Evangelista, “they were willing to sacrifice their own look to get them.” Evangelista says that people believed that men loved “natural” lipsticks because in those days the cosmetics industry was still heavily patriarchal. “The women were the real beauty experts. Women who worked in the beauty industry—and I don’t mean beauty people,” she says—were seen to be the better, “proper” beauties. They were
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