If we’re going to talk about makeup for the next three weeks (and — squeal — we are), I feel like the most logical place to start is with lipstick. In my opinion, there is no other cosmetic that can so immediately give you a perky pickup and not require a lot of skill to apply. It can make you feel fancy. It can make you feel stylish. It can make you feel elegant and light and fun.
Unlike with contour or highlight, this is an area where I actually know my stuff. This because I am a red lipstick girl through and through.
I realized this about seven years ago when my best friend Julie and I started hanging out with the fabulous Jessica Crockett. Whole lunches at the back of a Mexican grocery store were spent with Jessica glorifying and denouncing certain lipsticks and eyeshadow palettes with the razor-sharp focus of a scientist. Jessica told us that even when she was at her poorest in college, she would still save up for a Chanel red to give herself a boost. Sometimes around exam time. Sometimes just because.
I loved that idea.
Up until that point, my lipstick shade of choice was a lightly pink version of beige. If you’re imagining the color of a just- and vaginal-born baby, you probably have the right idea of what it looked like. My goal was to be understated, though the end product was that my lips so blended in with my face, it was almost as if I didn’t have a mouth at all.
But, thinking on it, lipstick was never something that was encouraged while I was growing up. My mom approached makeup with a steady dose of skepticism. The only shade I remember her approving of was a Cover Girl “lipslick,” a glossy stick which came in a yellow tube and was ambitiously called “bronze goddess.” The shade was only slightly darker than Vaseline.
Around age 12, my best friend Kristin and I found it at a Target on a family trip to Florida and wore it for, oh, the next seven years. I actually still have a tube of it, one I will never, ever part with because if I put it on (which I just did), it still brings me right back to Kissimmee, with all the shell stores and the promise of Disney and our cheap hotel with the clay-tiled roof.
It’s amazing how lipsticks (and their scents) can transport you to a particular moment in your life. Like, I still have my lipstick from my wedding day. I even still have the lipstick Allison Altizer Johnston gave me on the first day I was introduced to makeup “Kentucky style.”
Up until then, my makeup regime included mascara and moisturizer. Allison sat me down in The Sentinel-Echo’s newsroom and poured out a huge bag of lipsticks all over her desk. She started turning the sticks upward and assessing them next to my face. After a lengthy application of a crimson shade, she handed me a mirror.
“Take a look at you,” she said.
I was transformed.
In fact, it might have been Allison, and not just Jessica, who turned me into a red lipstick girl. Because that is definitely who I am now. Dangerous. Lady Danger. Ma’Damn. Chili. Cockney. Ruby Woo. 5-Alarm. Viva Glam Sia. Viva Glam Rihanna. Viva Glam Cyndi. I’ve got all these shades (and ladies, apparently) at my disposal. And, no matter my day, no matter my hairdo, no matter my weight, they make me feel great.
Now. There is one last thing I need to write about when it comes to lipstick. The list of catchy, clever lipstick names (genius, genius, I tell you) has reminded me of this dirty, little secret. It pertains to a lipstick called Toast of New York.
I think any Gen X’er growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, will remember this Revlon shade. It was the quintessential color of the early 1990s: an angsty, brown thing that made everyone look pale and dark-circled and, thus, like Winona Ryder. It cost about $10 and they sold it at Shopper’s Drug Mart in Unicity Mall.
At the time, I was headed to Unicity every day after school so I could catch the bus home. That meant that, nearly every day, I swung around to Shopper’s Drug Mart and, being 14 and only a hypochondriac if it didn’t pertain to my potential beauty, rubbed the Toast of New York tester on my lips. But one day, Kristin informed me of how easy it was to just put the lipstick in your pocket. It was a matter of keeping a poker face and a casual gait.
So one day I did. I stole the Toast of New York. And with sweat beading down my back, I too-casually sashayed out of Shopper’s Drug Mart. I didn’t look back. I didn’t stop sashaying. But I was freaking out. At any moment, I expected to be stopped by police and hauled away. Even when on the bus, I expected them to board it and present me with handcuffs. When I got home, I felt the lipstick burning a hole in my backpack. I expected my parents to smell a thief in their midst.
But they didn’t. And then they didn’t. But there was no relief or high associated with it, just this flatness. It is the only disappointing encounter with life and lipstick I’ve ever had.
I never wore the Toast of New York again.
So, my friends, we finish this lipstick lowdown — and my confession. Coming next week: shadows.