If I had a dollar for every time I stood in front of a mirror, 10 minutes before a date, deliberating whether I should put on red lipstick, I would be rich. On one hand, if done right, there is nothing more effective than a swipe of Nars' Jungle Red—it gives you a valid excuse to forgo eye makeup, relying solely on the casual cool of your natural hair and a white tee. And, in a perfect world, it makes you look Georgia May Jagger off-duty—the stuff male fantasies are made of. Yet, in the real world, you run the risk of being perceived like you're trying too hard or, paradoxically enough, a prude on subliminal defense from a potential kiss (even if you do manage to surpass the kissing frontier, there is a high chance a pressed white button-down will be ruined). In short, red lipstick is a beauty danger zone to tread at your own risk.
And yet, no matter how much we might analyze this grave matter, the jury on whether the person across the table from you actually likes red lipstick is still out. To investigate, I start by asking every man in close proximity their take on a red lip. Among my male relatives, friends’ husbands, nerdy French colleagues, and sporadic Tinder dates, I keep expecting to find a manicorn who will profess his love for a pouty red bouche. Said confession never comes. Instead, all I get is ambiguous stares, shrugs, followed by hesitant “it depends.” Depends on what? After some more unenthused reflection, they tell me that red lipstick can look nice on certain people, in certain lighting, at certain times of the day. In short, if you look like Georgia May Jagger, you might be able to get away with it, but preferably in the dark.
Although my similarity to Jagger is questionable, I decide not to give up so quickly—after all, we are talking about a multimillion dollar industry here! I head to a bar in Williamsburg armed with my trusty tube of Nars. Five minutes after entering the bar, I meet a handsome British boy who had zero qualms chatting me up all evening, kissing me late into the night, and pursuing me the following day. Granted, when I ask him later on what he actually thinks of red lipstick, he gives me the customary equivocal response, ceasing to remember that it was that very lip trick that drew him in in the first place. A week later, I find success at a black-tie birthday party in a deep-plunge Saint-Laurent gown and a mouth painted bright with Chanel Rouge Allure in 98 Coromandel. For a beauty technique that is supposed to turn men off, red lipstick seems to be working in my favor. How so?
I turn to a beauty-savvy friend for advice. “People are attracted to a red lip intuitively—it shows that a person has confidence,” she says, adding a practical tip: “If there is a chance at a kiss, go for a stain mixed with balm for a less aggressive color payoff.” Another friend who is committed to red lipstick at a Gwen Stefani level tells me that her husband has grown to love it, knowing that it makes her feel great and they are guaranteed to have a fantastic time.
At the end of the day, it's about presenting a full package: Very few of suitors care what lipstick a woman is wearing—in fact, most of them will hardly notice. What they care about is the woman wearing it, about the confidence she carries herself with, about whether or not she feels beautiful in her own skin. And, if you happen to feel beautiful with a pouty red bouche, so be it. Trust me, that extra dry-cleaned shirt will be a small price to pay.
Photo by ITG. Marina Khorosh is a Russian living in Paris by way of New York. She writes the blog Dbag Dating.