Lipstick: A Love Story
by Catherine Spinley
I came of Makeup Age during the 90s when the look of “less is more” took quite a lot of effort. Part of that look was the iconic brown, red/brown lip of Gen Xers; sometimes glossy, sometimes satin, sometimes matte and a lot of the time, smudged. From Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, to Drew Barrymore to Courtney Love - they all wore this lip color. And I’ll say it, even though I should probably keep it to myself, I most certainly stalked Club Monaco for the shade of lipstick worn by Monica Lewinsky during her famous 1999 interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20. It was a lipliner named “Bare” and a lipstick named “Glaze.” It was fantastic - and don’t you sit there with your dry, chapped, colorless lips and dare judge me.
I never found that Club Monaco lipstick. Instead, my caboodle was filled with these stalwarts: Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, MAC Spice lip liner paired with MAC Lipglass, and any lipstick that came in the Gift With Purchase castoffs given to me by my mom. I also loved a Bonne Belle Dr Pepper lip balm - it gave my lips that perfect dead-brown color I thought appeared so outré and edgy. You must remember, this was the age of Kids, Reality Bites, Empire Records and The Basketball Diaries. I owned a pair of flare-leg corduroys embroidered with flowers ordered via LANDLINE from the Delia’s catalog. I wore a hemp necklace. I carried around books like “On the Road” and “Frannie and Zoey” with the cover facing outward in case my brown lipstick didn’t clearly communicate how deep and wounded I wanted you to think I was.
At some point, I stopped wearing lipstick on a daily basis, preferring to use only a clear gloss or balm. I worked for a very conservative retailer by day and no one in the office wore much makeup, so I followed suit. Every Saturday night you could find me dancing at Naked Lunch (witnesses would call it drunken swaying and they’d be correct) and on those nights I’d get a little crazy - I’d blowout my frizzy bob and apply my most shimmery of lip glosses, which was an exercise in futility as it only ended up imprinted on the glass rims of my many vodka gimlets.
But as quickly as I fell out of love with lipstick, I fell right back in.
Allegedly, the average woman spends $1,780 on lipstick in her lifetime. Let’s do the math on this. For the purposes of this little tale, let’s assume an average cost of $19 per tube*, which means the average woman will own about 94 lipsticks throughout her life.
At this current moment, I own 87. Clearly, there’s a love story here.
I’m not even mentioning the dozens of lipsticks I gave away earlier this year to friends and family during an earnest bid at streamlining my collection. I’m not including the tubes and jars tucked away and forgotten about in old purses and backpacks. This certainly isn’t taking into account the emergency backups sitting in my desk drawer should I need to “up” the lip ante in the middle of the day or after work.
Sometime in 2010 I was at peak Jenna Lyons fandom - the woman could mix a print and a stripe like none other and made us all yearn for an apartment with charcoal/black walls, rosey velvets and pristine linens. She also put a bold lip look back on the map, along with naked, slightly dewy skin (more on that later). At that time, the models began appearing in the catalog with supersaturated, matte lips in the poppiest of colors. Bloggers went crazy for it and suddenly women everywhere (well, at least in New York and San Francisco, which is where I’ve lived) were buying bright, bold lipsticks again. J.Crew was a bit coy about the products used but rumor had it Jenna used all NARS products and there were three prime suspects spotted in every catalog: NARS Semi-Matte Lipstick in Sciapp for that neon pink pop, NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Red Square for a bright orange/red look and NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Cruella for a classic red matte lip. RMS Living Luminizer was dotted on the cheekbones and the cupid’s bow and VOILA - a trend was (re)born.
Today, you can read all about the lipsticks used on J.Crew models but many of the articles were written post 2011, which is when J.Crew monetized the bold lip trend and began selling Lipstick Queen by Poppy King, Face Stockholm and RMS Lip2Cheek products. In fact the trend was so popular, the J.Crew makeup artist, Troi Ollivierre released his own capsule collection of lipsticks based on the looks he created for the brand.
But back in 2011, the lipstick business was still growing into a juggernaut and that is when the innovation began. Josie Maran released a Magic Marker Lip and Cheek Stain and Julianne Moore was constantly photographed wearing the shade Jitterbug, a gorgeous blue-based pink. Routinely sold out at Sephora, I had to have it even though it required lips to be in perfect condition, a streaky application and left my lips brilliantly stained but dry.
Next there was the YSL Glossy Stain revolution - a liquid lip that alleged to give the look and feel of a gloss with the wear time of a stain. I ran out and bought it in the shade Rouge Laque, a brick red, and instantly regretted it. The formula was gunky and made my lips feel as though they were sheathed in latex. At the time I worked for Sephora and learned the secret was in the application; the first coat needed to be painted on paper thin and allowed to dry fully. The second coat was to be a bit thicker. There was absolutely no smacking or pursing of the lips allowed during application. The entire tedious process took about 3.5 minutes but, all the cool Sephora girls were wearing it so I bought more colors.
Armed with an employee discount and access to the beauty closet, things got a little out of control. Let me paint this picture for you - do you think it’s healthy to bring an overeater to a free, all-you-can-eat buffet? Or have Postmates make hourly deliveries of Marlboro Reds to a chain smoker? No, you would not because that would make you an enabler. Yet there I was, gathering lipsticks as though I was about to go into an underground bunker but determined to look pulled together while waiting out the End of Days. I actually ran out of room in my bathroom drawers but if you’ve watched any episode of Intervention then you understand; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
I am the horse in this idiom.
I buy lipsticks for many reasons, the most basic of which is a great formulation. Sometimes, I fail (ahem, I’m looking at a certain French brand’s lipstick which set me back a cool $50), but most of the time I end up with a great lipstick that is truly no different than another lipstick I already own but have long-forgotten. I get sucked in by marketing hype, packaging and FOMO when my friends discuss a great new lipstick launch. There is a reason Pinterest is full of YSL lipstick watercolors- because they are mini works of art. Influencers are paid a small fortune and, well, consider me “influenced.”. Dior doesn’t pay Gigi Hadid, their global makeup ambassador, millions of dollars because she’s a bare-faced beauty (although I’m sure she’s stunning sans makeup, as well).
Mostly, I buy lipstick because I like the way it makes me feel. I like sitting around, listening to podcast in my pajamas, with a perfectly applied red lip. I like running to Duane Reade wearing a gloss so bright I’ve blinded everyone in line. I lipstick daily for work and on the weekends when I’ve got no foreseeable plans because...these 87 tubes aren’t going to apply themselves and they won’t live forever (18 months max, but I’ve been known to stretch a lifespan). I don’t care what people think of my habit and I rarely ask for anyone’s opinion. It’s just me and my lipsticks and I refuse to bring anyone else into this circle of amazingly excessive debauchery.
What I can do is save you some money. Below is a short list of some of my favorite lipsticks, which is a culmination of many years of research and the squandering of a paycheck or two. If you have any questions or need any further recommendations, consider me your Lipstick Sponsor. Call me at your weakest (and by call me I mean DM me on IG: spinderella1110). LIke they say in the 12 Step Programs - the program works if you work it. Now, lipstick away until your heart’s content.