“Okay,” TBB said, “but most women don’t wear lipstick anymore.”
She was talking about the notion of ShamanGal going out with her mother to find the perfect lipstick the night before starting a new job.
I’m not sure TBB is right on this one. I’m pretty sure that almost every woman has some kind of lip preparation in her purse, be that lipstick, gloss or some kind of lip balm. Even Suzy Chapstick always had her lippie with her, though she didn’t wear colour on the slopes.
I am sure, though, that lipstick is a magical talisman for most women. We remember wanting it, remember playing with it, remember when we could first wear it, even if it isn’t part of our everyday rituals. And when there is a special occasion, well, we do reach into our purse to find it, or go through our drawer of old magic.
Marketers know that women can’t always afford a new dress, but a new lipstick is always within reach.
ShamanGal has a vivid memory of wanting to put on lipstick when she was five, and her aunt explaining why boys couldn’t wear lipstick. That tube glittered to her, but she got a lesson about gender obligations. And, because it was when she was in Taiwan for the summer, she even got that bittersweet lesson in Chinese.
Back in the bad old days of text chat, they needed text tests for gender to enforce women only chatrooms. One of the questions was “What lipstick do you wear?” The wrong answer was “Red” or “Pink.” The right answer was always more nuanced, more culturally aware; the name of a shade like “Misty Melon,” a brand like “L’Oreal,” or the somewhat more butch “I don’t wear lipstick!”
Even if we don’t wear lipstick everyday, the experience of lipstick is written into our consciousness. We may remember what colour our mother or grandmother wore, remember watching them as they applied it, a key part of “putting on their face,” the “war paint” they used to face the world.
There are lipstick shades that are stuck in my mind, of course. I loved the classic “Cherries In The Snow,” Revlon’s key blue red lipstick that brightened the face of light skinned gals, while those with a more mocha complexion went with the yellow based “Fire And Ice.”
I remember, vividly, the day I watched my sister and her friend get makeovers at Eaton’s and how the artist was surprised by my useful comments. He assumed I must be a gay man even if I didn’t look like one, so he started pinging me, and was surprised that nothing came back. I didn’t care. I just wanted to figure out how to buy a tube of Cargo “Niagara.”
Another time in Toronto, I was verbally assaulted on the subway and needed magic, quickly ducking into MAC and grabbing magic — Currant Media. Those were the days when Revlon Vixen was the colour of the moment, all dark purple magic.
My colours aren’t as vibrant today, going with a more neutral lip and a stronger eye, usually in chocolates to bring out the eyes Katrina saw as “amazing and green,” but that I know as the same Ukrainian blue my father had.
I just know that whatever we choose to wear everyday, every woman has history with lipstick, it being the one cosmetic that we keep at hand just in case. (Well, maybe except for those of us with red or blonde lashes, who always need mascara.) There is a reason we love expensive department store lipsticks, and it’s not because they are so much better than drugstore brands. It’s because they are more magical, more potent when we pull them out of our purse to re-arm.
Lipstick has power, and will as long as women exist. If we have to go back to staining our lips with berries, well, that won’t stop us.
We’ll just call it all-natural and organic.