The Politics of Lipstick

Makeup and wardrobe are important decisions on the runways and in our everyday lives. They are ways for us to outwardly express ourselves aesthetically, becoming our reflexive second skins if you will. But what do these skins say about us as women walking around big, bad New York City? How do different colors affect the way that the world sees us? From sassy to sweet to downright intimidating, colors can go a long way, especially in professional environments. But can our lips really say that much about who we are when they’re closed?

Pink

The effervescent natural beauty, pink lips are a sign of youth and simplicity. Women with a soft pink lip aren’t trying to say much with their makeup look. Men and coworkers see pink-lipped women as approachable and professional because it’s the most natural-looking and the least noticeable of shades. A hot or bright pink, however, is a different story. A bright, barbie-doll or bubblegum pink have been said to make women “look like strippers.” The frosty light pink was the color of choice for bleach blondes in the early 2000s, gaining the association in many people’s minds and the stigma to match. Dependent on your occupation and the rest of your look, maybe bubblegum pink isn’t for the office.

Nude

The nude lip is the lazy girl’s way to owning a look with a tinge of edginess. Seen as being sophisticated yet not quite for your average gal, the nude lip is a poignant statement to men who don’t understand fashion and admired by most women with an eye for style. Surprisingly, this color was often cited as one which women were afraid they “couldn’t pull off.” A lot of women are afraid that nude or taupe undertones will wash them out when I’ve actually found quite the opposite. Women are generally respected while wearing a nude lip, even seen as forward thinking in the classroom or the office.

Purple

Recently coming back into style and ranging from lilac to deep berry, purple lips are all the rage. The purple lip can be seen as a sign of being fun and flirty, but not easy-going. Some men have said that women in a purple lip seem high-maintenance or even crazy. This is a misguided show of misogyny, however, most women respect the purple lip and the tedious outfit coordination required for such a color palette.  Darker purples can be seen as coy while lighter purples are a little more to swallow for fashion conservatives. Professionally, this color may skirt the line, but really who cares?

Orange

Red’s friendly neighbor, orange is becoming a popular lip choice with the re-popularization of gold jewelry and the 90s resurgence (I’m looking right at you, Urban Outfitters). Men and women alike see the orange lip as a sign of a booksmart hipster-lite. Probably spotted enjoying some black cold brew and reading the latest Joan Didion, this is a brainy one. Orange isn’t seen as intimidating or meek, neither crazy nor highly sophisticated. It’s a good medium for those too quirky for the classic pink or red and adds a sprinkle of personality not too heavy-handed for the workplace.

Black

The quintessential go-to for teen angst, black lipstick is, and probably always will be a definitive statement outside of Halloween parties and Kiss concerts. However, what used to be seen as “goth” or “emo” is no longer exclusively tied to those subcultures. Black is the universal color palette of chic things and is often utilized in high fashion. Even though black appeals to a broader audience than it used to, a black lip can still be indicative of a darker side. The epitome of edginess and a display of dominance, the black lip is definitely too intimidating for the traditional nine to five. However, women need not fear intimidation, because, in the words of one Miss Tina Fey, “[Gals] get stuff done.”

Crazy Colors (Blue, Green, Yellow)

This is an obvious indicator for a free spirit, a wild child, an innate sense of personality captured within the borders of your cupid’s bow. Colors like blue, green, or yellow could strike some as circus-like or costume makeup, but colors like these are growing in popularity with a lot of big name brands like Mac and Bite coming out with lines sporting these colors.Unfortunately, these colors don’t garner women a lot of respect in the professional world. Many companies actually don’t allow “ostentatious colors” for their female employees’ makeup. While these colors have their places in our lives, traditionally professional and classroom settings may not be those places.

Classic Red

This is an obvious one. Red is often seen as a color of power and domination– particularly in the workplace– but is also a sign of confidence and self-assuredness. The “power outfit” in the 80s included a red lip among shoulder pads and questionable perms. Women wearing red lipstick can range from your 65 year-old aunt Susan to the hottest thing walking down Avenue A, all depending on other factors of fashion. These are women who aren’t afraid of getting lipstick on their teeth, their clothes, or anything they put their mouths on. Fearless and never out of style, the red lip is a timeless classic among the likes of leftover Chinese food and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” It really never gets old.

While women shouldn’t have to worry about the social implications of their lipstick, like anything else that’s unfair, it is what it is. Indoctrinated in dress code mandates and evidence by the wage gap, women are treated unfairly in the workplace in comparison to men. While we can take solace in our individuality and our right to express ourselves through whatever medium we so choose, we also have to be conscious of our decisions in a world subject to scrutiny and sexism.