“Heels and red lipstick will put the fear of God into people.” – Dita Von Teese
There is a very stereotypical pinup image: black winged liner, victory rolls, polka dots, and red lipstick. There’s a million and a half quotes on red lipstick and how empowering it is to wear. To be clear, I love red lipstick; it’s my favorite color on myself and I truly agree that it works wonders to boost a mood. This being said, red lipstick is high-maintenance and often requires multiple check-ins, much more than your MLBB (My Lips But Better) or Nude shades, and definitely require a mirror, time, and much more precision to apply.
Red lipstick is also much like a wedding dress in the way that when you know you’ve found the one–you want to wear it and show it off. Some people are monogamous to their red lipstick, but for me, I have several that I really like and vary between.
The perfect red can be hard to find, but I have found it to be generally easier when you know your undertone (reminder: mine is yellow, and as we’re leaving summer, I’d approximate it close to NC15 in MAC terms.) Knowing that I also have blue eyes, I also prefer reds that have more of a touch of brown to them, which helps my eyes pop a little more than they usually would. I don’t prefer orange-based reds because it’s just a smidge too bright on me and helps to wash me out
All this having been said, I also wanted to include my personal collection of reds with swatches and some reviews, seeing as how I have worn each multiple times and for several hours on end.
In all of the swatches, I am not wearing any foundation and nor is there a lip liner below. My lips are not fairly pigmented, so they do tend to represent the colors well.
MAC Chili Lipstick
- Purchased from: MAC Pro Store Chicago on Michigan Ave (can also be found on MACCosmetics.com, Ulta, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, and anywhere MAC Cosmetics are sold)
- Price: $17/0.10 ($170 per oz) (NOTE: It looks like MAC recently raised their prices to $17.50; when I purchased this, it was $17)
- Formula: Matte
- Cruelty-Free?: No
MAC Chili was one of the first reds that made my heart stop the moment I saw it on myself. I’ve always looked for a true brick red on me and this has been the closest I have come to finding that balance of mutedness and just the right amount of brown tinge without going too far into brown lipstick.
Given that it does have a muted quality to it, I think this is definitely a red that can be used in both the office (depending on your work environment, of course!) and for a night out. As it is a matte lipstick, it also doesn’t have very much of a glossy sheen to it, which helps when you’re trying to balance the line between “professional” (again: ymmv depending on your contextual work environment!) and pinup.
There is definitely transfer with this lipstick and of the options included in this post, probably has the second lowest longevity. This being said, depending on how much and what you are eating has an effect on the wear of it. If you are not eating, you can get 7-8 hours of wear without touch-ups no problem. However, this is not realistic for most people and if you do eat, you will need to reapply. I generally find that I wind up taking off this lipstick before I eat, regardless of whether or not it is with a fork or if it is greasy or not. This just helps to stave off the Joker look. If you do not remove it before eating and do not reapply, you’re likely to get 4-5 hours of wear. (Again, red lipsticks tend to be more high maintenance.)
As with all MAC lipsticks, it is a scented lipstick and has a light, vanilla scent to it. Given that MAC has been around for some time, most folks familiar with makeup and MAC are aware of this already. The Matte formula is one of my favorites, but I loathe the Retro Matte formula. Compared to the Retro Mattes and with this lipstick, there is no drying feeling or dehydrated lips when I remove it and it does not crumble off throughout the day.
The other nice thing about this shade that is worth mentioning is that I think this would work really lovely on darker skin tones just as well as lighter ones. Again, I would probably still recommend it for yellow/greener-olive undertones, but nonetheless, I do think this is a shade that works for a lot of folks with that particular undertone.
NARS Audacious Lipstick (Marlene)
- Purchased from: Sephora (available at NARSCosmetics.com, Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, Barney’s, and anywhere NARS is sold)
- Price: $34/0.14 ($242.86 per oz)
- Formula: Satin/Cream
- Cruelty-Free?: At the time of purchase, yes. However, NARS has recently made the decision to sell in China which means the cruelty-free status will be no longer effective once this is done.
If you have followed me on Reddit, you will know I have done a fair amount of complaining about the NARS Audacious formula on the makeup subreddits. I had bought several when it first came out (Charlotte, Anna, Rita, and Janet), and while I loved it initially, I really grew to dislike them and wound up purging them from my collection. On the surface, they seem great: incredibly pigmented, there are colors that are not easily replicated among other brands, decent size for lipstick (0.14 compared to the usual 0.1-0.12ish) which makes it cheaper than most other high end brands when compared price per oz, and it’s a pretty decent sized collection. I get it.
But every time I put on one of these lipsticks, I’m reminded why I don’t like this formula. It’s creamy to a fault; if you don’t blot this, it will smudge onto your face. And even if you do blot it, it can still easily migrate off your lips. It transfers very easily and if I’m not careful, I have wound up with it on my nose. I also find that not even wearing a lip liner really helps with preventing it from going beyond the lined areas. When I wear this, it is slightly drying on my lips.
I would also strongly recommend removing this before eating. Without eating, I have gotten up to 8.5 hours of wear without issue, but when you eat, regardless of how you do it, it is going to smear. And when this stuff smears? It leaves a very difficult to remove stain on your face (which is a testament to its longevity, except on the wrong part of your face.)
So, if I don’t like this so much, how come it’s still in my collection? That’s a great question. The short answer is twofold: 1. My significant other’s grandmother’s name was Marlene and for our wedding day, this is the lipstick I intend to wear to recognize her presence in spirit. The other, 2. I get hella compliments whenever I wear this shade. As a vain lizard woman, I can live off of compliments, so thus, it stays.
I would probably not recommend this one for work. It’s just a bit too bright and glossy for my personal tastes, but on the weekend or when I need to get dolled up? It’s one of my options definitely on the table. But, of all my red lipsticks, because of the high maintenance involved with the formula, it is my least worn shade of red.
There are some good things about this lipstick. It does not have a scent for those sensitive to smells. The packaging is very nice and hefty, with a magnetic lid for safe closure. Although it is also a brighter red, it’s not bright enough to be blinding on my skin tone but add some life into my skin. Also, when I want to be really authentic with my 1940’s looks, this red makes a lovely blush when I dab a little on my face (side note: as a blush, this formula is pretty great.) It also reapplies fairly well, which is important with red lipsticks.
Besame Classic Color Lipstick (Red Velvet)
- Purchased from: BesameCosmetics.com (also available through Sephora, Dermstore.com, and several other retailers)
- Price: $22/0.12 ($183.33)
- Formula: Satin/Matte
- Cruelty-Free?: Yes
Red Velvet is a fairly famous shade online, used in several movies and TV shows (most famously, the shade used by Peggy Carter for the Captain America and Peggy Carter television show.) It’s a deeper, true neutral red. On me, it does tend to lean slightly more blue-based and cooler (as seen above and in the swatches below), but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite this, I still find that it flatters tons of people with yellow/olive undertones. The other perk about this leaning blue-based is that it tends to make teeth look whiter.
As many in the pinup community are aware, Besame Cosmetics is a company that reproduces actual vintage lipstick colors. This particular shade was based on one produced in 1946.
This lipstick is arguably one of my favorites in my collection, and not just because it is Peggy Carter approved. The quality is outstanding; like the other lipsticks, it is not transfer-proof, but I don’t find that it smudges as easily. Despite being listed as a satin, it does have some matte qualities (though, I hesitate to call it a demi-matte because of a “glossier” appearance.)
I have gone 9 hours without a touch-up on this before and that is despite drinking coffee and having food (albeit, not greasy and with a fork). It will smudge if the food is oily, but that’s pretty understandable.
The lipstick does have a vanilla scent to it, similar to the MAC lipsticks. However, unlike the MAC lipsticks, one thing that makes it really easy to apply and reapply on the go is that the bullet shape is slanted, which is great when trying to get in the little crooks of the lips.
Out of all the lipsticks I own, Besame’s formula ranks in my top three. It’s solid, dependable, and definitely one I go to when I want to recreate my Peggy Carter cosplay or when I feel like I need to wear a red at the office, this is my go to. It’s a shade that works on multiple skin tones and I have yet to see look “off” or bad on anyone. It’s the closest thing I have seen to a universal lip color (sit down, MAC Russian Red and Ruby Woo.)
Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick (Project Chimps)
- Purchased from: Reddit Makeup Exchange subreddit (purchased with my own money); product was limited edition but available through Sephora and KatVonDBeauty.com)
- Price: I paid $17 for it as it was never used. However, it retailed for $20/0.22 oz, making it ~$90.91 per oz)
- Formula: Matte
- Cruelty-Free?: Yes (also vegan)
This lipstick has a special place in my heart. Prior to going for public health, I studied primatology. I had gone through field school and did several research projects, including an individual one of my own with semi-captive lemurs. Although chimps are not my particular favorite ape (that honor goes to gibbons), it’s a lipstick for charity and I had missed out when it was first released so it felt like it was something I needed in my life.
And boy, am I glad I have it. I wasn’t on the liquid lipstick train prior to this; having previously tried Kat Von D’s ELL formula in Outlaw a few years back, I hated how it wore on me (it wore away within an hour of application and smudged horribly) and I was wary that I would have liked this one.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded with this one. Application is probably the most difficult thing with this lipstick; one layer is all you need and it can be difficult to get just right at the top of your lip line.
When applied, it dries fairly quick and is very lightweight. There have been times I have forgotten I was even wearing a lipstick until catching myself in the mirror. It wears a very long time, but it’s another one I would recommend removing before eating. Greasy foods can definitely make this product smudge.
Speaking of reapplication, it fairs all right with it, so long as you are not applying multiple layers. When this happens, it doesn’t remove the other information, but it doesn’t build well. One layer is truly all you need and it’s better to remove and then reapply than just flat out reapply.
Additionally, the product tends to have a chemical smell, although it dissipates quickly.
I have worn this into the office before and it’s a really nice product. It’ll transfer slightly onto my coffee cup, but not enough that it’s very noticeable. It’s longevity, lightweight formula, and the color are reasons enough for me to love it. I wish it wasn’t a limited edition product, though!
Entire Collection Swatched
From left to right and taken in indirect sunlight: NARS Marlene, Besame Red Velvet, MAC Chili, and Kat Von D Project Chimps.
From top to bottom in direct sunlight: Kat Von D Project Chimps, MAC Chili, Besame Red Velvet, and NARS Marlene
All of the above are my favorite reds which tend to share a more muted, brick red color rather than a blue-based red (though, I do have one!) Have you found your perfect red? Feel free to share with me which reds have your eye!
Yours ’til Niagara Falls,