Why Did I Buy Black Lipstick?

Most people hear “black lipstick,” and cut to horror movies and goth culture, but one can’t argue that the shade makes a statement. I bought a tube of black lipstick back when I had an irregularly updated fashion blog and an assignment from my art class to intervene with life’s usual functions.

For my project, I dressed in different stereotypical outfits and asked people to direct me to the appropriate train. I wanted to see if people treated me differently depending solely on my clothing and makeup. Predictably, one of my chosen stereotypes was goth. Also, predictably, my goth look mandated black lipstick.

I went to the holy grail for all things affordable and lovely, Target, and purchased the cheapest tube of black lipstick I could find. I figured I would never wear the shade again except maybe on Halloween.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I dug to the bottom of my lesser-worn makeup box and found my black lipstick, as good as new. My friend (and now photographer), TJ, wanted to shoot some landscape pictures. He told me I wouldn’t be the focus of the shots, and instructed me to wear all black as to not distract from the surrounding scenery. I was okay with this. I could wear pretty makeup to keep my look from being bland. Then, he went on to say I should complete the ensemble with dark eyes and black lipstick. I was less okay with this.

I braved the next morning with no lipstick at all and a daunting tube of black in my backpack. After class, I slinked to the nearest bathroom and coated my lips in black with only an iPhone camera to evaluate my results.

Lesson one: If one messes up the black line in the slightest, it shows in the worst way possible.

On my journey back to TJ’s office, stares at my black lips made my walk increasingly more insecure. I sat by TJ and decided either he had no sympathy for my plight or he was incapable of understanding the cruel nature of females who judge other females for fitting in and standing out. Likely the latter.

As we headed outside to begin our landscape plus black lipstick shoot, my luck again betrayed me. I ran into my friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for three years. The reunion distracted me from the black mess on my lips, but when TJ and I walked away a few minutes later, I realized in a panic that the first person from my school I’d seen since graduation saw me in the least stylish, most unflattering state I’d ever revealed to the world. I later crafted a Facebook post to assure him I hadn’t gone goth after high school.

For the sake of a decent word count, I’ll skip over most of the details from the actual shoot. Although, I feel the need to include that I laid on the thin edge of a high parking garage roof to capture the pictures below. I am basically Wonder Woman now.

Aside from my self-actualization as a super hero, I also learned a bit about the history of black lipstick.

According to a Harvard Law School paper by Sarah Schaffer, in the 1920s, black lipstick was extremely utilitarian. Makeup artist Max Factor used black lipstick in black and white silent films, because darker lips looked brighter red on camera. While the red-lipped Clara Bow look was all the rage in the ’20s, unbeknownst to the public, her lipstick was actually black.

Black-and-white-photography obsessed TJ proved this true with a couple of striking black and white shots. The lip totally pops.

Most significantly, I learned that black lips look much more dynamic than the stereotypes that precede them. The cheap tube from Target isn’t going back into my lesser-worn makeup box anytime soon.