Red lipstick is nothing less than a power move. For centuries, women have worn it to express themselves, and the shades are as varied as their meanings: confidence, sensuality, strength, courage, playfulness, and even rebellion. Dita Von Teese once said that heels and red lipstick will put the god into people.
Maybe that’s exactly what Adolf Hitler was afraid of.
In the early 1900s, American Suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman boldly rocked a red lip in order to shock men. Protestors adopted the beauty statement and filled the streets in rebellion.
“There could not be a more perfect symbol of suffragettes than red lipstick, because it’s not just powerful, it’s female,” said Rachel Felder, author of Red Lipstick: An Ode to a Beauty Icon. Red lipstick had a history of being condemned by men as impolite, sinful, and sexually amoral. The trend gained traction throughout the 1920s, here in the United States and across the Atlantic into Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.
During World War II, the strength of women was finally welcomed and celebrated. As women replaced men in the workforce, their pride and independence were bolstered. Red lipstick grew in popularity as an expression of their confidence. Even Rosie the Riveter sported a bold lip.
According to Fedler, Adolf Hitler “famously hated red lipstick.” Madeleine Marsh, author of Compacts and Cosmetics explained: “The Aryan ideal was a pure, un-scrubbed face. [Lady] visitors to Hitler’s country retreat were actually given a little list of things they must not do: Avoid excessive cosmetics, avoid red lipstick, and on no account ever [were] they to color their nails.”
Allied women wore red lipstick in defiance of Hitler’s restrictions. Cosmetic companies created lipsticks in shades of “Victory Red” and “Montezuma Red” and red lipstick was even mandatory in the dress and appearance of U.S. Army women during the war.
Today, red lipstick is still worn around the world as a symbol of feminine strength and confidence. According to Rachel Weingarten, beauty historian and author of Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America, ’40s-’60s, “Anyone who’s ever dismissed the idea of beauty and makeup as being frivolous doesn’t realize the cultural and sociological impact.”