Beauty trends come and go, but the red lip is forever. Long associated with Old Hollywood stars, from Audrey to Marilyn, the scarlet shades still dominate red carpets and catwalks today. "It’s part of that classic glamour," says Gabriela Hernandez, makeup historian and founder of vintage-inspired Bésame Cosmetics, "and I don’t think it’ll ever go out of style." Here, Hernandez shares tips and time-honored advice to make the classic look work for you.
Find the Right RedStart by finding your skin’s undertone. Hernandez’s trick: Hold a sheet of white paper up to your face and look in the mirror. If your skin looks more yellow next to the paper, you have a warm undertone; if you see pink or purple, you have a cool undertone; and if there’s no distinct hue, you’re likely neutral. Warm undertones are generally flattered by warmer shades of red (like orange- or brick-red), and cool undertones by cooler ones (such as blue- or berry-red). Lucky neutral-toned ladies can choose across the spectrum.
Don’t Forget the HairYour hair color matters, too, especially if you have a lot of it, Hernandez says. For a warm undertone and warm-colored hair, for instance, a warm red lipstick might be overpowering; Hernandez suggests a neutral red instead for balance. For salt-and-pepper hair, regardless of complexion, she prescribes a bright magenta shade to counteract the gray and brighten the face. "Take the temperature" of all your features and adjust accordingly: "It’s a bit of a dance."
It’s Not Just the LipsRed lipstick can pull together a look—"but you have to have a look first," says Hernandez. Ladies of the past knew this: "Their clothes were pressed, their hair was nice, their nails were filed and nicely buffed or painted. The lipstick was something they added at the end" Start with a polished outfit and neatly styled hair—the best style is one you can maintain, Hernandez advises—then add that swipe of red as your "cherry on top."
Less Is MoreWhen you wear red lipstick, "your lips take center stage," says Hernandez—and "only one person can be in the front." Simplify the rest of your makeup, especially the eyes; bring the mascara but hold the colorful eyeshadow, or else “the eye just bounces from the eyes to the lips, it doesn’t know where to focus.” Use good-quality products, and use less of them. Vintage beauty dictates less is more, Hernandez says: "Keep your face fairly natural and use makeup to enhance."
This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.