My Life in Lipstick
I remember the first time I ever wore lipstick. I was three years old, and the color was a rosy-mauve shade borrowed from my mother. Well, ‘borrowed is a bit of a stretch… and so is ‘remember.’
My parents have a picture of me that captures this moment: a tiny girl in a frilly white dress balanced precariously on the top of a tall wooden dresser (who knows how I even got up there). I have clipped no less than four elaborate bows in my hair and applied the lipstick (pretty expertly for a three year old, if you ask me) on my face. One of the dresser drawers is open, and I appear to be clutching the lipstick tube in my little hands The picture is from 1989 and taken on a film camera, so the quality isn’t that great.
It’s hard to tell exactly what I’m holding, but if we believe my mother’s story, there was some pure makeup magic happening at the moment.
Looking at the slightly out-of-focus image, it’s obvious that I have been caught red-handed (and mauve-lipped) doing something I absolutely should not be. But my look isn’t portraying guilt or surprise. It’s one of defiance. I was a very stubborn child and more often than not, I was going to do what I wanted to do. There’s a certain sense of confidence in my tiny face that, while it has waxed and waned over the years (it’s hard being a woman in modern society), has never gone away. That - more so than lipstick or mascara, expensive clothing, and handbags - is the true source of feeling beautiful. It’s what makes you stand out when you walk into a room.
Now, don’t get me wrong - those other things can certainly help boost your mood: when we look good, we feel good, and I spent a lot of time from junior high on experimenting with makeup.
At 12 and 13, it was drugstore cosmetics: tinted lip balms flavored after soft drinks and sugary desserts, frosted glosses, eyeshadows, and nail polishes in candy shades that made my mother roll her eyes. In high school, my friends introduced me to the department store makeup counter, and my best friend and I quickly made it our life goal to own every single eye shadow from a glam-rock-inspired brand.
No one taught me about matching shades to my skin tone or how and why to use lipliner. It was a shiny, sparkly, over-bronzed time in my life that I look back on with a mix of fondness and horror. Yes, there is photographic evidence. No, I will not be sharing it.
By the time I hit college I realized that lipstick was more nuanced than I had previously understood. It represented many things: beauty, power, sex, femininity, style, and culture. That felt like a lot to take on in addition to studying for a bachelor’s degree, so I pivoted to mostly neutral glosses for the next few years.
Lipstick came and went in the decade after college, much of it ending up unused and stashed away in drawers, purses, bins, and my car’s glove compartment. I loved the look of a bright red with minimal makeup or a soft petal pink to go with a fresh Spring wardrobe. The older (and more unflaggingly confident) I got, the more I found that lip color wasn’t just a fun way to accessorize an outfit - it was a serious form of self-expression. What I didn’t love was the time and effort it took to get the look just right and then maintain it throughout the day.
I envied the storied French beauty ideal (or at least the one espoused by the media and pop culture): a bare face with a bright lip that had been dashed on with insouciance. Try as I might - and oh I tried! - I just could not master that look and often veered more into a clown-adjacent territory. I’ve purchased dozens of lipsticks over the past decade, and while some of them worked great for a night at the ballet or a weekend date, I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to find the perfect go-to everyday tube that would give me that breezy, lived-in French girl look.
When I first tried Vermouth, I was a little skeptical.
I wasn’t quite sure about a lip crayon, but as I am someone who only uses natural and clean beauty products (and Vermouth fits that bill), I thought it would be worth a try. The first color I used was Tuesday (a lovely mauve with a slight undertone of brown). It was easy to apply - just a few slicks with the crayon and you get a lovely wash of color, almost like a tint. A few more swipes and you have the color payoff of a lipstick but without any heaviness or stickiness. It was exactly what I had been looking for. I don’t need a lipliner, it’s simple (and fun!) to layer and blend the colors, and it honestly doesn’t require a mirror to apply. Just swipe and go.
For me, finding a reliable daily lip color wasn’t the be-all, end-all solution to my beauty woes. I still get pimples. I wake up tired with dark circles under my eyes. Sometimes my makeup just doesn’t cooperate. I’m a human, that’s how it goes.
We all have good days and bad days. Days where we want to scream at everyone in our path and days that make us feel like the luckiest person alive. Looking back at my three-year-old self perched on top of that dresser I know that a lot of things have changed in the 32 years since that picture was snapped, and a lot of things haven’t - I’ve grown into a strong, confident woman who is still stubborn, still loves to accessorize, and who will never deny the power of a really good lipstick.
By Rachel Gallaher