Breaking down the allure of a rouge pout.
A classic red lip conjures any number of topical references––a young Marilyn Monroe, a High Fidelity era Zoe Kravitz, that one line from that 2014 Taylor Swift song. There’s no single shining example, but rather, a truly eclectic, long standing roster of iconic red lipped looks to draw upon. And regardless of your preferred poster-shot, we’ve been taken with the allure of the classic red lip for time immemorial––or at least for as long as red lipstick has been made commercially available. Which raises the question...why?
For starters, there’s a case to be made that it’s merely a way of highlighting an already supremely sexy feature: the lips. In fact, according to a 2010 Manchester University study the draw of lips, in particular, is fairly substantial. Throughout the study, researchers tracked men’s eyes for 10 seconds when faced with head-to-toe photographs of women, and found that their subjects spent an overwhelming majority of time gazing at women’s lips before gravitating elsewhere on the landscape (yes, including her chest). And moreover, they found that the men were apt to spend reliably longer staring at a woman’s lips if they were painted red.
From a more superficial lens, a recent study by the research and development team at Chanel found that red lipstick can help a woman appear younger due to something called “facial contrast.” When women get older, their eyes, lips, and eyebrows tend to grow paler in color –– so reinviting contrast can offer a more youthful appeal.
Lips aside, we’ve long associated “romance” and “red.” Surely, at bottom, this has something to do with the muscular shade of anatomical heart we love to cartoon-ize. But moreover, women in red have a history of appearing, uniquely, as sex symbols (think: “the lady in red”). And while scientists formerly theorized that this had something to do with a subconscious association with red vulva, a symbol of fertility and arousal, there’s new evidence that sheds a bit more light. According to evolutionary psychologist, Nancy Etcoff, red is a natural, biological sex signal. When women are feeling turned on so to speak, one physiological response comes in the form of a rush of blood to the lips (giving them a sultry, rouge hue). For potential mates, that warm shade signifies health and fertility––and thus, well, attraction.