For centuries red lipstick has been the pre-eminent cosmetic used by women to reinstate their power and maximise their feminine charms. In 1770 the British government felt that this particular cosmetic posed such a powerful threat to male dominance that they passed a law stating that ‘women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by cosmetic means’ will be tried for witchcraft. Make-up was restricted to limited use amongst theatre performers.
In the late nineteenth century, Sarah Bernhardt, perhaps the most famous actress of her generation, caused an outrage when she began to wear red lipstick outside of the confinements of the theatre. Rouge lipstick was exiled from society, until the Suffragettes made a stand for female equality and wore red lipstick to symbolise their defiance against patriarchy. It was Elizabeth Arden who, in 1912, created a signature red lipstick specifically for the Suffragettes. Arden believed that it was every woman’s right to be beautiful, and she was largely responsible for transforming the prevailing perception of make-up. Previously, cosmetics were associated with the lower classes and prostitution.