(New Humanist) Will you be applying Fire and Ice this summer – or Cherry Rain? Fabulous Rouge or Love That Red? If you’re blonde you’d do well with an orange base – dark-skinned, and I’d advise hints of blue with a gold base. But whatever your beauty regime, you simply won’t be complete without this season’s hottest accessory: on the catwalks, in the high street, in board rooms and bordellos, mouths are going to be slashed with scarlet, grins gashed with geranium, every pout painted pillar-box red.

For red lipstick is a sign of the times – a glaring, glossy signifier of our cultural and economic plight. When times are hard, sales of lipstick go through the roof. This was an observation first made by Leonard Lauder, president of Estée Lauder, who developed his Lipstick Index after 9/11 when he noticed a massive rise in sales. He then found the same phenomenon occurred during times of economic downturn.

A survey of Depression-era households in America showed that 58 per cent of them owned at least one tube of lipstick compared to 59 per cent owning a jar of mustard.

Female applying red lipstick, close up

But why do so many women resort to lipstick when times are hard? It could be a simple matter of recompense. If a Chanel jacket or a Chloe bag are out of your reach then at least get a small taste of designer luxury. But lipstick confers more than mere comfort. For many women it’s a morale-booster, a reaffirmation of identity, a sealing of self.

In her book The Thoughtful Dresser Linda Grant quotes the diary of one of the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen at the end of the Second World War. “It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived,” he recalled. “This was not at all what we men wanted. We were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it. It was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick . . . At last someone had done something to make them individuals again: they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

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