Lipsticks, her wonderful world of color

Sally Friedman with her lipstick collection. "Maybe this endless experimenta- tion is because hope springs eternal that I am one lipstick away from perfection, from a flawless, seductive me. . . . Or maybe it's because buying a new lipstick for $5 can somehow lift my spirits."
Sally Friedman with her lipstick collection. "Maybe this endless experimenta- tion is because hope springs eternal that I am one lipstick away from perfection, from a flawless, seductive me. . . . Or maybe it's because buying a new lipstick for $5 can somehow lift my spirits." (ZOFIA HAUSMAN)
Posted: October 24, 2013

The very first lipstick I ever wore was dabbed on my lips by my best friend. We were in sixth grade, and Jane Lee, who was always taller and surer than I was, already knew how to outline her lips perfectly with Pixie Pink. The bonus: It tasted vaguely like bubble gum.

I felt incredibly grown-up and sensational in that lipstick - until my mother noticed its remnants and read me the riot act: Absolutely no lipstick until eighth grade. And she meant it.

Of course, I didn't listen. There would be other sneaky experiments in Jane's bathroom mirror. Lipstick seemed the most exciting, glamorous adventure a girl could have. So I tried orangey shades and purplish ones and once, just once, daring, bright red. My sister and my next-door neighbor said it made me look like a clown.

I blush at my long history in lipstickland. While I have a drawer full of abandoned blushers and bronzers and powders, more than anything else, I've got lipsticks.

These orphans lie in wait for me, a reminder of follies past. I can't explain why I won't throw them out, except that to admit so many lapses in judgment feels shameful. How had I let myself be seduced by the siren call of "lustrous," "luminous," "luscious"?

As a Medicare-qualified/old-enough-to-know-better consumer, why would I ever allow my personal palette to include mistakes like tangerine, grape, and cantaloupe - shades that looked lovely in a fruit bowl, but horrible on my lips?

Other lipstick names hint of sultry, wanton nights. Fifty shades of . . . scarlet.

Back in the 1980s, I had a moment of madness and bought into a brown lipstick craze. Only when I saw myself in a candid photograph did I realize that I looked like I was in the throes of the flu.

Maybe this endless experimentation is because hope springs eternal that I am one lipstick away from perfection, from a flawless, seductive me, not a grandmother who has an arthritic thumb and triple-strength reading glasses.

Or maybe it's because buying a new lipstick for $5 can somehow lift my spirits, especially in winter when the landscape is bleak. A dash of color - such a harmless indulgence.

If I ever do manage a decent relationship with a lipstick, I'm often betrayed when I learn that it has been summarily discontinued. I have been known to haunt cosmetics departments bearing a tube with the scraps of a stick, an addict needing her Sassy Mauve fix.

Is it just me? I come from a long female dynasty, but I'm somehow the lipstick nonconformist. My grandmother never wore it. My mother had three lipsticks on her dressing table. I know because I got quite bored experimenting with them. My sister has stuck with the same basic lipstick shade for decades. No fuss, no fantasies.

And my daughters, who grew up in the glory days of feminism, initially rejected lipstick back when poker-straight hair and pale lips were cool. I recall begging Nancy to wear just a touch of color for the junior prom. She responded as if I'd suggested she become a harlot.

Ultimately, those daughters all graduated to colorless lip glosses that were sweet if not dramatic, and today they all wear something called "Berry" - faint enough that it's barely there.

They don't even frequent cosmetics counters - like me.

Recently in a meeting with the countess of the counter, I am told I have failed Lipstick 101. I haven't grasped the basic fact, she tells me, that lipstick shades come with overtones - or was it undertones - of blue, orange, violet, and an occasional hint of green. Say what?

So I let my tutor cajole me into buying a lipstick called Red Satin, "a bold statement," as she calls it. I rush home to apply it, and the bathroom mirror reveals a woman who looks as if she's been wounded.

But certain that I am just reacting to the drastic change from pale pink to this Cleopatra razzle-dazzle, I don't wipe it off.

And just when I'm starting to feel like a siren, with red lips ablaze, my husband comes home. He looks at the mail, asks what's for dinner.

Then he glances at me - and asks with concern why my lips are bleeding.

And I wonder, as I so often have, whether Pixie Pink will ever make a comeback.


pinegander@aol.com

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