I have this habit of fixating on people’s lips when they talk. I’m slightly hard of hearing, especially in high-noise situations, so lipreading has been a way for me to better communicate with the world around me. When most people wore masks this past year, I gladly donned mine too, but it wasn’t without a sense of loss. What were everyone’s lips doing? I could usually tell when a person was smiling or scowling, even without lip cues, but I missed the subtle language of lips.
In grade school, I was responsible for getting myself on the bus to school, which left me with a whole half-hour of solitary bliss (highly coveted, in our large, multigenerational household). I waited until everyone had left for work, then hauled myself onto the bathroom counter. I tried on every lipstick in the drawers: my mother’s dusky pinks, her weekend crimsons, and my grandmother’s deep mauve, one I’d always associate with her frowns, even thirty-something years later. I loved the way those stolen lipsticks coated my mouth and gave them a wash of beautiful color.
“Darling,” I’d say to myself, planting a kiss on the mirror.
I knew better than to go to school with all my lipstick, so minutes before the bus came, I’d wipe most of it off, until I thought no one would notice the small flush of color left. Of course, they did notice. A teacher asked my mother why I was wearing makeup to school and that was the end of that.
“Makeup is grownup business,” my mom said, shutting her drawer with a decisive hand. Her own lipstick was always gone by the end of the day, bitten off or faded away, the posy-pink replaced by her natural color, a bruised purplish color like my own.
When I was older, I wore fuschia lipstick everywhere, thinking it was a kind of signature. A calling card. My boyfriends hated kissing me when I wore lipstick; they said it stained. They wiped the backs of their hands across their mouths, erasing any sign I’d been there. But I didn’t care. Lipstick, like people, is supposed to leave a mark.
In the past year, I let my lipsticks dry out. I never went anywhere, and when I did, I was masked, mouth wholly covered. Half the joy of lipstick for me is wearing lipstick in the world. Sometimes during the pandemic, I put it on in the mornings only to see it worn off by mid-day, as my mother’s had. Lipstick felt like work, in a time when I just wanted to get through another day. But in these past couple of months, with the advent of summer and a blessedly accessible vaccine, at least in the States, my curiosity for lipstick sparked again*.
One of my favorite internet personalities, Jeffrey Marsh, has the most joyful relationship to beauty, and especially lipstick. Jeffrey wears the whole rainbow, including shades I wouldn’t have considered for myself: vivid greens and pale Barbie pink, sapphire blue and even a lovely, lemony yellow. Watching their videos led me back to those early days in that dim little bathroom in our duplex, slathering on as much lipstick as my mouth could hold. Eager for a taste of glamor and adulthood.
In a quest to reclaim my lips—and the bold language of lips—I’ve tested eight lipsticks to find my new favorite. In selecting the colors to test, I gravitated toward echoes of that signature fuschia, cooler pinks, and (for science) a warm red that feels finally, decidedly grownup. These days, I still mask up in many situations*. But underneath, I’m wearing my lipstick: smiling or grimacing, or some combination of the two. You’ll know when I show you.
*At the time of writing this post, a few weeks ago, the CDC no longer required indoor masks for vaccinated people, though I still chose to don my mask in most situations. Since then, with the circulation of the Delta variant and spikes in COVID-19 transmission, the CDC has reinstated their recommendation for even fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors. Any lipstick I wear now is under my mask, showed off at home and in outdoor settings.
Where I wore it: Ballet class with my daughter, Wonder Girl. Ironically found myself discussing lipstick for preschoolers with the ballet moms, because when you’re on the competitive dance team (we’re not), long-lasting preschooler lipstick is, evidently, a must.
What I liked: When we talk about a statement lip**, it’s something like this. The color is creamy and saturated and stayed on for hours. By hours, I mean that I still had some on my lips the next morning, even after brushing my teeth twice. The super-stay formula is a plus for me, but I can see how it would be annoying to remove! It wasn’t dry at all, and had a really nice texture; it truly was weightless. The applicator uses an elegant curved design and is great for precise application (which you want with a lipstick this bright!). I blotted it a couple times to bring down the tone.
Other notes: This is a lipstick I’d save for a big moment or a time when I want to be very much seen. The highly pigmented color isn’t for everyone, though I found it fun. It definitely leaves a mark, so if you plan on sending your kid off with a kiss before her dance class, bring a wet wipe for her cheek and prepare to scrub.
**Quick application tip: For the more saturated lipsticks, instead of purchasing a matching lip liner, I used a lip brush to line my lips using the same lipstick color.
Where I wore it: At a hotel for a DIY writing retreat, during which I only semi-successfully managed to distract myself from TikTok and episodes of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. I stayed in my room for 24 hours, leaving only once for coffee and a bag of sour cream and onion chips from the lobby, but still wore my lipstick the whole time, in the name of relentless journalism.
What I liked: This lipstick is the only warm tone in the bunch, with a bit of an orange glow. It brings out the color in your cheeks and leaves a really powerful punch. It’s somewhere between the matte lipsticks in dryness and the ILIA balm with its buttery hydration. I liked it a lot, and could see myself reaching for it when I need a boost—it’s a power lipstick, for sure.
Other notes: I actually started off by testing Charlotte Tilbury’s Pillowtalk in “Medium,” the darker of their neutral Pillowtalk shades, but I found that it blended into my lips to the point that I couldn’t tell I had any color on. So I went back to the samples and chose this one, which is much more my style. (Pillowtalk, perhaps, works better for those with paler lips than mine, or for those who enjoy a more understated look.)
Where I wore it: Birthday dinner date with a friend, where I ate a huge salad that seemed to contain all the contents of the restaurant kitchen, drank a lot of tea, and glimpsed a baby fawn that looked like a chihuahua.
What I liked: This is my favorite lipstick of the bunch. The color is so classic, and it felt like pure luxury. The packaging is also gorgeous, with a vintage 1920s feel that made me feel a bit like I’d stumbled into one of Jay Gatsby’s parties in the West Egg. Though it’s a matte lipstick, it doesn’t leave your lips parched. It doesn’t stay on nearly as long as Fenty’s lipstick, but just long enough for me. The best part: It doesn’t transfer quite as much, so I was able to kiss my baby before I left, without having to scrub her cheek.
Other notes: I think you should try it if you’re in the market. Plus, the mini sizes let you experiment before committing.
Where I wore it: To the public swimming pool with Wonder Girl on a scorching-hot 90-degree day. Is it weird to wear lipstick at the pool? Maybe. Will I continue? Yup.
What I liked: This lipstick is actually very similar to the Maybelline Ink Crayon, below. Both are crayons with a lot of pigment, though this one is more vibrant. I preferred the color of this one, but it’s also quite bold, so not recommended for those who prefer a natural lip. This crayon goes on a bit smoother and doesn’t seem to dry my lips as much as the Maybelline version. Also, it stayed on even after the pool visit, which isn’t actually surprising, since I didn’t dunk my head under the water, even with Wonder Girl’s masterful cajoling.
Other notes: If I had to choose a lip crayon, it would be this one. No big cons, though I will say I liked the way it photographed slightly more than how it looked IRL.
Where I wore it: Taking a walk with my husband around the neighborhood, during which I asked multiple times why our yard always looks like crap compared to everyone else’s, and during which he reminded me that no one in our family likes to weed or mulch or really even look at a tree unless strongly urged.
What I liked: Speaking of packaging—by now you know I’m a sucker for it, but this one is especially pretty. It hits that perfect cottage-core, grandmillennial look I’ve somehow fallen prey to in these halcyon summer days. But aside from that, the lipstick itself is sophisticated and subtle, adding just enough color to enhance your lips while still feeling natural. It’s light, but pigmented, and full of moisture (second only to the ILIA balm below).
Other notes: This is the most expensive lipstick of the bunch, and definitely feels like a splurge. If I were a person who remains dedicated to one brand or color for a long time, I would consider investing. But since I leave lipstick strewn in purses and countertops like breadcrumbs, I would not likely get it again, unless I wanted to treat myself. Plus, you have to reapply this lipstick more often than some of the others, so if you’re lazy like me, you may want to pass.
Where I wore it: To Costco, where I debated the merits of an oversized bag of Parmesan crisps, then trolled the aisles of samples before ending up with a $2 sundae near the entrance.
What I liked: This is actually a balm in consistency and hydration level, and perhaps shouldn’t be included in this list of true lipsticks. It’s dead-simple to apply, with a chunky chapstick-style tip that deposits color very naturally, giving you those pretty Koolaid-stained lips everyone wants during the summer. This berry-stain color is easy to wear and flattering. I can see myself tossing this into my purse and applying on the go, after meals (because it has the least staying power out of all of these lipsticks), and before meetings.
Other notes: If you’re looking for a longwear lipstick with a lot of vivid color, this may not be your pick. But if you’re anything like me, and find yourself reaching for an easy lip balm throughout the day, this is a beautiful option. Also: In a pinch, you can totally dab some of this hydrating balm onto your cheeks for a little natural flush.
Where I wore it: Coffee work date with myself. Muttering passive-aggressively at a gentleman at a table next to me who took a loud, long meeting without headphones.
What I liked: I’ve used this one pretty consistently over the years, and it’s richly tinted, but not too heavy. The spongy, angled applicator is sleek and easy to use. The formula is unique: It goes on like a cool liquid but then dries to a soft, not-too-sticky consistency. The pigment, surprisingly, doesn’t transfer a ton, though more than a matte lipstick, admittedly. I also adore this color; it makes me feel like a chic lady who trolls art galleries with her sketchbook.
Other notes: This was recommended by a very nice associate at Sephora who was warm and flattering, just like you want a makeup salesperson to be. I felt like a cherished mannequin, which is a feeling I never knew I needed but now can’t live without. Minor con, though likely a user error: I find that the lipstick always makes it onto the outside of the container, which leaves my hands sort of messy. Also a special-occasion lipstick, IMO.
Where I wore it: A Zoom meeting at work where I tried to hide the mess in my office by adding a background filter mid-meeting, but instead kept turning off the camera and annoying all my coworkers. At least my lipstick was on point.
What I liked: This is such a pretty, affordable option for some bright color without a ton of work. The crayon style is easy to use and comes with a little sharpener at the end. I really like this color too (I have a thing for cool-toned pinks, can you tell?) and love the imperative of the shade name. I will speak my mind and have some bold lips while I’m at it.
Other notes: The matte consistency is a little too dry for me, so I added a tiny touch of lip gloss on top (as pictured). This particular shade is a bit dark, giving me some sparkling-skinned-vampire vibes, but I also think it reads as a ‘90s grunge throwback, which is very fun.