Suffragettes armored themselves with the striking color as they fought for the right to vote. In 1912, beauty pioneer Elizabeth Arden handed them the bullets—tiny, but mighty tubes of red lipstick that were shaped like ammunition.
The bold move symbolized strength, independence and defiance all in one.
“It wasn’t worn by everybody at that point,” Bésame Cosmetics founder and author of Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup Gabriela Hernandez told E!. “They were trying to say, ‘Hey, we’re independent, and we’re different and we wear whatever we want.'”
The wild audacity of the suffragists showcased the ferocity of red lipstick, so much so that it became essential during World War II. At the time, beauty brands halted the production of its products, including lipstick, in order to use all of its materials for the war.
“At first, they cut it out,” Hernandez noted. “But then they saw morale really slip—not only their morale but the morale of the soldiers who wanted pretty girls to come back to.”
Once again, Elizabeth Arden was linked to a historical moment. To help lift their spirits, she created a fire-engine shade called Montezuma Red—an homage to the Marine Corps’ hymn—and was given the exclusive right to sell makeup on military bases.
“That color was marketed to women as a morale booster,” Hernandez explained. “You didn’t have pantyhose available. You didn’t have a lot of fabric. The only thing that stuck around were lipsticks.”