Whatever Happened to '90s Brown Lipstick? A Quick Look at the Starlets Who Somehow Made Brick-Colored Lips Cool
Hell hath no fury like a brown lipstick-wearing teen in a '90s rom-com. If you were wearing a brown lip — instead of something peach or pastel or frosted, gag — you were edgy, moody, cooler than cool, and you didn't care what the teachers or the popular kids thought of you. Like a gazillion other turn-of-the-century trends, the brown lip is making a slightly self-conscious comeback, but just like crew-neck Gap tees and Doc Martens, it will always look better when it happened in the '90s.
Lipstick was red, classic red, for most of history. Ancient peeps colored their lips with crushed gems, red plants, or weird poisonous substances that slowly killed them. Pairing red lips with a deathly-pale face was a super hot look in Elizabethan England, and red lipstick was considered so scandalous at the dawning of American society that no respectable woman would wear it in public for decades.
But days of no-lipstick-but-red, lead poisoning, yearly baths, and lack of female voting rights are largely behind us, and one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was not boy bands, not Internet, but lipstick in different shades.
As you can see from this glamorous 1979 Max Factor ad, brown lipstick was certainly around before the 1990s, but it was questionable at best. That high-gloss finish? That milk-chocolate hue? Ugh.
Brown lipstick as we know it — that is, cool brown lipstick — was birthed in the '90s and died (temporarily) in the '90s. It was unlike any other shade of lipstick before it: Deep, matte, and reddish brick-brown. The overall effect was a little bit goth, a little bit grunge, and utterly unmistakable.
The decade kicked off with this October 1990 cover of Rolling Stone, on which the women of Twin Peaks are all wearing sharply defined brows, OG normcore clothing, and a lipstick shade that's compelling but hard to pin down. It's not red, and it's certainly not pink. It's not purple or mauve or peach or neon. What is this new magic?
Another forerunner of the brown lipstick movement was Bobbi Brown, who started her line in 1991 with "ten brown-based lipstick shades created to fill a void in the market for simple, flattering and wearable makeup." Along with Brown's inventions, the '90s were speckled with classic hues that nailed the rich, not-quite-red-not-quite-purple-and-not-quite-mud shade, like Revlon's Raisin Rage and Rum Raisin.
But the greatest of all 1990s brown lipstick ambassadors were the starlets. Hot young angst-ridden things like Drew Barrymore, Gwen Stefani, and Winona Ryder wore brown lipstick with the best accessory that the decade provided: A bad attitude.
Drew wore it with a sneer and a "what?!" look for the cameras:
Gwen wore it with thin eyebrows and lipliner and tiny hair buns, AS ONE DOES IN 1995:
And Winona wore it the best way possible — while dating Johnny Depp:
I could go on for hours about all the times brown lipstick made sweeping cultural waves (The Craft, Rachel on Friends, Cindy Crawford all the time) but let's reluctantly return to 2014. The shade isn't hard to find it on today's runways. It's a little darker than it used to be, but maintains that distinct grunge attitude:
Zeynep Tosun, London Fashion Week, Fall/Winter 2014
Celebrities have also hopped back on the brownish lipstick train, as they should:
But perhaps the most gorgeous modern example of brown lipstick is Michelle Williams' Fall 2013 Louis Vuitton ads, where she poses in a '90s-esque slip dress with a perfectly matte, brick-brown pout and — can it be? — a whole lot of angst in her eyes.
Even Drew Barrymore has gone on record saying she still wears red-brown lipstick today. So not to be totally nostalgic, but why'd we ever stop?
Images: Columbia Pictures; Getty Images (2)