The Red Lipsticks Behind Old Hollywood’s Iconic Women

Throughout history, red lipstick has been considered many things: provocative, audacious, political, classic, disruptive. Yet most notable of them all, it was a makeup go-to for some of Hollywood’s iconic women.

Within the cosmetic arena, it has always been a generational game changer, constituting itself not only as a makeup tool, but also as a pop culture symbol among heritage celebrities who adopted red lipstick as their signature motifs. For Valentine’s Day, we’re celebrating the power of red and the women who pioneered a new meaning behind the notorious makeup.

Marilyn Monroe

marilyn portrait

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While fanned out, feathery lashes and cat-shaped eye liner were a distinct part of Monroe’s makeup, her glossy, contoured red lips, which she achieved with Guerlain’s “Rouge Diabolique”, always took center stage. Because she wore it with almost any look on and off the screen, her red lips exuded a different feel each time. Worn with an evening gown and pendant earrings, there was glamour; paired with lace and gloves, it was alluring; attached to her everyday wear and nautical attire, her lipstick became an accessory on its own. There were no constrictions, rules, or reservations.

To this day, Monroe’s makeup is a symbol of vintage Hollywood glamour that’s continuously referenced to. In 2015 she was named the global ambassador for Max Factor, relating back to Max Factor Jr.’s assistance in the star’s iconic look.



Although Monroe’s exact shade isn’t available today, Guerlain’s KissKiss Shaping Cream Lip Colour in “Rogue Kiss” is a similar product.

Lucille Ball

lucille ball

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Lucille Ball’s outrageous, comedic nature on television matched the vibrancy of the makeup she donned. Despite the black and white quality of entertainment during Ball’s time, the vivacity of her “poodle” styled red hair and artistically overdrawn lipstick could be felt through the screen as the two were synonymous with the actress in real life.

Alongside her laugh-inducing lines, her facial expressions were a large part of her act. She could be frowning, grinning widely, or stuffing chocolates into her mouth – her red lipstick emphasized it all.

bésame cosmetics

Bésame Cosmetics

Ball’s choice of red came from Besamé Cosmetics, a brand that paid tribute to the late star in 2020 with its “Love Lucy” makeup collection. Ball’s original lipstick can’t be bought, but the shade “Love That Redhead” included in the line can be used to replicate the one and only’s iconic look.

Elizabeth Taylor

elizabeth taylor

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Elizabeth Taylor’s makeup abided to old school Hollywood beauty. Her heavily drawn yet naturally arched eyebrows and smokey eye makeup added a subtle depth and mystery, allowing the red lipstick to contribute a unique component. Although her lips were glossed over in a tried and true red mixed with a pink undertone, its simplicity and absence of exaggerated technique was Taylor’s signature.

Alongside its impact on the beauty world, the relationship between Taylor and red lipstick was rich in history as much as it was hue. Funnily enough, she starred in the 1963 film Cleopatra as the titular character, who in real life was alleged to have concocted her own red shades out of insects during ancient times. New York Times writer Fiorella Valdesolo ascribed Cleopatra the title of the “original red-lipstick connoisseur“. There was also Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics brand Taylor held an affinity for. During the Suffragette Movement of the early 1900s, women turned to bold red lipstick to mark their stance and Arden, in support of the cause, provided red lipstick to those marching past her store. Taylor was also marked by her choice of lipstick not only by onlookers, but brands as well including Max Factor who scouted her for a red lipstick advertisement in the 1950s.

elizabeth arden

Elizabeth Arden

While Taylor turned to a mixture of lipstick shades, Elizabeth Arden’s Ceramide Ultra Lipstick in the shade “Rouge” is a way to stay connected to the Hollywood beauty.

Grace Kelly

grace kelly

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From award-winning actress to Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly held an abundance of influence. Sartorially, her ability to coalesce Americana and French fashion made her a style muse. In comparison, her makeup was simple, understated, maybe even considered a “no makeup makeup look” in modern-day terms. Yet, her naturally shaped brows and minimal eyeliner that emphasized her eyes,were noted. Against this modest canvas, her use of a darker hued red lipstick from Dior’s Rouge Dior, grabbed attention.

What was also striking about Kelly’s use of red was her way of styling. Because her clothes were often of the delicate and decorous kind (along the lines of collared blouses, button-up cardigans, and pearls), it strayed away from red lipstick tropes and took on an air of innocence and elegance.



Dior Rouge Dior’s “999 satin finish” is classic red with a sleek formula that can be used to mirror Kelly’s makeup.

As much as these iconic women carved their own spaces in entertainment and paved their own kind of Hollywood stardom, their impact in the beauty realm still reigns. So here’s to Valentine’s Day and the power of red lipstick – may we apply it in earnest and confidence, following the footsteps of these iconic women.