Was there a hidden message in the beauty looks at the BAFTAs?

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Jacqueline Kilikita
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The history of wearing red lipstick as a symbol of defiance is so interesting and still relevant today.

Red lips on the red carpet are more or less a given - it is a classic beauty trend after all.

But in support of Time’s Up - an initiative that aims to put an end to sexual harassment – most female guests at last night’s BAFTAs in London were clad in head-to-toe black, which made the multiple lip shades of punchy red many wore seem more like a message of defiance than a simple beauty look. 

Black Panther actress, Lupita Nyong’o, who emblazoned her jet black Elie Saab dress with a Time’s Up badge, led the charge of ruby reds.

Her makeup artist Nick Barose juxtaposed the bold slick of glossy red lipstick with a feline flick, accompanied by a flash of midnight blue eyeshadow.

Following suit was Hunger Games actress Jennifer Lawrence, who allowed her pillar-box-red lips to do all the talking against her minimal eye make-up, and Gemma Arterton, whose red lips popped against her one-shoulder gown. British actress Gemma Chan also pinned a Time’s Up badge to her black dress and offset the look with matte red lipstick.

It’s perhaps no surprise that so many women opted for a scarlet lip; the act of wearing red lipstick to signify protest is one that is embedded in history. From 1912, bright reds were often worn at rallies by suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, to shock, defy and show their solidarity in support of women’s right to vote.

A Selfridges advert from 1919 reported that, ‘Fashionable young women are flocking to the store for delicate tea dresses and that most powerful symbol of female emancipation: red lipstick.’ The impact endured and, in 1941, Elizabeth Arden introduced the lipstick shade ‘Victory Red’ as an emblem of patriotism and strength.

The power of red lipstick prevailed throughout WWII. A time when austerity was everywhere, women used red lipstick to raise spirits and support their fellow women through tough times. A Finnegan’s brand lipstick was even named ‘Home Front Ammunition,’ which novelist Lucy Ribchester says lent women a sense of bravery and fearlessness. 

‘It cast women as soldiers, appealing not only to their patriotic sides, but to a sense of the self as courageous, daring, bold – characteristics then more commonly associated with masculinity.’

Fast forward to today, and it seems a swipe of red lipstick might still be the ultimate symbol of female authority. 

Images: REX