It isn’t just lipstick formulas that have changed a lot over time. Take a look at the changing lip colors through history.

We tend to think of lipstick as a modern thing, but lipstick’s history goes back to ancient times. Of course, they weren’t applying tubes of Revlon they picked up from the drugstore the way we are, but they did have their own products to add a pop of color to their lips.

(Related: A Brief History On The Changing Shapes Of Eyebrows)

If we just focus on the “modern” lipsticks that we know now, they have changed over the past 100 years. They’ve become more accessible, available in more and more colors and the formulas just kept getting better at better.

While there has almost always been a range of lipstick colors to choose from, there always seemed to be one shade (and finish) that defined a decade. Just think about the 1950′s red or the 1990′s brown.

Take a look at how lipstick colors have evolved over time:


Headshot portrait of American silent film actor Clara Bow (1905 - 1965), known as the 'It' girl, resting her chin on her shoulder, 1920s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).
Headshot portrait of American silent film actor Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), known as the ‘It’ girl, resting her chin on her shoulder, the 1920s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

It’s difficult to tell from the black-and-white photos, but the favored lip colors of the 1920′s were rich garnet and scarlet reds as popularized by stars like Clara Bow. They applied the color in a thin shape with a delicate cupid’s bow.


Actress Greta Garbo 1930s Lipstick

The Great Depression effected makeup colors in the ’30s. The rich reds of the Roaring Twenties were replaced with more subdued reddish brown shades, as seen on Greta Garbo. Furthermore, the lipstick shape was fuller and slightly elongated.


Actress Rita Hayworth

You might think that war would have perpetuated the trend for somber lipstick colors, but actually, the opposite happened. Women were encouraged to wear bright lipstick in an effort to boost morale. A striking orange-red shade with a glossy finish was the preferred color of the decade. If this photo of Rita Hayworth was in color, her lips would pop.


Marilyn Monroe Red Lipstick

The 1950′s was the decade of famous divas, and they had the lips to match. Bold red lips were the classic look of the 1950′s. Just think about Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.


circa 1960:  Studio portrait of actor and model Brigitte Bardot wearing a light blue off-the-shoulder dress.
circa 1960: Studio portrait of actor and model Brigitte Bardot wearing a light blue off-the-shoulder dress. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

Bold lipsticks had been popular for a few decades, and the 1960′s saw a drastic change. The eyes suddenly became the focus, so lips were kept neutral so they wouldn’t compete with the graphic eyeliner of the decade. Soft pinks and nudes like the shade seen on Brigitte Bardot were the faves.


Singer Donna Summer poses for an album cover session
LOS ANGELES – MAY 16: Singer Donna Summer poses for an album cover session on May 16, 1978, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images).

The 1970′s gave us disco, and when people were going out dancing, they needed a fun party look. Bold lipstick colors in ultra-glossy finishes were the favorite among disco queens like Donna Summer and Jerry Hall.


Joan Collins 1980s Lips
Joan Collins 1980s Lips.

The 1980′s philosophy was “more is more,” and that definitely applied to makeup. Just take a look at Joan Collins. The brighter the lipstick, the better, with bold reds and pinks being the favorites. They were paired with heavy eyeshadow and lots of blush.


A Brief History On Lipstick Colors Through The Decades: Cindy Crawford
Cindy Crawford (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage).

After the over-the-top ’80s, the 1990′s saw a pared-down look. Neutral lips were the most popular, especially brown tones with a slight red undertone, or what we called “earth browns.”


Joan Smalls Met Gala Purple Lipstick
Joan Smalls Met Gala Purple Lipstick.

Today there are lots of lipstick trends. Velvety matte finishes are extremely popular at the moment, and 1990′s browns are making a comeback, along with all of the decade’s clothing styles. Crazy-colored lipsticks have also reached massive popularity. We’re no longer limited to just reds, pinks, and nudes. You can get everything from pastel blue to metallic purple. Joan Smalls’ statement lip at the Met Gala is still one of the best looks.

(Photos: Getty Images)



  1. Jan Lewandowski on

    Nice blog. But there is one color family you omitted which is really pretty for the summer especially: orange! A lot of us really mourn the fact that Revlon has discontinued 24 Carat Orange which is a slightly frosted orange. After a lot of experimenting I found a way to duplicate this shade. Apply a layer of Cover Girl Exhibitionist Creme #495 Orange AF then coat with L’Oreal’s #417 Peach Fuzz. Doesn’t have the lasting power, but the color is pretty close! You never know when the manufacturers will discontinue these so experiment now and see what you think.


    • Iskra Banović on

      Hi Jan,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment and for sharing your tip on how to replicate Revlon’s discontinued 24 Carat Orange! That combo of Cover Girl Exhibitionist Creme #495 and L’Oreal’s #417 Peach Fuzz sounds like a winner—I’ll definitely have to try it out. Orange is such a beautiful color for summer, and it’s a shame when a favorite shade gets discontinued. Your DIY alternative will be a hit with others who are missing that vibrant hue!

      Happy experimenting, and thanks again for the suggestion!

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