Vintage Red: Tara’s Lipstick Test

Some of the most frequent questions I now get from those interested in vintage style are about red lipsticks. What works? What stays? Obviously, the brighter or darker the colour,…

By Tara Moss

Feb 5, 2014

Okay. You asked, so I blogged. About lipstick.

If you are interested in vintage and mid-century makeup styles you can’t have missed that red was the popular lipstick colour of the era for everyone from Hollywood stars to popular pin-ups and WWII munitions factory workers who wore red to show their patriotism. (Read: “Speak Softly and Carry a Lipstick”: Government Influence on Female Sexuality through Cosmetics During WWII.)

For decades I was strictly a ‘nude’ lip girl, but since my vintage turn in late 2012 (Read: Hate The Way Modern Fashions Treat Your Curves? Go Retro) I have adopted red lips as my regular look. Now that I am 40, I find that nude lip colours can wash out my complexion, while a good red gives me an instant lift. Some of the most frequent questions I now get from those interested in vintage style are about red lipsticks. What works? What stays?

Many people who like the look of red lipstick think they can’t pull it off. My feeling is that if you like the red lip look, you probably can make it work if you choose a red lipstick that matches your skin tone on the rough chart below. (I am a ‘medium’). It may take some experimentation to find the right one for you. The main concerns, however, seem to be that red lipstick will ‘bleed’ around the mouth (especially as you get older and develop more lovely character lines) or that it will come off on everything. Obviously, the brighter or darker the colour, the more potential mess it makes.

With this in mind, I thought I would conduct a basic test of the three red lipsticks I have worn the most in the past year.

Here they are in order of retail price:

1. The Lindy Charm School For Girls classic 1 Russian red lipstick. This one is advertised as ‘enriched with soothing vitamin E  to keep your lips dewy soft’, is described as ‘long lasting’ and retails at $20.

2. Clinique’s High Impact #12 Red-Y To Wear. This is advertised as a ‘long wearing lipstick with SPF15’. It retails for $36.

3. MAC’s A53 Russian Red. This retails for $36.

These three red lipsticks vary slightly in colour. Clinique’s Red-Y-To Wear was the first red I tried, and comes up on me as a red-bronze. It’s not too vintage looking, but still enough to give a pop of colour for a modern vintage look. Last year I attended a fun vintage class put on by the Lindy Charm School for Girls and tried their classic ‘Russian’ red. This was a more vintage look and I quickly became addicted to it, though I continued to use both. Recently, I tried MAC’s Russian Red, reportedly a favourite of burlesque icon Dita Von Teese. I have had comments and questions on all three.

Makeup tends to wear differently on different people, but after using these lipsticks regularly, I found that none of them dried out my lips in the way some lipsticks advertised as ‘long lasting’ or ‘long wear’ can tend to. It’s also worth noting that I don’t powder my lips or use sealant or other tricks to make the colour stay, and for the test, below, I used only liner and lipstick – no gloss, sealant, powder, etc.

Let’s get started with our test:

To test these three lipsticks I drew a line with each to show the pigment of the product, above, then blotted my lips on the paper one time only. Finally, after this, I did the glass test, below. Though this is hardly scientific, I attempted to repeat the same procedure with each lipstick, using the same lip liner underneath (I just do the outer lip shape, rather than filling in the whole lip), using the same amount of lipstick in application (I go straight from the lipstick rather than using a brush for application) and I removed all of my makeup before testing the next lipstick.

The Look:

With each lipstick I have drawn a line to show the ‘true’ colour before it is on and blends with your natural lip colour and skin tone to create something individual to you. For now, let’s just focus on the lines under each title. You can see that Clinique Red-Y To Wear is the brightest and warmest lipstick (and makes a pretty good letter kissing lipstick, if you are into that sort of thing), Lindy Charm School (LCS) Russian is a bit deeper, and MAC Russian Red is the deepest red with the most brown in the pigment.

Now for the wear of the lipstick. For this, I did a wine glass test.

The Glass Test:

Well now, doesn’t this glass look a mess?

In the center we have LSC Russian, which appears slightly more fuschia than Clinique’s Red-Y To Wear, at far right. The Clinique lipstick came off on the glass the most, followed by LCS Russian, which literally came off half as much. The Clinique lipstick made more of a smear, and LCS came off as a neat ‘print’. And this is the fascinating part: MAC’s Russian Red, at far left, is barely visible on the glass. I did a double take. The lip print is barely noticeable. This staying power is also represented in the blotting in the image at the top of the page, where the Mac lipstick gave by far the most faint kiss mark. After just a single blot, the colour stayed true red and deep on my lips, but barely came off on the glass.

The Verdict: While each of these three red lipsticks was advertised as long lasting, the actual performance varied enormously. The Clinique lipstick comes off easily, the LCS lipstick has much better staying power, and the MAC Russian Red is the absolute stayer. The Lindy Charm School Russian red lipstick is the best value, as it is nearly half the price of the MAC lipstick but still has very good staying power, comes up as a good vintage red and doesn’t smear. MAC’s Russian Red is the deepest of the reds, and from this test, was by far most long wearing of the three lipsticks. As Dita Von Teese puts it, ‘that one just stays on forever’.

So there you go, vintage lovers. You asked, so I blogged. Your complexion and the look you want to achieve will influence what colours look best on you, but if your main concern is a deep vintage-look red lipstick that stays firmly on your lips and doesn’t bleed or smear, I hope this test was helpful.

PS I’d love to try other brands, particularly Australian-made or those that don’t test on animals, so if you have any recommendations, please add them in the comments below.

I’ll leave you with this handy vintage lipstick guide, and finally, a shot wearing MAC’s Russian Red:

Note: This post is not sponsored. 

Related Posts


  1. katiecrackernuts

    A double bonus of M.A.C lipsticks is that if you find a Viva Glam in a shade you love – not sure this one’s a Viva Glam shade – you are supporting HIV/AIDS programs for men, women and children. Programs supporting children are UNICEF programs.

    For me, the red go-tos are Hemp Organic’s ‘Cayenne’. A standout for me. Hard to find but I have a organics store near me that sells the range and will order in. My other favourite is an Innoxa lipstick called Velvet Apricot (I love it just for the name) but it requires reapplication to get me through my 6am to 6pm average working day.

  2. Danielle Hamilton

    Great test run, Tara!
    Russian Red has been my go to vintage red for a while…until I tried Lime Crime Velvetine in Red Velvet. It will blow your mind!
    Goes in as a gloss and dries to a true vintage matte. Stays on forEVER and it retails for around $25.

  3. Coralie

    I to love the MAC lippy! Also try lime crime velveteens. Will leave a mark but unbelievable staying power.

  4. willa

    Other brands that do really good red lipsticks (better than MAC imho) – Guerlain, Dior (another Dita fav), YSL, Chanel, Shiseido. Poppy King (now Lipstick Queen) also does good lips.

  5. Alex

    Natio does a nice vibrant red that is cruelty free, very cheap too! Lime Crime products are also cruelty free 🙂

  6. Melita

    Great reviews Tara. Would love you opinion on Chi Chi, Besame and Lime Crime lipsticks too 🙂

  7. Melita

    *your :-/

  8. Caitlin

    Mac does have amazing lipstick but if I want an all nighter lip stick I go straight for lime crime velvetines. To die for and a must have

  9. Angelika

    The new Maleficent lipstick by MAC- O M G !!!! I also love “Lady Danger”, “Brave Red” and “Relentlessly Red”- clearly #MacObssessed 🙂

  10. Elizabeth Collins

    The red lipstick you wore on Thursday at Avenue Bookstore at Albert Park was amazing. Was this the MAC Russian Red?
    You looked stunning and thank you for a wonderful heartfelt presentation on your book.

  11. Sandra

    If your looking for that perfect red try Besame Cosmetics.
    All our colours are the exact shades from our favourite hollywood starlets.
    Gabriela Hernadez(founder) is a makeup Historian and each one of her piece is replicated from Authentic Deco Pieces.
    A truly enchanting makeup line.
    Besame Cosmetics is an affordable romantics cosmetics line.
    Not Tested on animals
    No Parabens
    Contains many natural ingredients
    No Lead.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *