I love lipstick.
Every handbag, every drawer, every bathroom shelf will reveal at least a stick or two of wonderful lip covering paint.
I love it for its colour and texture and promise. It makes me look brighter and feel better. It makes me grown up and glamorous and more like Pat Phoenix than Ena Sharples, Marilyn Monroe rather than Mrs Dale ( I know she was on the radio but I am sure she never wore lipstick.)
But it was not always thus. I started wearing makeup quite early in my life but never lipstick. My mother and my aunt had lovely full mouths and they wore lipstick with panache. My little mouth almost concealed by my podgy cheeks did not seem to need to be emphasized. I concentrated on my eyes – layers and layers of mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, as dark and sultry as I could trowel it on. And then revelation. I got married, went to Poland for a couple of weeks to meet my inlaws, and my mother in law, sans maquillage herself, took me lipstick shopping. As she said, my face looked unfinished, half done, almost raw. So we went to a lipstick shop. I didn’t know what else they sold. It was an old fashioned shop where you had to ask for what you wanted. I didn’t know what I wanted so my mother in law did the talking. Eventually the assistant brought out a selection of not very nicely packaged articles. (It’s all in the packaging, isn’t it?) She showed me some colours at arm’s length, and I asked if I could see them closer. Reluctantly she put one into my hand. Before anyone could stop me I tried a slick on my hand. I’d seen women doing that in London. I thought it would be the same here. But no. The woman grabbed it back, my mother in law was all over the place apologising to her and explaining to me that these weren’t testers. If you try it you buy it. I must have looked a bit blankly at her, because she just paid for it and a few others that she liked the look of, so I could try them at home.
And so I did. And thus the love affair began.
All different colours. Pinks and damsons, corals and reds, orange and fuschia. Depending on my mood or just randomly whichever I happen to pick up
The best presents have been lipsticks, especially from people who know me well.
Apparently I have perfected the art of reapplying lipstick so no one notices. Including myself – I do it so automatically, never looking in a mirror. I know where my mouth is – I even occasionally put my foot in it!
Before I got married my paternal grandmother was very disapproving of my wearing any makeup – she used powder of course – everyone her generation did, and lipstick. But it was not seemly for young girls. And putting it on in public – appalling lack of etiquette. Yet – and yet, the Queen was once photographed reapplying it in public. Did that make it all right? I don’t know.
We had a teacher at school who taught French, but was Armenian by birth and a Cypriot by nationality. She was small, with a large embonpoint and an even larger nose, set above a perfect set of lips which she covered in a lipstick called (I asked her) Rouge Baiser. (Who makes up these names?) I don’t think she was ever fulfilled in the kissing way, but she looked very dramatic. We used to fantasize that she was a nightclub singer in her spare time as once a year she would sing to us some French songs, as a treat. Inoubliable. Unforgettable.
When I taught in a boys’ school for several years the boys used to tease me about my lipstick – especially when I managed to plaster my teeth with it. But they were always kind about it, warning me when things got completely out of hand.
In another school, when I emptied my desk drawer in order to leave everything clear for the following teacher, my tutees counted twenty lipsticks, all started, all different.
Probably the most unprofessional thing I ever did lipstick-wise was to take some kids on a school trip to Covent Garden – and discover I had no lippy with me. Luckily there was a big Boots opposite the station. I managed to persuade the teacher I was with to give me five minutes while I replenished my supplies. Happy again, we had a great day.
But now, who cares? I still wear lipstick – under my mask! My masks need changing more than most because the colour comes off. It’s a bit more difficult to reapply discreetly, but I do!