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Patriotic Red Lipstick by Megan Leigh


The last photoshoot on my course at BAMM was a vintage themed look-book, where we had to create a look from each of the 1920s/30s, 40s, 50s and 60s on the same model. It seemed fitting to finish my time as a BAMM student with an homage to iconic beauty products over the years. I love vintage glamour and the interplay between makeup and a time’s social, economic and political context. I decided to base my looks on iconic beauty products of each decade, but my favourite shots were the 1940s inspired ones.

Recreating my own vintage-inspired looks was so exciting and I really enjoyed researching each decade. The iconic stars from the 1940s were Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth and Bette Davis – all incredibly glamourous women, always with red lipstick. The first thing I did was put together a mood board of images, some originally from the forties, and some contemporary shots inspired by the trends of the time.

I started looking into the decade in a little more depth, and found that lipsticks were hard to come by for some, as the metal and plastic packaging was being used in the war effort. However, many women didn’t want to have to give up wearing makeup even though they were working in traditionally ‘unfeminine’ jobs, and became very resourceful, using beetroot juice for lipstick and boot polish to darken their eyelids if they couldn’t get hold of cosmetics.

Revlon received government contracts to produce first aid kits, so they were able to continue manufacturing lipsticks. In 1940, Revlon also introduced the idea of matching nail polish to lipstick – an iconic look that has endured to this day. Red lipstick quickly became a symbol of patriotism and a way to boost morale, to the extent that the US War Production Board announced in 1942 that cosmetics were ‘necessary and vital.’ Women were encouraged to send letters to soldiers on the front signed with lipstick prints to lift spirits, and Elizabeth Arden created a makeup kit for the American Marine Corps Women’s Reserve with a red lipstick that matched parts of their uniforms. After finding out all of this, the 1940s look had to be red lipstick.

Once I’d decided on the red lipstick, I made up a face chart with the rest of the look – flawless skin, soft rose blusher on the cheeks, a slightly rounded eyebrow, simple eyeliner-no big flicks (these weren’t in fashion until the 1950s), and lots of mascara. We were taught at BAMM to always create a face chart for a shoot day, even if you think you know exactly what you’re going to do. This definitely helped on the day, as I found it was less stressful to be able to just pick up each face chart and start right away, without having to think too much about what was coming next. We’d practised our looks in class on each other, so by the time my model arrived I was ready to go and could get started right away.

I’d spent some time trying to find props for the look, and inspired by the Dorothy Gray lipstick advertisement from 1943 (as seen in my mood board), I found a white fur wrap that looked of the era, as well as a statement red velvet ribbon to tie into my model’s hair. In true Revlon style, we painted the model’s nails red too.

I had so much fun on the shoot day, especially as it was our last shoot of the course so we all knew what to expect and could really enjoy it. It was also so rewarding creating the look knowing about the history of the products I was using. Overall I was really pleased with how the final shots came out and think it might still be my favourite shoot to this day!

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