Best Red Lipsticks for a Glamorous Vintage Look

Last updated on April 27th, 2024 at 12:18 pm

Beauty and style always evolve, and while most trends fade over time, others never go out of style. Among those long-lasting classics is red lipstick, the staple of vintage glamour, and has been a popular choice for countless elegant and iconic women throughout history, such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, my beloved Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball and Marlene Dietrich.

If you’re looking to create a glamorous vintage look inspired by Old Hollywood, finding the perfect red lipstick is key. There are many shades and formulas to choose from, so it can be overwhelming to know where to start. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you discover the best red lipsticks that will give you that classic, Old Hollywood vibe.

I will also reveal my favourite red lipsticks perfect for those with fair skin and red hair.

The new lipstick from Hollywood!

The new lipstick is oh so smooth. The colour stays on until you take it off. New original formula does not dry the lip.

Max Factor, 1947
best red lipstick for a vintage look

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The Origins of Red Lipstick

The captivating and vibrant story of red lipstick spans over 5,000 years, tracing its origins back to Mesopotamia. While it took time to gain recognition as an emblematic symbol, its roots were initially planted in royalty before becoming linked almost exclusively with courtesans.

The suffragettes of the 1910s adopted it as a mark of rebellion, while in 1941, it became associated with American patriotism. Ultimately, it transformed into the definitive makeup of the femme fatale.

The Confidence-Boosting Magic of Red Lipstick

There’s something about red lips that can give you a sense of empowerment and self-assurance.

Put on some red lipstick and live a little.

Marilyn Monroe

The transformative power of red lipstick can change an ordinary look into a bold, confident, and undeniably glamorous one.

It’s an essential beauty staple that every vintage-loving woman should have in her makeup bag, and not just for a special occasion.

As a red lipstick enthusiast, I can confidently say that I never leave the house without my lips painted in this classic shade. It’s become a signature look for me, and I feel incomplete without it. If someone were to ask me what’s in my purse, regardless of which purse they were referring to, my response would naturally be red lipstick. It’s a beauty item that I simply cannot live without. It’s beyond my control.

How Lipsticks Were Made in the 20th Century

  • Lipsticks in the early twentieth century were made of simple mixtures of fats, oils, and the pigment carmine.
  • In the 1920s, introducing bromo acids required specialized solvents, which complicated lipstick production. Initially, ingredients like stearic acid were used, but by the 1930s, castor oil was almost universally preferred as the bromo acid solvent.
  • However, it wasn’t easily compatible with other lipstick ingredients, which led cosmetic chemists to develop more complex lipstick formulations.

Available Lipstick Colours in the 1920s and the 1930s

  • Early lipsticks contained natural dyes. However, from the 1920s onwards, synthetic bromo acids became the dyes of choice. They were used alone to produce a “natural” or changeable lipstick, such as the one made by Tangee. But, generally, one or more bromo acid dyes were combined with pigments and formulated so that the stain left on the lips would match the pigment colour visible in the lipstick as closely as possible.
  • During the early days of lipstick production, the range of colours was limited. Therefore, combining bromo acid dyes with pigments was not much of a problem. But as the number of lipstick shades increased, it became more of an issue. The use of bromo acid dyes in lipsticks also meant that most lipsticks using it were produced in variations of red, such as blue-red, orange-red, or red-red.

The Colour of Lipsticks has Always Been a Focal Point for the Cosmetic Industry.

  • In the 1920s it wasn’t fashionable to coordinate lipsticks with clothing or nail polish.
  • Pairing the colours of lipsticks and rouge was considered important, but it was fairly easy to achieve since they were made with similar pigments.
  • Dyes were initially used to colour nail polishes, but during the 1930s, they were replaced with opaque cream polishes made with pigments.
  • As nail polish became more popular, women began to match their nail polish colour with their lipstick, leading to a heightened demand for pigmented lipsticks and a decline in interest in pure indelible.

America’s Loveliest Colours!

The fabulous Red-Red lipstick by Tangee was introduced to the market in 1940.

Best red lipsticks for creating vintage glamour.

How to Choose the Perfect Shade of Red Lipstick

Are you looking to achieve a glamorous vintage look with the help of red lipstick?

There is a shade of red for every woman.

Audrey Hepburn

I always wear red lipstick whenever I go outside, and I can’t resist buying new shades whenever I visit a makeup counter. I know it may seem like an obsession, but it’s beyond my control.

The burning desire to find the perfect red lipstick for my glamorous vintage look started over a decade ago when my beloved YSL lipstick was discontinued. My memory of that magnificent shade of red is as vivid as was the colour itself. After all, who could forget the perfect balance between bright orange and fire engine red?

Throughout the years, I have indulged in the purchase of numerous red lipsticks, each with its own unique shade and texture. After much experimentation, sometimes combining different shades, I have discovered several red lipsticks that I now consider to be my absolute favourites, and that I believe are a worthy replacement for the YSL lipstick that I adored and couldn’t live without for so many years.

In this post, I want to delve deeper into those specific red lipsticks that are perfect for creating a glamorous Old Hollywood look, complete with bold, striking colours and a luxurious finish.

How to Determine Your Undertones to Find the Perfect Red Lipstick

The first, and in my opinion, the most important step to determining your undertone is to examine the veins situated on the underside of the arm.

Dominique de Merteuil

If the veins exhibit a purple or blue hue, which is the case with me, this suggests that you have cool undertones and should select a red lipstick with warm orange or coral undertones.

On the other hand, if the veins appear green, this indicates warm undertones and you should opt for cool purple- or blue-toned reds.

If you have a mixture of both, your undertone is neutral, and you can freely choose any shade. Lucky you!

For those of you, like me, with fair skin (blue veins) and red hair, red lipstick with a warm orange undertone is ideal. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally buy blue-toned reds, but I tend to wear them only in the evening.

In addition to your skin tone, it’s also important to consider the occasion. According to many makeup artists I spoke to, a bold, bright red lipstick is the perfect choice for a night out, while a more muted, brick-red shade may be better suited for a daytime look.

Personally, I do the exact opposite and choose to wear bright warm orange-red lipstick during the day and a very dark shade of red in the evening.

Experimenting with different shades and finishes can help you find the perfect red lipstick that makes you feel confident and beautiful while achieving that vintage look you’re after.

best red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look



And last but not least, let’s not forget the importance of choosing a shade of red lipstick to compliment your hair!

Some would argue that the hair colour is even more important in deciding on the shade of red lipstick than the skin’s undertone. I consider both factors equally important when choosing red lipstick.

Best Red Lipsticks for Creating a Glamorous Vintage Look

There would be no glamourous makeup to speak of, on or off-screen, in Hollywood in the 20th century had it not been for one name.

Max Factor’s involvement in the movie industry started in 1913 when Cecile B. DeMille rented several of his wigs for his feature film ‘The Squaw Man’. Fast forward.

As more movie people visited Max’s store, he learned that they needed something different from stage make-up, which was much too heavy. Stage make-up had to be applied one-eighth of an inch thick, then powdered. When it dried it formed a stiff mask and often cracked, which wasn’t a problem in the theater where audiences were seated far away from the performers, but onscreen, especially in close-ups, it didn’t work. Even hairline cracks were visible. What actors needed was a make-up that allowed them to show expression without cracking and something with enough tints to give them a natural look, not a mask.

Fred Basten, Max FactorThe Man Who Changed the Faces of The World

In 1928, Max Factor developed Panchromatic Make-up, which was quickly adopted by most Hollywood and film studios around the world, as it worked well with panchromatic film and incandescent lighting.

In 1940, Max Factor Jr. developed Tru-Color lipstick, which was highly indelible and did not cause skin irritation. To test its durability, the Kissing Machine was invented. This machine replaced human kissers and applied pressure to artificial lips covered with lipstick to measure how much pressure and kissing the lipstick could withstand while still remaining on the lips.

I think it’s a wonderful idea to apply the kissing test in order to determine the durability of any lipstick!

*You can read a more detailed timeline of Max Factor’s heritage on the brand’s official website.

Elizabeth Taylor in a 1957 ad for Clear Red lipstick by Max Factor. She often wore an orange-red shade.

Clear red…bold, singing, daring, dramatic… in three distinct true reds…one with just the right nuance of shading for your individual coloring. You’ll love its non-drying, smooth-spun texture that keeps your lips soft and velvety.

best red lipsticks for an Old Hollywood look

MAC Matte Lady Danger is a fabulous alternative to the lipstick that Elizabeth Taylor wore. If you are like me and prefer a glossy finish, opt for the Lustreglass lipstick in Tnteaser. This lipstick has semi-sheer pigmentation, a smooth, lightly creamy texture, and can achieve an opaque coverage but by applying at least two layers.


Best red lipstick for retro look.

Max Factor’s Ruby Red was one of Marilyn Monroe’s favourite red lipsticks and you can still buy it today.

If it’s not available in your country, a great, I dare say better, substitute is the RED HOT RED LIPSTICK 1959 by Besame!

Image source: Pinterest. Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976 permits fair use of the image for purposes such as comment, teaching, education, and research.

The Queen of Old Hollywood glamour, Rita Hayworth wearing the Tru-Colour Lipstick by Max Factor.

The best red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look.

best red lipsticks for a vintage look

MAC’s Red Rock is the classic clean red lipstick perfect for channelling your inner Rita Hayworth.


Revlon’s Best Red Lipsticks for the Old Hollywood Look

It’s impossible to write a story on red lipstick without including Revlon.

Their vibrant shades of red lipstick are perfect for adding a touch of old Hollywood glamour. The formula is highly pigmented, providing a bold and long-lasting colour that will stay put throughout the day or night. Whether you’re going for a classic vintage look or one with a slightly modern twist, Revlon red lipsticks are a must-have in your makeup collection. It’s also inexpensive in comparison to my other choices.

  • Revlon began selling lipstick in 1939 and promoted it through the Lips and Fingertips campaign.
  • Revlon’s iconic Fire and Ice lipstick and nail campaign, featuring a partnership with Vogue and celebrity endorsements (including model Dorian Leigh), was shot by Richard Avedon in 1952.

Vintage fashion blogger. Revlon Fire and Ice lipstick review.
The best red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look.

In 1953, Revlon launched the still much-loved Cherries in the Snow lipstick. I read somewhere that Sylvia Plath was a fan of it.

best red lipstick for red hair and fair skin
The best red lipsticks for a glamorous vintage look. Cherries in the Snow by Revlon, 1953
  • In 1957, Revlon launched Lustrous Lipstick which had an innovative packaging and formula.

Revlon red lipstick review
1957 Revlon Lustrous Lipstick. Best Red Lipsticks for a Glamorous Vintage Look

  • Revlon launched Super Lustrous Lip Color in 1961, expanding on their Lustrous Lipstick line.


Revlon’s Fire and Ice Lipstick Review

Vintage fashion blogger. 1950s dress.
Revlon Fire and Ice best red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look.

I recently bought the Fire and Ice lipstick from Revlon, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, this affordable makeup exceeded my expectations and became one of my favourite red lipsticks for several reasons.

First of all, the shade of red with a raspberry undertone looks classy and suits all hair colours. I tried it on myself, and as you can see in the pictures, it’s perfect for redheads. I also tested it on my mom, who has very light blonde hair, and it looked stunning on her as well.

Secondly, the Revlon lipstick passed my glass test, leaving only a slight imprint. Although it didn’t pass the “kissing test” and left a prominent mark on my husband’s lips, I have yet to find a lipstick that does.

Lastly, the Fire and Ice lipstick stayed on my lips from 9:30 AM to about 4 PM when I had dinner. I had to reapply it afterwards, but that’s to be expected. Overall, it’s a beautiful shade of red, and I love it so much that I’m buying an extra one so that my mom won’t steal mine.

Vintage fashion blogger Dominique de Merteuil in 1950s dress. Revlon Fire and Ice lipstick.
Revlon’s Fire and Ice red lipstick …
for a glamorous vintage look.
Photography by Gregory Michael King.



The Best Vintage-Inspired Red Lipsticks from Besame

The Besame vintage-inspired makeup brand is the love child of Gabriela Hernandez, a passionate historian of makeup. To say that I’m a big fan of her lipsticks would be a platitudinous remark. I love the authentic replicas of some of the most iconic red shades popular in the 1920s-1950s and the fact that Besame lipsticks have a long-wearing formula.

If you want to channel your inner movie star from Old Hollywood, you can do it with the help of Besame Cosmetics. I would go as far as to say that it’s the best makeup brand to create a glamorous vintage-inspired look!

femme fatale makeup


Enjoy 25% off your first order of the vintage-inspired BESAME cosmetics with the code ITSBEYONDMYCONTROL

Vintage fashion blogger


Get Marilyn Monroe’s favourite fire-engine red lipstick that exudes bombshell-level confidence. Its vibrant hue with a warm, yellow-toned base is sure to turn heads.

If you’re aiming for a classic, vintage look, you can’t go wrong with this shade of red lipstick. It’s the perfect balance of bold and sophisticated, that adds a touch of glamour to any outfit. What’s more, it’s universally flattering, suiting every skin tone and hair colour, from platinum blonde to fiery red. This shade of red is a reliable choice that will never let you down.


This stunning lipstick boasts a vivid orange-red hue that was all the rage in the 1930s. Its bold and glamorous shade complements every skin tone I can think of.


During the tumultuous times of World War II, women played a crucial role in the war effort. They worked in factories, farms, and hospitals, and even joined the military. To boost morale and show their support, many women wore Victory Red Lipstick – a popular, brilliant red shade with a cool undertone and blue base that exuded confidence and strength. The satin finish of the lipstick added a touch of elegance to the women’s appearance, while the bold colour symbolized their unwavering patriotism.

It’s also my No.1 choice of red lipstick for the evening.

Nothing says confidence and glamour like a classic red lip.

Bobbie Brown
Best red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look.

best red lipstick for an Old Hollywood look
The glamorous Rita Hayworth is wearing bright red lipstick with an orange undertone.

Pat McGrath Perfect Red Lipstick for the Old Hollywood Vibe

In my humble opinion, shared by many of my fellow vintage aficionados, Elson 2 is the perfect red lipstick for creating a glamorous vintage look suitable to all hair colours!

Creamy, rich, and hydrating with a matte finish. The lipstick is highly pigmented and one swipe is enough to give you an opaque coverage.

Shop Now!

Kiko Milano Red Lipstick for the Fiery Redhead

A dear friend of mine who happens to be a brilliant makeup artist, introduced me to the Kiko Milano world of lipsticks several years ago, and I will be forever grateful to her for that.

I fell in love with the Gossamer Emotion Creamy Lipstick (117) from the moment I laid my eyes on a model who was wearing it during a photoshoot. It’s the most orange-red lipstick I’ve ever bought and it is certainly a head turner.

The very creamy texture keeps my lips hydrated and it stays on all day without the need of having to reapply it. The Kiko Milano Gossamer Creamy Lipstick passed my glass test with flying colours. I had a cup of Cappucino and a carrot cake and again, there was no need for a touch-up. And last but not least, It’s super glossy, which I love!

Oversized retro sunglasses. Vintage fashion influencer Dominique de Merteuil.
Vintage fashion blogger Dominique de Merteuil. Photography by Gregory Michael King.

vintage glamour in loungewear

Kiko Milano Gossamer Emotion Creamy Lipstick in Geranium (115) is also a favourite of mine and perfect for that Old Hollywood vibe.

Bets red lipsticks for creating a glamorous vintage look.

What’s Your Favourite Red Lipstick For Creating a Glamorous Vintage Look?

Red lipstick has been considered the ultimate symbol of vintage glamour for a long time, and for good reason. Its unmatched ability to elevate an everyday look to a timeless masterpiece is truly remarkable.

By learning how to select the perfect shade, texture and longevity, you can confidently embrace your own vintage allure with grace. So, pucker up and let the enchanting power of red lipstick transport you back to an era of glamour and sophistication that will never fade.

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What do you think?

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  • Catherine
    April 30, 2024

    This is a fantastic post, Dominique! Your posts are more informative than what I see in many of the well-known online publications. Keep up the great work! Oh, and the pictures of you are beautiful!

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      April 30, 2024

      Thank you so much! I’m doing my best to give my lovely readers a little bit of fashion and beauty history mixed with inspiration, and reviews.

  • Laura
    December 12, 2023

    Love, love, love everything about this post and your pictures! You should be the face of one of the brands.

    • Dominique de Merteuil
      December 13, 2023

      Thank you very much!The reason why the pictures are so wonderful is that they were shot by my brilliant husband, the renowned beauty and fashion photographer, Gregory Michael King. 🙂