12 Cult Classic Lipstick Shades Every Beauty Lover Must Know

In beauty, there is no category more timeless—or quintessential—than lipstick. As an enduring symbol of power and femininity, the transformative swipe of classic lipstick is never to be underestimated. Over the decades, brands have met perennial demand with a dizzying menagerie of offerings, leaving no color, undertone, or finish unturned. But despite the scale of options, there are those strikingly universal shades that women keep coming back to. From true reds to nuanced nudes, here, a dozen classic lipstick shades with that certain something loyal masses can’t get enough of.

Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Fire & Ice

In 1952, Revlon launched its Fire & Ice ad campaign, starring Vogue cover girl Dorian Leigh, and caused a stir with its kitschy quiz supplement designed to decide if one was, in fact, suited to this tried-and-true bold red.

Buy at ULTA $9

NARS Lipstick in Dolce Vita

Inspired by the 1960 Italian drama La Dolce Vita starring Anita Ekberg, this dusty rose strikes a sophisticated balance between retro and modern pale-pink lips.

Buy at Sephora $26

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey

Making a hyper-gothic wash of color both flattering and accessible, the secret behind this deep berry hue is its sheer, glossy, and balm-like texture.

Buy at ULTA $20

Dior Rouge Lipstick in 999 Matte

In 1953, Christian Dior created two “perfect red” lipsticks for the runway, “9” and “99,” and more than half a century later, this rich red is the gorgeous amalgam of the two.

Buy at Saks Fifth Avenue $50

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk

A single slick of this matte nude pink will enhance the natural color of your lips to bespoke effect, while a few more layers builds to a more dramatic true mauve for a dose of understated glamour.

Buy on their website $34

MAC Red Lipstick in Ruby Woo

The coolest of cool reds, this iconic shade is flattering on virtually everyone, with subtle blue undertones that brighten teeth and the whites of the eyes in one fell swoop.

Buy at ULTA $19

L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Lipcolour in Fairest Nude

With its unmistakable vanilla scent, this creamy pinky-taupe nude goes on sheer and supplies a boost of radiance to a wide variety of complexions.

Buy at ULTA $11

Tom Ford Lip Color in Bruised Plum

This shade is a darker-than-dark plum in the tube, but when you swipe on the shiny, semi-opaque formula, it reads more like a juicy deep fuchsia that you can layer on to your desired opacity.

Buy at Net-A-Porter $60

NARS Lipstick in Schiap

Named after Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who made shocking pink her signature color, this electric fuchsia shade is just as head-swiveling as her Surrealist designs.

Buy at ULTA $26

Giorgio Armani Beauty Rouge D’Armani Matte Lipstick in 400

Known as the “Armani Red,” this rich, highly pigmented crimson strikes a perfect balance between cool and warm, and is a definitive classic for the Old Hollywood look.

Buy at Saks Fifth Avenue $50

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur Couture in #19 Fuchsia Pink

In 1979, Yves Saint Laurent unveiled Rouge Pur Lipstick No. 19, a blue-toned dark fuchsia that still remains a best-seller thanks to its vivid pink pigments and stunning satin finish.

Buy at Saks Fifth Avenue $50

Bobbi Brown Lip Color in Brown

It was in 1991 that makeup legend Bobbi Brown’s debut line of lipsticks hit the Bergdorf Goodman counters. Of all the shades, her Lip Color in pink-tinged Brown caused the biggest sensation, helping to usher in the ’90s nude lip look still being referenced today.

Buy at Macy’s $29

VOGUE ARTICLE

Make A Statement

As mask mandates begin to lift around the world, here’s a look at my absolute favourite statement red lipsticks. (Even though I wear red on the daily, like its a go-to nude!)

  • L’Oreal Liquid Lipstick in 422
  • Wet’n’Wild Liquid Lipstick in 930B Missy and Fierce
  • MAC Ruby Woo & Russian Red
  • NYX Suede Matte in Spicy
  • Maybelline 645 Red Revival
  • Milani 67 Matte Confident
  • Urban Decay Psycho
  • Sephora Collection 22 A Little Magic

Ruby Woo – the History of One of the Best-Selling Lipsticks in the World

The 21-year-old lipstick has been one of MAC’s best-selling lip colors since its debut. But the brand’s product developers never actually set out to create it; instead, they were trying to tweak the formula of the brand’s other well-known scarlet shade, Russian Red, which was the best-seller at the time. (Madonna wore it all throughout her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990, after all.) 

“In the late ’90s, MAC made the decision to make all of our formulas globally compliant,” says Gregory Arlt, the company’s director of makeup artistry. “So if you were in Japan or Germany, and you wanted to buy Russian Red, it would be the same formula [across the board], as opposed to what’s compliant for each country.” With this reformulation came an ever-so-slight change to the texture, making Russian Red a little less matte and a little more comfortable to wear. “Fans revolted, saying they missed that ‘drag your lips off’ dry, matte feeling,” recalls Arlt, who has been with the brand since 1993. “So we quickly ran back to the labs,” he says, and MAC returned to Russian Red’s original formulation, never touching it again. Lesson learned.

However, during the initial reformulation process, the new, slightly less matte version of Russian Red caught the eye of the team. “When product development showed [then-Creative Director] James Gager and Jennifer Balbier (who’s still the senior vice president of global product development) the new shade, they were both like, ‘Oh my God, that’s an amazing color.’ And that’s how Ruby Woo was born. The product development team really tried to match Russian Red. It’s the same combination of pigments, just put into a different base,” says Arlt. “But it was a little brighter and more dynamic, and it just became a standalone color.”

Have you tried this color? What about Russian Red? Did you know about the history behind this iconic shade? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!

FASHIONISTA article