Review — The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History by Ilise S. Carter

The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History
By: Ilise S. Carter
Release Date: November 15, 2021
Publisher: Prometheus Books

Ilise S. Carter, freelance cosmetics and beauty writer, examines how lipstick in particular and cosmetics at large have influences the changing tides of American history in The Red Menace: How Lipstick Changed the Face of American History.

Makeup has certainly helped change the face of history, as it were, and the United States of America is certainly no outlier in that regard. This slim volume begins with the puritans and the rules, or apparent lack thereof, regarding makeup and what can be gleaned from that before continuing on through American history to the current day.

This is certainly a book on social history, the sort of fare that is ever fascinating yet often underreported in many regards. No physical battlers are retold here, nor are biographies of one of “the greats” of history, nor even an overtly scientific look at makeup. Instead we are lead through history via the overt but perhaps under-examined thing we wear and see around us every day—lipstick and makeup.

The Red Menace begins at a time when cosmetics were largely campaigned against and follows it through all of its plethora of iterations from the height of French fashion to the subdued makeup of the Victorians. Methods of advertising both for and against lipstick, especially in the earlier days of American history, is looked at rather in-depth.

Through lipstick we see the rising of many movements, such as the bright red lipstick of suffragettes. Black fashion, both how it first mirrored cosmetics marketed to white individuals and then blooming into a thriving market made specifically for Black individuals is discussed. More recent events are also highlighted, such as the immense influence the LGBTQ+ community at large and the trans community in general on the cosmetics industry, makeup trends, and rock star makeup in particular.

This is a fascinating look at lipstick and cosmetics that has very wide appeal. Makeup afficianados, history lovers, anthropology majors, and those looking for some nonfiction of a different variety than usual will all find a great deal of interest here.

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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