Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can I Wear Brown Lipstick?

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L.A. Girl Matte Lipstick in Snuggle, NudeStix Magnetic Matte in Greystone, and Maybelline ColorSensational Maple Kiss
We've been in the midst of a 90s retro revival (sometimes 70s-via-90s) in fashion and beauty for a few years now, for better or for worse. The rule I've heard a lot about wearing throwback trends is that if you wore it the first time around, you shouldn't wear it when it comes back. That rings pretty true to me, I suppose, but then that's probably because the things I wore as a teenager aren't exactly coming back as styles that suit suit my 35-year-old self. Not that I am advocating some amorphous age-appropriateness rule here. I'm just saying that the things I wore as a teenager are not things that I want to wear as an adult. If you'd like to borrow my wide-leg carpenter khakis or my gold cross chokers or my white eyeliner, they are probably still stored away somewhere in my parents' attic. I think, however, that if you follow that trend rule too strictly, you can end up stuck in a rut because you avoid updating your look at all for fear of looking ridiculous. I'm trying to find my place in the space between.

So while not long ago the thought of reviving trends from my high school years would have brought to mind this, of which I long ago cycled past acceptance and into rejection:

I just watched Buffy again earlier this year, and her makeup is usually much better than this.
I'm now used to seeing similar colors and textures made modern and fresh and appealing. (I'm also super into the shimmery and metallic lipsticks we're getting after years of matte everything--more on that another time!) I used to think that I just can't do brown lipsticks (witness my lack of success with the Bite Beauty Multisticks). Part of the problem is that brown lipsticks, perhaps more than most colors other than red, are finnicky, and you might have to try a whole bunch of options before you find the one that's right for you. When I decided to try the whole brown lipstick thing again, I remembered that I had one stuck in a reject drawer: Maybelline Maple Kiss. Hooray for hoarding! When I tried on Maple Kiss again (see below), my first thought was, "Wow, this actually looks great!" My second thought was, "Wait, am I just being brainwashed by trends?" But on further reflection, I don't think that's exactly what's happening. In 2014, you would be hard pressed to find warm brown lipsticks being presented in an updated, attractive way. In 2017, those images are everywhere.

If you've watched TV in the last six months or so, you've seen this. For example, Jess from New Girl, who typically wore reddish or rosy lipsticks in the past shifted to a more orangey-brown family in the last season.

Peach? Sienna? Terracotta? Clay? Whatever.
The more exposure we have to new things presented in aesthetically pleasing ways, the more we can come to appreciate them as beautiful. (If you are trying to work on body acceptance, it can work in a similar way. The more beautiful images of bodies of all shapes and sizes you're exposed to, the more you'll train yourself to find them attractive--or you'll suddenly realize it's happened without any effort.)

Brown has been happening for a while, but I largely avoided the corpsey greige lips of the last few years, while admiring them, because they felt like too much of a high-maintenance statement look for my preferences. I have a handful of brownish lipsticks at this point, but I'm looking at three of them here that represent different takes on the latest version of the look, which I think are both current and easily wearable. This is my personal test of whether or not I want to wear brown lipstick (spoiler: yes), and if so, what version I like best.

Swatches of L.A. Girl Matte Lipstick in Snuggle, NudeStix Magnetic Matte in Greystone, and Maybelline ColorSensational Maple Kiss
Swatches of L.A. Girl Matte Lipstick in Snuggle, NudeStix Magnetic Matte in Greystone, and Maybelline ColorSensational Maple Kiss
The three lipsticks pictured above fall into three categories: brownish nude, true brown, and warm/terracotta brown.

I'll start with my nude, LA Girl Snuggle, a semi-opaque, fairly matte, comfortable, cheap, rosy brown-nude.

Now, before you fight me, I'm calling this a nude even though it's nowhere near my skin color, true. But it's the best descriptor I can come up with--neutral is too vague (all browns are somewhat neutral), and it's not MLBB ("my lips but better") because it's much browner and more muted than my naturally pink lips. As you can see in the photo below, it looks subtle and understated on me, and so I'm comfortable calling it a nude.

This is probably the easiest and most classic version of a brown lipstick you can get. Take your natural lip shade and shift it a few steps closer to brown. It's not a statement lipstick, and you can wear it to your conservative workplace without anyone commenting. It's also not so trendy that it's going to look dated before you use up the whole bullet. I like how easy this look is, but it's not exciting.

(Please excuse the somewhat uninspiring photos below, which I took in my bathroom. There isn't a great spot for photos in my apartment, but at least I'm moving soon. I hope you can get a sense of the overall effect anyway.)

I'm not actually mad at this lipstick.
Next I'm trying a bolder, darker, true brown option: NudeStix Greystone (note that while Sephora inexplicably calls this color "greige," it is neither beige nor grey--it's a neutral medium brown, if anything leaning warm). I got this lip crayon in last month's Sephora Play! box (reviewed here). This is definitely a more modern look and, on me with my fairly muted features, a much bolder statement. For some people this might fall into the nude category and you'll have to go significantly lighter or darker to get more impact. While I like this lipstick on me more each time I wear it, I don't love it. It just doesn't feel like me.

The wrong kind of witchy?
And finally, the most trendy-but-still-wearable shade, a warm rusty or terracotta brown. Here's where Maybelline Maple Kiss fits in (which, by the way, Amazon has on sale for $2 with a coupon right now). My red hair suits it particularly well, but I've seen similar colors with a variety of hair and skin colors. If you have really cool-toned skin, you might want to try something rosier, maybe a pink-peach--your coloring might enhance the orange-brown in it without it clashing with your skin. (If you have cool skin and have tried warm brown lipsticks, I'm interested to hear what does and doesn't work for you!)

This is my favorite of the three options, so much so that since taking this photo I've bought two other variations on the theme (enough!!): Urban Decay Epigram and Colourpop Blotted Lip in Candyfloss. They're a bit closer to what Zooey Deschanel is wearing above, and I like them even better. I'll put them in my review queue.

Just as a point of comparison, here's Maple Kiss swatched next to Maybelline Touch of Spice, since TOS can look slightly brownish in some contexts.

Swatches of Maybelline Maple Kiss and Maybelline Touch of Spice
Swatches of Maybelline Maple Kiss and Maybelline Touch of Spice
I can tell that between my three warm brown lipsticks, this is going to be my summer lip color. Other lipsticks are already being neglected. This type of brown is really easy for me to wear with my coloring, and it looks current without being gimmicky, which is generally what I'm going for.

Are there any colors or makeup looks that are particularly speaking to you this summer? Do you change your makeup seasonally? And do you tend to follow trends or ignore them? I'm curious how other people approach these topics!


  1. I was precisely thinking touch of spice could be my browny rosy lipstick but it looks so pink in comparison. Somehow on your arm they dont look as brown as on your face! Time for me to buy some brown lipsticks too :)

    1. Right?? Something about my coloring brings out the brown in a lot of these shades.

  2. I missed brown lipsticks the first time around, but I've been having conflicted "am I too old for this shit" feelings about tattoo chokers, which I most definitely wore in middle school. I think I *am* too old for that shit, but I'm still loving the black velvet choker I bought in December.

    I fell in love with brown lipstick almost two years ago now, and though certain shades of brown (particularly yellow-leaning ones) make me look like ass, I love the plummier browns. I think all three of those brown lipsticks look great on you! Greystone is definitely a statement, but some bolder eye makeup might help it out.

    By the way, I just rewatched The Big Lebowski, and Julianne Moore's brown lipstick and pinkish brown eyeshadow are everything.

    1. I really just thought I couldn't wear brown lipstick, but apparently I wasn't trying hard enough. I might try Greystone with different eye makeup, though I think it's just not for me (even though it looks ok). Also, I think velvet chokers are pretty timeless (it's the huge gold cross that was attached to mine that was the specifically 90s thing).

  3. I was very resistant to the brown lipstick trend for awhile because it read as SO 90s to me. Although I definitely was not wearing it the first time around, because I wasn't even alive until the mid-90s. But now I'm on board with it! I think mid-toned true browns can look very dated, but neutrals that lean brown are nice, deep vampy browns are nice, and browns that lean sort of burgundy or plum are nice. It's also partially in the lip liner, too - Buffy's look reads dated to me because of the liner, not the lip colour. Actually, now that I'm deep in the Google search results for "90s brown lipstick", basically all the looks that I don't like are because of the liner!

    1. Definitely the dark lip liner is the biggest problem there! Though combining that kind of liner with a pearly sheer gloss was definitely a thing. I've seen all sorts of browns watching Buffy and other 90s shows. I watched Star Trek Voyager for the first time last year, and there was a lot of really cool, almost grey-brown matte lipstick happening in the later seasons.


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