My daughter is a ballerina and has been performing in the Nutcracker Ballet for about twelve years, not to mention numerous spring ballets and recitals. Part of the required stage makeup is a generous amount of bright-red lipstick. A tradition with the dancers that seems to give them delight is what I’ll call the post-performance kiss.
After the performance, it is not uncommon or surprising to see dancers with red kiss imprints on their faces, necks, or shoulders which were placed there by a fellow dancer. Love, friendship, “thank God that’s over,” or “we nailed it!” . . . the distinct, red mark could honestly be an expression of any of these emotions or feelings. However interpreted, the lingering lipstick on your friend’s skin is proof that the action and emotion occurred, there for the world to see.
While nutcrackers and ballet are a deeply held Christmas tradition for some folks, the MCM crowd has its own flavor of Christmas conventions that often includes aluminum Christmas trees, Shiny Brite ornaments, and the magical yet often elusive color wheel. And, if you’re following any mid-century groups or hashtags on social media (you probably are if you’re reading this) you’ll be delighted by the occasional, random photo of a mid-century woman all glammed up, posing by her Christmas tree. There seem to be only about fifty or so of these photos in the social media jukebox, immortalizing these women twenty years into the current century.
The one consistency I found in these photos—the thing that pops and solidifies the element of glamour—is lipstick. Like the young ballerinas, the mid-century woman didn’t shy away from a healthy dose of lipstick when she was on her own stage—the squeaky-clean floor of her holiday home. I imagine most of these photos were taken on the enchanted evening which is Christmas Eve, either before a party or an elegant night at home with family. But don’t misinterpret, these ladies weren’t upper class, wealthy, or fashionistas. From the backdrop of their homes, many appear to be middle class. Probably housewives. But their pride in their home, their tree, and themselves shines. These ladies are their own version of Shiny Brites—polished, colorful, lovely.
Dating back 5,000 years, the history of lipstick is a pendulum of questionable alchemy and cultural controversy. Ancient Sumerian men and women were the first to invent lipstick, making it out of crushed gemstones and poisonous, white lead. Although worn by powerful women throughout history such as Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I, during the middle ages the church banned the practice, professing it as a deceitful, confession-worthy deed.
In the early last century, a combination of unruly suffragettes and the first Hollywood starlets reclaimed the acceptance of lipstick, and, by mid-century, lipstick was a makeup must in non-toxic, vivid shades, captured forever in the recent advancement of color photography.
A Christmas tree has many meanings and evokes different emotions in everyone. But in the purest, most basic sense, the traditional evergreen tree symbolizes undying life and the Holy Trinity (an evergreen is naturally in the shape of a triangle). It strikes me, that these photos, which are over fifty years old and will now live into perpetuity on social media, contain uniquely decorated symbols of undying life, and perfectly applied lipstick, which surely was transferred to some else’s skin, forever leaving traces of love, friendship, or “Wow—we really nailed this tree!”
Komar, Marlen. “The History of Red Lipstick, From Ancient Egypt to Taylor Swift & Everything In Between”. Bustle. 2016