Marc Jacobs launched his eponymous makeup collection this past Friday, and much of it was inspired by lacquer. The designer has said countless times that his favorite color is "shiny" and he told the Wall Street Journal recently, "I just find shiny surfaces to be very mesmerizing." And there isn't anything shinier than lip gloss, right? Jacobs offers 12 lip glosses in his new collection, and when one of them hit our desks just prior to the launch I had a very heated discussion with a colleague. "Who the hell wears lip gloss anyway?" she asked rhetorically. Ah, a complicated issue, to be sure.
"I love a great lip gloss, but I'm tired of them. I'm ready for a beautiful, matte [lip]...Lip gloss is high maintenance! Your hair gets stuck in it, and if you kiss somebody? It ain't no secret. Everybody's gonna know," L'Oreal Consulting Makeup Artist Billy B. told us recently. "I also think that a woman at a certain age [wearing lip gloss]... it's just, it's weird."
According to consumer market research group NPD, lip gloss sales have been on the decline since 2010: from July 2012 through June 2013 sales of the glossy stuff fell 2%. In contrast, lipstick sales have shot up: during that same period, lipstick sales increased 15%. Overall, lipstick sold about twice as much as lip gloss.
So who the hell actually is wearing lip gloss? To find out, I polled friends and colleagues (fashion and beauty writers) of all ages (20-25, 26-30, 31-35, 35+). It turns out that many people have complicated histories with the gooey lip product. I will keep them anonymous to protect them from future ridicule, because there are some pretty good lip gloss confessionals in here. (Unrelated, I had no idea that L'il Mama's song (circa 2007) Lip Gloss existed until Nora informed me. It's really enhanced my lip gloss-related research experience, and now I can't get it out of my head.)
Gateway Beauty Drug or Sticky Mess?
If people hate lip gloss, it tends to be because they relate it to their formative years, and not in a warm and fuzzy nostalgic way. "I associate wearing lip gloss with being 14 years old and wearing Bonne Bell or something, so it just doesn't feel like a 'mature' look," said one writer (26-30). Another (26-30) said, "I think lip gloss is a middle schooler's first foray into wearing 'grown up' makeup. I had these juicy squeeze tubes that were named after tropical fruits from [I think] L'Oreal when I was a pre-teen and I loved talking about it with my mother, because I felt like your average, awesome CVS-shopping adult."
Another writer (20-25) said she had a lip gloss collection when she was nine with the goal of having one gloss for every day of the year. "I got snobby about it, demanding Nars and Chanel instead of age-appropriate brands like Maybelline. I kept them stashed in a giant glittery box in my closet. For my tenth birthday, my mom took me to Neiman Marcus on a lip gloss shopping spree," she told me. "I think I capped out at around 280 or something, before finding a new hobby (knitting). I'm pretty certain it's a beauty item I'll never visit again."
My own most vivid lip gloss memory is from the '90s (ahem, I'm in the 35+ age group). MAC Lipglass was all the rage and I wore this grey/mauve colored one that should have been called "Grunge," though its real name now escapes me. I was pretty sure I looked fucking edgy in that color, and because of that I still sort of have a soft spot for lip gloss, though I won't wear anything with glitter in it. A fellow beauty editor (26-30) who is also an occasional, non-glittery lip gloss user also had a good MAC experience. "Lip gloss was my gateway into beauty," she said. "MAC Lipglass was a mini splurge that my teenage wallet could totally afford." Byrdie's Britt Aboutaleb (who gave me permission to tell this story) used it in a much more creative way. "I first started using lip gloss on my eyes in eighth grade when I wanted to look like the girls in the Calvin Klein ads," she said. "I couldn't find eye gloss anywhere so I bought Lipglass and smeared it across my lids. I could barely open and close my eyes, it was so sticky." (Being a beauty editor was obviously Britt's destiny.) Speaking of sticky...
The biggest complaint against lip gloss, by both opponents and supporters? Your hair sticks to it. This is not a minor point--it's a pretty major (and disgusting) downside of lip gloss. Every single woman I spoke to complained about this aspect of it. One beauty editor (26-30) put it thusly: "The texture of lip gloss is such that a few strands of hair always get stuck to it like flypaper. And then I have to un-sexily unstick them from my lips." Until they fix this issue, lip gloss will always be lipstick's trashier little sister.
(And why do they always taste like a fruit that probably doesn't actually exist in nature?)
So can you still wear lip gloss after high school?
If you hate the wet look of gloss, then you'll probably never be convinced. However, there are ways to wear gloss without looking like a Spice Girl.
Celeb makeup artist Pati Dubroff, who has her own new line of makeup, just launched non-sticky, non-glitter lip glosses. She calls the glosses, named Aqua Tint, a "wet tint" and claims they are not "glue-like." "I had been very anti-lip gloss for the past years and agreed that they can be too sticky, too gloppy, too 'stripper,' too much sparkle, etc.," she told me. "When I was presented this new water-based formula for my Aqua Tint lip glosses, my mind was changed!"
Even with traditional glosses, the key is to keep it subtle. "I typically stick with pinks, layering it over a pinkish-nude matte lip pencil," said one writer (30-35). Another (20-25) swears by red lipstick with MAC's clear Lipglass on top.
"I like a light color that disguises a messy application process," one writer (35+) said. "I don't want to worry about putting lip liner on and applying lip gloss within the lines." Speaking of lines, a 35+ TV producer told me that she sometimes prefers lip gloss to lipstick because it's more forgiving and blurring on those little fine lines you start getting when you hit the 35+ age category. But..NO GLITTER EVER.
The Future of Lip Gloss:
Until someone comes up with the nail art of lip gloss, the category is sort of at a standstill right now. Based on the lip gloss data consumer market research group NPD sent me, and I'd say now is probably not a great time to launch your own line of lip glosses. From July 2012 through June 2013, about $179 million worth of lip gloss was sold. Compare that to nail polish, for which people spent $768 million in 2012. And that $179 million is actually down about two percent from the previous year. Lip gloss started taking a hit in 2010 (some claim, that it was the release of Chanel's Rouge Coco Hydrating Crème Lip Colour that helped turn the tide back in favor of lipstick). You can get lipstick in every conceivable finish and concentration now, and lipstick is still kicking lip gloss' shimmery ass. Like we said: lipstick sold almost twice as much as lip gloss ($353 million in sales in the past year, and that's a 15% gain over the previous year).
Some brands have definitely made lip gloss more wearable (like this one), but I'm not sure companies will ever convince haters to try it again. And I was surprised that there wasn't more of an age divide amongst users of lip gloss. Granted my sample size was only 12, but there was really no discernible pattern. Generally, it seems that if you're over the age of 23, you either hate lip gloss or are, you know, fine with it. There were no really enthusiastic lip gloss cheerleaders, although I also have to take into account that this is New York City and my sample skewed heavily to people who work in fashion and beauty. The only thing I can say conclusively is that sparkly lip gloss is a no-go for everyone I spoke to, yet companies still release it with every seasonal collection. It must be for teenagers, who are busy forging their own lip gloss histories.
Tell us your best lip gloss stories. And are you for or against it?