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Sylvia McDaniel | Lipstick In the Old West

December 9, 2014

Sylvia McDanielDESPERATECurrently I’m working on a new series called Lipstick and Lead set in the late 1800s. It’s about three sisters who are bounty hunters, which is very unusual for women of the west. In fact, I could not find any actual bounty hunters that were women. But my girls father made a living bounty hunting and because they don’t want to become saloon hussies they have taken up the profession after several mistrials at other occupations.

But what about lipstick. When did lipstick become available to women of the west? Ancient Mesopotamian women were possibly the inventors of lipstick. They used crushed jewels to put color on their lips and around their eyes. Then Egyptian women used a dye from seaweed on their mouths to give color, but the stain from the seaweed made them very ill. It’s written that Cleopatra, crushed carmine beetles and ants and used the liquid on her lips. Gives new meaning to the word beetle juice.

During the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth 1, popularized the look of blackened lips, by using beeswax and plant derived red dyes. But by the time Queen Victoria took the throne, makeup was once again taboo. Only low class women and prostitutes used the dyes on their lips and the Catholic Church connected the use of cosmetics to worshipping the devil.

During the 19th century lipstick was colored with carmine dye, which is produced by tiny Cochineal scale insects native to Mexico and Central America. The insects produce carminic acid, which when you mix it with aluminum or calcium salts it makes carmine dye. It’s like what Cleopatra first used.
During that time period lipstick came in a small pot and was applied with a brush to both your cheeks and lips. The look of carmine was considered unnatural and theatrical, so lipstick was frowned upon. Your normal everyday pioneer woman did not wear lipstick, or she would have been considered a scandalous loose sage hen. Only women on the stage or saloon girls, normally wore the lipstick on both their lips and their cheeks.

In the late 1890s, an oil and wax base was added to the dye giving lipstick a more natural appearance. By this time some women were wearing it at home. Sears Roebuck offered rouge for lips and cheeks in their catalog for the first time in the 1890s.

In Desperate, my western historical novella, the oldest sister, Meg starts using lipstick because it’s the only thing that makes her feel pretty. She dresses like a man, rides a horse like a man, takes care of the family and well…she needed something to make her feel like a girly-girl. So Lipstick and Lead was born, and my pioneer woman is now a trendsetter before her time.

Badass, bounty hunter, wearing lipstick to get her man.

DESPERATE  and Meg’s story, DANGEROUS, are available.

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