On… a lipstick wardrobe

Let’s talk about four essential lipsticks that will see you through every single possible life event* and will suit everyone**.

Caveat, as ever: I know very little. About anything. At all. This is just my opinion, and I’m mostly winging my opinions. But everyone likes lipstick, and the world is a crazy place right now, and I’m tits-deep in deadlines, so a quick jaunt into the joyfully pointless world of maquillage can’t hurt, non?

Now. Before we get to the lipsticks, let’s talk about prep. Yes, the bare-face-just-lipstick look is divine, but bare doesn’t really mean BARE. You can’t simply bang lipstick on a squeaky clean face and think you’re going to look amazing. No one can. Everyone has discolorations – for me, the skin around my nostrils is pinkish, my chin is ruddy, etc. If I put on red lipstick, it sort of pulls those reddish bits out, and my whole face explodes.

Okay, that’s not precisely true. But it doesn’t look good.

So, first, get your canvas ready: put on La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60 Antioxidant Sunscreen (actually I just started using EltaMD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+ for dry skin and I love it, too), let it soak in, and then a drop or two of squalene to magically smooth everything, followed by your concealer (Cle de Peau, or NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer) or a tiny blob of foundation (Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation or Clinique Beyond Perfecting) over those ruddy areas around your mouth and nose, and ON your eyelids to even out the skintone. Pat it in with your fingertips. (If you want to apply under-eye-concealer too, go for it, I tend to not on bare-face days, because I think the shadows are kind of cool. But whatever blows your skirt up.) Then dust over your favorite powder to set (I like Laura Mercier Translucent Setting Powder the most, I also like Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder for a soft glow).

Eyebrows, if that’s your jam, mascara if you insist, but no eyeliner or shadow, nothing too ‘done’.

Voila. The perfect blank canvas.

Next, MAC Prep and Prime. “Lip primer?” I hear you say. “Sounds like a waste o-” and I’m going to stop you right there and press my finger firmly on your lips and say “NO, DARLING. NO.”

MAC Prep and Prime is lipstick’s BFF. It makes your lips plumper and more hydrated, and hangs onto lipstick until the cows come home. Oh, cows. Those tardy little bastards. If you love lipstick, you’ll love MAC Prep and Prime.

Okay, enough silliness. Onto the lipsticks:

The Perfect Nude: Givenchy Beige Mousseline

I’ve written about good nudes before, because I’m the kind of person who tries everything, returns most things, and immediately wants to share my favorite discoveries with the world at large. This Burberry Nude which is indeed marvelous but sort of collapsed after four months the way Burberry lipsticks always do. The Dior Greige 1947 one that is so lovely, I gave it to each of my best friends to thank them for a birthday trip away last year, but it somehow started looking too peach on me a few months ago. The Rimmel Kate one that seemed gorgeous the first time then turned out to be disappointing, as cheap lipsticks so often do. (SIGH.)

Then just before Christmas I discovered Givenchy Rouge A Porter Beige Mousseline, and immediately fell deeply and passionately in love. I wear it almost every single day right now. The key to this nude is that it’s got a lot of yellow (not peach, not pink), doesn’t make you look jaundiced or yellow-toothed, and it’s shiny and sort of lip-plumping and yet stays for hours and hours. It’s, pardon my French, fucking divine.


Important note: it looks brown in that image. I searched high and low (well, I looked on Google for more than 30 seconds) for an image that was more accurate, couldn’t find one. So, this is the cosmetic equivalent of a trust fall, you guys, because I swear this isn’t brown lipstick. On your lips, it will be the perfect flattering shiny nude.

My favorite, buy-in-bulk, hand-out-like-party-favors lip pencil, Milani Nude, is NOT the match for this lipstick. Too pinky-brown. You actually don’t need a lip pencil with it at all, that’s the magic of the nude shine. But if you want to cheat your lips to look a little more full, and prolong the wear, then get NARS Precision Lipliner in Halong Bay. It’s a lovely pale nude with just the right amount of yellow, like the lipstick.

Now, we should talk about blush. With pale lipstick, you need some color or you’ll look corpse-y, but you don’t want too much color in your cheeks or else everything will look out of balance. Just a little hint-of-nothing flush to make your eyes sparkle. Try Face Stockholm Sunkissed. That’s the blush I wear when I don’t know what blush to wear.

The Perfect Bitten Pink: Bobbi Brown Crushed Lip Color in Baby 

I also wrote about this before (I am boringly predictable yet pleasingly consistent) but in case you didn’t give it a whirl yet: this is the lipstick to wear when you want to look like you just emerged from nine hours of passionate kissing. Without the stubble rash. It’s a sheer-yet-matte watercolor-type shade that sort of hydrates and plumps lips for that extra-bitten pouty look, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.


If you want to amplify the bitten look even more, dab a tiny tiny bit of dark matte red or red-pink lipstick/lipliner (NARS Luxembourg is good for this, so is MAC Ruby Woo) on the INSIDE part of your your lips, and then blend it into the Baby lipstick with your fingers. This adds a tiny bit of depth, looks like you’ve been sucking on a cherry-flavored popsicle (or ice lolly or icy pole or whatever it is called where you live). But for a clean, pure look, just use the Baby on its own. Doesn’t need a lipliner, either. Lipstick that is less precise around the edges looks more natural and kissable.

I would use Baby as a blush, too, just tap it on your fingertips or a brush like this and smush into your apples and blend blend blend for a soft virginal Snow White look. If you want a powder blush, try NARS Exhibit A, but tap your brush into it once and then tap the brush against a hard surface like four times before you apply. Exhibit A is strong. You will never run out.

The Perfect Red: Dior 999

I’ve had many long-term relationships with various very good bright red lipsticks – MAC Lady Danger, Givenchy Carmin Escarpin, YSL 201 Orange Imagine - but then I met Dior 999.

And reader, I married it.

Dior 999 is one of those lipsticks that everyone talks about, that you see in ‘cult fave’ lists from magazines (the same magazines are usually getting paid by the creators of said cult fave products to call them cult faves, so should mostly be ignored). But when something pops up over and over and over again, you can usually bet it’s pretty good. I’d read about Dior 999 for years and thought ‘I’m NOT bloody buying another red lipstick and that’s the end of it’. Then Sephora carried mini-size sample about eight or nine months ago and I was like ‘oh, go on then, let’s have a look at you’.


It’s the perfect red.

It’s not too orange, not too blue, not too pale, not too dark, not too thick, not too thin, not slippery, not drying, it doesn’t smudge, it doesn’t crack, it doesn’t make my teeth look off-color, it doesn’t swear, it doesn’t watch Fox News, it doesn’t leave the dishwasher improperly stacked. It’s perfect. PERFECT. It looks like effort, but like effortless effort, you picking up what I’m putting down? People stop me on the street to ask what it is. It’s such a good red that I usually don’t wear any blush with it, just a touch of bronzer – Shiseido Bronzer in Medium is good – or maybe a tiny tiny wash of beige-pink, like dear old Benefit Dandelion.

It’s a very good match for MAC Redd lip pencil, but this lipstick is such a perfect consistency that you don’t really need a lipliner. You just put it on and skip around town like the happy little bunny that you are.

The Perfect Grown-Up Rose Brown: Givenchy Boyish Rose

Here’s a wild card, you guys. I’ve been getting a lot of wear out of a shade we can call Grown-Up Rose Brown, though I’d privately call it Mother Lipstick, because it’s the color lipstick that my mother has worn, consistently, for two decades. I take her make-up shopping whenever we’re together (this is one of my prime filial duties, you won’t be surprised to hear) and as much as I might gently suggest/order her to try a pink or soft nude or anything else, she gravitates to a rose brown color. And she’s right: it’s a great color. It goes with everything. It looks as good at a breakfast meeting as it does at dinner. A truly grown-up lipstick, for true grown-ups.

Anyway, last time she was in NYC, she picked up Givenchy Boyish Rose. I tried it on for fun and decided I liked it so much, I’d get one, too. It’s shiny-satiny pink-rose-brown. It would feel 90s if it wasn’t so shiny and sophisticated. It just always looks right.

Okay, again: that image isn’t correct. It looks like hot pink: this is NOT hot pink. I swear. It is a rose brown. Is Givenchy having trouble accurately photographing their lipsticks? Should we hold an intervention?

It’s a tiny bit hard to apply, as you really need a lipliner (shiny lipsticks always do, unless they’re nude) and I haven’t found the right rose-brown shade yet. (Admittedly I haven’t looked very hard. I’m sure I’d find a good one if I actually applied myself. In general, by the way, the best lipliners are NYX and Milani and Rimmel and MAC, but you need to test them in person. There’s no reason to buy a high-end $40 lipliner, the cheap ones are marvelous.) I’ve been improvising and it seems to go pretty well, but not perfectly, with MAC Spice or Rimmel Spice. Don’t use the lipliner to go outside your lips – just use it as a base and follow your natural lip shape, before applying the lipstick over the top.

And that’s it, my loves, and I hope this has been helpful and inspiring: your four-strong essential lipstick wardrobe. (I could include a dark blood red, or a deep mulberry wine, but it’s finally FINALLY the end of winter in NYC, and that stuff can wait until October.) In the meantime, check out these four lovely shades, and email me with any questions or suggestions or complaints (but seriously please don’t complain). gemma@gemmaburgess.com

*Probably not true.

**Also probably not true, you simply cannot tell with lipsticks until you put them on. Even my sister, who looks so much like me that people on the street stop each of us thinking we are the other one, can’t wear the same lipsticks – she has slightly pinky undertones, I am yellow AF. So when you really think about it, there is no point in ever taking anyone’s advice on what color lipstick to wear, you should just trust your own taste, because your face is yours and you know it best, you beautiful thing you.




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5 thoughts on “On… a lipstick wardrobe

  1. LC

    Hi Gemma! Thank you for this post! I rely on your make-up recommendations so much. I can’t tell you how many things you’ve convinced (read: ‘conned’) me in buying. :) Many of your links don’t work though! Maybe because I’m in Singapore? Thanks again!

    1. GemmaBurgess Post author

      thank you so much for telling me!! (and sorry for being your make-up shopping enabler…) i just went through and updated every link with, I hope, the most generic link possible, and gave specific names rather than my usual lazy ‘this’ hyperlink, so please tell me if anything still isn’t working for you…
      i lived in singapore when i was little! say hello to tanglin school for me… ;)

  2. paige

    I loved how detailed this post was, but just so you know most of the links that you shared give an error when clicked.

    1. GemmaBurgess Post author

      arghhh thank you for telling me. I tried to update every link with the most generic link possible so it can’t possibly change… lmk if any still aren’t working! x

  3. Thebeautyitem

    Thank you so much for this article. Actually, this article is so attractive for us. Lipsticks are most important cosmetics for women. I think this article is better than another article.


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