And people ask us, why is your website called The Lipstick Effect?

It is the idea that as economic conditions worsen – you know, the usual, job losses, inflation, whatever – women buy more cosmetics, like Lipstick – during the 2008 recession, L’Oreal enjoyed a sales growth of 5.3%(1).

However, there are many different theories as to why this happens, and interpretations of the psychology behind it. Some argue that it is to peacock for mate, others suggest it is to better their chances of employment.

On the one hand, it could be that the trend simply highlights that, as opposed to “splurging” on expensive holidays and amazingly shiny Jaguars, in order to make ourselves feel better during a period of recession, we splurge on smaller things – such as lipstick.

A more developed theory, with all kind of gender connotations, suggests that as financial situations worsen, women feel more compelled to search out security in a sufficient partner who will be able to provide for them. Therefore, they buy more cosmetics in order to improve their likelihood of attracting a mate.

This theory relies very much upon the traditional male and female role models, with the male fulfilling the role as the resource-rich provider, and the female the “homemaker” – however, as times changed, particularly in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, we saw more women moving into the world of work and purchasing more cosmetics, not as a result of peacocking to attract a mate, but rather, to attract a better job prospect.

Along with this move into the world of work came a clear change of who earned the money. No longer was the woman constrained to the income of her bread-winning husband, she now had pockets of her own to fill!

The oldest example of this? Power dressing – prominent in the 1980s and epitomized by the late Margaret Thatcher, it saw the rise of sharp shoulder pads and clashing patterns. Women invested more into cosmetics and to assert their feminine power in a male-dominated workplace. Whatever you think of her, she looks badass

And so they should, considering that a few years before, they had been expected to abandon further education to pursue motherhood – it was only until the 1970s that female undergraduate numbers began to rise(2) (previously making up a mere quarter of the undergraduate population) and the Equal Pay Act was introduced into the United Kingdom.

With more education came more opportunity, and more aspiration to really punch through that glass ceiling.

Now you can certainly go into the third-wave feminist school of thought and consider things all kind of radfem, but if you look at the economics of it, and not the ideology: women invested in their looks to obtain the biggest payoff – being equal pay, or better pay than  “mousy” counterparts (i.e. dull colours, no assertion of dominance).

In fact, if we are busy getting technical here, there exists such a thing called a “beauty premium”. It’s sad but true: there is a 12% pay differential between those who are considered good looking(3), and those considered average looking (who suffer a “beauty penalty”).

Perhaps investing in products which improve your looks really do return favorable odds in an increasingly competitive job market.

Cosmetics are also considered a “low-risk” investment, because they can usually do more harm than good, unless of course applied so horrifically they repel rather than attract.



*Sources: NY Times, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect:

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