Stephanie Hsu wore glossy nearly-black lips on the 2023 Met Gala red carpet. Just a few days prior, at the Christopher John Rogers Resort 2024 show, models wore black lip liner and bluish-black patent lips. The Rodarte, Adeam, and Kim Shui fall 2023 runway shows all featured models wearing expressive versions of black and blue lipstick. Doja Cat recently wore blue lipstick, as did Rita Ora. Gigi Hadid even opted for a slate gray color at this year’s CFDA awards. And all over TikTok, too, makeup artists and regular people are slapping on hues that defy the typical lipstick, all while getting millions of views—and not just for shock value.
Think of it this way: The weird and unconventional lipstick shades you once may have considered costumey have never looked more elevated. Take Euphoria makeup artist Donni Davy, who recently released blue lipstick and liner for her makeup line Half Magic, as an example. “We’re shifting so much away from warm, nude lips,” she says. “And that’s hot. We just went really hard in one direction, and now we’re going hard in the other. But I love it; it’s like an anti-beauty thing.”
Even Dries Van Noten is getting in on the weird girl lip, with the recent release of two bold shades, Digital Violet (a blue-hued deep purple) and Lovely Lilac (a surreal pale lavender). “These lipsticks are unique and different, and yet still read as so unbelievably chic and sophisticated when applied,” says makeup artist Lucy Bridge, who has been using them to create stark yet epic works of art.
Social media is the catalyst for this new era of bold and boundary-breaking lips. Makeup artist Aoife Cullen has racked up millions of views for her TikTok series of herself trying “weird lip combos.” She started posting her lip looks in 2022, using everything from silver eye shadow to yellow liquid shadow paired with gray eyeliner. “I love anything weird or anything that subverts the norm, especially in makeup,” she says. “But even in creative looks, lips often take a back seat, which I think I was beginning to feel quite bored with. When I realized how elevated and different weird lips look, and that the possibilities and combinations were endless, I didn’t want to stop.”
But to understand the fast and fascinating rise of odd lip colors, it’s also important to remember fashion’s incredibly cyclical nature. Fashion historian Einav Rabinovitch-Fox points to the unconventional lips’ origins: “The invention of black and blue lipstick has its origins in early Hollywood and black-and-white movies, because dark-colored lipstick worked better on camera than red ones,” she says. “But dark colors really came into fashion culture through subcultures like punk and grunge in the 1980s and 1990s.”
With Y2K still influencing fashion culture, a lot of these makeup styles draw directly from the originals. Think: dark lip liners paired with light lip-gloss shades. Mugler’s fall 2023 show, for instance, spotlighted bold, black lip liner—which Black and Latina women popularized in the ’90s. Bridge spearheaded the Mugler looks and also played with glossy merlots, high-shine ombrés, dark chocolate shades, and juicy textures. “We created a range of different characters for the show, so felt it important to have multiple lip looks,” she says. “I find myself creating a lot of different lip looks, but personally I think a lip finishes off a look. You can have a really bare face, and a strong lip can create such a beautiful focus and make the model look strong but in a more refined way.”
Beauty is nothing if not nostalgic. In the mid-2010s, brands like the Lip Bar, founded in 2012, and Lime Crime, founded in 2008, were pumping out chaotically bright oranges, deep greens, and vivid blue tones too. This was peak indie sleaze–meets-Tumblr time, and it looks like we’re approaching the tipping point for its return in 2023. Also, last year TikTok proclaimed the ascendance of the new “weird girl aesthetic,” a maximalist mash-up of kawaii culture and DIY sensibilities. For what it’s worth, blue, green, black, and other unusual lip colors are perfectly at home here.
And yet, for people wearing the look, it’s not just about making a bold beauty statement—it’s also about committing to an antiestablishment idea of beauty. Beauty has been defined for decades by certain aesthetics, and we’re in one of the most interesting eras, in which self-expression and makeup for art’s sake (read: anything but feeding into the male gaze—or being told how to look or what to do) rules.
“There’s something liberating about doing what you love, whether it’s out of social norms or not,” says content creator Wendy Asumadu, who often sports blue lipstick. “It was never easy at first. I used to feel self-conscious sometimes, because I stood out, but I’ve learned to not care and embrace who I am irrespective of what others think.”
A lot of times, abnormal lip colors are more than meets the eye—they’re also about a reclamation of sorts. “I grew up being told I shouldn’t wear bright-colored makeup, or if I did, people would say it’s too much because of my dark skin,” Asumadu adds. “So when I began learning how to apply my own makeup, I wore the craziest color combos, because I wanted to reject the idea that I was too much. I think my love for ‘too much color’ in some ways is a rebellious act, or the rejection of how others should police how I should present my skin and makeup style. I think if anything, bright colors are such a beautiful contrast to my dark skin.”
Content creator Shavon Robinson echoes this sentiment. “There is something about melanin skin and color,” she says. “It’s amazing to see how good we look no matter what color we put on us!” She began wearing bold makeup colors in May 2020, and favors Black-owned beauty brands that specialize in out-there lip colors, such as Thread Beauty, Posh Culture, the Crayon Case, and Coloured Raine. “I was always a standout person. I never liked to be the same as everyone else, and I was never afraid to step outside of the box,” Robinson says.
The best part about all of this, though, is that it’s easy to do yourself. Davy recommends using shimmer pressed eye shadows and layering them over black or blue lipsticks for added dimension. She also suggests keeping it simple on the eyes if you’re trying extreme lips: “I think a nude eye, a colorful mascara, or a tiny baby wing can make you feel a little bit more confident about trying a blue or a black lipstick for the first time.”
As Cullen points out, lips are one of the easiest ways to experiment with color. “Just go for it and don’t be afraid. Grab colors you like and see what happens. There’s also no right or wrong way to do it, and it’s not supposed to look ‘pretty,’ so there’s no mistakes to be made, unlike most of what we are taught to believe in makeup,” she says. Her go-to formula is a bright eyeliner used as lip liner, in a shade like cobalt blue or neon pink, paired with a sparkly or glittery wet shadow on top.
“You would be surprised how empowering it is to wear a weird lip,” Cullen adds. “It’s not that serious, and rejecting traditional beauty from time to time is a really fun way to nurture your inner child and find out what you really like.”
Kristen Bateman is a contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Her first fashion article was published in Vogue Italia during her junior year of high school. Since then, she has interned and contributed to WWD, Glamour, Lucky, i-D, Marie Claire and more. She created and writes the #ChicEats column and covers fashion and culture for Bazaar. When not writing, she follows the latest runway collections, dyes her hair to match her mood, and practices her Italian in hopes of scoring 90% off Prada at the Tuscan outlets. She loves vintage shopping, dessert and cats.