Several months ago I was hanging out with a friend when I pulled out my lipstick to re-apply it. "You shouldn't wear that," she said to me in a casual, off-hand way.
"Um, why not?"
"That shade is wrong for you. It contrasts with your skin tone too much. It's too severe."
At the time I rolled my eyes and ignored her because she's the only person ever to say something negative about my shade.
People often compliment me on my lipstick because I do choose dark and striking colors on purpose. It's the only makeup I ever wear, so I want it to be noticeable. But my feelings were a little twinged, so I complained about this interaction on Instagram and even made myself a hashtag: #severelipstick.
I don't know if it was the hashtag, or the Instagramming, or a curse set upon me by my friend, but right after she said that to me I stopped being able to find my favorite lipstick. It disappeared from store shelves and online listings right around the new year, never to return.
And only a few days ago did I find out why.
I usually wear Rosary, part of the Painted Love line by Kat Von D. I love how dark it is without looking black, that it's not too red or too purple, and that it has good coverage.
I am not the only person who loved Rosary. It regularly sold out fast when Sephora got a new batch, a fact every associate I asked repeated with a sad face. I was only able to procure the last tube I bought by calling every store in New York City and venturing out into ridiculously cold weather because they would only hold it for a day.
I should have seen this coming. Kan Von D has betrayed me before. Years ago I fell in love with a lipstick shade called Cloister, which also disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Rosary was the closest I could get.
Now it, too, is gone.
Literally. My last tube of Rosary is down to dregs, so I had to break down and go find another shade to replace it.
1. The first thing I learned when I started looking: shopping for lipstick is not a great experience. How a color looks in the tube or in the plastic color representation display is not how it looks on the lips.
Sometimes not even close.
And those pictures of well made up women on the walls of Sephora? You think you can find a lip color on the shelves that looks like that? Haha, joke's on you!
Thus, when you're searching for a very specific shade like I was, it's difficult to tell if it's right unless you can try the lipstick on. Which makes it really hard to shop in drug stores for lipsticks that cost $10 or less.
Luckily for me I live in New York City and I have my pick of makeup stores where testers are abundant. I headed to Times Square on National Lipstick Day (pure coincidence!) to hit up the Inglot, MAC, and Sephora stores.
2. The second thing I learned: it's hard to find dark, striking lipstick even though bold lipstick is really in right now.
I started with Inglot on the advice of a friend who loves the lipstick she got from the Pacific Blue line. I figured a place that sells six shades of blue would surely have a wide selection of dark reds.
I only saw one shade that seemed to be burgundy enough for my liking: Lipstick 175.
Inglot 175 is striking, for sure. And not quite black. It's just a little too dark brown for me. Off to MAC!
3. The third thing I learned: I should be wearing lip liner. So said the MAC Cosmetics associate who took me in hand when I walked into the store and said, "Find me a shade like the one I'm wearing, please."
Turns out MAC has a wide selection of bold, dark lipstick colors. And concealer. And lip conditioner. And lip liner. All of which she told me I needed. But I can't argue with results.
The associate chose a shade called Sin for me, a matte color described as "deep, dark blue red" on the website, which is accurate. This was much closer to what I wanted.
Nearly perfect, actually. But I needed to check one more place before making my final decision: Sephora.
Sephora is in the midst of a big lipstick campaign right now, so I thought it wouldn't be hard to find a dark burgundy shade amongst the many, many lipstick brands.
Remember lesson number two? Yeah.
Still, there were several contenders to be found. Urban Decay has a color titled Shame that's the right shade but a little glossy for me. Also, I balk at wearing something called "Shame" -- what am I meant to be ashamed of?
4. This discovery led me to lesson number four: whoever's job it is to name lipsticks is really bad at that job. At Urban Decay alone I ran across Manic, Catfight, F-Bomb, Jilted, and Anarchy. These in no way give any clue about the shade and are stupid.
Makeup Forever has been my go-to whenever I couldn't lay hands on Rosary, and I often wear #48, satin blackcurrant. One of the Sephora associates suggested I try #11 in the Aqua Rouge line since it looks more matte when it dries. Unfortunately, without the glossy topcoat, it doesn't stay on that well.
I had been avoiding the Kat Von D display out of despair but gave in and went to see if there was even a tester of Rosary I might persuade them to give up. Better than nothing, right?
But then I saw a slate of all new shades under the name "Studded Kiss."
I stood there a full minute, staring, before I whispered, "Kat Von D, you treacherous so and so!"
This! This was why my favorite shade went away. They were creating a new line and selling off the Painted Love stuff while they did it. And of course Rosary went the way of the dodo first. And they weren't making any more.
A Sephora associate gave me the scoop: Kat Von D reformulated the colors for this new line to make them better, stronger, faster (or whatever) and kept a lot of the same shades (like Homegirl). However, with this new formula they weren't able to match Rosary exactly so didn't keep the name.
5. Fifth lesson: lipstick reformulations cause nothing but pain and heartache and I hate them.
The associate claimed that the Kat Von D brand reps told her that the shade MÖTORHEAD was a nearly identical match for Rosary. When I tried it on I didn't think so -- too dark, too purple. I put on a shade just to the other side of Homegirl called Vampira (yeah, lesson four). This one looked like a more exact match to me, just more matte and not as shimmery.
After much comparison and asking for opinions from associates who really wanted me to stop bogarting all the lipstick wands, makeup remover, and cotton pads, I went with Vampira. I love the way it feels on my lips and how it looks. My perfect severe lipstick.
Don't think I haven't learned my lesson. I know I can't rely on Kat Von D forever. I might have a year or two before Vampira goes away and is replaced by Bride of Frankenstein or Barbarella or Morticia Gomez or whatever they come up with next.
(You think I'm joking. The other dark colors in the line are called Slayer and Poe. And were already sold out even though this lipstick is new.)
To ensure the future happiness of my lips I went back to MAC and bought a tube of Sin as well.
My next article: What your lipstick color name says about you.
P.S. If you want to see some of the even bolder lipstick colors I tried on, check out my Instagram feed and look for the #severelipstick hashtag. And post your own severe lips in the comments!