TThe first makeup item I remember was lip gloss. It was a small pot of purple goop, made by Japanese brand Shu Uemura, and pricey – even by today’s standards – at £16. I saved for it as I did for the Vivienne Westwood figurine and Air Max 98. Because like her, he was a status item. I have used it performatively at every opportunity. That was in the late ’90s—perhaps the last time I thought about lip gloss. I’m more of a lip balm these days.
But this could soon change. Forgotten and stagnant at the bottom of wallets, lip gloss is back for decades. Perhaps out of ’90s and early ’00s nostalgia — no doubt exacerbated by the phasing out of masks — glossy lips are the beauty detail to focus on this spring, seen on the catwalks of Fendi, Victoria Beckham and Blumarine, by many Dua celebrities. Lipa to Vanessa Hudgens and on TikTok – where #lipgloss has over 6 billion views. Superdrug reports that the category has been “flapping off the shelves” over the past year, while online retailer LookFantastic says searches for lip gloss are up 11% from 2020 to 2021.
As in the late ’90s, there are case lip glosses—see Lisa Eldridge’s Gloss Embrace in Tan Affair (a Lipa favorite), Ami Colé lip oil treatment (described by The Strategist as ‘Telfar bags of lip gloss’, NYX’s Butter Gloss). (with 7.6 million views on TikTok) and Beckham’s Posh Gloss, a nod to her lip-gloss-focused makeup in the Spice Girls era.
Jacqueline Kilikita, senior beauty editor at Refinery29, attributes the resurgence to two factors. “First, our obsession with nostalgia, which has increased during the severe pandemic,” she says. “Also, in the post-pandemic era, there’s a trend toward minimal makeup, and touch ups are a quick and easy way to freshen up any look.” She says the 2000s trend is “huge” and that “like crop tops, low-rise jeans and chunky chic are back in, as has glamour.” While Naomi Campbell, Bush Spice, Aliyah, and Pamela Anderson can all be inspirations, it’s different. The creators of TikTok combine “clear or nude gloss with dark eyeliner for a look that feels like the 2000s and the ’90s but has a modern feel.”
Lip gloss formulations have improved since then. I can’t remember that sticky feeling and tangled tufts of hair on your lips (annoying Miuccia Prada turned into a styling trick on the runway in 2013). Superdrug says customers look for “skincare/makeup hybrid” and something like Eldridge’s Embrace Gloss or Jones Road Cool Gloss works because they feel like a balm. That’s thanks to the fat-based formula, according to Eldridge. “Imagine baking a cake and using a lot of butter and then adding olive oil. It doesn’t evaporate and stays on the lips… it doesn’t feel sticky and if you want to add more you can, but there is no need.”
Dr. Ewoma Ukeleghe, who has 22.5k followers on Instagram for her skincare videos, was converted for the same reason. “I had lipstick on for awhile, then lip balm, but now I love lip gloss,” she says. “I think formulas and color palettes have really evolved over the years, making glosses the perfect choice.” Some of my favorites include the Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb in Cookie Jar and Tower28 ShineOn Jelly in Cashew.
Moving away from masks has helped in the lip gloss trend, but another factor linked to the epidemic is a kind of laziness: We gravitate toward easy-care items. Eldridge agrees with Kilikita on the simplicity of lip gloss. “You don’t need a mirror, you don’t have to be subtle.”
This is a long way from its early days. Originally the product was associated with high magic – it’s believed to have been invented by Max Factor around 1928, and became popular in the movie industry in the 1930s. “It was called a lip balm,” Eldridge says. Later, in the ’70s and ’80s—when rollable lip gloss became an aesthetic accessory for shimmer—he worked with the disco aesthetic where gloss and shine were essential to the dance floor look.
The lip gloss revival can be seen as part of a broader comeback of glossy, glossy textures in fashion. Lyst, the fashion shopping app, reports that searches for shiny fabrics like PVC, vinyl and latex have increased 15% since November 2021. No doubt this is due to an increase in these textures on the runway — at brands like Chanel, David Koma and Korig — but also for celebrities like Julia Fox in a black leather corduroy, Kim Kardashian in a mustard leather jumpsuit and Victoria Beckham in red PVC pants and even Anne Hathaway the perfect preserve on the red carpet at Cannes in a Gucci mini dress with PVC bodice. Sexy and party-ready, it’s a far cry from the practical and warm outfits we’ve been wearing for the last two years of lockdown, and that’s probably why it’s so successful. In April, Vogue published an article titled “The New State of Fashion? Tight, Glossy Skin.”
Brenda Otero, Lyst’s director of cultural communications, believes this trend says more about us than just the fact that we’re rediscovering our desire to get out. “It’s almost like running away from reality,” she says. “If you compare it to the 1970s, it’s kind of very similar to reality in terms of politics, society and conflict.” The TV guru Euphoria is an example of this idea: Characters like Kat and Maddy have dark characters covered with a shiny crust on the lips and on the clothes.
Glitter can now also be found on Main Street – from weekdays to Rains and Diesel – and in vintage stores for those not inclined to wear something fundamentally new plastic. Peter Goldsmith, founder of Goldsmith Vintage, confirms, “Increasing sales of shiny fabrics in our online stores and platforms.” He also sees it as a return to the 1970s, but for him, the decade is crucial as a time for “self-development.” “Young people like to show their fun and playful sides — often inspired by RuPaul, drag culture and the LGBTQ+ scene,” he says.
There is also an argument that these textures provide some kind of protection from everyday stresses. “You feel like a superhero,” says Keri O’Brien, founder of Commando. A brand best known for its lingerie—pregnant Serena Williams chose to wear its commando pants for the cover of Vanity Fair in 2017—launched a line of vinyl leggings in 2014, and since then the designs have become a favorite with celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian, Ashley Graham, and Gwen Stefani. “The momentum is building and growing,” O’Brien says. “It’s one of our bestselling styles.”
Otero says the bright trend can go in different directions. “In the ’70s, it kind of evolved into the very charming ’80s. Right now we don’t know what’s going to happen. The crisis could last much longer. So [the look] It will be something darker.”
Whether it’s lip gloss or vinyl pants, gloss – as a beauty trick – is ultimately just a look you can play with. “Generation Z uses fashion to experiment with identities,” says Otero. “One day you wear a vintage Nirvana shirt. After that, wear something really shiny.”